Monday, August 14, 2017

Classics Club 50: Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula, first published in 1897, was my 50th and final read for my Classics Club challenge, which I began in November 2014. This title wasn't even on my original list, a fact which doesn't surprise me. I predicted I'd make many changes as I went along. It's also my choice in the Gothic or horror category in the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge.

I knew the vaguest outline of the plot - Count Dracula travels from Transylvania to England, in search of unsuspecting new blood to feed upon, but is ultimately thwarted and killed - before I started reading,  but much of the book was a surprise. I wasn't even aware that it was an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters, diary and journal entries as well as the occasional newspaper article and entry from a ship's log.

The novel opens with young English solicitor Jonathan Harker  being sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula purchase property in England, Despite a promising start the visit soon turns sinister and Harker realizes he is the Count' s prisoner. I enjoyed this section of the book. The plot moved quickly and soon had me engrossed. Plus the descriptive writing was especially evocative, with  wolves, the dark isolation of the castle and the mysterious flickering lights.

Abruptly everything changed and we are reading a series of letters between Lucy, who is juggling three admirers, and her friend Mina, who happens to be the fiancee of Jonathan Harker. This switch is quite disconcerting and I was somewhat frustrated - what was happening to Jonathan? -  waiting for the two seemingly distinct strands to come together again. And eventually they do. A mysterious boat arrives in England without any crew left alive but reports indicate a large black dog was seen leaving the ship after it landed. Lucy becomes sicker and progressively weaker and despite the efforts of her three admirers (one of whom is now her fiancee), Mina and Professor van Helsing she eventually dies. Meanwhile Harker returns and recovers from his traumatic experience and joins the others in the fight against what they now realize is a vampire. Much drama ensues - the undead Lucy has to be killed (staked through the heart, beheaded and her mouth filled with garlic), Mina is partly taken over by Dracula, and the vampire fighters pursue Dracula back to Transylvania where he is ultimately destroyed in battle.

I loved Mina as a character. In many ways she reminded me of Marian in A Woman in White. She is so capable and resourceful, even when Dracula attempts to take her over. She is the one who makes many important connections and works out what Dracula might be doing at various points. Frustratingly, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the men believe she needs protecting and act paternalistically keeping some important but frightening information from her. This proves to be a costly mistake.

Despite the character of Mina, Stoker's Dracula is not always an easy read for someone of a feminist persuasion. Lucy is the stereotypical beautiful damsel in distress and all the men practically fall over themselves trying to save her. While nowhere near as passive as Laura from A Woman in White, Lucy irked me as being a similar type of character. And as for the remark from one of the males that "brave man's blood is the best thing on earth when a woman is in trouble" the less said about that the better!

Another factor that impacted my enjoyment of the novel was the many long winded tedious sections. Professor van Helsing was the cause of many of those, and I recognized the importance of some of them in setting the background and accurately providing all the information in much the same way that prosecutors build and present evidence in a court case. But still I found myself sighing after reading the fourth detailed account of a blood transfusion. After one detailed account surely a briefer mention would have sufficed? Likewise, knowing that a wolf had escaped form the zoo was important but the verbatim report of a conversation with the zookeeper seemed to slow down the action and decrease, rather than increase, the sense of rising tension - at least for me.

Overall I'm glad I read this novel. I'm not a fan of vampire fiction but in light of its present day popularity its good to have read one of the earliest examples of the genre. It was a simple, uncomplicated read not nearly as gruesome or frightening as I feared it might have been.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Week Ending 6 August 2017

Another smooth uneventful week, homeschooling wise. Confidence intervals for statistics, World War II  for history, more on predator behaviour for animal behaviour, finishing off Pudd'nhead Wilson for literature, not to mention German expressionism and Soviet montage for film history. Plus we read and worked through some of the section on global warming for our climate change review.


Graphing carbon dioxide concentrations.


This kept us occupied on Friday afternoon.

We managed to fit in a fair bit if bird related stuff as well. Our  monthly bird meeting featured  a very experienced bird bander who has just moved to this area. He seems willing to help set up bander training plus help establish a banding project. The prospect of this has Miss 16 very excited. She also received news of a special weekend banding camp for teens later in the year so got herself signed up for that very promptly! She also received the draft of her short paper for a scientific journal back from a friend who had agreed to look over it for us. So she made some changes he'd suggested and then submitted it. Fingers crossed! It was also publishing week for our quarterly newsletter so she was busy drafting copy, chasing up copy from others, editing, formatting and the like. But it's out now. Just got to get the hard copies in the post. After all that work we decided to take advantage of a fine morning over the weekend and actually go birding. We drove north to one of our favourite spots and spent a very pleasant hour enjoying the kingfisher, spoonbills, herons, oystercatchers and especially all the black-fronted terns.

The white blob is actually a Royal Spoonbill - one of the birds we saw at the estuary.



Linking to Homeschool Highlights . (No Weekly Wrap-Up this week).

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Week Ending 30 July 2017

The first week of the final academic term of our homeschooling year is in the bag and went without a hitch. Statistics involved a unit on control charts. If something is going to throw us during the week it is most likely to be statistics, but thankfully Miss 16 found this unit as straightforward as I thought she would. Anti-predator behaviour was the focus for animal behaviour, while history was concerned with issues of conformity and non-conformity in the inter-war years. Miss 16 finally started her new vocabulary book, after it mistakenly got packed in storage rather than taken with us to our temporary accommodation. She's going to do double lessons for a few weeks so she can get it wrapped up by the end of term. Since she finished her grammar earlier than planned, courtesy of doing double grammar while she was vocabulary-free, she has plenty of time to devote to it. She's started reading Puddin'head Wilson for literature, using this free sample as our guide. The course as a whole wouldn't be a good fit for us but it has a couple of aspects I wanted to expose Miss 16 to so I'm happy to adapt the free sample lesson. It'll  be interesting to compare this lesser known work of Mark Twain's  to Huckleberry Finn which she read earlier in the year. She finished the Movies as Literature course at the end of last term, but we've decided to add in some film history and rename the course Film Studies. We've started the film history component with Crash Course.

It seems that every year, often around this time, we add something unexpected and previously unplanned into the mix, and this year is no different. Recently I was given the opportunity to review Blair Lee's course on climate change. Although Miss 16 is older than the target audience, climate change is an important issue for everyone to fully understand, especially those who are considering studying environmental science or ecology and conservation at university! Plus I have a great deal of respect for the thoroughness of Blair's science and the accessible and engaging way in which she writes. This week we read the first section - The Greenhouse Effect. As expected the tone was clear and conversational, the diagrams were also clear and complemented the text, while the activities were quick and easy to complete but definitely designed to emphasize the lessons contained in the text. They weren't just time fillers. Blair is a strong advocate of the importance of integrating mathematics with science where relevant and this section included activities involving scientific notation and graphing. At this stage our plan is just to cover one section per week. Look for a full review once we've finished the course.

Also adding a little fun and variety to our week was the temporary presence of our favorite dog. His family sadly had to attend an out-of-town funeral so he spent a few nights back at our place. Everyone (except our cat) was delighted to have the chance to spend some time with him again.

He's so innocent - at least when he's asleep!

The other thing that was different - very different -  this week was that Miss 16 began a break from trampoline training. She's been considering retiring for quite a few weeks now and still hasn't fully decided. It's a tough call, given it has been a big part of her life for so long. As an interim measure she's taking the term off, before making her final decision. She's still coaching for six hours per week but is home every evening which makes a real change.

At the end of June I was planning to check in with all of my reading challenges and see how I was going. However, the end of June was a little crazy what with all the moving and uncertainty over moving. So I left my check-in until the end of July instead. Turns out I've read 114 books so far this year. I've finished both the challenges from Modern Mrs Darcy and I've also finished the reading for my 50 book Classic Club Challenge. But I've still got to post reviews for a couple of them. I'm 3/4 of the way through the Back to the Classics Challenge, but have some heavy duty reads ahead including Crime and Punishment. I've also completed 47 of 52 categories from the Pop Sugar Ultimate Reading Challenge.  I'm part way through a book for one category and have a couple of options lined up for another. But  'a book written by someone you admire', 'a book recommended by an author you love' and 'a book you bought on a trip' are proving a struggle. I may have to apply some artistic license and make a special trip to a bookshop for that last one since the only trips I'm planning for the remainder of the year are for birding, and the locations aren't really awash with any shops, let alone book stores! I'm also considering a couple of multicultural or read your way around the world type challenges if I get into a reading slump for the remainder of the year.

Classics Club 49: The Odyssey

The Odyssey is one of those classics with which I was already familair, despite never having read it before. But as the archetypal hero's journey tale it is not surprising that many aspects of the story have seeped into popular culture. Despite this there was plenty to surprise and interest me. The Odyssey does recount the adventures, or perhaps more accurately the  misadventures, of Odysseus as he attempts to return to Ithaca after the Trojan War. The fact that it took him  ten years, as long the war itself, tells you it wasn't a simple journey. Complications, which include a fight with a cyclops, travelling to the Land of the Dead, narrowly escaping the call of the  sirens and a sea monster plus being trapped on the island of Calypso, abound and help to make The Odyssey a rollicking adventure story. Yet there is much more to the plot than this. The Odyssey is also the story Odysseus's wife Penelope and her efforts to remain faithful to him and especially to avoid marrying the many suitors who, convinced that Odysseus is dead, seek her hand in marriage. And it is also the story of Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope, who tries to protect his mother from the unwanted suitors and who sets out on a journey of his own, seeking news of his father. And much of The Odyssey focuses on Odysseus's actions once he has actually arrived back home in Ithaca.

The themes of The Odyssey resonated and gave me much to think about, despite it being set thousands of years ago, in a culture very different from my own. Admittedly the relationship between gods and  mortals isn't something I'm currently concerned about, but the importance of family relationships, the validity of disguise and deception even to attain a worthwhile goal,  the role of hospitality (generosity) and what, if any limits should be placed on it, the effect of temptation, the extent to which loyalty and perseverance are important and, perhaps most overarchingly,  the extent to which individuals are responsible for their own actions, are all relevant in today's society.

My biggest struggle with this classic, and the thing that prevented me enjoying it, was the character of Odysseus himself and the perception of him as a hero. I struggle to accept him as a hero at all, even a flawed one. Odysseus's flaws are many - arrogance, hubris, pride, an obsession with revenge rather than justice, and blood thirstiness - are just some of them. These character flaws are at the root of many of the misfortunes that he faces. The whole reason his journey back to Ithaca takes so long is that he has foolishly angered Poseidon, god of the sea, who then conspires to put many obstacles in Odysseus's way While he did exhibit admirable traits such as cleverness and foresight on occassion e.g. hiding his men underneath sheep to escape from Polyphemus's cave, and plugging his ears with wax and forcing his men to tie him to the ship mast before encountering the sirens, Odysseus was generally the master of his own misfortunes. And those misfortunes cost many innocent victims. Telemachus grew up without a father, Penelope had to fend for herself in a society where women had little power, and none of the men under Odysseus's  command made it home with him. To say nothing of the loss of life that occurred on Ithaca after his return. For me this was one of the most horrific aspects in The Odyssey.

All in all I'm glad I read The Odyssey, and not only because it is such an important and foundational work in western literature. Much of the writing was lovely and poetic, although this does vary between translations.  I used two - one by E V Rieu; the other by Robert Fagles. The non-linear plot device (beginning with Telemachus and Penelope,  switching to Odysseus, then travelling further back in time as Odysseus recounts his journey since leaving Troy, and finally merging the two strands Ithaca) arouses interest without being  confusingly complicated. I was interested by several of the minor characters, especially Penelope (I enjoyed Margaret Atwood's take on her which I read once I finished this.) However, the character of Odysseus disturbed me intensely, particularly his horrific revenge-fuelled actions once he returned to Ithaca. Even if they were justified by the standards of the time, I cannot in any way conceive of them as heroic. Rather than see The Odyssey as a heroic epic, I couldn't help but read it as a cautionary tale about the negative effects of one man's ill-conceived actions.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Week Ending 23 July 2017

This has been a wonderfully relaxed week  with nothing pressing to do. Since I've finished unpacking (the garage still has to be done but that is Dh's domain, and Mr 19's approach is to leave his things in boxes until he needs them - luckily I don't have to go into his room very often) there has been plenty of time to catch up on reading (The Dry, Behold the Dreamers and The Hate U Give - all fantastic in my opinion), get caught up on errands, and plan out the next term's worth of homeschooling, which may or may not be Miss 16's last. Gulp! Not that there is much planning to do any more - mainly just pre-read a few statistics lessons so I'm prepared, select what to read next for literature, order the book from the library, and decide what if anything to do with it beyond reading. It's also been a great week for getting back into routine. Now that we're back home I can easily cook the way I like, clean according to a schedule that (mostly) works for me, resume regular yoga practice (not enough space to practice properly in our temporary accommodation or at home until many boxes had been unpacked) and otherwise feel that I'm living my life again. The past few weeks have felt like I've been in a holding pattern, waiting to get back to real life.

Miss 16 has also been pretty relaxed this week - lots of reading and computer time - but she did start work on the next birding newsletter and wrote her short article for the Young Birders magazine. She was made aware of an exciting opportunity so has also been fine tuning her CV so she can apply. The opportunity is a long shot but if she doesn't apply she'll never know. Fingers crossed.

Miss 16 reading some fun political satire.

The rest of the family had busier or more eventful weeks. The second semester of university has started so Mr 19 is back to lectures and assignments, and Dh is really busy with teaching since his entire teaching load falls in this semester. Two of Mr 19's classes this semester are taught by Dh, which adds an interesting dynamic. With homeschooling they are used to teaching/learning together but the classroom environment makes it different. Miss 22 received good news in the form of a scholarship this week - full fees plus a good stipend. It'll ease her financial pressures and give her more options which is great. My oldest celebrated a birthday - this week his quarter-century! It just seems like yesterday that I was his age and pregnant with him!

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fortnight Ending 16 July 2017

When I last posted our move back home had been delayed for the third time. Originally we were meant to be moving back on Friday 2 July but that was then put back until Monday 5. We'd just arranged to stay in our temporary accommodation for the extra time and rescheduled the movers when we heard back from the contractors to say there had been a mistake and we now couldn't get back until the Wednesday. So more phone calls and rescheduling were required. Monday 5 arrived and I'd just begun to plan the packing when Dh messaged me with news of yet another delay - to Friday this time. Then we discovered the movers couldn't come until the following Monday and since all our furniture and most of our possessions were in storage that meant we couldn't really move back until Monday 12. (As it turned put the contractors delayed again  - luckily only until Monday 12). Despite various claims and appeals the powers that be refused to cover the extra accommodation costs and a few calculations showed paying to remain in our temporary accommodation wasn't financially viable for us. So late Tuesday saw us madly packing and cleaning so we could move out the following day. Most of us moved in with my mother-in-law (crowded doesn't begin to describe it; poor Mr 19 got stuck on the couch - luckily his exams were over - while Miss 22 ended up staying with friends) for five days. It was a pretty frustrating week.Monday and Tuesday were spent in limbo wondering whether we'd have to move out of our temporary accommodation. Wednesday we were busy packing up and splitting the stuff we had with us between my mother-in-law's and brother-in-law's but the rest of the time was basically just waiting. It turned out my mother-in-law had surgery scheduled while we were there which made it easy to take her to and from the hospital plus help her out for a day or two.

Miss 16, Mr 19 and I amused ourselves with a newly found app while killing time before we could move back into our house.
This week has been all about unpacking. Dh has had to work, Miss 22 is still with friends and Mr 19 has picked up extra work shifts so the unpacking has largely fallen on me and Miss 16. So it's been a lot slower than I would have liked, and so many things have gone wrong which has slowed the job down even more. The contractors flooded the kitchen and some cupboards are still damp and mouldy so can't be used, the movers damaged several bookshelves so we've had to repair some and throw out others, they didn't remove the curtains and rails properly so rehanging them was a lengthy nightmare (they are up but not properly - we had snow so needed them up quickly, more than we needed them up prettily), the extractor fan in the kitchen no longer works so cooking results in steam - not ideal when you are trying to dry out the kitchen cupboards, the washing machine refused to operate so I thought it may have been reconnected improperly but it later started working so I think the problem was just air in the pipes after the water had been turned off....the list goes on. But the end is nearly in sight. At least I can actually see our nice new flooring now - it's no longer totally covered by boxes that need to be unpacked!
I'll be glad to see the back of boxes and packing paper!

As I've unpacked I've also been purging and so far have more than a dozen boxes of homeschooling supplies to sell. We've also been moving plenty of kids books into storage in our garage. We don't want to ditch them but we don't need them taking up shelf space - especially now we have fewer shelves than we used to! It's been a slow process as we debate whether we really need to keep each book - plus we've had to pause and reread some old favourites!

We didn't get very much snow on the ground so Mr 19 drove inland to find some more.

Another thing that slowed the unpacking down was stopping to read various gems the kids had written when they were younger. One child (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) had been asked to write about an experience they'd had that related to a story's theme. The theme was self-control. My child wrote "R was pestering. She kept at it, and despite what I did, it annoyed me. I got thoroughly fed up so I hit her on the nose - and it bled." I'm sure nobody enjoyed the incident at the time but reading about it many years later  sure gave us a good laugh. Then there was a letter to Santa telling him to help himself - there were buckets in the shed which he could fill with water from the outside tap  - and apologizing for not having put everything out for him "but I haven't had time what with the earthquakes and all". Yes, we had experienced a couple of large shakes the day before Christmas Eve which had everyone on edge, since we were thinking/hoping that the aftershock sequence was tapering off. However, I'm pretty sure the letter writer was onto the truth about Santa - not quite ready to give it up, but clearly not willing to put much energy into the rituals either!


I love this winter scene Mr 19 captured.

In between the never-ending unpacking Miss 16 and I attended open days at both the local university and the closest out-of-town university.  Unfortunately, I think it made her decision more complicated. The local university has just started offering an environmental studies major which could be perfect for her (the local university is very welcoming to homeschoolers and we would be free to homeschool how we want in our final year, plus she could live at home making it the most affordable option for her) but their presentation was neither informative nor inspiring. She initially wasn't keen on the out-of-town university but their presentations convinced her to add it to her list of possibilities. It's just a short commute away so she could continue to live at home  and just travel there and back daily. So I need to investigate their enrollment requirements and see if or how we can meet them. I think I might also get her to plan out a full course of study at all three universities she's considering. I know their offerings might change as may her plans but it will hopefully give her something else concrete to base her decision on. No sense going to one if you have to take too many papers you will endure rather than enjoy. Neither Mr 24, Miss 22 nor Mr 19 considered anything other than the local university (it was as good as any other for their respective majors, being able to live at home made it affordable, and since Mr 24 started young we wouldn't have considered sending him away anyway) so helping guide her to make this decision is a new and challenging experience. Not to mention frustrating - I wish we could rustle up the money to pay for her accommodation at what I think is her first choice university but we can't, and she, sensibly and understandably, isn't keen to take on extra debt.

University Open Days sadly didn't help Miss 16's decision making  as I'd hoped they might.
Of course the rest of life carried on around all the unpacking. Mr 19 received his first semester exam results and he did great - as well as he expected in his strongest subjects and better than expected in the others. He was really pleased to be accepted into an internship for the second semester. The practical/applied nature of it should play to his strengths. And he won an award which allows him to take an extra paper outside of his degree requirements free of charge. If you told me that one of my kids would take an extra paper at the university level he would have been the last one I would have picked. I'm equal parts pleased and relieved that the kid who would not apply himself at home, could and did when he he had to. I was pretty sure he could and would but sometimes I wondered if I was just deluding myself. Reassured to know I wasn't! And Miss 22 landed a new job -  one that ties in with her eventual career goals rather than just being a source of income. It's good news for her but she'll be busy for the next week or two as she starts her new job while working out her notice period at her current job while continuing to work on her PhD.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Week Ending 2 July 2017

So much of this week has revolved around one of Miss 16's main passions - birding. On Monday night it was the evening meeting of our birding group. The speaker did a great job presenting the results of long term research into Black Petrels, a seabird species that breeds only on a couple of our offshore islands. She also mentioned that they often have opportunities for volunteer field research assistants. Needless to say Miss 16 was very interested and will definitely be following this opportunity up!

Tuesday saw us making a journey across town to the sewage ponds. Unfortunately, the bird we were hoping to spot wasn't to be found. Not to be deterred we made a return trip on Saturday and were rewarded by good views of the bird - a White-winged black tern - hawking for insects over one of the oxidation ponds.

Wednesday's mail saw the arrival of the national birding magazine and journal, so lots of time was spent on bird-related reading.


Miss 16 has three pieces in this edition of the magazine and is busy drafting an article for publication in the journal.
On Thursday we attended a full day workshop on braided rivers. Lots of great bird related presentations, since many of our most endangered species only breed in braided river habitat. But also lots of work focusing on other creatures that live in braided rivers - fish, grasshoppers -  as well as papers focusing on the ecosystem as a whole. Given that Miss 16 is inching closer to needing to make some decisions about her future, it's interesting to see what areas especially grab her attention. Hopefully a clue that will help make it easier to decide what and where to study at the university level.




The goal of the workshop was to share knowledge which will help increase the survival of species like this Kaki, which rely on the braided river habitat.

We realized that time was running out to participate in this year's garden bird survey, on Friday. Our temporary accommodation basically lacks a garden,  and therefore there aren't a lot of birds to be seen, unless we lean out a window and peer over a neighbours' fence. Instead we took the opportunity to walk to a homestead and public gardens just a few blocks away, where we found a sheltered spot and counted birds for an hour. Far more species than we see at home, but we did miss being able to count from the warmth of indoors! 

Part of the garden where we sat for an hour doing our bird survey. It also featured a lovely little gazebo with stained glass windows. We thought we might have had to take shelter in it if the wind increased or it started to rain. Thankfully shelter wasn't required.




I allowed Miss 16 to take a break from most of her normally scheduled schoolwork this week, so that she could focus on one particular project. She has been asked to submit a short paper on the Cox's Sandpiper to Notornis, the national ornithological journal. That bird was first seen in New Zealand late last year and Miss 16 played a role in it being officially recognized, which is I think why she was asked to write this paper. That, and right now people are conscious about fostering and encouraging young birders. But writing for a national, peer-reviewed scientific journal is a little intimidating and requires significant effort. So rather than try and squeeze it in between regular homeschooling and trampoline coaching and training (and trust me many days don't have any time left between those two things) I offered to clear her schedule so she'd have big chunks of time to work on the first draft.

The week wasn't totally bird focused though. Miss 16 continued with Animal Behaviour, since that is her longest course - the one that won't be finished when the rest of her planned work is scheduled to be complete. She also did a little grammar most days and we watched a movie since Dh somehow managed to find The Journey of August King for us. That was the one I thought we'd have to miss from her Movies as Literature course because I couldn't find it anywhere. And there was also trampolining, her regular coaching and training plus she volunteered to assess recreational athletes who were trying to earn incentive badges.

By rights I should be busy unpacking now, instead of writing a blog post. Sadly, our move back home has been delayed. It's only by a few days, but the delay is frustrating, not to mention financially costly to us. Despite some advantages to our temporary accommodation I'm definitely looking forward to getting back into our own place. Hopefully this week. The movers are booked so it had better happen! Just to add to the fun we had a call from the contractors to tell us they had damaged the carpet in our living room and it would need to be replaced. Of course that won't be done by the time we move back so we'll have to put up with concrete floors in the living room for a week or so, not to mention the hassle of moving the furniture back into the room, only to have to move it all back out again. Sigh...

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and to Homeschool Highlights

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Week Ending 25 June 2017

Not a very exciting week at all. Once again I was out of the house more than I would have liked. My husband's class at the out-of-town university had their final exam, so he had to be out there several days so he could answer any last minute questions, then to collect the exam scripts for marking. Lots of reading time for me as I waited for him to be finished! Luckily Miss 16 doesn't really need me around and gets her school work done regardless.

Tossing coins to generate data (simulating the chances of two brown eyed parents producing a blue eyed child) for statistics. She was looking at binomial distributions this week

We finished reading The Odyssey for literature and then watched a Great Books video.

Typing up rare bird report. Ornithology isn't an official subject this year, but it is her passion. Real world writing is more meaningful than an artificial assignment.

I was geekily pleased to tie all of this week's poetry in to her other courses. We studied Langston Hughes's Harlem (Dream Deferred) mainly using the analysis from Schmoop. This obviously linked to last week's movie, A Raisin in the Sun. Then we looked at two poems about Helen of Troy, which linked back to The Odyssey. Just for fun I even found this little statistical gem!

The only thing that we didn't get to was her movies course. We couldn't find the movie in question in any video store or library, but did discover it on YouTube.  Except when we went to watch what we discovered instead was a link to a dodgy looking site. Sigh. So we resigned ourselves to having to skip that movie, which is a shame since it sounded interesting. It is based on a novel so if I can find the novel we might read that instead and discuss how we would turn it into a movie. Being unable to watch the movie left us with a few spare hours, so we decided to put them to good use, take advantage of our temporary accommodation and walk the couple of blocks to the mall to grab lunch.

Lunch at the mall was one of the things Miss 16 and I aimed to do while we are staying here. Walking to the weekly farmers market was another and we did that again this weekend. Another plan was to walk to a historic homestead and gardens which is just a few blocks from here. We haven't managed that yet so I hope the weather cooperates this coming week. If all goes according to schedule - and so far, amazingly enough, it seems to be - the repairs to our house should be finished by Friday, enabling us to move back over the weekend.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Week Ending 18 June 2017

We've spent most of this week trying to get back into routine since the previous three have been so disrupted. It hasn't been as easy as I'd hoped. Miss 16 has been struggling with a major decision which has affected her concentration and motivation. She's made a temporary decision but a permanent decision may be a few more weeks away. I think/hope that homeschooling will be better once she makes that final decision  - and makes peace with it, which may or may not turn out to be another thing entirely! 

The other factor that's affecting our routine is we are not actually at home and that seems to make so many simple things more complicated. I still don't know where everything lives in this house, the kitchen is small which makes meal prep tricky (most of the pantry items are stored in boxes outside the kitchen), I've never used gas before and the hob seems a little ... temperamental shall we say. It's not bad or impossible, just different and different takes adjusting too. Plus we've had to make trips to flooring stores, paint stores etc which has eaten into the amount of time I've actually been able to be involved in the homeschooling.

Still, we did manage to get a fair amount done. Not vocabulary since Miss 16 finished the first book before we left for the conference and guess where the next book is? That's right, in storage. But normal amounts of statistics (a return to the least understood topic so far, so that was challenging), grammar, poetry, history and animal behaviour were completed. We continued with The Odyssey (should wrap it up next week) for literature and added in a couple of online videos for extra interest. Plus we watched, discussed and analyzed A Raisin in the Sun for Miss 16's movies course.

A friend who travelled with us to the conference introduced us to Five Crowns. It's become our current favourite game. This week, if we were at home and not homeschooling we were most likely playing a round or two.
The week also had some good non-homeschool related things as well. One was the annual winter wader count. It was my job to organize it this year and we were very short on volunteers but it all worked out in the end. Miss 16 and I ended up doing two sections though which meant a lot of walking over uneven, wet boggy terrain and there weren't a lot of birds. But we thought our efforts were well rewarded when we spotted three Gull-billed terns, a rare species which neither of us had seen so far this year. The downside is Miss 16 now needs to submit a rare bird report for them, plus she was recently asked to submit one for a bird we saw way back in 2015, and she needs to start work on a short article she's been asked to a submit to the national ornithology journal. If only writing about birds was as much fun as going out looking at them!

Last night we ended up having a big family dinner. Mr 24 had flown back from Australia for the weekend for his girlfriend's birthday so they came around and joined us, along with Miss 22 (who is currently house sitting) and her boyfriend. The meal was a little more low key than I might have liked due to the limitations of our current kitchen (and the difficulties of trying to deal with all the different dietary restrictions - Miss 22 is vegetarian but there are lots of vegetables her boyfriend won't eat; apparently his family thinks it's hilarious he's dating a vegetarian) but it was great to catch up with Mr 24 and to spend more time with the partners of the oldest two. After a few years of contraction as the kids got older and left home/had other responsibilities it seems as if our family gatherings might have entered  a stage of expansion.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fortnight Ending 11 June 2017

It's been a very busy fortnight. In many ways things are looking up at our temporary abode. The gas issues have been resolved meaning we have heat, hot water and a hob for cooking. Our cat has not yet fully accepted the move but is at least putting in an appearance every day for food. Yesterday she even came inside and slept for about six hours. I've no idea where she is hiding out the rest of the time but at least she knows where we are and is staying close. We even have Internet -  hooray, hooray. After I posted last time I went to do a load of washing ... and discovered the washing machine did not work properly. Something was wrong with the spin cycle and the clothes came out soaking wet. After 10 days the the repairers finally came to take it away and left us with a loan machine. It doesn't fit in the space the other one did so it sits in the middle of the laundry, making maneuvering in the room rather difficult. But it works and I now no longer have to spend a couple of hours a day at the laundromat. Amazing how much easier life is with these improvements.

Actually Miss 16 and I missed the worst of the no Internet/no washing machine deprivation because we've been out of town for nearly a week at an ornithology conference. She had a great time - found most of the papers interesting, took part in a banding workshop so got more hands-on experience with birds, and met up with a couple of friends from the young birders group. They even skipped out on one of the less interesting conference sessions and did a little birding by themselves.

Banding a Silvereye




My experience was a little less positive. As a regional rep I had a meeting to attend before the conference. It lasted over six hours! I wanted to go the banding workshop but there was another workshop at the same time that I thought would be of benefit to our group as a whole so I felt honour-bound to attend that instead - duty before personal pleasure and all that. The final day of the conference was field trip day. Miss 16 and I picked the same one and while there was some gorgeous scenery, none of the three rare species we were hoping to see cooperated. Frustratingly we heard one but the bus had to leave before anyone managed to track down the bird. We drove there and back with friends and - of course - did some birding along the way. Over the course of the trip I managed to spot seven new species for the year, while only three or four of them were new for Miss 16. We'd both hoped for more but I guess we now have a reason to go back.

Freezing fog rising above the lake.


Mirror Lake



The South Island Robin was one of the new species I added to my year list.

Somewhat surprisngly, May turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me. I completed fifteen books, almost half of which counted for my various reading challenges. My favorite titles were Fiona Davis's  The Dollhouse, Clare Mackintosh's I See You, Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham, The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion and Anna Pitoniak's The Futures: A New York Love Story.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Week Ending 28 May 2017

I remember reading that parenting is one of those jobs where the aim is to effectively make yourself redundant. I've also been know to joke that as my kids have got older my job mostly involves the 4 Cs - cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring and cash! And not everyone sees the point of the cleaning! Well on Monday I was officially made redundant from one of those jobs! On Monday morning our car looked like this



but by Monday afternoon it looked like this.




Yes, Miss 16 sat and passed her restricted drivers licence, meaning we can ditch the L plates and she can drive unaccompanied. (The restrictions are no passengers, except those legally permitted to supervise, and no driving unsupervised between 10 pm and 5 am - it's another year before she can sit the final test and become fully licensed). So I'm no longer employed as a chauffeur. For so many years my afternoons have been punctuated by gym drop-offs and pick-ups that it is rather strange to simply wave her off. I'm sure I'll get used to it!

At least there was no danger of my getting bored with all my spare time this week. We found out on Tuesday that our move was definitely happening but it had to be on Saturday, not the following Monday as we had expected. And by Saturday I mean the movers would arrive at 8 am and we had to have everything packed and ready to go. We had been led to believe the movers would be packing as well, but it appears that was misinformation. So I've been rather busy and a lot of my week looked like this.

I keep humming the song Little Boxes - even though not many of ours were little.



However, some homeschooling did happen - it was a great way to do something productive when we were sick of boxes!


I discovered Ian McKellan reading Robert Fagles translation of The Odyssey on YouTube so by using two devices we could read and listen at the same time. It helped me concentrate (I've been a little distracted all week) and let Miss 16 compare different versions as she has been reading from a different translation.

The movers came on Saturday and were very efficient at wrapping all the furniture and other big stuff and loading it all into the container, while I trundled back and forwards between home and our temporary home with things we wanted or needed to take with us, hoping all the while that we weren't forgetting anything important since we can't access our stuff while it's in storage.

Sadly the shift hasn't been without hiccups. The most frustrating is the failure of any of the gas appliances to work, despite us being assured that there was plenty of gas. No hot water and no hob for cooking is a bit limiting. At least there is electric heating as well as gas.  Currently we are driving back home  (15-20 minutes each way) for showers but once the repair crews start on Monday that option will be out.  Fingers crossed the gas issue will be sorted by then. Just in case I'm planning menus that don't need the hob. And to add to our woes our cat has disappeared - sadly from our new place,  not from home. Hopefully she is just sulking and lying low and will reappear when hunger gets the better of her.

That's all for for now. The new place doesn't have Internet either (actually that may be the most frustrating hiccup since I'm not sure it will be rectified, while I'm pretty sure the gas issue will be sorted - hopefully sooner rather than later) so I'm posting this from home while the rest of the family is grabbing a shower.

Hopefully everything is running more smoothly by next week.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Week Ending 21 May 2017

This has been an especially uneventful and routine week, which basically means I have nothing interesting to say.

* All the homeschooling proceeded as planned - one statistics lesson (on samples and surveys), half a chapter of animal behaviour, a history chapter (looking at the state of Maori society in the latter nineteenth century), some grammar, vocabulary and poetry, several books from The Odyssey,  one movie (The Music Man, which was much more appreciated than the previous week's selection), plus a meaty, belated paragraph relating to The Pearl.

* Trampoline coaching and training also proceeded as normal - except for Tuesday when Miss 16 texted me to pick her up early. Plain bouncing was okay but any attempts at twisting or somersaulting resulted in her feeling dizzy and nauseous. Obviously the lingering effects of the cold which affected her competition last weekend.

* We had planned to go birding today but the forecast was for very low temperature with cold, gale force winds. Driving over 90 minutes to explore a river mouth in such conditions sounded unpleasant at best, and likely to be a total waste of time (too windy to hold scopes steady and heavy rain in the high country means rivers are running high, forcing the birds to move away from the gravel islands they use for roosting and foraging). So I canceled the trip and we read and baked instead.

Red Velvet Cake


*In many ways I'm glad for this quiet week. It's the calm before the  coming storm. June is shaping up as a busy month (good busy, but busy is busy) and it's now virtually certain we are moving out of our house - in just over a week. So next week will be a whirlwind of sorting - what do we need to take with us to our temporary abode and what can go into storage for five weeks. It also means decisions need to be made about paint colours, floor coverings and the like. Unfortunately I missed the interior decorating gene and these decisions fill me with dread rather than excitement.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Classics Club 48:The Count of Monte Cristo

I can't believe I haven't already posted a review of this since I read it last year!

The plot drew me in immediately. When we first meet our protagonist, Edmond Dantes everything is right in his world. Not only he is well-loved and respected  but he is on the brink of being promoted to captain on the ship he sails. But there are those who are jealous of his success and happiness, including both a colleague and a love rival. They conspire to spread rumors about him and, on the day of his wedding no less, he is arrested and then falsely imprisoned. Where he stays for fourteen years. Eventually he escapes and after a time working on a ship he retrieves the treasure a fellow prisoner (now deceased) told him about. Dantes then spends the rest of the novel carrying out elaborate schemes of revenge on those who wronged him.

Up until this point I enjoyed the novel. Dantes was a sympathetic character and the reader could genuinely root for him as he struggled through the mostly isolated prison experience and patiently worked to escape. Not only does the plot become more complex and difficult to follow (Dantes assumes multiple disguises and aliases, and  the reader isn't always initially aware of them), but Dantes  himself becomes less sympathetic, less easy to relate to, and less easy to empathize with. On the one hand I can understand that being unjustly imprisoned for fourteen years would make anyone bitter add harden them, and I'm sure revenge felt sweet. Yet some of his desire for revenge felt unjustified and simply mean-spirited. Mercedes, after all, had done nothing to harm him, had tried to secure his release and  had only married after being falsely informed of Dantes's death. It seems he felt she should have remained true to him forever. Yet, if he truly loved her wouldn't he want her to find happiness? Even in those cases where Dantes's desire for revenge was more justified, I still wondered if he would have been happier if he had spend his time and energy trying to positively experience his freedom, rather than focusing on revenge.

For me The Count of Monte Cristo was a novel of two halves. For all its length it was not a difficult read and was an excellent illustration of the perils of revenge.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Week Ending 14 May 2017

Some random notes from this week.

* Miss 16 decided that rather than do a poetry unit in one big chunk, she'd prefer to do a poem or two most days of the week. So that's what we were going to do this term. Except we entirely forgot last week! That's what happens when I don't write things down. Anyway we belatedly got started this week with some selections from Sound and Sense as well as some from here. There's no particular focus.  The Sound and Sense poems have questions but the other poems we just  read and discuss in a freestyle fashion, unless some particular inspiration strikes!

* For literature  we've started The Odyssey. In truth Miss 16 has started. I plan on reading it alongside her but I'm currently reading Dracula, so I want to finish that first. Since I tend to read fairly quickly I should catch up with her in a day or two. This week I took our discussion questions and background information from here, here and here.


The Odyssey and the New Zealand Wars. Two of the things keeping us busy this week.

* In history we finished off the DVD documentary series on the New Zealand Wars and then took a quick look at some key political leaders of the latter nineteenth century.

* This week's movies was The Quiet Man. Miss 16 didn't appreciate the the portrayal of women's rights (or lack thereof) and the way domestic violence was played for laughs. Still it made for some good discussion.

* She's working steadily through both her animal behaviour and statistics courses. She seems to be whipping through statistics pretty quickly at the moment so we might increase the number of lessons from 1 to 2 each week, at least until we hit material which slows her down again.

* Tuesday was an "interesting" day. We left the house before 9 am and, apart from an hour in the middle of the day, Miss 16 wasn't home again until after 9 pm. No bookwork happened whatsoever. Instead the day was filled with birding, driving (including a mock test with the instructor - he says she's good to go so as soon as she officially turn 16 1/2 we'll be able to book her test) and trampoline (both coaching a training). So science, driver's education and PE if I had to record any of it. I could even throw in some home economics since she tried a new recipe for breakfast - gingerbread pancakes!

* Miss 16's first trampoline competition of the year was this week. She placed middle of the field and just narrowly missed out on qualifying for Nationals. But given that it was her first competition in the international division, that she was battling a cold (her voice was coming and going all day), and that she crashed badly in training the day before and had to scale back one of her routines as a result I think she was reasonably pleased. Certainly relieved to get it our of the way.The next competition is just over a month away and she's hoping that with some improvements (and no cold) she'll get the marks she wants. Apart from competing she also found herself unexpectedly on a couple of judging panels. It was her first time using the time of flight machine and to complicate matters the machine was a little temperamental and didn't work for some routines. By rights she would have had to use a stopwatch to time the videos of  those routines but since her event was next up one of the other judges got stuck with that job. She didn't mind. Apparently timing with a stopwatch isn't a favoured activity among judges!

Miss 16 and some of her teammates getting ready for their warm-ups.

* This week was also the one where  Miss 16 claimed her 15 minutes of fame  - at least in birding circles in this part of the world. A new bird was added to our country's official list. There was a blog post from the national museum announcing the fact and giving more information about the bird. Miss 16 was mentioned by name since she was the one who submitted the official report. She wasn't the one who first found the bird but she recorded her sighting of it on eBird . That led to her being asked to submit an official report without which the bird couldn't be officially recognized. She had learnt how to make these official reports at a field camp a couple for years ago so it was a great chance to put theory into practice. It's been nice to see the process come to fruition and see first-hand the importance of good record keeping and pesky paperwork.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Week Ending 7 May 2017

Last year whenever we'd taken a two week break maths was normally a struggle on the first day back. Miss 16 seemed to have forgotten everything she had learned the previous term. Thankfully things always cleared up after a day or two. Since this was our first week back at the books I was somewhat apprehensive about resuming statistics. However, that went smoothly with no issues whatsoever. Instead it was grammar - of all things - that caused us grief. Luckily we were able to retain our sense of humor. At one stage I - jokingly - remarked that it was lucky we were just about finished since I was nearly being driven to drink. "Forget nearly," Miss 16 retorted. "I need a stiff whisky now!" I hasten to add that she has never had a stiff whisky - or an unstiff one for that matter.

Thankfully the rest of the week went smoothly. We quickly whipped through a novella - John Steinbeck's The Pearl - for literature. I mainly used a Bravewriter Slingshot guide (those are now the  Boomerangs - our copy is really old. I won it in 2005 if the date on the email is to be relied upon) plus a Penguin guide that I found online. We finally reached the New Zealand Wars in history and I found a 5 part documentary in the library. We didn't get through as much of it as I'd hoped but we'll finish it next week. We watched and discussed Friendly Persuasion for her movies course. I was surprised by how humorous it was. Since we can only obtain the remaining movies from the specialist movie store in the centre of town we'll ramp up our study and cover a movie a week. It's more efficient to pick up a new movie when we return the old one, rather than making extra trips to return a movie one week and get a new one the following week. Animal behaviour was focused on mating systems. Learning about the mating behaviour of the humble dunnock has me convinced that they provide inspiration for many of the plot lines on various soap operas!

Trampolining has now reverted to its regular schedule. A change to the coaching schedule means Miss 16 is coaching the same number of hours as last term but over fewer days. That's great because she has less downtime at the gym. Friday afternoon felt very leisurely since we didn't have to leave home until 5:30 as opposed to 3:30 pm. An added bonus was that she lost her least favored class (lots of behavioural issues) and gained one which should be much easier to manage.

We did a little birding one day, searching for a species which normally shows up in May or June. No sign of it yet so we'll try again in a couple of weeks. Numbers have been declining over the years and I guess one year there won't be any that make the journey to this spot. We also watched a documentary on the conflicting needs of migratory shorebirds and commercial oyster farmers in the Delaware Bay region.


Sometimes Miss 16 and I work on her stuff together. Other times she works alone and I have time to pursue my own interests.

I've started a new MOOC - this one on the history of rock music. It's lighter and less directly related to our homeschooling than any of the ones I've previously done. As always though I think it's good for the kids (mainly Miss 16 because even though Mr 19 and Miss 22 still live at home they are so busy with work/study/the rest of their lives that they aren't actually at home a lot) to see me living the truth that learning is a lifelong endeavour.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Classics Club 47: Nicholas Nickleby

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby opens when Nicholas, his sister and mother are left destitute following the death of his father. The novel follows Nicholas as he attempts to provide some measure of security for his family. His subsequent life and adventures include travelling to London to appeal to a wealthy uncle - only to have that uncle take an immediate dislike to him, working for a villainous schoolmaster, attacking the schoolmaster and escaping with one of the abused schoolboys, working as an actor for a theatre company, meeting, falling in love with and later rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress, and finally obtaining a good position with a wealthy and benevolent employer. There are also many interesting subplots including the harassment of his sister Kate, a duel between two noblemen, a suicide, the downfall of a gigolo, business blackmail and much more. In the end though everyone (at least all the good and worthy characters) get to live satisfyingly happily ever after.

In Nicholas Dickens's created a worthy young hero whom the reader could root for and be happy to see prosper through a combination of his own hard work and the well-deserved kindness of others.Nicholas does have some flaws though, especially his quick temper, and these ensure that he is not so unbelievably perfect that the reader can't relate to him. In typical Dickens fashion there is a large cast of supporting characters, many of whom are both well-rounded and memorable. However, if you are looking for a strong, courageous female lead this is not the book for you. Kate tries, she certainly isn't afraid of hard work and attempts to fend off the unwelcome advances that come her way. But she has no success by herself and has to rely on Nicholas for protection. The most memorable female character is probably Mrs Nickleby. Her self centerdness and lack of self-awareness is delightfully horrible, amusing to read but definitely not the stuff of literary role models. One aspect of many of the characters I especially appreciated was their revealing names. You don't even need to have cracked open the novel to know who, out of Wackford Squeers, Mr Cheeryble and Sir Mulberry Hawk, is the generous and benevolent employer, who is the evil schoolmaster with a fondness for using his cane, and who preys on young girls.

Dickens is well-known for using his writing to highlight some of the social problems of his day. The harassment of Kate and the attempted forced marriage of Madeline Bray to ensure her father' s debts are paid off, shines light on some of the difficulties faced by women in nineteenth-century England, while the actions of Mr Squeers and his running of his "school" at Dothebys Hall was a clear indictment of unregulated boarding schools and the lack of care given to orphans.

If you enjoy Dickens but have not yet read Nicholas Nickleby then you should. However, if Dickens is not to your liking I doubt this novel will change your opinion.

Since I've long wanted to visit England, especially London, I'm using this as the "classic set in a place you'd like to visit" for the Back to the Classics Challenge. It would be interesting to visit Dickens's London but I wouldn't want to live there!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Week Ending 30 April 2017

This week was supposed to be all about trampoline training with two sessions every day, including 7:30am starts. However, Miss 16's coach ended up taking a couple of days off in order to move house. So instead of being all about trampoline the week was only mostly about trampoline.

The time off was very welcome since, as fate would have it, this turned out to be publishing deadline week in our birding world. As a result Miss 16 had a newsletter to publish,  an article to write for one magazine and a column to write for another. When she wasn't at the gym she was chained to the computer. If I had to worry about counting hours for credit we'd have PE and language arts nailed this week!

Editing copy for the newsletter.

Wednesday was a crazy day for me. I got Miss 16 to the gym by 7:30, was home for 20 minutes then had to drive Dh to the out of town university. Headed back in to town, parked at the gym and squeezed in a quick walk in before Miss 16's first session finished. Dropped her home then drove back to the out of town university to collect Dh.  Home for 20 minutes then it was time to return Miss 16 to the gym.On the way there I got a call from Mr 19 to say the plumber was early and would be arriving soon.  He pulled up just before me and while he got on with replacing our hot water cylinder I managed to  bake bread rolls for dinner. Plans to make some important phone calls got put on hold though. Replacing a hot water cylinder turns out to be a noisy business. After a couple of hours it was time to collect Miss 16 from the gym. Thirty minutes after we got home it was time to take Dh back to the out of town university since his class had a two hour test that evening. I couldn't facing making an extra round trip so I tossed a book into the car and did some reading while I waited for him. I'm just glad all our days aren't so crazy. Just to add to the fun the electrician wasn't able to come when we wanted, meaning we had 24 hours without hot water.

There were only two other events of note this week. Our monthly birding meeting, my first in charge, thankfully ran smoothly. There was an interesting talk from a guy who did his PhD in Peru. Looking at the size of the spiders there I don't think Miss 16 will be too keen on doing field work in that part of the world. We had Miss 22's boyfriend around for dinner one evening. We've all met him in passing before, but this was the first proper meeting. Yet another reminder of the new parenting stage I'm increasingly finding myself in. 

A trip to a cafe for a belated Easter shake was a fun way to mark the end of the holiday training programme.

I'm somewhat surprised to have completed thirteen books this month. I thought tackling Nicholas Nickleby would have slowed me down a little. The fact that there was no formal homeschooling for two weeks, plus the fact that I picked a couple of short, quick reads after Dickens probably compensated. Among my favourite reads were The Wish Child, A Hundred Summers and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, plus Nicholas Nickleby of course. I'm exactly half way through the Back to the Classics Challenge, and have just two more books to read before I complete Modern Mrs Darcy's twin challenges. What I will have to do is put some planning time into researching books that fit the remaining 17 categories of the Pop Sugar challenge. I've penciled in some titles, but I've got no idea for other categories.