Sunday, December 10, 2017

Week Ending 10 December 2017

Last weekend's wader count turned up a relatively rare bird - one neither Miss 17 nor I had seen before. So of course this week started with a drive back to the lake! There had been two reports of the bird, one in a section we weren't familiar with but that we knew required a lot of walking, and another at a section we knew well and that involved a more moderate amount of walking. Given the temperatures we opted for the lazy girls' approach to birding, fully expecting to have to return and make the long trek later in the week. But for once luck was with us and we were rewarded with really good views of our first ever Hudsonian Godwit. The only way to definitively identify this bird is to check the colour under its wing and it conveniently lifted its wing so we got a clear view of the black colouration which separates it from a similar looking species.

Tuesday wasn't such a good day since I came down with a mild attack of a long running health problem. Luckily a few hours in bed took care of things and I was able to get up and moving later in the day. Miss 17 spent some time drafting her first ever resignation letter. She's decided she definitely won't return to trampoline and gym coaching next year.

On Wednesday we braved the mall (my least favourite place ever) to tackle some long overdue Christmas shopping. I survived - although not as much shopping was accomplished as I'd hoped.

Thursday's highlight was a bird banding session, the first in a couple of weeks. It was a busy, productive session. A school group arrived for a picnic/sports day in the park and came over to see what we were doing. Miss 17 was given the job of extracting a bird from the net and then banding it in front of the large, inquisitive audience. She was relieved the bird was compliant and not a stroppy, uncooperative one!


Getting ready to put the band on this Greenfinch

This Silvereye doesn't look too impressed!

Normally the birds come to the nets. Sometimes the nets go to the birds.


Friday was a relaxed day at home. We even made a couple of new Christmas decorations. Hopefully we'll make some more this coming week. The kids always made at least one new decoration each year when they were younger and it is a tradition Miss 17 is still keen to continue.

Miss 17 was busy all weekend at a two day course for trampoline judges. She's hoping to move up a level on the judging ladder. The theory and practical tests sounded pretty brutal - over 100 questions for the theory component plus forty different routines to score in the practical section - and a big jump from what was required to gain her current judging qualification. Results should be out before Christmas.



Meanwhile I spent Saturday staffing a stall for our birding group at a local environmental expo. It was the hottest day of the year, and the fans in the hall weren't up to the job - I was in danger of melting into a puddle all day long!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Back to the Classics 2017: The Final Wrap-Up

I've participated in several reading challenges this year. I find them a good way to help me solve the "what should I read next" dilemma, and I enjoy being forced out of my reading rut of mostly reading the same type of book. This is the second year I've participated in the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen from Books and Chocolate . The goal was to read between 6 and 12 books, one for each of the given categories. Now that I've  - finally - posted my final review it's a good time to reflect on what I read for this challenge this year.  And start crossing my fingers since by reading 12 books and posting a review of them all I earn three entries into the prize draw!

1.  A 19th Century Classic - I selected Heart of Darkness for this  but regretted it. For a short novella I found  it slow going and felt the lack of immediacy in the story plus the racist overtones were off-putting

2.A 2oth Century Classic -  I had ambivalent feelings towards Willa Cather's O Pioneers!  I didn't dislike it, even appreciated it, but it didn't really resonate with me or leave a lasting impression.


3.  A classic by a woman author -The Dollmaker by Hariette Simpson Arnow  was definitely the highlight of the classics I read this year. While the grimness of the industrial Detroit setting plus the intricacies of the rural Kentucky dialect stop it being an easy read, it really rewards the reader's effort. It seems to be a little-known gem and one I recommend if you haven't already read it.


4.  A classic in translation. -   Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich was simple and thought-provoking. The volume I read also included A Confession, but it was too didactic for my taste.


5.  A classic published before 1800 - I read Homer's Odyssey. I wasn't a fan of Odysseus or the perception of him as a hero. But I liked how most of the themes still resonated today.


6.  
An romance classic -The beautifully written Rebecca, with it's lush, detailed descriptions was among my favourite classic reads this year.


7.  A Gothic or horror classic   - This was not my favourite genre but Dracula wasn't as frightening as I'd feared and I loved the capable and resourceful character, Mina.

8.  A classic with a number in the title - Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona is not his finest work, but it is enjoyable in a lighthearted way and it contains many quintessential elements which were developed further in later works.


9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title -  It's sheer unrelenting brutality made  White Fang a tough read, but it is an interesting counterpoint to Landon's better-known The Call of the Wild.


10. 
A classic set in a place you'd like to visit -  In the titular character of  Nicholas Nickleby Dickens created a worthy, but not insufferably perfect, hero whom the reader could root for. While I might like to visit London, the plight of Kate Nickleby added to my conviction that I wouldn't have wanted to live in the London that Dickens portrayed.


11. An award-winning classic  - Pearl Buck's The Good Earth details the rise and fall of a Chinese peasant family. Its universal themes make it worthy of being by anyone who hasn't already done so.

12. A Russian Classic -  Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was a rich and compelling read. I was glad I overcame my initial hesitation since it wasn't neither as long nor complicated as I'd feared.

Many thanks to Karen for hosting this challenge.

Fortnight Ending 3 December 2017

It's been another relaxed couple of weeks around here. It's also been hot - and heat doesn't really lend itself to energetic productivity. Still there have been a few things of note.


* Miss 17 has finally had her supermarket training and has worked her first couple of shifts. So far she seems to be enjoying it although working six days a week limits what we can do. Still there is only a couple of weeks left in the term and she'll probably resign from her coaching job then.

* We've done lots of birding. Mostly it has just been short trips by ourselves but we did take part in the annual summer wader count. It was the hottest day of the season so far and we were short of volunteers so Miss 17 and I ended up covering a section each to ensure the lake got covered. It meant lots more walking as we had to zigzag back and forth instead of one person walking close to the lake edge and one walking a bit further inland. I've still got blisters on my feet today!



* Miss 17 has started binge watching The Big Bang Theory. I'm not sure what's sparked the interest but I really must watch an episode or two and attempt some Big Juicy Conversations. Unfortunately, they've never been my strong point.



* Her interest in birds took an unexpected turn into the area of wildlife rehabilitation last week. We were out on a birding trip when she heard a lot cheeping coming from a field. Some careful examination (we were on one side of an electric fence and the noise was coming from the other) revealed a very young bird. It didn't even have any real feathers - just pinfeathers. All the advice says to return it to the nest  or to put the bird in a substitute nest (hanging plant basket or plastic container wedged in the fork of a tree) nearby where the parents should find it. Except we had no way of climbing the nearest tree in search of a nest, nor any nest substitutes on us, nor any way of making one. So, despite knowing that the odds were against her, Miss 17 opted to bring him home. She researched best care practises, after checking with a local bird rehabilitator who couldn't take him, and was kept busy feeding her charge every 15 minutes (thankfully night feedings weren't needed). She even pressed Miss 22 and her boyfriend into bird sitting duty when we had to go out once. Sadly the bird didn't make it but Miss 17 was undeterred and said she'd try again if another opportunity presented itself.

* She spent half a day judging at a trampoline competition.  Her new job prevented her judging for the whole day.

* She's been working out at the gym three times a week and seems to have found a good routine with it. She hasn't yet found a good routine for working through Cornell's Handbook of Bird Biology. Progress is a lot slower than I'd expected. I'm debating whether or not to enrol her in the online course that uses the book. It's pretty pricey but there is a good discount available at the moment and birds are her passion. Not sure whether the course would help her work through the text or just be a waste of money. Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Crime and Punishment

For some reason I was not looking forward to tackling this novel. I had it in my head that it was much longer and less readable than it actually was. The only aspect I struggled with slightly was keeping track of all the characters since everyone seems to go be several names and nicknames  which, since I'm not Russian, was more confusing than say realising that Kate and Katharine were one and the same. Once I got to the end of the book I found a chart listing all the characters and their alternative names. My reading would have been simpler had that chart been at the front !

 Fyodor Dostoevsky has created  an incredibly flawed and complex character in Rodion Raskolnikov. The plot, however,  is relatively straight forward. When we first meet Raskolnikov he is a poor, depressed student who is struggling with a major decision. Turns out that decision is whether or not to commit a murder. Since the novel is called Crime and Punishment I don't think it's giving to much away to say that he decided to go ahead. At the scene of the crime he is interrupted and ends up committing a second murder. He tries to convince himself that the murder was justified  since his victim was a parasite on society, and also  believes he was superior to much of society and thus able if not entitled  to get away without punishment. However, he is driven mad  by guilt and fear of being found out, eventually confesses and is duly punished by society. In confessing and accepting his punishment he is redeemed and reconciled with the rest of society.

I found Crime and Punishment to be a compelling, rich read. It provided an interesting insight into life in St. Petersburg , included a cast of fascinating characters plus many compelling sub-plots and left me with much to think about. I'm glad I overcame my initial hesitance and picked Crime and Punishment for my Russian Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 It's definitely one I can see myself rereading in the future.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Week Ending 19 November 2017

A strange week in some ways. Early in the week we thought the sickness had left the house but later in the week both girls had a relapse and felt under the weather again. Miss 17 even ended up coming home from work early one day since she thought she was going to pass out. Funnily enough it was the day she was meant to have her all-day training at the supermarket but they had postponed it. Leaving sick on your first day in a new job would have been a bit awkward.

Despite this the week did have some high points. One of them was a birthday. You may have noticed above that Miss 16 that  has changed into Miss 17.

One of the birthday traditions in our family is getting to select a breakfast cereal. In recent years Miss 17 has selected  muesli. This year  she decided to channel her inner 6 year old. Turns out she's not the only one with an inner six year old since her siblings were happy to partake as well!

Another highlight was bird banding. It was the best session we've had so far and Miss 17 banded more birds than she had in all the previous sessions combined.


This juvenile Starling was one of the trickier birds to band. It kept attaching its claws to awkward places and it needed a sturdier band which Miss 17 struggled to close. Since she broke a couple of bones five years ago her right arm has been noticeably weaker.


A 3+ female Greenfinch.


Checking the Greenfinch's wing. It is the colouration here that lets them determine the age and sex of the bird.

A Bellbird - the first one we've captured. It was blind in one eye.

A baby Fantail. They removed three from the nest, banded them - a tricky job given how tiny they were - and returned them to the nest - while the parents were absent.


We also managed three low-key birding trips - one with our birding group and two by ourselves. Nothing of any special note but it is always nice to get out - lots of baby birds to be seen this time of the year.

The only other thing of note was noteworthy for all the wrong reasons. Mother Nature obviously decided things had been a bit too quiet lately and decided to throw an earthquake our way. Only moderate but enough to have me heading for shelter before it stopped.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Week Ending 12 November 2017

Another very quiet week, partly due to sickness. Mr 19 had been quite sick for most of last week - not ideal since he was supposed to be studying for his university exams this week. Anyway I came down with what seems like a mild dose of what he had early in the week and now both Miss 16 and Miss 22 seem to have succumbed as well. Hopefully they also have mild cases.

In between my brush with sickness and Miss 16's we did manage a couple of things of note. The highlight of the week was undoubtedly banding. We tried out a new site this time and were fairly busy in the first hour before things quietened down. Through observing birds in the area we got some ideas for how to set the nets next time. Hopefully we'll get closer to our goal of 10 birds per hour.

Miss 16 with a Welcome Swallow. It didn't need banding since it was banded last week. It was the first recapture of the project.

Measuring the Welcome Swallow's wing length. It was quite different from when it was captured last week so either the bander  made a mistake then (Miss 16 double checked her measurements given the disparity) or the bird has grown a lot!


Weighing the Welcome Swallow. It looks undignified but it isn't there for long and being head down stops  the bird struggling - and means it is less likely to escape. It wasn't weighed last time so it was good to get the weight now.

Banding a Goldfinch. This one is a male. We caught a female at exactly the same time so assume they are a pair.

Miss 16 and I also took a short road trip. A reading challenge I'm doing this year requires me to read a book that I got on a trip. None of my travels this year have involved buying a book and I was thinking of stretching things a bit by just making a trip to the library. Then I remembered a second hand book barn less than an hour away. So Miss 16 and I took a drive. She came away with a pile of Agatha Christie mysteries while I purchased Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, since it's being performed here early next year and it's one I haven't yet read.

It doesn't look much from the outside but it is packed with reading treasures.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Week Ending 5 November 2017

I've had a very relaxed and chilled-out week which was much appreciated after the busyness of October. I've spent time pottering in the garden and planting some herbs, vegetables and strawberries. I've done plenty of reading (including the latest edition of Home School Life magazine), listened to podcasts (I still enjoy BraveWriter's one), gone for a walk everyday, practised yoga most days, and tried out several new recipes.




Miss 16 has been busier than me - although she hasn't been away from home overnight which is a change from last month. She attended a two day plant identification workshop which will hopefully help with her birding (since certain birds like certain plants, knowing what those plants actually look like will be useful!) as well as in her eventual career (something ecology related and plants are an important part of that) as well as giving her a nationally recognised qualification (although not by one of the universities she's hoping to attend). She also enjoyed a girls' day out with Miss 22, shopping and lunching. Not my idea of a good time at all so I'm glad they can enjoy it together.

We did do one short birding trip together to my favourite spot and were pleased to see a Grey-tailed Tattler which had been spotted a few days earlier. These are classified as vagrants (I think this was only our third ever sighting of this species) so Miss 16 was delighted to discover that an Unusual Bird Report didn't have to be submitted. We got the thrill of an uncommon bird without any of the pesky paperwork!



Heart of Darkness

For such a short novel - novella may be more accurate - I found this surprisingly heavy going and I'm not really sure why. The plot is simple enough. Charles Marlow, who is based strongly on the author, recounts his adventures deep in the African Congo  during the time of the 'Scramble for Africa'. Marlow is employed by a Belgian ivory company and is on a mission to relieve Mr Kurtz, a top trader who has a fearsome reputation and whom Marlow is soon obsessed with. While the writing style is not the simplest it is no more complicated - in fact probably simpler -  than that by Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo which I have enjoyed and been engaged by in the past. I think part of the problem may have been that the story lacks immediacy. Marlow is recounting his adventure years later and has had time to order the events and ponder their meaning. He doesn't just recount but attempts to explain and put things in context. In doing so I felt some  potential intensity and vibrancy had been lost. I struggled to connect with  either Marlow or Kurtz and thus didn't really care what happened in the story as a whole. Some of the themes were interesting - the dehumanizing nature of colonialism for all parties, madness vs sanity,  the essential emptiness at the core of humanity. However, many of them were tied to Africa - the darkness of the interior was tied to the darkness of man for instance, while the "strangeness"  and perceived threatening nature of the setting seemed inextricably linked to - even contributing - to man's madness, violence and greed. Such a portrayal felt racist, wrong and alienating to me, a modern reader.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Week Ending 29 October 2017

This was one of those weeks where I was glad we weren't homeschooling - because Miss 16 was far too busy to fit any formal bookwork into her schedule!

She arrived home from banding camp on Monday evening satisfied and happy, but rather tired since she'd been up until 1:30 that morning banding waders and had then got up at 5 am to go back out banding passerines. That got cancelled due to the rain but she didn't get back to sleep! All the other girls took a nap in the afternoon, and many of the guys were taking it easy as well but she volunteered to go back to the banding site and help take down all the nets and poles. I laughed when she appeared through the gate at the airport because she looked like a walking zombie. Sounds like camp was lots of fun though and she was happy with the banding she did - especially a Fantail and a Wrybill, both birds she'd wanted to get some hands-on experience with. And they saw a Shore Plover. It's  one of our rare endemic waders and the first one she's ever seen so that was a highlight.


Miss 16 was banding this godwit by headlamp after midnight!

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday involved lots of computer time. She had a couple of short online courses to complete - prerequisites for a 2 day course she'll be doing next week. There were also final touches that needed completing for her paper (captions for photos which a photographer kindly allowed her to use, plus the last pesky footnotes). The local birding newsletter which she edits is due out soon, her column for the national magazine is also due in a few days and the young birders group has a magazine out soon which she's helping to guest edit, since the regular editor is busy with school exams. So lots of work there. Plus there was her paid job -  2- 4 hours coaching each day. And she had a job interview on Thursday. She'll be starting as a checkout operator at a local supermarket in the next couple of weeks. I think her plan is to work both jobs until the end of the year and, assuming she doesn't hate checkout work, to then resign from her coaching job. Checkout work offers more hours, more secure hours (the gym is constantly changing them) and the ability to work more hours at a time  i.e. 10 hours over 2 days instead of 8-9 hours over 4 days which she thinks she'll prefer.



Getting ready to attach a leg band to this Dunnock.

On Friday morning there was more bird banding as part of our local project. The initial site isn't as productive as we'd hoped so we may try elsewhere next time. Then it was briefly home before she headed away on a weekend field trip with our local birding group. I organised it and was meant to go but since my vestibular issues have been playing up I thought it best I stayed behind. Didn't think it was fair to risk spoiling everyone else's weekend if I was totally out of commission for at least 8 hours. Highlights of the trip for Miss 16 were two Kaka flying overhead (they are her favourite bird),  a group of Westland Petrels rafting out at sea and then flying in to their mountain colony at night, a very friendly South Island Robin hopping around a picnic table plus Fernbirds scurrying among the foliage.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Week Ending 22 October 2017

Just a short post this week, but one full of bird-related things for Miss 16.

She's spent a bit of time in front of the computer working on revisions for her paper that's been accepted for publication . Trying to describe in minute detail some aspect of certain feathers that indicate the  bird at the centre of the paper was a juvenile rather than an adult is time consuming, as is trying to locate a reference the editor has asked be included. Still the job is nearly finished and it will be a  great boost to her CV.



There was also an unplanned trip to the lake, after a very rare duck (only 10 recognized sightings ever in the entire country) had been spotted there. We spent several hours peering through the scopes trying to find one duck among a flock of about 1000. Finding it took some time  since the flock was tightly packed, not to mention flighty (luckily they never went far). Once we found our bird we then waited and waited hoping for better views - "turn around and take your head out from under your wing you silly bird". The bird never cooperated so we had to be satisfied with less than perfect views. At least we found the bird though.

Miss 16 snapped this through her scope with her cellphone. If you click through to enlarge it and look carefully you might be able to spot the bird we were after!

The main event though is the three day teen banding camp up north. It's a great  chance for her to catch up with her birding friends (they are scattered around  the country) and hopefully get lots of banding and bird handling in as well. Three days of concentrated banding should help her progress more quickly to the next level banding permit, although different banders operate differently so working with new people can be a bit confusing and frustrating if they expect you to operate differently from the way you've been taught so far. Just have to hope the weather cooperates since you can't band if it is wet or too windy. She's not due home until Monday meaning it'll be a very quiet weekend for Dh and me. Mr 19 is also away, volunteering at a scout event and we don't see Miss 22 much anyway since she's busy with her own life - study, work, boyfriend, friends - and pretty much only comes home to sleep. I joke that we'll barely notice the difference when she moves out next year.

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.