Saturday, July 29, 2017

Week Ending 30 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classics Club 49: The Odyssey

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Week Ending 23 July 2017

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

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

Miss 16 reading some fun political satire.

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

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fortnight Ending 16 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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


I love this winter scene Mr 19 captured.

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

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