Sunday, January 29, 2017

Week Ending 29 January 2017

It's been a busy week for Miss 16, filled with two of her favourite things, trampolining  and birds - enjoyable, but tiring too. The trampolining came in the form of  the holiday training boot camp - seven hours of training Monday-Friday. She's been on a break from trampoline since just before Christmas and missed the first week of holiday training so she could attend the zoology programme so it was no surprise that she was tired and stiff and sore for the first couple of days. By Wednesday she was back to normal and I was amazed at how energetic she was when I picked her up. Overall she had a good week's training and was delighted to learn that rule changes mean she only has to learn one new skill, not two as she had thought, before she will be able to move into the international division and then work towards her goal of being named to the national team and competing overseas. Gulp!

Once she was home from trampoline she spent the rest of each day on bird-related matters. The young birders group she's involved with is due to publish their next magazine and she had a couple of short articles to write for that. The next edition of our local group's newsletter is also due for publication. Miss 16 is the editor so had to work chasing up people for their contributions, as well as drafting her own column. Then she had an unusual bird report to submit. We'd seen a unusual bird at one of the local lakes several weeks ago. For it to be  recognised and included in official birding records a report needs to be sent to a national body which will either accept or reject it based on the details provided. Since plenty of people had seen this bird (we were definitely not the first) and photos were circulating online we assumed someone else had submitted a report but apparently not. The national body wanted this sighting officially recognised and she was approached and asked to make the report. It took awhile since she's never done one before, but it was a good learning experience. Then an opportunity arose for a a bird camp later in the year but the application needed to be returned immediately. Fingers crossed she's accepted since we've heard it filled up in 24 hours and her application wasn't in by then. We did manage to actually get out birding yesterday which is much more fun than writing about it. We were targeting four birds and thought we had a realistic chance of finding three of them. Instead we only managed one! Luckily there were a few things to console us, including the antics of a Pied Shag as it stirred up the water, dived and reemerged with an enormous fish which it somehow managed to swallow. Very amusing to watch.

Over the past couple of week's we've been struggling to keep up with Miss 22's travels since she's been so busy and so have we!

Amsterdam, Budapest, Berlin, Auschwitz, Prague and Krakow have been among Miss 22's recent visits.


One fun thing we have managed - at least a little-  is game playing. One of Dh's colleagues is pruning his extensive collection of board and card games. Rather than sell them, he's offering them to a few people who knows and we are one of the lucky ones.

Miss 16 and I have been battling for world domination with this game!


One of the best parts of the week for me was the installation of our new dishwasher. Our old one died several years ago and we'd been told it was no longer viable to repair it. Finally we've been able to replace it and I'm really grateful. I know a dishwasher is a total luxury and after being without for so long (perhaps 5 years) I really appreciate it.

Mr 19's summer class ended this week. Well classes ended. He now has a week's study break before the final exam. Then a week and a half before his new academic year begins.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fortnight Ending 22 January 2017

The highlight of the past fortnight has undoubtedly been the road trip Miss 16 and I took so that she could attend a week long programme at a southern university.

Miss 16's course was at a university about 4 1/2 hours drive south of here. My parents live about 30 minutes drive away from the university so the plan was that we would drive down and I would stay with them while she attended the course. Us being us we managed to turn a four hour trip into a twelve hour trip in one direction and an eight hour trip in the other by means of taking the very long and scenic route on the drive down, and making several diversions from the shorter route on the way back. The reason for such a convoluted journey was of course to maximize the number of birding opportunities along the way!


Miss 16 shared a lot of the driving load so I could sometimes sit back and enjoy the views

We did a lot of bush birding this trip. The scenery was more beautiful than the mudflats where we often do our birding.



Sometimes we didn't even have to walk to find the birds. This Red-billed gull landed on the car while we were eating lunch


Kaka are Miss 16's favourite bird. We visited a predator-proof reserve and saw 14 at one feeding station alone, the most we've ever seen at one time.

Miss 16 is involved in a Young Birders group. She was pleased to see their new poster on display at the reserve.

Miss 16's programme was called Hands-On, an opportunity for students going in to the final year or two at high school to get a hands-on experience of university life. She was in the zoology section where her hands-on experiences included a dissection (no small scale here, the students were given wallabies to dissect), ecomorphology (basically analyzing bones - she was delighted they were given bird bones to work with and especially delighted to get to work on the bones of a Kakapo, a critically
endangered nocturnal, flightless parrot), and comparative anatomy through looking at skulls of different species and also measuring frogs. The big excitement was that this measuring has possibly
led to the discovery of a new sub-species of frog.

Measuring and analyzing bones


A Hochstetter's frog

Her favourite activity was a trip to an eco-sanctuary to focus on ornithology. The group learnt about triangulation and used their skills to locate marked bird's nests. They also used radio transmitters to find specially hidden collars (since there are no suitable birds to practise on at the sanctuary). Finally, they looked at South Island Robins and the research to understand their behaviour, especially the ways in which they are losing their alert behaviours in this predator-proof sanctuary and what that means for their survival - especially if they get translocated ou of the sanctuary to a less protected environment. She was the only one in the group really keen to handle the mealworms they were using to bring the robins in. She'll do pretty much anything when it comes to birds!

First nest successfully located!


Using a radio transmitter


A very bad photo of a South Island robin!

In addition to the projects in their focus area, course participants were given a taste of other university programmes. Since this university is introducing a new degree giving equal weight to arts and sciences they made sure the science students were given a taste of arts and vice versa. Miss 16 experienced physical education, which she said was lots of fun, as well as theatre studies and art conservation. She enjoyed them both but wasn't inspired to give up ornithology/zoology to pursue them further! As well as the academics the course involved lots of fun social activities - a dance, quiz night, an Amazing Race type event as well as a lip-synch contest - plus the chance to experience living in a hall of residence. She was lucky to get one of the best rooms, but felt the food quality was rather variable. All in all the week was a great experience for her.

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Classics Club 41: Villette

Villette tells the story of Lucy Snowe, a young English woman who is orphaned and, in order to support herself, takes a job at a French boarding school, first as a nanny and then as an English teacher. It is Charlotte Bronte's most autobiographical work and explores themes of isolation  and loneliness in powerful ways. Although there are many superficial similarities between Lucy Snowe and  and Bronte's better-known heroine Jane Eyre,  I found Lucy and Villette more difficult to warm to.

One reason is the character of Lucy herself.  Despite some flashes of gumption e.g. locking a disrespectful, troublesome student in a closet, she is infuriatingly passive for much of the time. I prefer my female characters to show a little more initiative. Lucy is also cold and distant, often holding herself in reserve. As a result I felt I knew more about the more minor characters like shallow, fickle Ginerva, indulged Polly,  domineering Madame Beck, and cranky Paul Emanuel than Lucy herself. Even though she is the narrator and Villette is her story, Lucy frequently spends pages telling the stories of others e.g the developing romance between Polly and Dr John rather than sharing her own thoughts and experiences with the reader.

Not only does Lucy Snowe withhold herself from the reader but she also withholds key aspects of the story from the reader before eventually, casually dropping them in. As a reader it was very frustrating to discover that Dr John was in fact Graham, whom we had met earlier while Countess Paulina turned out to be little Polly. Lucy knew this but didn't initially share her knowledge with the reader.  She maintains this secretiveness at the end of the novel, alluding to rather than directly stating the fate of Paul Emanuel. It's hard to warm to such a secretive character.

Another frustrating aspect of Villette is that significant portions of the dialogue were in French. Since my knowledge of French is rudimentary at best I was left trying to decide whether to stop and translate word for word, read what I could and make an educated guess at the rest, or skip in entirely. In reality I used all three approaches! My version (not the one pictured) was very old and published at a time when most readers would have a good knowledge of French. I don't know if more modern versions include translations - but it would be very helpful and make the novel more accessible.

There is also a lot of religious debate and proselytizing in Villette. Lucy is Protestant while Paul Emanuel is Catholic and they have lengthy discussions trying to convince the other of the superiority of their belief system. This plot line undoubtedly grew out of the religious conflict of the time and Bronte's own religious convictions but I found it a turn-off.

While I appreciated Villette, for the reasons given I didn't love it. I'm glad I read it, and it is definitely worth reading, but I doubt I'll read it again.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Week Ending 8 January 2017

Given that birding is one of Miss 16's favourite things to do, this has been a good week for her as we've managed to get out everyday. As a result I've already seen over half the number of species I saw all last year, while she is getting close to that number as well. (She got to travel a few places last year, including overseas, meaning she saw many more birds than I did).  All that birding in different spots meant plenty of driving practise so a double reason for being happy - at least if you are Miss 16!


There's also been lots of reading. Somehow I've managed to finished six books so far this month. My favourite was probably Letters from Skye (I obviously enjoy epistolary novels that feature strong, somewhat unconventional female characters since 84 Charing Cross Road and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are among my favourite reads). The most interesting was Georgia, historical fiction based on the life of Georgia O'Keeffe. I also tackled a steampunk novel (The Clockwork Angel) since that is one of the categories in Popsugar's 2017 reading challenge. While it won't rank as one of my favourite reads I enjoyed it more than I thought I might. I haven't been keeping a close eye on Miss 16's reading (too busy with my own books)  but I know her current read is an Ellery Queen mystery novel.



After spending hours trying to decide between two books for her animal behavior course Miss 16 finally made her decision. So I've ordered a second-hand copy that will hopefully arrive before we are ready to start. It definitely pays to shop around. I know international postage is pricey but several places wanted to charge me $US75 - on a book that cost less than $US10! I know the actual cost is nowhere near that and I ended up buying a slightly more expensive used copy from a retailer charging less than $US10 postage. Big difference! Miss 16 also settled on New Zealand history for her final course. I use the word settled because I don't think there is any real thirst for the subject, more a feeling that it's something she should do and it would look good on her transcript. So I'll put off organizing this course just yet in the hope something else will light her fire. If not I can easily pull it together quickly in the final week of our break. My PhD in history has to be of some use! After our discussions last week I also updated her academic transcript. I think she was pleasantly surprised with how it looked once we translated what we've done into academic speak.

Miss 22 continues to keep us busy with virtual travel. This week involved general sightseeing around London, plus a few day trips.
Sightseeing in London


Stonehenge, Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Week Ending 1 January 2017

After the hub-bub that is the lead-up to Christmas I always love the week between Christmas and New Year. Copious leftovers mean very little cooking is required, a temporary 'blindness' means we can skip most cleaning, and everyone is at home (well except Mr 19 who had to work most days, but thankfully some were short shifts) so we can relax together. There was lots of reading, game playing, and movie and  tv watching.

Two of Miss 16's recent reads
We had fun pitting ourselves against quiz show contestants (Miss 16 was delighted when one question related to trampolining moves!), while the guys have also watched a lot of cricket.  Mr 24 popped in a couple of times and we Skyped with Miss 22, who was a little disappointed not to get a white Christmas but had a great time regardless. She's based in London for a week or so, so we've been enjoying virtual day trips.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

The Freud Museum, an essential visit for our psychology student!

When the weather cooperated - which wasn't as often as it should have given it is supposedly summer here - Miss 16 and I went out birding. One of our highlights was all the Welcome Swallow nests in one of the bird hides. It's amusing watching the parents fly in to feed the chicks. The nest looks empty, an adult arrives and instantly there is a lot of peeping and four wide open mouths pop up. Another highlight was the Pied stilt chicks. They were probably a similar age to the swallow chicks but running around feeding themselves, with their parents barely in sight. A good example of two very different breeding styles. When the weather didn't cooperate we enjoyed a little international birding - courtesy of a DVD set we received for Christmas. So far we've visited Canada and Britain. Next stop, China.

Miss 16 and I have been chatting about the year's homeschooling to come but still haven't made all our decisions. She was worried she hadn't been doing enough but I showed her her transcript so far, showed her some typical US requirements (since we don't really have any) and showed her some official school material for her age group. Hopefully she's reassured that she is more than on track both quantity and quality wise! That still doesn't solve our issue of what to do this year. English and Animal Behaviour are all sorted and there will be a Statistics course (exact shape and content still to be determined). We're agreed on the need for one more course (she's thinking two but given the difficulties we're having coming up with one....) , that it should probably be in the social sciences/humanities area and are thinking it should be mainstream/academically heavy since she already has a few quirky courses. But other than that we are totally clueless. I'm looking through MOOCs and video courses. She's enjoyed those in the past and if she's not inspired by the content then she might as well enjoy the instruction method. Hopefully inspiration strikes in the next week or two so I have time to sort all the details before her academic year starts in earnest.

Outwardly  this wasn't a productive week but it was a great one for recharging our batteries for the year ahead.

Linking to the Homeschool Highlights over at Homeschool Coffee Break.