Friday, July 29, 2016

Week Ending 24 July 2016

I spent the first two days of this week (well not the entire days but a couple of hours each day) doing a little homeschool preparation and planning so we can start our second semester with a bang. Top of my agenda was reviewing the options for the ornithology buffet course and deciding which would be of most value. I'm happy to let Miss 15 make her own choices but she often wants my input so I wanted to be prepared. I also familiarized myself with the problem based learning unit Miss 15 will be using for history, and tried to make some decision about what to do next for writing. Despite officially homeschooling for 19 years I'm still looking for the perfect approach to writing.

Wednesday was a busy day. It was our oldest son's birthday so he came for dinner. Nice to know my home cooking is still valued! Then we had a trip to the airport to collect Miss 15 after her trip to Australia. Her group's first flight  was delayed meaning we weren't sure they would actually make the connection. Luckily they were all speedy runners! Despite some issues with her host family, Miss 15 had a great time. The training facilities were far superior to what her club can provide - recovery sessions in the pool were a real luxury.

It's obviously a top-class facility since it is where Australia's Olympic trampolinist trains. He was training with them in some sessions - so she'll have another athlete to follow when the Olympics starts. As well as plenty of training, plus a small competition, they managed some sightseeing and other fun activities.

Scenes from Adelaide, Australia

After a hard days training the perfect way to relax is obviously to visit a trampoline park! You can never do too much trampolining

Mega Adventure provided another great workout (plus plenty of fun up in the air) after training one day.

More scenes from Adelaide.

We'd hoped to arrange a birding trip for Miss 15 while she was there. That wasn't possible but she did manage to spot and identify quite a few birds while she was travelling to and from the gym and other places.

I'd arranged to have Basil for the day on Thursday. It always warms our hearts to see how pleased he is to see us. Sadly he has been diagnosed with bone cancer and the prognosis is not good so it was extra nice to spend some time with him. We're luckily his family is still happy to share him.

Basil feeling sad because we wouldn't play his favourite hose game - our lawn was too wet to cope with any more water!

On Friday Miss 15 spent all day working at a school holiday programme at her gym. The plan for the weekend was to basically relax and we did manage some of that on Saturday. But then we got a call from my mother-in-law to say she'd tripped in her garden and thought she had broken her wrist. Two attempts to realign the bones were unsuccessful so she was eventually admitted to hospital where she is awaiting surgery. As a result I'm predicting next week won't be as productive as I'd hoped.

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

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Classics Club 29: The Makioka Sisters

Junichiro Tanizaki's slow-moving novel is set in Japan in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Rather than highlighting  the political issues of the time it instead focuses on the lives of four sisters from a once affluent family whose fortunes are now somewhat in decline.

The main plot line focuses on efforts to find a husband for Yukiko, the second youngest sister but it also offers a broader insight into  the everyday lives of middle class Japanese women and their families of this time - everything from  firefly hunting expeditions, blossom viewing, dance recitals, letter writing  and household management. Through reading the novel I gained many insights into everyday Japanese life - the role of family in finding and vetting potential suitors, the fact that husbands might take their wives' surnames, family dynamics such as younger sisters not typically marrying until all their older sisters had husbands.

I found the youngest sister, Taeko, the most interesting - possibly because she was the most complex and also potentially the most flawed - certainly she suffers the most for her flaws in the novel. At the beginning I liked the way she seemed to seize control of her own life- developing a career and having relationships rather than just waiting until her sister married so a husband could then be found for her. As the novel progressed her decision making appeared less wise and her character less go-getting and more self-serving.

The Makioka Sisters has sometimes been referred to as Japan's version of Pride and Prejudice. While there are some superficial similarities (sisters seeking husbands) I feel the comparisons are overdone. There is no character akin to Mr Darcy and certainly no sparks between Yukiko and any of her potential suitors. Most of Taeko's relationships take place outside the pages of the novel so it is hard for the reader to judge them. Tanizaki matter-of-factly reveals many intimate details about the sisters - periods and detailed accounts of diarrhea during bouts of illness. Such details would never have featured in an Austen novel. Different time periods and different cultures.

The ending felt rather abrupt and unfinished.  While a husband does appear to have finally been found for Yukiko, the wedding has not yet occurred and she seems neither happy nor excited. In some ways this was unsatisfying but in other ways it fitted with the tone of the novel.

This novel is an addition to my original Classics Club list and is my pick for the "Classic by a Non-White Author" category in Books and Chocolate's Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. I confess to never having heard of the novel or the author before I went in search of something to read for this category. I'm so glad I discovered The Makioka Sisters though. Not only was it an enjoyable read but it introduced me to a culture I previously knew little about.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Classics Club 28: Mrs Dalloway

In this novel by Virginia Wolf, we spend 24 hours with Clarissa Dalloway, a London lady, as she goes about her day, preparing for a dinner party.  At one level the novel reads like a series of somewhat connected, mainly everyday scenes and it can feel like there is too detailed a focus on relatively trivial things. Yet each  scene reveals more about the characters than is obvious on the surface.Rather than just focus on the externals - a trip to pick flowers - what was unusual about this novel was that most of it was based on  inner thoughts with plenty of flashbacks and was written in a stream of consciousness type style. This style highlights the difference between the inner and outer selves of the characters - and also of ourselves. On the outside Mrs Dalloway is serene and respectable, yet on the inside she is much more complex, battling mixed feelings about the return of an old beau, worried about aging, having difficulties with her daughter, feeling her identity has been subsumed by her husband and focusing on a kiss shared years earlier with a female friend  for whom she obviously still has more than platonic feelings.

While we focus mainly on Mrs Dalloway we also spend time with, and in the heads of, other characters, most memorably and shockingly Septimus Smith, a World War I soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mrs Dalloway was one of the first novels to highlight the difficulties faced by World War one veterans so is interesting to read for this reason alone.

Overall the novel is fairly bleak with its focus on lost potential whether that of Septimus, Peter Walsh (Mrs Dalloway's former beau who has not managed to achieve the great things he once dreamt of), or of course Mrs Dalloway herself . She used to be lively and vivacious but now seems somewhat dull and confined to mundane domestic matters. While it wasn't the most enjoyable read I am glad that I read Mrs Dalloway. It certainly gave me plenty to think about.

Mrs Dalloway was first published in 1925 and is my 20th century classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Four Weeks Ending 17 July 2016

Long time, no blog - nearly an entire month in fact. Several reasons for this. The first is homeschooling teens just isn't as exciting and blog-worthy as homeschooling younger kids. Most weeks - at least around here - are much like the ones before. Also, blogs just don't seem to create a community the way they once did. It seems that all the action is now on Instagram. Since I'm not a photographer and more a words than pictures person, Instagram isn't such a good fit for me. So I'm debating (again) the issue of whether or not to keep this blog going. But until I reach a firm decision I'll try to do better about keeping this up-to-date.

The missing month has encompassed the last three weeks of the second (of four) term in our school year, plus the first week of our two week break. I'd like to say that the last three weeks of term were filled with lots of focus and academic business but that wouldn't really be true.There has been a lot of sickness doing the rounds and Miss 15 worked more hours than usual covering for other coaches who were sick, Then (of course!) she spent a few days sick herself.

Still she kept up with her maths and is exactly where we thought she'd be, working at the planned rate of four lessons per week. She continued investigating child labour in Victorian Britain for history, mainly using material found online since locating books has been harder than we'd anticipated. We also relearnt the lesson that while Miss 15 appreciates a lot of input into the topics she studies, she wants guidance into the actual what and how of that study. So, we made the decision to broaden her child labour studies, to find some organised printed material and for me to get more involved than I have been with this subject.
Opening the package with our new curriculum choice for history. Miss 15 will examine child labour in America during the Progressive era.

I know she also did some work for her writing course but I'm a little vague as to exactly what that involved - the perils of not blogging for so long I guess. I know  that she finished the first section of Bravewriter's Help for High School and we did an exercise or two learning about and practising the rhetorical techniques of logos, pathos and ethos.

At least I remember lots of good stuff that happened in ornithology though. She finished the Birds Without Borders curriculum, that was one of her main projects for the term. The final lesson involved creating a conservation plan for an individual species and presenting it using PowerPoint. We adapted the lesson somewhat since she decided to focus on a New Zealand bird (the curriculum is North American) and that necessitated a few tweaks.

One of her PowerPoint slides.

She also finished her field guide (another of the term's main projects) designed to help beginner birders identify any of the birds they are likely to see at one of our favourite birding sites.

An extract from Miss 15's filed guide.

Then we moved onto ethology/animal behaviour and learnt all about ethograms. How had I never heard of these before? We initially used a lot of material designed more for middle schoolers, especially The Ethogram and Animal Behavior Research and some information in a series of educators guides from Lincoln Park Zoo. I'm not worried about them being "too young" since they were a great introduction and we moved through them a lot faster than the suggested pace. We were meant to conclude with a field trip to one of our local wildlife parks where Miss 15 planned to complete many different types of ethogram as part of a research assignment, this one based on an assignment from a third year university course. However, sickness and bad weather put this on hold until after our break. But she did manage a few simple ethograms for practise, using waterfowl at a local park as her subjects. She also started a scientific writing assignment, a critique of a paper published in an ornithological journal. This was the other main thing I'd hoped would be finished by the end of term but wasn't. We fitted in a couple of  birding trips in a vain attempt to track down the most recent rarity spotted in our part of the world. The only consolation was the other birders we kept bumping into were no more successful that us! The bird is either hiding really well or has since moved on. We also attended a public lecture on Bar-Tailed Godwits and went to a talk on New Zealand Falcons and how they are being used to control pigeons on the university campus. That talk was at the monthly meeting of our local birding group and was a real highlight since the presenters brought their falcons with them! As well as all this Miss 15 gave herself a quick crash course in identifying some common Australian birds and created a Memrise course to help her.

A Memrise created exercise to help Miss 15 quickly identify any Australian birds she might see - in the few hours she isn't in the gym training!

The first week of the holidays started ridiculously early. Miss 15 and some of her trampoline clubmates were off to a training camp in Australia and needed to be at the airport just after 4am!  It's her first time overseas and she's paid for it all herself so a big achievement. After she boarded the flight I drove home (grateful for the fact that we live just a short drive from the airport) and returned to bed! I spent the rest of the week down at my parents' place. My Mum had back surgery a couple of weeks ago so it was a good chance to go and lend a hand. Slightly strange though since it was the first time ever that I've been away without at least one of my kids, and the oldest kid turns 24 next week.

Finally a quick update on the rest of the family - the ex-homeschoolers. Mr 18 passed his first semester of university with straight  As. It's always a relief to me as a homeschooling mum to know that my kids can cut it at the university level. (Only since - somewhat to my surprise in one case - my three oldest have all opted for university. If they chose some other path I'd be just as relieved and delighted to know they were well prepared for success in whatever that path was.) His second semester has just started and he'll be studying Accounting and Information Systems (both required for his degree) as well as Computer Science and Political Science. Miss 21 is still enjoying her time in England and has decided to stick with her job, despite its less than ideal aspects. Most recently she's made a two day trip to Cornwall.

Scenes from Penzance.

Mr 23 is enjoying his temporary research job, lining up interviews for a more permanent position, and preparing for the oral defence of his PhD which is scheduled for next month.

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