Sunday, December 27, 2015

Week Ending 27 December 2015

This was definitely a week of two halves. During the first part of the week we were busy with Christmas preparations. The most exciting was delivering our food hamper and gifts to the organisation which will then deliver it to the family we sponsored. I'm so mad with myself for forgetting to take a photo so you'll just have to imagine a large, festively decorated box filled with all sorts of Christmas food  - ham, cake, berries, chocolates etc - plus a large Santa sack overflowing with presents (two of the children were hoping for a ball and two balls went a long way towards filling our sack!). After Christmas I said to Miss 15 that perhaps we would only sponsor a family every second year since it was a costly exercise which limited what we could spend on our own Christmas. She said she wanted to sponsor a family again next year and didn't mind not getting many gifts since she didn't really need anything anyway. So proud of her.

Apart from that we visited a Christmas grotto with some great displays - some animated and some static. Much as I enjoyed looking at the displays I think I enjoyed looking at all the excited young children more. Christmas with older teens and adult children is a very different beast from a Christmas with young kids.

One night everyone, including Mr 23 (although he doesn't live at home anymore he is close by so can easily join us for activities when he wants to),  drove around town checking out the houses that were festooned with Christmas lights. Badly sung Christmas carols may have been featured on the trip!

Miss 21 (almost forgot that the week actually began with her birthday), Miss 15 and I engaged in some adult colouring. Miss 15 gave me an odd look when I first suggested it. I think she was imagining something akin to an "adult" movie or an "adult" book!

Plus there was plenty of cooking, wrapping and the obligatory Christmas movie viewing - although we didn't watch as many this year since it was almost impossible to find a time when everyone was at home. Supermarkets get busy in the week before Christmas (who would have thought?) so both Miss 21 and Mr 18 were working a lot. Still Christmas Eve would not be complete without Miracle on 34th Street.

The last two days have been a welcome change from the pre-Christmas busyness. Long, lazy days (well not for Miss 21 and Mr 18 - I was happily reading in bed one morning just before 8am and Miss 21 was getting ready to head to work and Mr 18 had already been there for three hours!) filled with gardening, dog walking, a large crossword puzzle (a family endeavour),


personalising my diary/journal/planner, including adding copies of some of my favourite art works,

plus video watching. We won a copy of Inside Out just before Christmas and everyone enjoyed it - even, perhaps especially, the 23 year old!

Looking forward to plenty more relaxation. It's more than a week before dh resumes teaching, three weeks until Miss 15 starts training again, and over a month before we are scheduled to hit the homeschooling books again.

ETA; Forgot to mention that I'm not totally ignoring homeschooling though. One of my plans for next week is to get reinspired. And one way I'll be doing that is rewatching some of my favourite Periscopes from Julie Bogart of Bravewriter fame. If you've got teens I highly recommend The Enchanted Education for Teens.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fortnight Ending 20 December 2015

It's been another whirlwind couple of weeks. I'm so looking forward to the week after Christmas, which is traditionally calm and peaceful with nothing that has to be done. It's typically my favourite week of the year.

Some of the things we've been busy with in the past two weeks.

* Miss 15 and I made a quick trip to my favourite birding spot, a small estuary north of where we live. A New Zealand Dotterel, rare in these parts, had been reported there and we were thrilled to track it down without any difficulty. Such a level of ease seems to be rare for us!

* An early 21st party for Miss 20 at our house. It was a small affair - her choice - and by all accounts a good time was had by all.

* Mr 18 finally finished his schoolwork for the year. I was beginning to think it would never happen. Thank goodness for deadlines in the form of university applications. Since we have avoided the state exam system he had to apply for special admission and I had to fill in a form attesting to his readiness for university study. I made it clear I would not sign the form if his homeschooling was not complete. He made the deadline - with barely an hour to spare!

* Mr 18 had a successful first game with his new adult cricket team, taking a wicket and scoring more runs in one game than he had all season for his youth team. He seems to do best when he feels the need to prove himself.

* We've worked on Mr 18's university application. It was a source of much hilarity as we helped him brainstorm his application letter - "Please admit me so my mother doesn't have to put up with me for another year!" - but eventually a more suitable and serious tone was reached and the application is in. Now we just hope he's accepted. His application should be more straightforward than his older siblings (he earned a high grade in the course he did this year as a high school student so there is some impartial evidence of his abilities) but it is unclear exactly what grounds they use to determine the acceptance or otherwise of special applicants.

* Miss 15 and I took a quick road trip to the West Coast. It was a belated birthday present for her. She's never seen a Weka before and really wanted to see one. They are rare in our part of the country but very common on the West Coast. It was a trip of two halves. There were some good birding experiences. There were plenty of Riflemen (our smallest bird) seen and heard in one of our national parks. They all seemed to be feeding chicks and we thought we observed at least two females going to the same nest. Some research revealed it isn't at all uncommon for Riflemen to have one or more helpers to raise the chicks. We also saw plenty of Kea along the way including several that were probably banded by a friend of ours who did some research on them last year. We know he'll be pleased to hear which birds were still around. Once we reached the West Coast there were plenty of Weka for Miss 15 to see and photograph. We even took a guided visit to a Westland Petrel colony. These birds only breed in burrows in the foothills in a small area near where we stayed. Most of the birds had finished breeding and left and just a few juveniles remained but we had really close up views, watching them stretch and flap their wings in preparation for their maiden flights, which will see them leave for South America and not return until they are ready to breed in five years time. It was quite an adventure, walking through the bush and up a steep cliff at night in the rain (it's not known as the Wet Coast for nothing!) to get to the colony. Overall though there was a lot of driving involved on the trip, too much rain, not as many birds as we'd hoped for, and we were especially frustrated by our inability to track down a Blue Duck, despite two visits to  the perfect location where a pair have been regularly seen. Such is a birder's lot!

A Kea adult grooming a juvenile.

Two of the many Wekas we saw on our trip.

Pancake Rocks - it's easy to see how they got their name!

Devils Punchbowl Waterfall

* Miss 20, Miss 15 and I went to the Christmas Tree farm to select a tree. Picking the tree was fairly simple this year, but then we got distracted - bird watching of course! One of the trees had a 'not for sale' sign attached to it since there was a nest it it. So Miss 20 looked on, amused, as Miss 15 and I observed the Redpoll parents feeding their young and one chick testing his wings, hovering above his nest for several seconds at a time. Getting the tree set up in the house was more of a struggle this year for some reason but  I do love the smell of pine. It never feels like Christmas until we have the live tree.

* I purchased a gorgeous blank notebook to turn into my diary/planner/journal for next year. I've never been able to find exactly what I wanted in a store so this year, inspired by the bullet journal phenomenon, I made my own. My version looks nothing like a bullet journal but it works for me. I love the notebook I bought for 2016 - lovely pink and silver embossed cover, metal clasps to fasten it shut, and an old fashioned design printed on the edges of the pages. I'm now starting to personalise it which is a fun process.

* Miss 15 and I baked some delicious chocolate candy cane cookies.

* All of the family except me went to see the final Hunger Games movie. I'm not a big fan of the dystopian genre, especially not on the large screen. They all seemed to enjoy it though,

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

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Week Ending 6 December 2015

I've felt all off-kilter this week since all the kids have had changes to their schedules. Miss 15 has been training on different days while her coach is at the World Trampoline Championship in Denmark,  Miss 20 has just had a promotion to checkout supervisor at work which means a change to her shifts plus she is picking up extra shifts in the lead-up to Christmas, and Mr 18 has been filling in for one of the bakers who is on leave and working more than full-time hours as a result. Obviously I'm used to knowing what day of the week it is by what the kids are doing since I haven't really known what day it is all week!

Despite my not being totally with-it all week we've made a start on Christmas preparations. Miss 15 and Miss 20 spent a morning making our Christmas cards. 

We are sponsoring a family this Christmas through a local charity group. We've been given some non-identifying details and we'll buy gifts for the family plus a hamper of Christmas food for them. This week we bought most of the gifts. I really enjoyed buying things for people who need it. While we are very modest in our Christmas celebrations I hate the feeling of having to buy gifts for people who don't really need or want anything and having no idea what to give them as a result. I would love to prune the list of people we give presents to, but have yet to get others on board. Speaking of gifts we  bought an early Christmas gift  for Basil - a replacement for his much loved blue frisbee that he destroyed a while ago.

We also started to decorate the house. After buying a few new decorations  the girls decorated the small trees (they've each got one in their room plus one in the living room). We'll get the large live tree up after Miss 20's party this coming weekend. She turns 21 just before Christmas but is having a party early before everyone leaves town for the holidays. There won't be enough room in the living room for all the guests if we put the tree up now!

I love these handcrafted decorations. And our purchase helped support fair trade in developing countries.

Miss 15 and I have had a couple of late nights staying up to watch the live stream from the World Trampoline Champs. supporting her clubmates and the rest of the national tea.

University exam results were released and both Miss 20 and Mr 18 were really pleased with their results. I'm delighted for them both.

My mum has been released from hospital again. Doctors have now concluded that her two"strokes" were not strokes at all. But they don't know exactly what the problem is so she's awaiting further appointments. She has a history of being difficult to diagnose so I doubt we'll get a definitive answer anytime soon.

Miss 15 and I made a couple of birding trips hunting for specific species. One trip to the estuary to spot a Chestnut - breasted Shelduck (a vagrant that has just shown up in the area) was successful. 

Chestnut-breasted Shelducks.

A Spotted Shag on top and a family of Canada Geese below were also at the estuary.

The other trip, an early morning visit to a park in the hills to search of an uncommon introduced parrot that is sometimes seen in this area, was not.

Miss 15 has just got involved in a recently established national network for young birders. They're aiming to promote birdwatching to 8-18 year olds. She's not sure yet if the group is a good fit for her yet  but she's giving it a try.

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fortnight Ending 29 November 2015

It's been a crazy couple of weeks around here.

The good stuff was two birthdays, with my youngest two now both being officially a year older. Celebrations were pretty low key, but cake  (for one and chocolate mousse for the other ) is always good! There was also the end of year displays and prize giving at the gym - yet more cake! Miss 15 got to do some synchro with her best friend which pleased her. The friend will be in Miss 15's age group again next year (they are only together every second year) so they'll hopefully compete as a pair for the whole season.

Mr 18's team made the finals of their cricket championship. It's a two day game, with the second day scheduled for next weekend, weather permitting. It'll be his last game for this team. After the Christmas break he'll no longer be eligible for youth cricket so will need to find an adult team to join.

Mr 18 running in to bowl
Miss 15 and I ended up making a quick, last minute trip to see my Mum - down one afternoon, one day there and back the next afternoon. Apart from tiredness and some weakness on one side of her body she survived her first stroke relatively unscathed.  However, she has since suffered another stroke and is back in hospital as they conduct more tests and try and see what the underlying reason might be. Again apparently no lasting effects but we definitely hope there are no more.

We did manage a couple of very quick birding stops on the journey down- mainly just places where we were guaranteed to see something new for the year. Highlights were a toss up between a New Zealand Pipit (its a medium sized, fairly non-descript brown bird that we aren't very familiar with so being able to identify it without much difficulty was gratifying) and seeing a Yellow-Eyed Penguin come ashore. We've seen this before but this time we spotted the bird a fair distance from shore. It was porpoising and looked a lot like a dolphin except is was moving straight in to shore. Very cool.

It's been a year since I started my Classics Club challenge. So far I've read 24 classics and - after a last minute rush -  have posted reviews for 22 of them. I enjoy reading the classics more than I enjoy writing about them but I did hope to get up to date with the reviews by the time my anniversary rolled around. Didn't quite make it, but, in fairness, I only finished the last two books - Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice - in the last couple of weeks. I also finished the two MOOCs I enrolled in. Funnily enough I enjoyed the logic course more than the one on Hans Christian Andersen, which surprised me.

Over the weekend Miss 15 and I took part in the annual summer wader count at a local lake. Lots of walking in hot, windy conditions. Some parts of the lake were really dry but in other parts we were trudging through really goopy, sticky mud. And, after all that our section didn't reveal a large variety of birds, or anything unusual. The migrant species I was hoping to see was in the section next to ours! So we might have to go back this week. and try to track it down.

Miss 15 and  a fellow birder walking through a barren section of the lake bed. At other times of the year all this is under water.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Classics Club 22: The Fellowship of the Ring

I'm not really a fan of fantasy and I have never watched any of The Lord of The Rings movies. I did not come to The Fellowship of the Ring completely cold though since I had read  The Hobbit aloud several times to my children when they were younger.

The plot line is fairly simple. Frodo inherits a ring from his uncle. It turns out that it is the One Ring, which contains the power of the Dark Lord, Sauron. The ring will corrupt anyone who wears it and if Sauron gets the ring back he will wield total power in Middle Earth. Obviously the ring must be destroyed so Frodo, accompanied by his cousins Merry and Pippin and his faithful gardener Sam, begin an epic journey to Mordor, where they aim to throw the ring into the volcano at Mt Doom, hopefully destroying it forever. Along the way they meet a range of interesting characters such as Tom Bombadil, face threats like the Dark Riders and receive help from  a variety of sources. At the end of this novel, the first of  the trilogy, Frodo realises how much danger the ring poses for everyone in his group. He plans to continue alone but faithful Sam guesses Frodo's plans and insists on carrying on with him

There was much to admire and value about this novel. The world of Middle Earth and the elves, dwarves, people, wizards and other characters  who inhabit it were described in intricate fashion, so that the fantasy world was made real to the reader. Frodo may be a hobbit, but he is also everyman, an ordinary character who has been asked to do a great thing, to make sacrifices himself for the good of others. Even though his chances of success seem unlikely we root for him anyway. He keeps on keeping on and we admire his perseverance, imagining (but not always believing) that we would do the same thing should circumstances require it.

However, I constantly found myself watching the novel from the outside rather than losing myself inside it.  I even found myself visualising other novels and movies at times - particularly replacing Gandalf with Dumbledore. I'm sure this says more about me than about Tolkien and in fact can be seen as a sign of the influence of this classic work. I'm still undecided as to whether I'll read the rest of the trilogy or not. Perhaps at another time I'll be more receptive and thus able to fully immerse myself in the world that Tolkien has so lovingly created.

Classics Club 21: Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is surely one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, even if it is arguably not one of his best.

Romeo and Juliet meet at a party that he has gatecrashed and fall instantly in love. However, they soon discover they can never be together because their families are effectively at war with each other. Further complications abound. They decide to marry secretly. Romeo accidentally kills a member of Juliet's extended family and is banished from the city . Meanwhile Juliet's father is forcing her into a marriage with Paris.

It is at this point that one of Romeo's trusted friends and advisors concocts a plan. Juliet will drink a potion that will make her appear dead for 42 hours. Romeo will  find her in her tomb where she will come back to life. Presumably both sets of parents will then consent to the two living happily ever after and somehow Romeo's banishment will be overturned. Let's just say the plan was a little lacking in detail!

This is a tragedy and things go horribly wrong. Romeo doesn't get word of the plan but he does hear that Juliet is dead. He goes to her tomb and in his grief kills himself. She awakens and finding him dead....well, it isn't a tragedy for nothing.

It may sound bad to confess to enjoying a tragedy but I did - even if as the mother of a daughter similar in age to Juliet I found myself wanting to shout "Don't do it"  on more than one occasion! I could comment negatively on the characters. Both Romeo and Juliet were foolish, over- emotional and fuelled by lust. And as for the adults in their lives? What kind of father would force and manipulate his daughter into marriage, what responsible adults would act the way the nurse and Friar Lawrence did?  I could criticise the plot line - over the top and unbelievable, filled with bawdiness and sexual innuendo. I probably should comment on the imagery such as light versus dark and the themes (the young paying for the sins of the old, the different kinds of love and what sins we commit in the names of each of them). I could even draw lessons from the play that would be applicable to day. Teens, don't let lust stop you thinking before you act. Parents, don't push your teens away and deny them a voice. Look what happened when Juliet's father did that.

Instead I'm just going to say that I enjoyed the play as a whole entity and to recommend it to others. Since its plot line is so well-known I think it makes a good first play for those who haven't read Shakespeare previously.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Classics Club 20: To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is an unforgettable portrait of racial prejudice, which gets to the heart of the issue in a way that mere facts simply cannot.

The novel begins by showing us the seemingly idyllic, although by no means perfect, summer of Jem, Scout  and their friend Dill, and the fascination the three had with the reclusive Boo Radley. It then shifts gear and clouds of racism descend as Jem and Scout's father Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white woman. A climactic and deadly final scene forever links these two storylines.

Lee lovingly depicts life in  small town Southern America in the 1930s. The places and characters are memorably depicted - flaws and all. Even the minor characters are shown as  unique, rounded individuals through portrayals of their dialect, clothing, appearance and mannerisms.

The novel is narrated  by Scout, sometimes as a child and sometimes as an adult. Her precocious yet naive child's was especially poignant and haunting.

The imagery of the mockingbird was beautifully used to depict the  innocence of Tom Robinson, of Boo Radley and even of Mayella Ewell, Robinson's alleged victim.

Lee did such a fine job of integrating the reader into the children's world that we share their disbelief and outrage when the jury convicts Robinson, despite his obvious innocence. Even though the realistic, perhaps somewhat cynical, adult in us was never in any doubt as to what the outcome would be.

The themes of the novel leave the reader much to think about -  racism obviously but also sexism, class and social inequities,  and the way society does or does not protect it's more vulnerable members.

I also enjoyed ruminating on the role, value and use of the justice system, thoughts triggered by the novel. Tom Robinson is sent to trial and then convicted despite any convincing evidence. Yet the sheriff turns a blind eye to evidence linking Boo Radley to the death of Bob Ewell, preferring to believe Ewell fell on his own knife. Discretion was applied in the case of a white man and most readers would argue justice was served. No discretion was applied in the case of a black man and justice was obviously not served. Such issues are sadly, still all too relevant today

In brief To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautifully crafted novel that remains with the reader long after the final page has been turned.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Classics Club 19: The Book Thief

I have seen Markus Zusak's The Book Thief described as a 'Modern Classic'.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and am counting it towards my Classics Club challenge I am still undecided as to whether it actually qualifies as a classic. Since one of the definitions of a classic is a work that stands the test of time, I guess only time will tell!

The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany and tells the story of Leisel Meminger, the daughter of Communist parents. When her father disappears her mother cannot care for her and puts her into foster care. She ends up with the Hubermanns - kind-hearted, easy-going Hans who has an inner strength not immediately obvious, and gruff, brusque Rosa who has a hidden heart of gold. 

I liked that this novel highlighted  life in Nazi Germany and the complexity of that life. Most of the novels set in this period that I have read focus on the experiences of Jews or various allies. Germans are portrayed  homogeneously as the enemy/the bad guy. Reality of course was far more complex and The Book Thief gives some insights into that. Not everybody there supported the Nazis or the policies they implemented. Hans Hubermann gives bread to a prisoner marching through town ( and is drafted into the army as a punishment) and the Hubermanns provide sanctuary to Max Vandenburg, a young Jewish man. The mayor's wife maintains a large library despite the Nazi book burnings. Leisel has Communist parents, and their plight, although at the periphery of the novel,  is a good reminder that Nazi's persecuted other groups as well as Jews.

Another aspect I liked,  and which added depth and extra layers to the plot, was the emphasis on books and literacy. Initially Leisel can't read but one of her most treasured possessions is a book  - The Gravedigger's Handbook - that she picked up after it was dropped at her brother's burial. Hans helps her learn to read using that unlikely title and she continues to "steal" books, each of which has a special significance to her story and, by extension to this period in German history. Books and literacy also provide a link between Max and Leisel.

One of the most unique aspects of The Book Thief is that is narrated by Death.  I rather liked him as a character, especially his ironic flourishes. However, at times the use of such an unusual narrator felt a little gimmicky and intrusive. I suspect my ambivalence over Death as a narrator is at the heart of my ambivalence over whether or not The Book Thief merits the moniker 'classic".

Monday, November 16, 2015

Classics Club 18: Things Fall Apart

Okonkwo is a leader among the Umuofia clan of the Igbo, in what is now Nigeria. He is strong, unyielding and often unthinking, He rose to his position through his own hard work and in spite of less than auspicious beginnings - his own father was a drunk. In attempting not to be weak like he perceived his father to be Okonkwo often overcompensates, one of his main weaknesses.

The first part of the novel moves slowly but gives a good insight into the traditional way of life - some aspects of which seem almost idyllic (a communal agrarian society), some unusual (there are many superstitions which influence how people live) and some downright barbaric (the abandonment of twins and Okonkwo's treatment of Ikemefuna) - at least to my 21st century western sensibilities.

Things change for Okonkwo when he kills a clansman and, according to traditional justice, is exiled for seven years. While he is away European missionaries and administrators arrive and the traditional way of life starts to change. On his return he tries to resist incursions by the Europeans, but others in his clan are less resistant. In fact some - most notably those who were not as successful in traditional society - including Okonkwo's oldest son - are eager to adopt at least some of the European ways. Okonkwo ends up killing a European court messenger and, rather than submit to European justice, take his own life.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, was written in English and published in 1958, when the African independence movement was really gaining strength. It was one of the first  novels by an African author to gain worldwide attention. It does an excellent job of highlighting the rich and complex ways in which African societies functioned before the arrival of Europeans. It also avoids the potential trap of simply negatively stereotyping the European characters either. While the District Commander is ruthless and cruel, others are more kindly and benevolent. Some even seem willing to learn a little of the ways of the Umuofia clan.

Despite being simply written and a little flat and slow in places this novel is well worth reading because of the fascinating insight it provides into some aspects of life in pre-colonial Africa and the initial impact of colonialism on the native people.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Week Ending 15 November 2015

This week we had two main highlights. The first was a family trip to the A+P Show - similar to a county fair. Trying to find a day when the whole family could go was a challenge since all three of the kids have been working extra shifts recently. Both Miss 14 and Miss 20 managed to find people to cover one of their shifts so we were all able to go. It is so rare these days that we do things all together - a sign that the kids are growing up and building their own lives. Which is as it should be but it was nice to all go out together. Sadly the weather did not cooperate but by spending a lot of time undercover and venturing out in between the heavy showers we were able to enjoy a lot that the show had to offer.

The other main event for Miss 14 and me was taking part in an annual bird survey on a river to the north of here. Several of our most endangered birds breed on this river so the annual survey is an important way of monitoring the health of these species. Because it is a braided river which snakes its way across its bed, sometimes with multiple channels, sometimes with just one deeper and swifter stream, there were multiple river crossings to be made. Not my favourite activity but we didn't fall in - although it was a struggle to not get swept off our feet sometimes.

These streams were okay to cross. My camera was safely stowed by the time we came to the challenging ones. All the gravel looks barren and inhospitable but several rare bird species breed there. Can you spot the chick in the photo on the bottom right?

The rest of the week was fairly mundane. We did get to celebrate Basil's birthday which was a bonus
since we thought he would be back with his owners by now. Still don't have a firm date but it should be before Christmas. We also received the worrying news that my mum suffered a stroke. Thankfully it was minor and doctors expect she'll fully recover, but still something we could all do without.

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Classics Club 17: A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun focuses on the Younger family  - Mama, her two adult children, a daughter-in-law and a grandson. The Youngers live in a two-bedroom apartment in a Chicago ghetto in the  post-world war II period. The patriarch of the family has recently died and  at the opening of the play, the family are awaiting a large insurance cheque which has the potential to improve their lives. Walter Lee is desperate to invest in a liquor store so he can both make money and be the boss. Beneatha is the first in the family to go to college. She wants to be a doctor and clearly some of the insurance money would help her achieve her dreams.  Meanwhile both Mama and Ruth want better and larger living quarters for the family. Arguing about the best use for the money plus other issues (Beneatha is currently seeing two very different men - one a black assimilist , another a Nigerian who promotes traditional values and beliefs to her; Ruth has just discovered she is pregnant and isn't convinced she should bring another baby into their world) threatens to tear the family apart.

Mama makes a decision and, unbeknown to the rest of the family, buys a house. Recognising Walter's desperate need for autonomy she gives him the remainder of the money with instructions to put some in an account for Beneatha's education before investing the rest as he sees fit. Things should be looking up for the family at this point but instead they get worse. The homeowners' association in the exclusively white area Mama has bought pay the family a visit and make it clear they do not want a black family moving in. They go so far as to try and buy the family out. And Walter's business partner absconds with all the money  - including Beneatha's share.

Initially Walter wants to accept the buyout offer but eventually changes his mind and stands up to the white homeowner's association. As the play ends the Youngers are preparing to move into their new home. Their short term future is bound to be full of struggles, both financial and social,  but there is a sense of optimism for the longer term.

In this short play about one black family Lorraine Hansberry touches on many issues - poverty, racism, racial identity, dissatisfaction, dreams, home and family, and individual autonomy among them. Although set in the 1950s the issues raised in this play still resonate today.

Classics Club 16: Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited opens with Charles Ryder, a middle -aged officer in the British Army, establishing himself and his unit in a large country estate that has been requisitioned. for their use. As it turns out Ryder has quite a connection with this house and the majority of the novel recollects his experiences at the house and with the family that own it.

Following his memorable first encounter with flamboyant Sebastian Flyte at Oxford university Ryder is introduced to all the members of the dysfunctional Flyte family (family patriarch Lord Marchmain is separated from his wife and their aristocratic home of Brideshead. He lives overseas with his mistress; however his wife's Catholic beliefs mean a divorce is out of the question). Sebastian's  alcohol problems eventually cause him to drift away from his family and out of Ryder's life. Some 10 years later Ryder, unhappily married, meets up with Sebastian's sister Julia and the pair later become engaged.

I did enjoy certain  aspects of the novel. The writing contained some lovely lush and detailed descriptions, especially of  the  food and architecture. I also enjoyed the understated humour in many scenes such as when Ryder's father tried to convince him that he needed to live within his means. I appreciated the commentary on religion, especially the role that differences of opinion over the Roman Catholic faith played in the lives of the characters and how such differences led to several key events in the plot.Most notable was the debate over whether or not Lord Marchmain should see a priest in his last days and how this ultimately led to a turning point for Charles and Julia's relationship.

Overall, though I did not enjoy it., The major sticking point for me was the characters whom I found to be vapid, self-centered  and shallow with barely one redeeming feature between the lot of them. As a result I couldn't bring myself to care about them or their fate. While the novel was meant to be a nostalgic look at a lifestyle of days gone by I just wanted to shout "good riddance". If the Flytes were representative of that aristocratic lifestyle then British society is surely better for its demise.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fortnight Ending 8 November 2015

It's been a pretty hectic couple of weeks around here with several highlights.

* Mr 17 and Miss 20 survived their university final exams. He had his first ever the same week she had her final ever final - well unless she decides to return for a PhD and/or postgraduate diploma that is.

To celebrate her sister finishing her degree Miss 14 made an absolutely delicious chocolate tart.
The only person not pleased that university finals are over is Dh - he now has a pile of marking to keep him busy!

* Miss 14 and I had a weekend out of town with a few birding friends. One of them is involved in a conservation group that does a lot of predator control work in a mountainous patch of bush. They wanted to begin conducting bird surveys so they can see what impact their trapping work is having on the bird population. We were pleased to be invited to help out since we haven't been into the bush a lot this year at all and would be sure to see some new species. It was hard work at times - lots of steep areas to climb, frequently without trails which meant we did in fact get lost for a time. Luckily it wasn't for too long.

Can you spot the tree in the distance with the white ribbon? We were constantly searching for them as we attempted to navigate our way through the bush.

This was our "trail". Lots of "bushwhacking"to be done for sure.

The reward was picking up six new birds for the year - including one that I'd never seen in the wild before. Plus I just love getting away from the city - fresh bush air is so invigorating. On the downside there were a lot of sandflies and Miss 14 suffered terribly for several days from all the bites she received.

* There was plenty of other birding related activity over the past couple of weeks as well. Miss 14 put out the year's final edition of our birding group's newsletter and started work on the regional column that she writes for the national birding magazine. We attended an all day workshop on braided river birds - who they are, what threats they face and what can be done to help them. It was a little depressing at times since the amount of work required seemed fairly overwhelming. Plus, we attended a talk on new pest control techniques and how they are likely to improve bird numbers. And we had a couple of successful local birding trips, adding another two or three species to our list for the year. One of the species is proving very hard to definitively identify so we're hoping some more experienced birders can lend a hand. And Miss 14 is following up on a couple of opportunities that have come her way. One she is keen on but may not come to anything; the other she is not so sure about but is still considering.

*  Miss 14's other big interest is trampolining and she had the final competition of the year. She was performing a new routine and wasn't sure if she could pull it off since results in training had been a little variable. Thankfully for her the routine came good when it counted. She actually smiled when she finished which is rare. She's pretty hard on herself and usually finds something to criticise in her performance. All in all it has been a good season for her. Not that trampolining is over for the year. Training continues until just before Christmas. Then they get a couple of weeks off before resuming with a two-week long intensive training camp featuring  eight hour days.

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Classics Club 15: David Copperfield

David Copperfield is the lengthiest of the classics I've read so far. And that length - both in absolute terms and in the length of individual sentences - is a strength and a weakness. Certainly there are times where the words seem simply repetitive, where Dickens could justly be accused of circumlocution, where reading is unduly difficult, and where it is possible to believe that he really was paid by the word (in fact he was paid by the episode). But without the length David Copperfield would be so much weaker. One of its strengths is the way Dickens shows us, rather than tells us about his characters. He doesn't tell us Uriah Heep is a villain. He shows us by laying out in glorious detail all of Heep's actions, mannerisms, behaviours and speech.   The same with events. Dickens doesn't tell us that David Copperfield gets drunk with some friends and behaves badly . He shows us, in hilarious detail.
Owing to some confusion in the dark, the door was gone. I was feeling for it in the window-curtains, when Steerforth, laughing, took me by the arm and led me out. We went down-stairs, one behind another. Near the bottom, somebody fell, and rolled down. Somebody else said it was Copperfield. I was angry at that false report, until, finding myself on my back in the passage, I began to think there might be some foundation for it.

How much poorer  David Copperfield would be without such descriptive passages.

This novel, Dickens's eighth and favourite, follows the life of David Copperfield from childhood through to late adulthood. His childhood involves many tribulations and much suffering - his father dies before he is born, his step-father treats him and his mother badly, he is sent away to school with a cruel headmaster, then his mother and baby brother die and he is sent to work for a wine merchant. Eventually Copperfield runs away and presents himself to his eccentric great-aunt, Betsey Trotwood. She takes him under her wing, ensures he gets a good education and sponsors him in his first profession as a proctor.  Through his own perseverance and hard work (his efforts to learn shorthand spring to mind) he rises, overcomes obstacles like his aunt's financial setbacks, and eventually becomes a successful novelist.

What really sticks with me from this novel is the characters . While there are some that could be used as role models for how to live and behave (Agnes Wickfield and Mr Peggotty are the most obvious examples), it is the more flawed or eccentric characters that are the most memorable. Uriah Heep obviously (has there ever been a more odious villain?), the incredibly flawed but still lovable and ultimately heroic Mr Micawber, the self-centred, manipulative James Steerforth and the immature Dora Spenlow will stay in my memory long after David Copperfield  is returned to the shelf. Even more minor characters - Rosa Dartle and Miss Mowcher - are not easily forgotten.

The character of Copperfield himself is, somewhat surprisingly, not one of the novel's more memorable. However, I did like the fact that he was not impossibly and unbelievably perfect either. His ultimate success in life was due in many respects to his own hard work. However, Copperfield also had character flaws which negatively impacted him and others at times. Chief amongst these was his sometimes being a poor judge of character. This led to his friendship with James Steerforth, which in turn had large ramifications for the entire Peggotty family, and his ill-advised marriage to the petted, spoilt  Dora Spenlow.

Much more could be said about this classic novel - the themes, the power of the scene where Mr Micawber takes down Uriah Heep, the concept of the 'fallen' woman . Suffice to say that I really enjoyed it and considered the effort involved in reading it to be well rewarded. I can definitely envisage rereading David Copperfield in the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Week Ending 25 October 2015

Another week with very little worth noting. Our life just seems to flow uneventfully along - which I guess is a good thing. Although sometimes I would like a little positive excitement.

Miss 20 is feeling very much lighter since she has just submitted her year long research project. Now she is knee-deep in studying for finals. In a mere two weeks she will be finished, her degree complete. It seems like just yesterday (but was nearly four years ago), at the start of what was supposed to be her final year of homeschooling, that she announced she was sick of homeschooling, was through with it, and wouldn't do it any more. So in a two week period she applied to university, was accepted, and began her psychology studies.

Mr 17's cricket season has started. He was pleased with 2/3 of his first game (bowling and fielding) but not so pleased with the way his batting went - or more accurately didn't! Meanwhile I'm contemplating months of grass-stained whites in the laundry.

Miss 14 has been using her spare hours to spend plenty of time with Basil. His family's new home should be finished before Christmas, possibly as early as next month, and he'll be able to move back in with them. Good news for them; not so good for us.

As for me I've been busy with my Classics Club Challenge, especially catching up with writing reviews for books I finished earlier in the year. I also finished David Copperfield, a real marathon effort, but definitely worth it.

I also started a new MOOC - Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales. Mostly theory and background this week, but I think Miss 14 may join me when we begin looking in depth at specific tales. My Highbrow course on Impressionist artists finished. Not a lot of detail but a good way of sparking interest, sort of like strewing the beginning of a rabbit trail that can then be pursued or not as you wish. I've now signed up for Philosophical Ideas that Everyone Should Know. And I watched a few more of Julie Bogart's Periscopes. Her one (split into two parts due to the joys of modern technology) on Enchanted Education for Teens was especially worthwhile. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

I also continued my gentle purging. I can't bring myself to put in the effort for concentrated purging when I know in the next few months I'll have to pack up the whole house while we move out for earthquake repairs. That seems like perfect purging time for me. Right now I'm limiting myself to areas that are especially annoying me. This week I went through some more homeschooling shelves and made several piles to sell.

I also purged some recipe magazines, recipe books and loose recipes torm from newspapers . As a reward I bought myself ...a new recipe book. Not that I have an addiction or anything!

The highlight of the week was a birding trip Miss 14 and I made to a small park. Not long after we arrived she heard a Shining Cuckoo call. This time we actually managed to trace the call and spent a happy hour watching not one but two birds fly, sing, catch insects and otherwise go about their business. Miss 14 had had the merest glimpse of one before but I had never seen one at all so we were really pleased with the morning.

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Classics Club 14: Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie is apparently the best selling novelist of all time and the author of the third most widely published works of all time after the Bible and those of Shakespeare. Since I have never read anything by her, and since my daughter has a surprising liking for murder mysteries, it was a no-brainer to include something by her in my Classics Club Challenge.

Murder on the Orient Express features Hercules Poirot, one of Christie's mostly well-known detectives - the other being Miss Marple. In a straight forward plot Poirot is travelling from Istanbul on a train, the Orient Express. Mr Ratchett, a fellow passenger, fears his life is in danger and approaches Poirot to investigate. Poirot does not like Ratchett's manner so refuses. That night Poirot is woken several times by various disturbances. The following morning he learns that Ratchett has been stabbed to death in his locked compartment and is asked to investigate.

After a relatively brief scene examination Poirot begins interviewing the conductor and twelve of the passengers. Initially all seem to be strangers and all have alibis. Further investigation reveals that some of the clues (like an open window in Ratchett's compartment) are red herrings and others (a woman in a red kimono) are frustrating dead ends. Then Poirot discovers that Ratchett was in fact Casetti, the infamous mastermind behind the kidnapping and abduction of  the Daisy Armstrong, a crime for which he was never punished. The intrigue continues when it is revealed that each of the passengers has a connection to the Armstrong family and all suffered as a result of fallout from the case.

After pondering on all the evidence Poirot gathers the passengers together and outlines two possible scenarios. I won't reveal what they are, nor which is the correct scenario, nor how the case is eventually resolved. Suffice to say you'll need to read the book yourself.

Murder on the Orient Express was an easy read, although sifting through the evidence did give my brain a workout. At first glance it was an enjoyable read with well-drawn characters, yet one with no greater purpose. However, the ultimate resolution raises some interesting questions about justice and what lengths individuals are warranted in going to should justice be denied through official channels. For this reason I feel Murder on the Orient Express rises above the level of  mere entertainment.

Classics Club 13: The Whale Rider

I was familiar with the movie Whale Rider (well-known in New Zealand  since it's lead actress earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress at the age of  13, at the time the youngest ever nominee) but had never read the book until I assigned it to my daughter for a World Literature Course. As is often the case I was surprised at the many differences between novel and movie.

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera tells the story of  Kahu and her great grandfather  Koro, a local Maori chief. He is looking for a young successor he can train to help lead a renaissance of the local Maori people. He hopes his grandson's soon-to-be-born child will be that successor. However the baby is a girl, Kahu, and he believes tradition dictates that she is therefore not suitable as a leader. As she grows her abilities and leadership potential shine through. But he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge or develop these abilities, and in fact does his best to ignore her, often treating her with a degree of disdain or even cruelty.

Intertwined with the their story is that of a pod of whales with an ancestral connection to Koro and Kahu's people. At first I found the whale's story a little mystical and felt it interrupted the main narrative flow. Inevitably the two narratives came together in the novel's dramatic climax and Kahu's actions finally forced Koro to acknowledge her as the future leader of his people.

The novel was a short and relatively easy read, although the switching between two narratives made it a little hard to "get into" initially. I also felt that using Rawiri (Kahu's uncle) as a narrator took away some potential emotional impact since he was often removed from the main action. However, the novel offers some interesting insights into Maori culture facing a time of transition and many of it's themes - love, cultural identity, looking to the past vs. looking to the future - are universal, extending well beyond the time and place in which The Whale Rider is set. Definitely worth a read by people looking for less well-known classics, especially those from other cultures.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Week Ending 18 October 2015

It has been a very relaxed week around here. Funny how practically having finished formal academics for the year contributes to that!

We did get back to our current two MOOCS. The FutureLearn course on William Wordsworth finished this week with an intriguing look at the journals of his sister Dorothy and an exercise comparing her account of encountering some daffodils growing beside the lake to his in the 1807 and 1815 versions of his famous poem. We still have a few weeks remaining in our Classical Music course. We're currently deep in the Romantic period at the moment. Generally we are enjoying this era, but we're still not converted to the merits of opera.

We've been on three birding expeditions. The first trip was to my favourite estuary with a group of fellow birders. The highlight was probably a Grey-tailed Tattler. Not sure if it is the same one that was around earlier in the year or not. The following day we met a friend at an old quarry site and she showed us where a pair of kingfishers seem to be making a nest. We'll have to make the effort to go back and check on their progress. And the day after that Miss 14 was invited to take part in a publicity exercise, promoting the Wrybill in a Bird of the Year competition. Shots of her, a local mayor and an ex Member of Parliament should be gracing newspapers and other media outlets in the next week or so! I don't think the Wrybill is going to win the vote but it is more an advocacy and awareness raising exercise anyway.

A small flock of gulls and terns fishing at the estuary.

This over sized Wrybill was part of the promotional photoshoot.

A Pied Stilt feeding on a braided river.

In the rest of the time there has been lots of reading, game-playing and trampolining. Miss 14's really excited that some new skills seem to be coming together - and they are not as difficult as she'd feared. We also started watching the final series of Downton Abbey.

Bohnanaza is the current game of choice.

Mr 17 has had a busy week. He sat and passed the final stage of his drivers licence so can now drive without any restrictions (new drivers here aren't allowed to carry passengers or drive after 10pm until they've driven for at least a year and then passed the final test). The first thing he wanted to do was take a passenger somewhere so he treated Miss 14 to a frozen coke and fries from a local drive-thru as an incentive to go with him! He's spent all weekend working at JOTI, the annual international Scout Jamboree-on- the-Internet.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Week Ending 11 October 2015

Now that we are very definitely in our low-tide/unschooly/interest-led part of the school year how exactly are Miss 14 and I spending our days?

She's back at the gym (of course) coaching and training. She's now announced her new goal in trampolining - making a national representative team, probably to compete in Australia. For her this will be a long term commitment, not likely to be achieved until 2017 at the earliest. I had wondered if achieving her goal of winning a medal at the National Championships would have slated the trampolining bug. Clearly not.

Getting ready to help a recreational athlete do a forward roll on the low beam.

We've gone on a couple of birding trips. One day just the two of us headed to a local lake to see if we could spot any interesting waders. The lake level was pretty low and there weren't many interesting birds to see. Over the weekend we joined some members of our local birding group for a field trip to some bush and forest areas. Loved walking through the bush, with the sound of bird calls all around.

We've also been doing plenty of reading. Miss 14 is on a Harry Potter kick, rereading the entire series. And we're reading The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate as a read-aloud, since we had so much fun reading the first one together. Callie Vee is one of our favourite characters.

A while ago I asked Miss 14 what her ideal homeschool would look like. Her response - "Birding, trampolining ...and I guess some reading as well". So she's had a great week!

There's also been a lot of downtime which I think she really needed this week. Last week's competition was obviously taxing - mentally as well as physically.

This week I discovered a fun new site  - Highbrow -  where you can sign up for short courses. Most I've browsed are slated to take 5 minutes per day and last for 10 days courses. They cover a range of interesting sounding, "highbrow" subjects -  A Brief History of Economic Thought, Philosophical Ideas That Everyone Should Know, and Beautiful Inspirational Poems which is the one I've currently signed up for.

I'm also keeping my brain ticking over with a course on Logical And Critical Thinking via FutureLearn. Miss 14 isn't interested but I want to do some logic with her at some stage. So I might save the course components and use them with her next year. Such a nuisance when great courses are on at times that aren't convenient or when we aren't interested - typically at this time of year when we are basically done but the North American school year is getting underway . One reason I'm pleased many of Coursera's offerings are now available on demand.

There has been one piece of big news around here. Mr 17 bought himself a car - researched, test-drove, sorted the paperwork and paid for it entirely by himself - and it's better than our car! He's the first of mine who has purchased a car. Another of those "my babies are growing up" moments.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Week Ending 4 October 2015

The big focus of this week was the National GymSports Championships. Preparations didn't go smoothly -  a messed up leotard order left Miss 14 without a team leotard. Luckily she was able to share with someone who was competing on days she wasn't. Then there was the team bag. Miss 14's had only been used for two tournaments and there is no reason why one zip should have broken let alone three of them. Given the poor quality I refused to buy a replacement but Miss 14 wanted a bag like everyone else so I decided to try replacing the zips. Did I mention that I hate sewing and have never really learned how to sew? Did I mention one of the zips was nearly a metre long? Did I mention it is impossible to always manoeuvre a stiff sports bag through a sewing machine in the way that you need to? Anyway I succeeded so she was happy. Mother of the Year for me!

For the bulk of the week she was out of town competing.

There were a few interesting hiccups -  a mix-up with the mini buses which meant they missed the opening ceremony, and a leaking roof in the hotel which necessitated a change of room at midnight. But it was successful competition for her - a second placing in her individual event on the back of an especially good set routine. It was her first ever medal at the national level and I'm really pleased for her. Hopefully I'll get some video to share next week.  She also picked up a bronze in the synchronized event - mind you there were just three pairs!

While she was away I'd set myself a list of  jobs. One of these was supposed to be simple - update Mr 17's transcript so it is ready for him to apply to the university for formal admission. Except that I couldn't find the transcript I'd already drafted! Then I realized it was another victim of our switching computers. At the start of each year I write a record of our plans for that year so recreating his transcript shouldn't have been too difficult. Except the plans for 2012 and 2013 had also disappeared! Remembering what he'd done and thus creating the transcript became a major hassle. Before you do any major changes to your computer back up all you files, then check and back them up again! I finally got that sorted and also spent a fair bit of time planning an ornithology course for Miss 14 for next year. I've decided to go for a sort of buffet approach - gather lots of resources, project ideas, theory assignments etc - and let her pick and choose as she goes.

On Saturday a 130km walking trail encircling our city and designed to highlight its biodiversity was officially opened with a ceremony at a local wetland. Members of our ornithology group were asked to attend, share our scopes and talk about birds with members of the public. Since Miss 14 was away I went in her place.

Speaking of birds, one of Miss 14's favourites is the Kaka, a forest-dwelling parrot unique to New Zealand. Before she left we were delighted to discover this live nest cam  and spent some enjoyable time checking in on the nestlings as they slept and fed.

Linking up with the Weird Unsocialized Homeschooler's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Week Ending 27 September 2015

The week was  cold and grey a lot of the time- perfect for staying home and getting lots of work done. Which is exactly what Miss 14 did. As a result she is basically done with formal homeschooling for the year. Algebra, World Literature, Geography, Physics and Latin were all completed this week. The only thing that remains is Music History/Appreciation but that will only take 15-30 minutes per day for a few weeks. Let the the interest-led/low-tide/good times roll!

To celebrate we went to a local wildlife park.  The walk through aviaries were an obvious favourite

A Tui - caught making some of the wide variety of vocalisations it is famous for.

A Kea shredding a large cardboard tube - one of the enrichment activities provided for these intelligent and curious birds.

A couple of Red-crowned parakeets sharing food.

A Yellow-crowned parakeet. 

A Blue duck. We are hoping to see one of these in the wild this summer.

as was hand feeding the giraffes.

Miss 14 was especially interested in the gorillas which she's never seen before since they are a fairly new exhibit at this park

and in the Tasmanian Devils, another new animal for the park.

We managed a couple of birding trips - including one to count Kereru. This New Zealand pigeon plays an essential role is dispersing the large seeds of many native plants. The aim of the Great Kereru Count is to gather data about the population of these birds, which will assist in conservation efforts. They aren't especially common in our part of the country (and we didn't have a lot of time to devote to the count this year) but we did spot one in one of their favoured areas.

This isn't the Kereru we saw on the count. This was in the  aviary at the wildlife park.
We also tried our hand at a little origami. Not our strong point so we were glad the pattern was simple!

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