Sunday, October 15, 2017

Week Ending 15 October 2017

Wow - what a week this one has been! A couple of Miss 16's friends from up north really wanted to go birding down south, so they asked her to join them - and then invited me along as a chauffeur/chaperone! They flew into town and then we headed off on a 3 day, 1500 km road trip to some of the more remote parts of the country - plenty of steep, winding roads to contend with. The guys planned a very full-on schedule, full of early starts and late nights. But it was worth it - they tracked down most of the species they were looking for. Not as many new species for Miss 16 and I but we were delighted to finally see Yellowheads (we heard them calling on a trip back in June but had to leave before we managed to spot them), and were  thrilled to get great views of Rowi (rarest of our five kiwi species). Despite running a bit behind schedule we did manage to catch one Fiordland Crested Penguin coming ashore but both Miss 16 and I would like to return in the hope of better views. Another highlight was great views of a pair of nesting Crested Grebes. It was fascinating watching the parents switch over incubating duties and see one of them building up and patching the nest. They are graceful on the water but amusingly clumsy on land.



Heading back up the track after looking for penguins.

I was pretty tired by the time we returned and would have loved to spend the following day relaxing, but alas I had lots of preparation and organisation to do for a Conservation Week activity the following day. Despite my last minute, slightly rushed preparations I think our part in the event went well. We had lots of nests for the kids to admire before encouraging them to have a go at constructing their own. We also had several native specimens for them to look at and learn about, as well as a scavenger hunt where they tried to find ten bird species that were common in the botanic gardens where the event was held. Hopefully we succeeded in giving some kids and their families an increased appreciation for bird life.

All set up - just before the crowds arrived.

Nest building with clothes peg beaks.

That was yesterday and I'm determined to do as little as possible today. I'm definitely in need of some R+R as is Miss 16.

Before we headed off on our epic road trip, Miss 16 received some great news. An article she wrote has been accepted for publication in our national ornithological journal, which is a pretty big deal. It's gone through the peer review process and only a couple of minor revisions were required. She'll get to that first thing next week and the article will appear online shortly after that, and hopefully in the print edition before the end of the year.

Also, this arrived before we headed away.


I'd long since planned on using this in Miss 16's final year of homeschooling. Turns out that this may have been her final year (pretty sure we've decided that even if she does homeschool next year it will be a transition year - half time homeschooling and half time working to earn money for university; the other plan will involve a half-year university prep course (since one university she is keen on will not accept her without some formal qualification and this is the least annoying option!) followed by a half year of employment. But we've decided to make a start on it shortly and just work through it as and when she has the time.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Week Ending 10 October 2017

Our first week of not homeschooling (Is it just a break or have we finished for good? I still don't know. Funnily enough I was reading about Myers-Briggs personality tests this week and it became incredibly clear that I am a J who likes to have decisions settled; Miss 16 is a P and prefers to postpone decision as long as possible in case new information comes to hand; clearly I need to resign myself to not knowing until the very end of this year - or even later - what next year will bring) was a good mix of having things to do as well as plenty of down time for game playing, reading or just doing nothing.

The highlights of Miss 16's week was undoubtedly the beginning of a bird banding project. This will be a long term collaboration between our birding group and the local council. We've been keen to start something for a while but lacked a suitably qualified bander to lead the project and help train up beginner banders. Now that we've found the magic person it'll mean Miss 16 will be able to gain regular banding experience and work towards the next level banding qualification which will allow her (and the council rangers) to band without supervision. The overall aim is to learn more about various passerine species (lifespan etc) plus discover how they use the city 's habitats.

Setting up the nets.


Releasing the first bird from the net


A silvereye about to be banded, weighed and measured.


This young blackbird was one of a pair which were removed from their nest, banded and then returned. They're likely to fledge in 24 hours.

There weren't a lot of birds around on the first day out, but we weren't rained out (the forecast hadn't look promising), a few birds are better than none, and the project is now actually underway. I went along as well - I've ruled myself out of actual banding (doubt my eyesight would let me see well enough to read the band number, let alone safely secure it to a very small leg!) but I'm happy to help in a support role, carrying equipment, helping to set up the nets and keeping the paperwork in order.

Our birding group hosted two workshops this weekend, training people on how to use the eBird database. Miss 16  helped out at the beginner course since the numbers were a little too large for the instructor to manage himself, and then attended the more advanced course. I've had plenty of positive feedback about the courses which is good and Miss 16 learnt a few things. I wasn't able to go since I've picked up a virus which has triggered a recurrence of the vestibular systems which plagued me last year and the year before. Hoping they clear up once the virus goes.

Miss 16 also had a couple of professional development sessions. She coaches gymnastics and trampoline three days a week and these session looked at floor and vault skills with the aim of enabling the coaches to better help the gymnasts develop their skills.

Linking to the Weekly Warp-Up and Homeschool Highlights


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Week Ending 1 October 2017

Monday morning was unusual in that I had two meetings, both related to upcoming events that our birding group will be involved with. Luckily Miss 16 got on with some work (mostly animal behaviour I think) in my absence. Even though she could, I don't like the idea of her doing her all work alone; with no other siblings still being home schooled and no co-ops in the area it is my job to provide the needed academic interaction. As a result I like to watch and read along with her most of the time. In the afternoon we watched a Crash Course video on film production and read and discussed some essays and other short pieces related to themes from Divergent which she had reread recently, just for fun. I had stumbled across a pin linking to the Common Lit website. The pin led me to believe finding appropriate short pieces would be more straightforward than it actually was. Still it wasn't complicated and it was nice to be able to tie some "school" reading in with her pleasure reading. I did discover one section of the website that does specifically link various short pieces to novels in a "read this before the novel, read this after chapter 3, and this before you start chapter 11" kind of way. Since I was just about to start reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and it was one of the novels covered by the site I gave it a go myself. I'd definitely recommend taking a look at Common Lit's Book Pairings if you want to tie in other types of literature with novels your teen is reading.

Tuesday was spent at home, leisurely working through some of Miss 16's work. The day was so leisurely I found an hour to relax, listen to a podcast and browse through a cookbook I'd borrowed from the library. Cookbooks are one of my  guilty pleasures. For literature I again went to Pinterest, pointed Miss 16 in the direction of the pin and told her to pick a couple of essays. We then discussed her reaction to them and how effective she thought they were.



On Wednesday we skipped school entirely in favour of going birding with a couple of friends at a nearby lake. A rare arctic migrant had been seen there  - so rare that one of our friends who is in his late 70s and a lifelong birder had never seen one in this country before - and we were obviously keen to track it down. We spent four hours scanning through flocks of small wading birds and kept getting distracted by a couple of birds that looked a little bit different from the others. In the end we concluded they were just slightly odd looking birds. We were walking back to the car,  resigned to heading home disappointed when our friend pointed and asked ,"What about those two?" and sure enough one was the Sanderling we were seeking.

On Thursday we hit the books again. For literature I pointed her in the direction of a list of essays every high school student should read.  Again this was on Pinterest - I've found it a great way of organising and storing ideas and resources. Once again I had her pick one and then tell me why someone would think every high schooler should read it, what she learnt about the world from it, and what stylistic elements it used that she could incorporate in her own writing. We headed out briefly for haircuts and also found some time to fit in some baking.

On Friday Miss 16 finished both her vocabulary and her animal behaviour. I discovered drafts of three (gulp!) papers she had emailed me that I'd forgotten to read, comment on and return for revision - bad homeschooling mother! Luckily they needed little to no work so she was able to get all three tidied up and completed. We had to take her budgie to the vet. He clearly wasn't well. The vet suspected a lung infection and said there wasn't really anything that could be done. We'd thought that would be the likely result and had already resigned ourselves to having him euthanized. By rights we would have tackled another essay or two for literature but I couldn't really see the point so I declared literature and therefore homeschool officially over for the year. I'm pretty sure we'll keep watching the film production course but 10 minutes once a week doesn't really seem like work. Instead of reading an essay or two for the sake of reading another essay or two we spent an enjoyable hour walking in the sunshine and birding at a local reserve.

Saturday and Sunday were both very quiet. Dh had to work both days, Miss 22 spent most of the time out with her boyfriend, while Mr 19 was busy working on an essay one day and at work in the bakery on the other. He did ask me to proof read a draft of his essay for him. I was impressed - pleasantly surprised. If you read my blog back in the days when he was still homeschooling you'd know how often I was pulling my hair out over his lack of effort and doubted whether university was the right path for him. Turns out my fears were unfounded. Obviously university deadlines are real and the grades are meaningful. Both more motivating than any I attempted with him! Given everyone else was out Miss 16 and I did a little birding one day, but mostly stayed at home relaxing and reading. October's going to be a busy month for us so a quiet weekend is probably a good thing. I finished Heart of Darkness which I did not enjoy and Celeste Ng's Little Fire's Everywhere, which I did enjoy. By the end of September I'd completed 126 books - only 12 in the last two months which is very slow going for me. But I have now completed all 12 of my picks for the Back to the Classics Challenge and just have three more to go for Popsugar's 2017 Reading Challenge

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

I found  Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich  a simple but thought provoking read, giving an insight into what might be going through the minds of those suffering from chronic, painful and/or terminal conditions. 

A seemingly simple accident - falling while hanging curtains - leads to an undiagnosed but painful condition, and eventually the death of Ivan Ilyich.  He is not a stoic, uncomplaining patient, but rather one who struggles to deal with his physical and emotional distress. He lived what would be considered a good life (sensible, although not happy, marriage; plus a respectable career in which he managed to advance through the ranks), so doesn't believe he deserves the suffering he endures. Ilyich eventually finds relief, both physical and spiritual,with a servant named Gerasim. Gerasim doesn't fear death and shows Ilyich the compassion and tenderness which his wife does not. Through discussions with Gerasim, Ilych comes to believe that he has not led an authentic life, filled with compassion and sympathy, but rather an artificial one filled with self-interest. His belief that he has found the true meaning of life allows him to die peacefully, filled with live for his family.

The copy which I read was bound with  A Confession, a short autobiographical work covering Tolstoy's depression, his failed search for the meaning of life through the works on major philosophers, and his eventual acceptance of religious faith. Tolstoy's beliefs as outlined in A Confession, clearly influenced his subsequent work such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich. As such A Confession was an interesting read but it was too didactic for my tastes.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Week Ending 24 September 2017

Somewhat to our surprise we ended up finishing up another couple of things this week. We thought we were starting our second to last statistics lesson but when we looked ahead we discovered the final lesson was not really a lesson at all; just a short video summarizing the course. So Miss 16 opted to fit it in this week, so as to be done with statistics. The actual lesson was on ANOVAs. Our spreadsheet package couldn't do them but Mr 19 soon found a free add-on that took care of them for us. Once we had that the work was simple and straightforward, a vast improvement on last week.

Miss 16 felt the need to celebrate the end of statistics and I agreed a visit to a bakery across town, famous for its amazing donuts, was in order. Since they normally sell out by mid-morning we opted to go early, before we had actually completed statistics. I knew she would get the work done but what I hadn't factored in was that we both seemed to be suffering from a sugar coma and it took us a lot longer to round up the required energy and enthusiasm to actually watch the final video. Still she did manage it, much later in the day, and  the donuts were delicious (brandy snap and salted caramel for her; custard square cheesecake for me)  - well worth the sugar-induced slump!






We also finished the unit on American Cinema. The videos were about an hour long and we were watching two per week. It turns out the last three videos in the series are only 30  minutes each so Miss 16 decided to rejig her schedule for the week so she could get them finished.

For literature we spent the week focused on poetry. It's not her favourite and I knew there was no way to cover everything. So I gathered every poetry related resource from the shelves, went through them all and came up with a list of what we could do. Then I gave the list to her and let her pick and choose. While she did a chapter on imagery from Sound and Sense she preferred the approach of Lightning Literature and did units on rhyme, meter and figurative language from the two levels we had on the shelf. The unit on meter was hilarious as all the figuring out stressed from unstressed syllables had us joking about poor stressed students! I doubt she'll use it again and I know some people feel that such analysis sucks all the pleasure out of poetry. It might if you had to do it for every single poem you read. But at least she's been exposed to the concept, if only in a small way.

Apart from homeschooling she managed to fit in some movie watching (Mocking Jay Part 2 and La La Land), some extra hours at work (it was badge testing time for the recreational athletes which can be a big undertaking; she spent a couple of hours on Sunday helping assess some of the trampolinists), plus a couple of birding trips, checking out the migratory waders that are returning from the northern hemisphere. We spent several hours at one lake trudging through miles of mud and water. There were always more interesting looking birds  in the distance to lure us to venture just a bit further! We expect to be stiff and sore tomorrow but it was worth it since we saw a bigger variety of species than we expected.

Yesterday was the national election - the first Mr 19 has been able to vote in. Since neither main party received a majority we'll have to wait for all the special votes to be counted plus coalition talks to pan out before we know who will be leading the country for the next three years. Always lots of good discussion around election time - what party and candidate we are all voting for (different members of the family often vote in different ways), what policies are especially important to us, what logical fallacies we spot in the campaign materials, the advantages and disadvantages of our voting system, and now, how the coalition process will pan out. This was also the weekend we switched to daylight savings time. It always takes a while adjusting. Neither of my teens are morning people and were both bemoaning early work starts (8 am for one; 8:30 am for the other) on top of an hour's lost sleep.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Week Ending 17 September 2017

This week was the beginning of the end. It was also very nearly the end of Miss 16 and me as well. But more about that later.

The beginning of the end came via history. Miss 16 finished her history spine this week. The chapter was essentially a look at where the country is now and where it is likely to go next. I also had her complete an annotated map where she had to pick 10 places to put on a blank map and then include an annotation indicating their historical significance. And with that we decided that history was finished for the year. She'll be finishing other subjects in the next few weeks meaning the end of our formal homeschooling for the year and (depending on her decision regarding university) possibly the end of formal homeschooling - forever! I've been homeschooling for 20 years so it will be a big change.

For literature this week we focused on short stories, reading and analyzing several including E.M. Forester's The Other Side of the Hedge, The Summer of the White Horse by William Saroyan and James Joyce's Ivy Day in the Committee Room. Animal Behaviour was also straightforward, with a fun chapter looking at play - definitions, types, functions, endocrinological and neurological bases, plus a phylogenetic approach. Interesting stuff!

Statistics on the other hand was neither fun nor straightforward nor enjoyable. Linear regression we hate you with a passion! Miss 16 and I seriously thought it was going to be the death of us. Our programme has three sections and we typically do one per day. On Monday we struggled immensely - partly the problem was us, partly the programme and partly our technology - and gave up in disgust. On Tuesday we went with our birding group in the morning. When we got back we were both unreasonably tired so ended up wasting time online before Miss 16 had to head to work. And the evening is not a good time to tackle things requiring heavy duty brain power. So no statistics on Tuesday. Wednesday we made some progress with me getting some things (and thus being bale to help her figure them out) and other things clicking for her. On Thursday Mr 19 was actually able to explain a couple of things (he had a test on Wednesday night and needed all his time to study since he'd been sick the previous week and was a little behind schedule; I hadn't wanted to pick his brain any earlier) and we finally got to the end of the first section. The plan on Friday was to tackle one section in the morning and the other in the afternoon, along with finishing up bits and pieces from her other subjects. Friday morning ended up being a bust since she wanted to go to the gym to keep up with her new workout schedule, then she was asked to coach a preschool class. She was going to decline but since it would help out a friend she said yes. By the time she got home it was lunchtime. So we ended up doing one section in the early afternoon, then finished up some other stuff, before completing the remaining section in the late afternoon. And amazingly it went with hardly a hitch (our spreadsheet package had a glitch and refused to do what it has done before; we simply moved on) - funny how something is pretty simple when you know what you are doing!

Chocolate helped get us through statistics that week. It was either that or give in to Miss 16's suggestion of a stiff whisky! 


If it had been any other week we may have left some of the statistics until the weekend. But we had a pretty full weekend planned. On Saturday it was our birding group's monthly field trip. I keep forgetting I'm in charge of these now and when people ask exactly where we're going and what we can expect to see that I'm the one who is supposed to know the answers! For whatever reason not many people turned out on this trip but those that did had a good time. The weather was better than forecast, we saw some good birds and I didn't get us lost (always a danger when you head off the beaten track to a location you've never been before). Luckily Miss 16 got plenty of outdoor time on Saturday because on Sunday she was stuck indoors 7 hours judging at a trampoline competition.




Saturday, September 9, 2017

Fortnight Ending 10 September 2017

I'm having one of those spells where I understand why there aren't so many blogs about homeschooling high school. Simply saying we did another lesson of this and a couple of chapters from that just isn't very interesting, and high school doesn't lend itself nearly so well to cute photos which seem to be a requirement of  blogging these days. Hence, no post last week.

However, high school isn't always  boring textbook type stuff. This week statistics looked like this.



Which was vastly more interesting than last week's statistics, which looked like this.



Each unit of our stats course (Annenberg Learner's Against All Odds) starts with an activity that often has you gather your own data. This is frequently classroom oriented e.g. comparing shoe sizes of large groups of boys and girls, which doesn't really work at home. Luckily they also supply sample data so we mostly use that. But this week's activity involved comparing the colour distribution of different varieties of M&Ms, which was definitely something we could do. Nothing like adding a little enchanting pixie dust to the homeschool day when you can. Especially in a non-favoured subject. Once the M&Ms were sorted and the results tabled, Miss 16 proceeded to eat the data, which helped soften the pain of then having to do chi-square testing, which was the actual point of the exercise!

Other than that not a lot else stands out from the past two weeks. We've gone birding a couple of times - birdwise the main highlight was a wild turkey, attended our monthly birder's meeting, and have been busy organizing forthcoming birding adventures.  Miss 16 has also joined a gym. She's happy with her decision to retire from trampolining but was missing the regular exercise. She's had a couple of sessions with a personal trainer and is now good-to-go under her own steam. Dh, Miss 22 and Mr 19 have all been felled by flu like symptoms but have recovered fairly quickly which is good. Miss 16 and I are hoping to avoid it.




Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Science of Climate Change - A Review

When I was given the opportunity to review Blair Lee's The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course I jumped at the chance, even though Miss 16 is on the older side for for this course. Why? One reason is the author herself. Blair is a qualified scientist, has taught at the college level and is a homeschooling parent. So she definitely knows her science (not all science courses are written or checked by people with a science qualification) and she knows the reality of homeschooling (no trying to adapt classroom activities and instruction for a home setting with just one student). Plus, we were already familiar with the quality of Blair's work, since Miss 16 used RSO Biology 2, which Blair wrote, back in 2014. The other reason is the topic itself. Climate change is such an important issue for everyone since it is affecting the world we live in right now, but it is especially important for someone like Miss 16 whose future plans are likely to involve studying and working in the fields of zoology, ecology or conservation. While we've read and talked about climate change Miss 16 has never formally or systematically studied it. This course was the perfect way to remedy this deficiency.

The Science of Climate Change is a short (the meat of the book is just 60 pages) but thorough course divided into four sections - 1.The Greenhouse Effect, 2.Global Warming, 3.Climate Change, and 4.What Can Be Done To Help?. We opted to complete each section in one session per week, but had I been using it with younger kids I would have opted for several shorter sessions per week. The format is easy to use. There's just one book with everything you need in it - text, answers and a supply list (most of it is common stuff you probably already have or is easy to find; I needed a packet of Kool Aid and some effervescent tablets but if you don't already have a thermometer you'll need to buy a couple). You simply open the book, read the text,  pause your reading to do the activities as they occur, then resume reading.

Overall, I was really impressed with this course. It did an excellent job of clearly, calmly and concisely laying out the facts relating to climate change in a systematic and logical fashion. The tone was conversational, perfectly pitched for the 8-13 year old group which I see as the target age range for the course, but not too young or babyish for older teens - or their parents! (If you've got younger kids I'm sure they'd be happy to join in for most of the work but there are some activities you might want to modify - I'd probably compile the 30 years of weather data for them or use the example that is in the appendix  and be prepared to help out with the analysis - or simply let them skip altogether). The text was well supported by illustrations, including plenty of diagrams illustrating and reinforcing what was in the text. The most important parts of the text are bolded, underlined or set apart in a box, so the parent can be sure to emphasize them. The full page illustrations at the end of each section are especially good at summarizing the key points of the section. Visual learners will surely appreciate all the diagrams and other illustrations, but if you have a child who is distracted by lots of colour and plenty of visuals they may find some pages a little "busy" -  you might want to read aloud to them and just show them the diagrams as needed.


Graphing the Concentration of Carbon Dioxide

One of the aspects I was most impressed with was the truly interactive nature of this course. So often science books involve reading a section, answering some comprehension questions and then completing an experiment. And courses that are touted as interactive often include many features that are simply gimmicky or busywork. Not this course. The text and activities are totally integrated and the activities seem designed to get the student interacting with the material in a meaningful and memorable way. Colouring pages can be just time fillers or busy work, but here the student colours part of the ocean around Greenland plus a graph showing the amount of certain products that can be made from recycled or unrecycled material using the same amount of energy. This is colouring with a purpose, designed to emphasize how much of the area used to be sea ice and the advantages of recycling. After reading about the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases students are asked to complete graphs showing concentrations of specific gases. There are two versions of this activity, a great way of catering for students of differing ages and abilities. Students learn about feedback loops then construct one of their own, read about how the fast rate of climate change makes it difficult for  for organisms to adapt then take part in a simple but fun activity (rolling a tennis ball/trying to avoid a rolling tennis ball) designed to model the principle that it is hard to avoid a fast moving event,  and read about radiation then observe it for themselves by putting a sheet of black paper in the sun. They also read about the increase in manufactured goods and the trend for food to be consumed a long way from where it is produced then check  their own home and supermarket for evidence of this. They don't just read about changes in weather over time; they gather and analyse weather data from their own area (not being in the US I thought we might need to pick an American city to call home in order to complete this activity, so I was happy to discover that the recommended website includes data from our city ). None of the activities are complicated, but they are varied, well integrated in the text and designed to reinforce it's key messages.

Another aspect of this course that impressed me is the way that aspects of the practice and methodology of science are woven into the content. Scientists use maths and the course includes simple calculations plus a brief introduction to scientific notation as well as practice using it. Sheets for experiments get the student to form a hypothesis, accurately record their observations, then provide questions to guide them towards appropriate and meaningful conclusions. One experiment, investigating the effect of water temperature on the solubility of carbon dioxide had the students collect data from three trials not just one, a good demonstration of the point that scientists do not just rely on one observation or data point. When students are given data to graph, they are prompted to ask where it came from (in this case NOAA), since it is vital to know exactly where data comes from and be able to check how it was gathered.

Experimenting with the solubility of carbon dioxide in water of different temperature

I liked the way that no prior knowledge was assumed. If your child doesn't already know about atoms and molecules, you can still use this course with them because a simple definition is included in the text. Likewise the scientific method is simply and quickly explained. If you've already covered this you can use it for review, but if not it is a good basic introduction to the foundation of all good science. I also like the fact that it isn't assumed that children can't understand seemingly technical concepts and processes. Infrared spectroscopy is explained in a straight forward manner so students can understand how it is used to determine concentrations of greenhouse gases in air trapped millions of years ago.

Climate change can be a depressing topic and I think it is counterproductive, wrong and even harmful to teach children that their future is doomed because of it, or to leave them thinking that it is an issue that only adults can solve. The Science of Climate Change does not fall into this trap. Instead the last section lays out a lot of simple actions that children and their families can start doing right now, and points out that if everyone does their bit we can limit the scale and impact of climate change. As  a bonus 20% of the profit from this book is being donated to groups educating others about global warming and climate change.

Seeing the Greenhouse Effect in action - comparing temperatures of enclosed and unenclosed spaces.
The Science of Climate Change was not 100% perfect for us. I don't think I've ever found something that is! I would like to have seen more examples and case studies in the section on climate change, so that students would get a more concrete idea how people, animals and plants are being affected. Also, many of the suggested solutions were somewhat simplistic, and/or not without problems of their own. For instance, as a keen birder Miss 16 is very aware of the adverse effects of solar and wind power, especially on migratory birds. However, these reservations are minor, partly a result of Miss 16's age, and easily rectified. For instance I could have her write a research paper on the impact of climate change on birds!

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend The Science of Climate Change. It is topically relevant, engagingly written, easy to implement and use, and full of a variety of well-integrated meaningful activities. Most importantly it is scientifically accurate and reliable. You should definitely plan to include it in your science programme, especially if your kids are in the middle school range.

If you'd like to learn more or want to buy the course (available as an actual book or an ebook - great for those of us overseas since it avoids postage costs and delivery and delays) just visit the website.

Disclosure: I received this book for free in return for an honest, unbiased review. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Week Ending 27 August 2017

Without any excitement-causing eclipse in this part of the world, our week was mostly routine and unremarkable. Miss 16 completed all her planned work by Thursday so on Friday I suggested a trip to our local art gallery. I was especially keen to see the Henri Matisse:Jazz exhibit, featuring his famous colour cutouts. We studied Matisse, including the cutouts, several years ago so it was great to actually see them ourselves.







The gallery paired his work with cutouts by local artists.





I was also interested to see the exhibit featuring work by Len Lye, a New Zealand artist well known for his kinetic sculptures. Sadly photos don't do justice to the colour or movement, let alone the sound!





Paintings featuring local landscapes caught our eye.



As did work by English optical artist Bridget Reilly.



Miss 16 was taken by the irony, sarcasm  and satire of  piece which commented on ways to make a name for yourself as an artist. Plus the crocheted five little piggies!


Meanwhile my eyes kept getting drawn back to a triptych looking at our colonial history.





On Saturday it was our bird group's monthly field trip which  is now my responsibility to organise and lead. We headed to a lagoon about an hour and a half north of the city. Earlier in the year drought meant that the lagoon totally dried up. All the native eels had to be rescued and relocated. After a wet winter we wanted to see what the water level was like and whether the birds had returned. Plenty of water in the lagoon and pretty  much all the waterfowl species we would have expected but in much lower numbers than previously. This area is known as a hot spot for one particular type of goose. Luckily one put in an appearance since three members of our group hadn't seen one in the wild before. On our return  trip we took a coastal route and made a few stops to observe seabirds and waders. All in all it was a pretty good day.


A Cape Barren Goose 

For me one of the highlights was just a couple of minutes drive from home when I spotted a Barbary Dove perched on some power lines. One of my birding goals was to spot 100 different species in the year (100 isn't a high number by international standards but there aren't a large number of bird species in mainland New Zealand). I'd come close before but never reached the magic number. The dove was my 100th species this year so Miss 16 forgave me for my sudden command to stop - she was driving and first thought something was wrong!

The only other out of the ordinary event was Mr 19's car getting broken into on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Luckily nothing seems was taken and the ignition wasn't tampered with, so more an inconvenience than anything. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

White Fang

White Fang is part dog, part wolf - but predominantly wolf. He is born in the wilds of the Yukon and soon comes face to face with the harsh realities of life in this unforgiving environment. He is the only pup from the litter to survive, his father is killed and food is scarce. He finds himself irresistibly drawn to a human campsite and, lured by a more reliable source of food, surrenders his independence to Grey Beard who is a tough but fair master. Under the influence of alcohol Grey  Beard sells White Fang into a life of dog fighting with Beauty Smith. White Fang excels in what is literally a dog eat dog environment. Eventually however he meets his match and seems to face a certain death until he is rescued by Weedon Scott, who through kindness, firmness and unrelenting patience manages to rehabilitate White Fang. The pair move to Scott's family farm where. after a variety of mishaps, White Fang kills an escaped convict who has broken into the house intending to kill Scott's father.

The plot was relatively simple and the writing style plain and uncomplicated. Yet this was one of the  most difficult classics I've read. The reason is the sheer unrelenting brutality, savagery and barbarism. These episodes are not glorified; if anything the matter-of-fact way in which they are relayed highlights how unremarkable they are, which in turn reinforces the brutality. With the exception of some maternal care there is no love or kindness until the appearance of Weedon Scott. The hostile environment seems to leave no room for such "luxuries". It is telling that it is Scott, who does not permanently reside in the Yukon, who is willing and to stand up against the brutality of dog fighting and has the patience and kindness needed to curb White Fang's savage survival instincts.

White Fang explores themes such as freedom vs confinement, redemption, and the struggle for survival. It is an interesting counterpoint to London's The Call of the White but isn't recommended for readers of a tender disposition.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fortnight Ending 20 August 2017

Here's a quick look at some of what we've been up to over the past fortnight. Some of it looks like "school" and some of it doesn't but it is all part of the tapestry of our days.


We've now added this course on American Cinema from Annenberg Media to Miss 16's Film Studies course. On the day we watched this episode the sun was streaming into the bedrooms, so we took my tablet in there, propped it up on some books, and basked in the warmth while we learnt more about the studio system in Hollywood, especially during the 1930s and 1940s.



A couple of weeks ago Miss 16 entered a competition by a local cafe to design a new designer shake. Her shake - a chocolate coconut combo - was one of the winners. Four of us went to the cafe one afternoon to enjoy one of her shakes for free before they were officially added to the menu this weekend.


She's working on vocabulary four times per week at the moment. I'm not entirely sure how necessary this is since she already has a strong vocabulary and reads widely. But we had these books on the shelf, it's only taking her about ten minutes per day, and she doesn't object. Dedicated vocabulary study can't hurt!


One of the great benefits of homeschooling is being able to tailor an education to the student's interests. This year Miss 16 is studying New Zealand history. One day she reads a chapter from the living book we are using as a spine. The following day I usually have a related activity or reading organised. One of the topics this week's chapter focused on was increasing levels of environmental consciousness. I then found an article in the New Zealand Journal Of History titled "Native Bird Protection, National Identity and the Rise of Preservation in New Zealand to 1914". The perfect way to tie history and one of her passions together!


We managed a couple of short local birding trips - one by ourselves and one with a small group. Plenty of Welcome Swallows resting on the reeds at one of the wetlands. At another we found them busy starting to build nests inside the bird hide.




The highlight of the trips for us was a pipit. They are not incredibly rare but we hadn't spotted one this year. We were hoping to see one at one of the wetlands but were out of luck. On the way home we got a text from one of our friends who'd been on the trip and knew we were looking for one. So we turned back and luckily it hadn't flown off.




We've moved on to Station Eleven for literature. At the moment I think we'll read it then discuss it using these questions. I'll add in stuff from the LitCharts site if its helpful.


Miss 16 has never really enjoyed maths and was delighted to be finished last year since Algebra 2 is the highest level we require. However, she intends studying zoology or ecology or the like at university level. Not only will statistics be useful but all courses she's looked at require at least one statistics paper as part of the degree. So she is willingly working through a statistics course 3 or 4 times per week this year in preparation.


One of the local council has just released a new draft plan relating to the management of coastal areas. They've held a couple of public consultation/public engagement type events. Since several areas are havens for bird life our bird group was invited to be part of this. Miss 16 helped set up our displays and talked to the public about bird life in the area.

As always there's been stuff I didn't capture on camera - often because I wasn't there. Although not training or competing at the moment, Miss 16 is still involved in trampolining. She coaches for six hours per week and spent eight hours one day judging at a local competition. Judging all day is more tiring than competing apparently! She also worked on animal behaviour - just imagine her at a desk taking notes from a textbook and you'll have a good image of how that looked!

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Look Back at my Classics Club Challenge

Now that my 50 book Classics Club challenge is over it feels like time to step back and reflect.

Overall I enjoyed the challenge and am glad I did it. It certainly got me reading more classics than I had been, led me to be more intentional about my reading in general, and exposed me to many works I might never have got to otherwise. Some books were more difficult than others - either for reasons of language and writing style, or due to the subject matter. But challenge is not a bad thing,  I feel richer for having read them and don't regret any of them, even though I can't imagine wanting to read some of them again. The pacing of one book every four to six weeks felt doable, without forcing me to give up other reading. I wanted to read more classics but I didn't want to give up more contemporary titles. I ended up completing the challenge more quickly than planned but I wouldn't have wanted to commit to that in advance, if that makes sense.

Not wanting to commit too far in advance relates to the one aspect of the challenge that I didn't enjoy - having to select all 50 titles at the outset. I picked 50 at the outset but stated even then that I doubted I'd actually read all of them. In fact 13 of my original titles have not yet been completed, even though I say I've completed the challenge. I ended up reading 13 other classics instead. There are several reasons for this. One of them is tied to the fact that I homeschool. If Miss 16 read a classic I read it too so we could discuss it together. I also got bogged down part way through, then discovered another classics challenge - Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge which has you read up to 12 classics per year in a variety of sub categories. This was just the reset I needed, but not all of my original picks could fit into the categories over there so I substituted freely. I was more committed to the idea of 50 classics than any particular title. And not all of the 13 unread  titles will remain unread. I've actually already completed The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but have yet to post a review; I'm going to collect Crime and Punishment from the library this evening and have The Handmaids Tale on hold - although there is a lengthy waiting list. I also plan to tackle Heart of Darkness or Dante's Inferno before year's end. Others probably won't be read. My experience with Emily Dickinson taught me that I don't enjoy reading large poetry collections in one chunk. I may well read some poems by Robert Frost but definitely not his complete works. And right now Birdsong doesn't appeal to me. That may change of course.

As for the books I did read, two titles I'd never even heard of before tackling the challenge - The Dollmaker  and The Makioka Sisters - turned out to be among my favourites. Some books I appreciated without necessarily enjoying  (Mrs Dalloway) while some I simply didn't like at all (sorry Moby Dick). Most of course were somewhere in between. Some of the classics felt a little dated to me (The Martian Chronicles, Journey to the Centre of the Earth) but still had something to offer even though I wasn't getting the full experience of reading them soon after they'd been published. Others,  sadly, were still all too relevant today ( A Raisin in the Sun). I discovered I normally enjoyed strong female characters ( The Woman in White's Marian and Mina from Dracula), while I struggled to engage with works dominated by passive women (Lucy in Villette) or unpleasant, rather than merely flawed, men (The Odyssey). Sometimes I felt overly long descriptive or discursive sections interrupted the narrative flow and interrupted my enjoyment (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) but other times they added positively to my reading experience (Charles Dickens - mostly!). Beautiful, lyrical writing always appealed (Rebecca) but I could also appreciate the more spartan style in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

Now that I've finished this 50 book challenge I intend to keep classics as a regular part of my reading diet. I doubt I'll complete another 50 book Classics Club challenge though - too difficult to have to select another 50 titles upfront! I've still got some Shakespeare that I want to tackle - can't believe I haven't got to King Lear yet - and more Dickens is definitely on the cards as well. Other than that we shall see what turns up. This blog has serendipity in its title for a reason!

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.