Sunday, August 27, 2017

Week Ending 27 August 2017

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







The gallery paired his work with cutouts by local artists.





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





Paintings featuring local landscapes caught our eye.



As did work by English optical artist Bridget Reilly.



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


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





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


A Cape Barren Goose 

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

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

White Fang

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

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

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fortnight Ending 20 August 2017

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


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



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


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


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


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




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




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


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


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

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

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Look Back at my Classics Club Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Classics Club 50: Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula, first published in 1897, was my 50th and final read for my Classics Club challenge, which I began in November 2014. This title wasn't even on my original list, a fact which doesn't surprise me. I predicted I'd make many changes as I went along. It's also my choice in the Gothic or horror category in the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge.

I knew the vaguest outline of the plot - Count Dracula travels from Transylvania to England, in search of unsuspecting new blood to feed upon, but is ultimately thwarted and killed - before I started reading,  but much of the book was a surprise. I wasn't even aware that it was an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters, diary and journal entries as well as the occasional newspaper article and entry from a ship's log.

The novel opens with young English solicitor Jonathan Harker  being sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula purchase property in England, Despite a promising start the visit soon turns sinister and Harker realizes he is the Count' s prisoner. I enjoyed this section of the book. The plot moved quickly and soon had me engrossed. Plus the descriptive writing was especially evocative, with  wolves, the dark isolation of the castle and the mysterious flickering lights.

Abruptly everything changed and we are reading a series of letters between Lucy, who is juggling three admirers, and her friend Mina, who happens to be the fiancee of Jonathan Harker. This switch is quite disconcerting and I was somewhat frustrated - what was happening to Jonathan? -  waiting for the two seemingly distinct strands to come together again. And eventually they do. A mysterious boat arrives in England without any crew left alive but reports indicate a large black dog was seen leaving the ship after it landed. Lucy becomes sicker and progressively weaker and despite the efforts of her three admirers (one of whom is now her fiancee), Mina and Professor van Helsing she eventually dies. Meanwhile Harker returns and recovers from his traumatic experience and joins the others in the fight against what they now realize is a vampire. Much drama ensues - the undead Lucy has to be killed (staked through the heart, beheaded and her mouth filled with garlic), Mina is partly taken over by Dracula, and the vampire fighters pursue Dracula back to Transylvania where he is ultimately destroyed in battle.

I loved Mina as a character. In many ways she reminded me of Marian in A Woman in White. She is so capable and resourceful, even when Dracula attempts to take her over. She is the one who makes many important connections and works out what Dracula might be doing at various points. Frustratingly, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the men believe she needs protecting and act paternalistically keeping some important but frightening information from her. This proves to be a costly mistake.

Despite the character of Mina, Stoker's Dracula is not always an easy read for someone of a feminist persuasion. Lucy is the stereotypical beautiful damsel in distress and all the men practically fall over themselves trying to save her. While nowhere near as passive as Laura from A Woman in White, Lucy irked me as being a similar type of character. And as for the remark from one of the males that "brave man's blood is the best thing on earth when a woman is in trouble" the less said about that the better!

Another factor that impacted my enjoyment of the novel was the many long winded tedious sections. Professor van Helsing was the cause of many of those, and I recognized the importance of some of them in setting the background and accurately providing all the information in much the same way that prosecutors build and present evidence in a court case. But still I found myself sighing after reading the fourth detailed account of a blood transfusion. After one detailed account surely a briefer mention would have sufficed? Likewise, knowing that a wolf had escaped form the zoo was important but the verbatim report of a conversation with the zookeeper seemed to slow down the action and decrease, rather than increase, the sense of rising tension - at least for me.

Overall I'm glad I read this novel. I'm not a fan of vampire fiction but in light of its present day popularity its good to have read one of the earliest examples of the genre. It was a simple, uncomplicated read not nearly as gruesome or frightening as I feared it might have been.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Week Ending 6 August 2017

Another smooth uneventful week, homeschooling wise. Confidence intervals for statistics, World War II  for history, more on predator behaviour for animal behaviour, finishing off Pudd'nhead Wilson for literature, not to mention German expressionism and Soviet montage for film history. Plus we read and worked through some of the section on global warming for our climate change review.


Graphing carbon dioxide concentrations.


This kept us occupied on Friday afternoon.

We managed to fit in a fair bit if bird related stuff as well. Our  monthly bird meeting featured  a very experienced bird bander who has just moved to this area. He seems willing to help set up bander training plus help establish a banding project. The prospect of this has Miss 16 very excited. She also received news of a special weekend banding camp for teens later in the year so got herself signed up for that very promptly! She also received the draft of her short paper for a scientific journal back from a friend who had agreed to look over it for us. So she made some changes he'd suggested and then submitted it. Fingers crossed! It was also publishing week for our quarterly newsletter so she was busy drafting copy, chasing up copy from others, editing, formatting and the like. But it's out now. Just got to get the hard copies in the post. After all that work we decided to take advantage of a fine morning over the weekend and actually go birding. We drove north to one of our favourite spots and spent a very pleasant hour enjoying the kingfisher, spoonbills, herons, oystercatchers and especially all the black-fronted terns.

The white blob is actually a Royal Spoonbill - one of the birds we saw at the estuary.



Linking to Homeschool Highlights . (No Weekly Wrap-Up this week).