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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Week Ending 23 April 2017

This week was all about the annual teen birders camp. Miss 16 left on her flight up North early on Monday, got back late on Friday and in between had a great time. She knew almost everybody already, either from last year's camp or from the young birders group. It's not surprising that this was the best camp socially and in terms of pure fun. There was a lot of driving between locations so lots of opportunity for singing and other hilarity.

At one stop they discovered over 400 Royal Spoonbills roosting in the trees.

At another stop Miss 16 was happy to spot this New Zealand Dabchick since we don't get them down our way.. 
Among the activities were a day trip to a nearby island where they practiced 5 minute bird counts in the bush, and a beach patrol, searching for dead or dying birds that have washed ashore. It's one of those activities where you are never sure whether you actually want to find a lot or not! Since the weather had been calm for a few days preceding their patrol they didn't find much. There was also a kiwi survey at night. Since kiwi are known to be shy the teens were not really surprised, but still a little disappointed, to only hear but not see them.

A great place to look for bush birds.
The camp's big activity was a 5 hour pelagic - bird watching from sea. Miss 16 was not at all sure about this since her last time on a boat had been pretty miserable. But she knew she couldn't live with herself if she didn't give it a try. So we got her some seasickness medication and hoped for the best. Apparently she didn't feel great, but she was better than last time and so long as she stayed seated in one position the seasickness wasn't unbearable. Luckily she managed to see all the birds from her chosen seat.

A Campell Island Mollymawk and a Flesh-footed Shearwater were two of the birds she saw on the pelagic.

Of all four birding camps and field courses she's gone on in the past three years this the most productive in terms of new birds. She managed 32 new species for the year, twelve of which she had never seen before. Her favorite was the Barn Owl, a species which has only recently established in this country. There is a very small localized population that happens to be close to where the camp was held. Apparently organizers hadn't planned to visit, but Miss 16 and a couple of others begged so much that they relented. Another favorite was the New Zealand Storm Petrel which was thought to be extinct, until being rediscovered early this century. Their breeding site was discovered just three years ago. Another favorite was the Grey Noddy, a bird that wasn't even on her radar. But on the boat they found a small group resting on a rocky island and were able to circumnavigate the island a couple of times, ensuring everyone got good views.
Miss 16's three favourite birds. Photos from NZ Birds Online

On her return Miss 16 was right back into trampoline training with a session on Saturday morning. In the afternoon we went birding, since you can never have too much birding, at least in our house. The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing - reading, chatting online with friends from camp and watching Moana.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights

Friday, April 14, 2017

Week Ending 16 April 2017

This was the week I celebrated a birthday. A reasonably significant one - my half century. And to celebrate I chaired my first meeting as head of the local birding group:-( Sadly it was the only day that worked for everybody else. It was also the day I opened the door of our linen cupboard and discovered water - rather a lot of water. So I spent a fun hour or so mopping up water and throwing out things that were ruined. Our linen cupboard houses our hot water cylinder and it seems to have sprung a leak. Luckily the leak is small (it must have been leaking for a while before we noticed) but a new hot water cylinder definitely needs to be installed sooner rather than later. Sigh.

This was also the week we should have been celebrating Mr 24's graduation, but instead of walking across the stage he had his first day at his new job. All went well and he reports his immediate boss seems like a nice guy which is always a good thing. Actually Mr 24 is keeping up the family tradition of not graduating in person with his PhD. I missed mine (my degree is from a New Zealand university but we were in Canada with a young baby come graduation time) and Dh missed his (his is from a Canadian university and we were back in New Zealand before graduation time). It'll be up to Miss 22 to break the pattern - assuming the university ever gets around to officially enrolling her in the doctorate programme that is. She filed the paperwork weeks ago and keeps getting emails saying her application is still being processed. At least her department has assigned her office space so she's able to start work already. I guess the longer they take to process her paperwork the less her fees will be.


All my library reserves arrived at once. Just as well we've got a two week break so I can start to work through them all.

Homeschooling wise this was the last week of the school term, prior to a two week break. And since Miss 16 has a calendar full of other exciting things we'll take a two week break from academics as well. Statistics was very short and simple this week, and I wasn't able to find much supplementary material for history so she just read from the book and took notes. That freed up time to undertake the write-up for an ethology project she did way back in February as part of her animal behavior course. We also tackled a couple of short stories for literature, including The Dolls House which is one of my personal favorites,  The Lottery which I feel has a very important message and John Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemum. I pulled from a few free online resources to beef up our study of these stories including this and this and some from here  to supplement our regular book. We finished the term in a relaxed fashion, by watching E.T. The Extraterrestrial for her movie course. The study guide  highlighted parallels with both Peter Pan and the story of Jesus's resurrection, which was serendipitous since we watched it the day before Good Friday, and I hadn't preread the guide so didn't know what the focus for the movie would be.

There was also a driving lesson for Miss 16 with the instructor we used for my older three. As expected she liked him, and he agrees with me that she is ready to sit and pass the test. Now we just have to wait until she's had her current licence for six months, then we can book her test for the next stage.

We also went on a mid week ramble with our birding group while Miss 16 and I hope to fit in a short trip ourselves this weekend.


7:45am on Good Friday and the first batch of Hot Cross Buns was ready to go.

Apart from too many hot cross buns and too much chocolate the weekend will also feature a photo shoot for Miss 16. I suspect that sounds more glamorous than it will be in reality. A group of young birders is being featured in an upcoming book and the photos are for that. I don't think she's looking forward to it since she doesn't like having her photo taken.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up .

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Classics Club 46: O Pioneers!

The last two classics that I've reviewed - The Dollmaker and The Good Earth - have both featured the relationship between the main character and the earth as a key theme. Willa Cather's O Pioneers! continues this trend. It is the story of one family's survival on the Nebraska prairies.  The Bergsons are Swedish migrants trying to make a go of it in the harsh environment. After years of hard work the family is debt free but barely surviving and many of their neighbours are giving up and leaving for the city. Then John, the father dies, and leaves his daughter not his wife or one of his sons in charge. 

Alexandra is determined to remain on the land.She notices that the big investors are not selling up, but rather buying more land. She convinces her family to do the same and expand their property.  She's not afraid of being unconventional in other ways, investigating and replicating where it seems sensible farming methods used in more prosperous areas.

Sixteen years pass and the family is prospering. Alexandra's brothers farm land of their own but continue to resent her success and remain suspicious of her new ideas. She sends Emil, the youngest brother, to college since she recognizes that farming is hard work and is trying to ensure a better and easier future for him. For all her success Alexandra remains lonely. A doomed attraction between Emil and her neighbour Marie costs Alexandra both of them, and her love Carl cannot find success on the prairie and leaves. While he later returns and she agrees to marry him and go with him to Alaska, it is clear her heart is with the land and she imagines returning in a year. Whether she will be able to retain her links to the land and her love with Carl remains unanswered.

While I was able to appreciate both the plot and the writing style, for some reason this novel didn't touch me, resonate with me or remain with me the way some of the other classics have. I certainly didn't dislike it, but I'm unlikely to reread it or recommend it to others. But don't let me out you off. My reaction probably says more about me that it does about the book. O Pioneers! is a relatively, short and easy read, so if the plot synopsis appeals to you it would be worth reading and forming your own judgment.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Week Ending 9 April 2017

Just a few highlights and points of interest this week.

* Mr 24 departed for his new job overseas. It'll be a big change for him (his new city has a population roughly the same as our entire country) and us (although he hasn't lived at home for a few years he's lived close by so we've still seen him a fair bit.) His move has an unexpected upside for Miss 22. Since he isn't sure how long he'll be away he opted not to sell his car and has temporarily gifted it to her.

Miss 22 and Mr 24 checking out his new neighbourhood thanks to the wonders of Google Maps.


* Miss 16 and I went birding at the same lake we visited last week. It's like a completely different place. We've had a large amount of rainfall early in the week so the lake edge was greening up and full of pools and ponds.  Last week it was all mud and really dry except right at the waters edge. Lots of birds but no Arctic waders. We're guessing they've left on the long flight north.  Or else they've moved to a different part of the lake.


There were lots of new pools at the lake that we needed to wade through. Not a great way to  discover that our boots had developed holes!

* I somehow managed to finish Nicholas Nickleby in a week. I read whenever I got the chance and increased my available book time by listening to an audio version when I was cooking dinner, doing other quiet chores or simply needed to give my eyes a rest from the small print.

* Our birding group was involved in a Bioblitz - a mostly educational event to see how many species could be identified in a smallish reserve in a 24 hour period. Lots of talks and hands-on activities - a good community event.



* Homeschooling continued as normal with just two exceptions.  Miss 16 finished Carry On Mr Bowditch and has begun a focus on short stories. First up was Katherine Mansfield's The Garden Party. A few weeks ago Miss 16 finished an essay and although it wasn't bad I wasn't really satisfied with it, yet struggled to convey to her what I thought the issues were and how it could be improved. After mulling it over (and making a few frustrating false starts) I finally found success this week by reversing our roles! I made a copy of her essay and then rewrote it myself, mostly just reorganizing a few things and changing a word here and there . I was trying to make it an improved version of her essay rather than my essay.Then I had her read both my version and hers to identify three to five changes that I'd made and to say why she thought I'd made them. It seemed to work well.

* Miss 16 spend a day judging at a trampoline competition. She's aiming to resume competion herself next month.  Apparently a whole days judging is really tiring (normally she can only judge for half a day because she then has to compete herself) but she's now completed all her required judging hours for this level and can enroll in the next level course when it's held later in the year.


Miss 16 on a judging panel.

* Miss 16 is rethinking her university choices, partly because of the extra costs involved in living away from home, and also because she's not sure she could survive a year eating cafeteria food at the student accommodation! Food was the one negative of her brief university experience in January. We'll investigate some other options. Our last year of homeschooling will have to look very different depending on which university she plans to attend so I hope she can make a decision. Such a shame the local university isn't as good as any other for her purposes, the way it was for her siblings.

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Classics Club 45: The Dollmaker

This is a little known gem  by Harriette Arnow which in my opinion should be heralded as a modern American classic. It was included in The Classic Club's The Big Book List yet currently there is no members review of it. Mine will be the first. And that is a pity because this novel really deserves to be widely known.

We first meet Gertie Nevels in an arresting first scene. She sits astride a mule in the middle of a highway, forcing a car to stop. Her baby requires urgent medical attention and she has no way of quickly getting to a doctor. Her strength of personality and dogged persistence convinces the reluctant driver - a military official no less - to take her. But not before she herself performs an emergency tracheotomy on her son to save his life.

Life for Gertie, her husband Clovis and their five children is not easy in rural Kentucky. Everyone is poor. But Gertie is strong, capable and respected , and she has plans for buying their own land which will allow the family to improve their lot. Just when she thinks she has achieved this dream it is snatched away from her as she and the children are forced to join Clovis in Detroit, where he has taken a factory job supporting the war effort.

Life in Detroit is harsh and brutal in many ways. Factory work is hard and often dangerous.The family rents a cheap, poorly constructed house in an overcrowded estate. Wages never go far enough and life in the city requires more expenditure - such as the fridge which doesn't seem to work as it should. The family is forced to buy things on credit and is often is debt. Neighbours and workmates are often in conflict. Religion (Catholic versus anti-Catholic feeling is highlighted) and ethnicity or place of origin (Gertie's family are disparagingly called hillbillies) are just some causes for discord. There is also police corruption and the power of the union to contend with, not to mention the demands of the bosses. People's individuality and humanity must play second fiddle to the needs of the industrial workforce and the consumer based society.

Gertie struggles in this alien environment. She misses the land, doesn't understand how this new urban environment works and isn't sure how she is supposed to behave. She is rendered powerless and not worthy of respect. Slowly she loses everything she values. First Reuben, then Cassie and finally, most poignantly of all, her art. For Gertie is a talented whittler. Yet this is a society that doesn't really have a place for individual, hand crafted items. In an effort to be helpful and ensure his family's survival Clovis forces her to mechanize and standardize, effectively creating a production line in the family home. All joy and satisfaction from the process of whittling is lost to Gertie. She eventually sacrifices a special piece of wood that she has been slowly creating a masterful sculpture from, chopping it up so she can use the wood to mass produced dolls.What happens to Gertie's whittling reflects and mirrors what is happening in the wider society. 

The Dollmaker is not an easy read. The rural Kentucky dialect can be tricky to decipher, many scenes are confronting and the Detroit setting is unrelenringly grim. Yet the effort is worth it. Joyce Carol Oates summed it up well , calling it a "brutal, brillant novel" that "has a permanent effect upon the reader". If you haven't already read it you should. 

Week Ending 2 April 2017

I can't believe it's April already and that the year is already 1/4 over. April looks like being a busy month for us but there were only a few noteworthy events this week.

* We finally received word that our accommodation costs will be covered when we have to move out of our home while the inadequate earthquake repairs are fixed. The application went in in November and the repairs were supposed to have been completed by now but the decision regarding accommodation was a long time coming. Now we just have to find somewhere suitable in the budget that's stipulated, and hopefully this long running saga (the first of the large quakes was September 2010) will be over - for us at least.

* Miss 16 and I made two very productive birding trips to a local lake. We weren't expecting much but were surprised to discover some migratory waders that had not yet left on their journey back to the Northern Hemisphere. We saw one bird, a sandpiper, that we struggled to identify. Some research at home had us pretty certain but Miss 16 wanted to try and find it again just to be sure - hence the return trip. No luck relocating our mystery sandpiper but we did spot several others birds of note, including another sandpiper species. That let us confirm our identification of our first bird since it clearly wasn't the same species as this one. We were especially delighted to find a small group of Pacific Golden Plovers moulting into their breeding plumage. Spotting them was one of our birding goals for the year. They look like a totally different species from the birds we saw early in the summer in their dull non-breeding plumage.

Pacific Golden Plover. Left is as they looked in November. Right is as they look now.

Apart from Pacific Golden Plover the other two best birds were Lesser Knots (we hadn't seen any so far this season) and Curlew Sandpipers (our mystery bird)
Miss 16 hard at work. Without her scope the birds would just look like dots in the distance. The white dots are actually a flock of about 240 Wrybill. They are an endemic with a distinctive bill that bends to the right. They breed only in the South Island but most spend winter in the North Island. These ones are gathering at the lake prior to travelling.
Pied Stilts were the most common wader. This is a juvenile on the left and an adult on the right.


* Speaking of birding, we attended the monthly meeting of our local birding group. It was the AGM and I somehow found myself elected to the main leadership position. Actually I knew the nomination was coming but was hoping I could find a way out since I'm not sure I've got the right skill set for the role. Now that I've been elected I guess I'll find out! After the AGM there was an interesting talk about birds, wildlife and evolution on the Galapagos Islands plus an update on one of our endangered bird species. Not good news unfortunately.

* Miss 16 has been extra busy at the gym this week since she agreed to cover classes for a couple of coaches who were snowed under with exams and assignments for university. She also had a health and safety meeting to attend. The good news is she'll be less busy gymwise for the next few weeks since the recreation programme is on a break until May.

*Another week, another tradesman needed. A light bulb blew in one room. No big deal. But then we discovered the lights were out in more than half the house. A check of the fuse box didn't reveal any quick fix so luckily an electrician was able to visit later in the day. A faulty light fitting and a wiring problem were to blame. So we need to decide what sort of new light fitting to get. We've never liked the faulty one anyway and will probably replace the other two of that type at the same time.

* Nothing significant homeschooling wise. We moved on to Stewart English for grammar but everything else is just continuing smoothly and steadily. Not a bad state of affairs at all.

* I continued to make good progress with my various reading challenges during March. I completed a total of twelve books. One counted for the Back to the Classics Challenge, five for the Modern Mrs Darcy challenges, and five for Pop Sugar's Ultimate Reading Challenge. I'm not expecting to finish as many books in April since I've just started The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby - all 828 pages worth!

Linking to Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up and Kim's Homeschool Highlights.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Classics Club 44:The Good Earth

Pearl Buck's The Good Earth opens with the marriage of peasant farmer Wang- Lung to O-Lan, a slave girl from the big house nearby. Over the years, and through much hard work their family rises in both wealth and stature. They also suffer many hardships and setbacks along the way. A drought and subsequent famine force them to move south, where it is O-Lan's resourcefulness, knowledge and practicality that allow them to survive and eventually return to their land richer than when they left. Floods, pestilence and political upheaval all negatively impact the family over the years, yet through diligently working the land and living prudently they are able to buy more land from the once powerful House of Hwang whose fortunes are declining. As the family fortunes rise Wang-Lung in particular begins to expect more. He wants his sons to be become scholars, while he himself starts visiting brothels, takes a mistress and turns his back on his loyal, hard-working wife. In one of the novel's most heartbreaking moments he forces O-Lan to give up two pearls, the only things she had ever asked for and which she clearly valued dearly, so he could gift them to his mistress.

Despite this Wang-Lung is not all bad. His obvious love for and care of his disabled daughter is evidence of that. Rather he is a flawed human being, undoubtedly hardened by the hardships life has forced him to endure, trying to improve his lot and that of his family. As his wealth increases he struggles between his love of the land and his desire to be taken seriously and respected as a man of standing in his community. It is when he pursues status at the expense of working the land that he is at his worst. The land is good, not only because it allows the family to survive and thrive but because it enables Wang-Lung to be his best self.

Despite valuing the land and recognizing that it is the key to his wealth and survival, he doesn't always act accordingly. His actions, and more frequently his inactions, in this regard will clearly contribute to the family's eventual fall in fortunes which is foreshadowed at the novel's end when the sons indicate they will sell the land as soon as their father dies.

The Good Earth has been criticized since it is written from the point of view of a Chinese man while actually being written by a white woman. Not being a Chinese man myself it is impossible to say whether or not the representation is accurate. What I will say is that the themes of this novel - such as the power of the earth, man's connection to the earth, the status of women, and the way wealth counters traditional values  - are universal and that it is worth being read by anyone, regardless of their gender or ethnicity. The literary world's powers-that-be agree. The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 while, largely on the strength of this novel, Pearl Buck was awarded the  Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Week Ending 26 March 2017

It feels like it has been another uninspired week around here. I'm still slightly under the weather with a cold and the weather has been damp and dreary so I'm sure that's contributing. The other issue I'm dealing with is the realization that the university Miss 16 wants to attend will not even look at her homeschool transcript. Instead she'll have to do a short (one semester) pre-university course which will determine whether or not they will admit her. So part of me feels that what we do or don't do this year doesn't matter. Which is silly since she will still benefit from her education even if the university admissions office doesn't recognize it. So carry on homeschooling we will, even as I struggle to reach prime motivational levels!

Miss 16 started reading Carry On Mr Bowditch for literature. For some reason we never got to it when she was younger so I put it on a list of possibilities for this year. We watched and discussed To Kill a Mockingbird for her movies course and now she wants to reread the novel - after she finishes Emma, the rereading of which was also inspired by watching it for her movies course. This week she finished the first of her two grammar books - another thing I meant to tackle a year or two ago but somehow missed. Still it's never too late and we were able to whip through it pretty quickly. We tackled regression lines in statistics, a quick and simple process thanks to a new spreadsheet package Mr 19 found and installed for us. Good technology definitely makes a difference.



The highlight of Miss 16's week came on Monday. The local university was hosting a group of dogs. The opportunity to pet them was designed as therapy for stressed students I think since mid-term exams have just started! So she decided to masquerade as a university student and met up with     Miss 22 on campus to indulge in a little canine therapy! Then they went to a local cafe and shared a couple of delicious looking shakes. While she was otherwise occupied I finished The Dollmaker, a little-known gem that should be an American classic and was definitely the highlight of my reading week.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week Ending 19 March 2017

Monday was a cold and wet day. I spent the first part of the morning at the out of town university while Dh taught his class.  Then it was home to help Miss 16 with statistics.There were no technological hiccups this week so it went quickly. Given the weather it was a good day to snuggle up and watch a movie - Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window for her Movies as Literature course. Mr 24 and his girlfriend came to dinner. It's the first time we've met her, in fact the first time we've had any girlfriends/boyfriends to dinner. It doesn't seem that long ago that Dh and I were introducing each other to our parents.  Funny to be on the other side of the equation. Dinner was also a chance to celebrate Mr 24 receiving a job offer in his chosen field. He's been looking since he finished his PhD last year so it's great he finally has something. The one downside is that it's overseas. Thankfully a short plane ride, rather than a long one though. And I've long since reconciled myself to that fact that my four will likely end up widely scattered.

Tuesday was also cold and wet. We were supposed to go birding but the trip was canceled.  I've got a bit of  cold so I wasn't too disappointed. Instead we stayed at home and did some bookwork. It felt like the day dragged but that was probably just the cold. We started some poetry for literature using Sound and Sense and also watched a video on birding in eastern Europe  since we didn't get out ourselves. Miss 16 of course headed to the gym in the late afternoon.  Just one class to coach today before she started training. The day's highlight was receiving notification that there had been a cancellation for next month's teen birding camp and since Miss 16 was first on the waiting list she now gets to go.

The weather on Wednesday and Thursday was much better but we didn't really do a lot with it. Both days were just routine "homeschool then trampoline" days. Nothing out of the ordinary homeschool-wise except for history. I was pleased to discover back issues of our country's top academic history journal are available online. So I found an article relating to this week' topic and had Miss 16 summarise and analyse it. Our washing machine stopped working on Wednesday. Luckily I was able to get someone out the following day and it was a fairly quick and inexpensive repair.  The machine is more than 20 years old so I'm aware it is probably on borrowed time.


This week I finished The Dollmaker and started The House Without Windows. Highly recommend The Dollmaker to anyone who hasn't read it. It isn't an easy read but it is worth the effort.

On Friday Miss 16 and I were going to go birding while Dh was at the out-of-town university. But he was still feeling miserable due to a heavy cold so decided he give his lecture but postpone office hours meaning there wouldn't be enough time to make birding worthwhile. So she knocked off some schoolwork in the morning and then we drove across town to try and track down a rare bird that has been seen in vicinity. Despite looking in all the likely places we came home empty handed again.

Saturday was the monthly field trip with our local birding group. We were guided through a remote patch of native bush. It was a pretty challenging walk - no tracks, and steep slippery terrain but the bush was lovely and there was probably the greatest number of native birds I've seen in one small place. Not a huge variety of species but large numbers of the species that were present. As the bush is allowed to regenerate further hopefully more species will move into the area. We arrived home to the news that Miss 22's best friend had just got engaged and had already booked Miss 22 in for chief bridesmaid duties. Yet another sign my kids are growing up.