Sunday, August 2, 2015

Fortnight Ending 2 August 2015

It has been a busy couple of weeks.

* Mr 22 turned 23. He came around for dinner that evening. I was still suffering from the 'flu. I did manage to cook the main course but resorted to buying a sponge cake for dessert, and getting Miss 20 did make the lemon curd that I used to fill it. I felt like such a bad mother but never mind. So long as he is still living locally I should manage a better job next year. He, of course, wasn't worried and told me I should just have postponed the whole thing until I felt better.

* We had a really enjoyable visit (despite my still being below par) from my friend E and her daughter K who I haven't seen for nearly twenty years. E was the first real friend I made when we lived in Canada. Initially dh and I spent a lot of time with his fellow PhD students but once we had Mr 23, guys in their early 20s were just not enough in the friend department. Fortunately I met E at at baby storytime at the local library when Mr 23 and K were 3 months old. Even though nearly 20 years separated us in age (I was a younger mum and she was an older one) we bonded over first time motherhood. She was the sort of friend who installed an extra car seat tether bolt in her car so she could safely carry both Mr 23 and K - since we didn't have a car and she felt sorry for me walking the 30-40 minutes to library storytime, especially in winter! So I was delighted to hear they were planning a trip to Australia, and that they were tacking on a side trip to visit us. Miss 14 and I had a great time showing them around the city. Mr 23 was able to join us for a dinner one night, although sadly Miss 20 had to miss it because she came down with the 'flu.

 * The combination of the 'flu and the visit from E and K meant our scheduled two week break morphed into a three week break. This past week has seen us trying to get back into our homeschooling groove but it's been surprisingly difficult. Hopefully the maths that seemed to have been forgotten has been re-remembered and the coming week will go more smoothly.

* Miss 14 and I attended the monthly meeting of our local birding group. The speaker is involved in various conservation projects and uses his dogs to help track down rare species in isolated areas.

* Mr 17 is enjoying his taste of university. Unfortunately he would rather concentrate on that single course than his remaining homeschooling courses. I've pointed out that he has yet to be formally admitted to university; that admittance will require me to sign a form saying he is ready for university level study and that I won't be willing to do that if he doesn't satisfactorily complete his homeschooling courses. I'm hoping that now Miss 14 and I are back into our routine he'll be more inclined to follow suit.

The bird hide at our local wetland, where we went birding.

* Miss 14 and I managed a small birding trip this weekend. We haven't been out for ages and were missing it. Even though the weather wasn't great and we missed the main bird we hoped to spot it was a good outing. We spotted 23 different species. Our favourite was the Redpoll. Even though it is an introduced species it's cheerful red cap always makes us smile.

* I've managed to get through more than twenty books during July - more than in any other month so far this year. In fairness most were short, light reads consumed while I was recovering from the 'flu and thus not up to doing much else. My favourite reads of the month were Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, Tatiana de Rosnay's A Secret Kept, Anita Diamant's The Boston Girl and The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrow. For the first time all year I didn't read a single classic during the month, a mistake I won't repeat during August.

Linking up with  Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fortnight Ending 19 July 2015

We've just finished a two week break from formal homeschooling pursuits. Perhaps because we were on a break more interesting things happened than normal.

Mr 22 arrived home from his working trip to Europe. By all accounts his conference presentation went well, and he discovered that French laboratories are much better resourced that those he usually works in!

This is the small steam engine that Mr 22 took to get to his conference - not your typical form of conference transportation!

The conference was held on the island of Fraueninsel in the Chiemsee lake, Bavaria.
Despite being busy in France he did fit in some sightseeing. This is the cath├ędrale Saint-Pierre de Rennes.

 Another place he visited was le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy.

Miss 14 and I survived the second biggest trampoline competition of the year. Her club hosted it so I ended up volunteering both days, recording scores on the computer. My first time in this role, and after 12 hours the first day I was shattered. Luckily the second day was slightly shorter but I basically came home, sent hubby and son out for takeaways since there was no way I was cooking and then went to bed! Miss 14 did well. Both her events were on the first day and she won both which was something of a surprise. She was competing with a new partner in the synchronised event and they hadn't had a lot of practise together. The individual event featured a much larger field than normal, half of whom she'd never seen before, including a big group from Australia. She's never competed in an international field before. She also ended up being the final competitor of the day and had never bounced so late in the day. Since she is always nervous and can barely manage to eat before she competes I was somewhat worried that lack of food might be a hindrance! Thankfully not.

There were koalas (donated by the Australian teams) as well as the usual medals for the prize winners.

Miss 20 got her hair cut short! This was a major event since she has had it long ever since she was a toddler. Apparently the hair stylist checked and rechecked about five times before finally starting to cut! She looks so different that when Mr 22 came around he didn't recognise her (he didn't know she was going to have it cut). When she answered the door he asked if she was at home!

Miss 14 ended up working a few days in her gym's school holiday programme - mostly with the preschool classes. This was rather an eye-opener and she no longer thinks all preschoolers are cute and adorable - especially not when they come in larger groups!

Mr 17 started his university course. I wasn't sure how this would go since he doesn't always believe in applying himself to academic work. However, after all of one week, he seems to be taking it very seriously - up before 8am (previously 10:30am was the norm) so he can get ready in time to attend class, taking notes, rewriting those notes later, and doing the recommended readings. Many of my homeschooling grey hairs may have been for nothing!

In between times he worked a lot of hours at the supermarket bakery. There's a lot of illness going around at the moment and they are short staffed so he ended up working five days including a couple of 12 hour shifts, and a couple of 6am starts . Bear in mind he is not a morning person and it takes about 45 minutes to walk from home - longer if it is icy and you need to go slowly and carefully.

Speaking of illness both Miss 14 and I have been struck down. At first it didn't seem too bad but we both worsened over the weekend and I've spent most of the time shivering in bed. I really have to be better tomorrow since Mr 22 turns 23 and I've promised him a home cooked meal. And I have friends arriving the following day from overseas and the house is a total mess. Which doesn't bother anybody else but which is driving me insane and I'm itching to put everything to rights. Foolish as it sounds I won't be able to enjoy their visit with the house looking as it does currently.

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Week Ending 5 July 2015

This was the last week of term before a scheduled two week break. I did consider postponing the break for a week since we've got friends visiting in late July. However, with Mr 17's university class starting and Miss 14 showing every sign of needing a break we'll go ahead and take it now and worry about late July when that rolls around.

Two things dominated my week. The first was setting up a bird identification quiz on Memrise. Someone gave us a link to an id quiz online but I found several problems with it. However it got me thinking and I decided that Memrise should allow me to create something better suited for us. Sadly Memrise isn't as intuitive as it should be and it took me several frustrated attempts before I finally figured it out. I'm pretty happy with what I've created so far and Miss 14 has been inspired to work on one of her own during the break. I tackled the passerines and she though she might tackle waders.

I also spent some time thinking about how to modify our geography course. The programme we were using as our spine turns out not to be such a good fit for us. So I've been reading ahead, flagging the areas that are problematic and then deciding what to replace them with. That'll teach me not to pre-read the entire course before we start it!

Mostly though the week at home was spent hard at work

  with plenty of game playing thrown in as well.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Week Ending 28 June 2015

It's been another uneventful week around here. For Miss 14 and me the highlight was taking part in the annual Garden Bird Survey. Basically we just needed to sit and watch the birds in our garden for an hour and record the largest number of each species that we saw in that time. Our yard doesn't get a great variety of bird life and the numbers were down on last year. I'm blaming the cold winter for that one. Still it was enjoyable watching the birds go about their business.

This thrush was chased away a couple of times by a territorial male blackbird.

We had more House Sparrows in the yard than any other species.

Silvereyes are small, delicate birds. We only had five in our yard and they seemed to just briefly peck at this mandarin half so I was amazed at how quickly they finished it.
We put some bread on the ground and the birds ignored it for 40 minutes. Then some silvereyes landed, then came hoards of  sparrows, then the thrush and some starlings. It was a busy feeding station for a while. Then, without any obvious reason, they all abandoned it. 

Mr 17 went in to university to purchase his textbook and get his ID card sorted. His class starts in a couple of weeks.

One advantage of homeschooling older kids is having a bit more time to pursue my own interests. One of the things I love to do is read. I finished two especially good books this week - Americanah and Red -Tails in Love. The only problem is that the latter title has really fuelled my desire to go to New York, and most especially to go birding in Central Park. Sadly, homeschooling teens pays no better than homeschooling younger kids so that dream will have to go on hold for a good long while!

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Classics Club 11: Gone With the Wind

Gone with the Wind is an epic, sometimes melodramatic, saga by Margaret Mitchell. At its centre is Scarlett O'Hara - a memorable but flawed heroine if ever there was one. The story opens in idyllic splendour typical of the antebellum South (typical for the planter aristocracy that it) where Scarlett is enjoying wooing all the young men she can, while still believing that she will end up with her favourite Ashley Wilkes. However, Ashley announces his engagement to Melanie Hamilton. Thwarted love is soon the least of Scarlett's problems as Civil War and the Reconstruction intervene to forever alter the South and the only way of life Scarlett has ever known . Set amongst this is Scarlett's personal turmoil - three marriages, the deaths of both her parents, two of her husbands and her beloved youngest daughter - not to mention those of many young men of her acquaintance, her enduring and illicit love for Ashley Wilkes, and her tempestuous relationship with Rhett Butler.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel for me was the way that Scarlett's flawed character was both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness.  The ability to act outside of the stereotype of the Southern belle definitely saved her and her family when times were at their worst, and yet the refusal to pay even lip service to that stereotype cost her many relationships. She was determined to never be poor again, but clearly she only considered poverty in monetary terms. By the end of the novel she was monetarily rich but had no one to love or even like her. Rhett once told her that she didn't understand people and it's true. But, at least until the end of the novel, she had no desire to understand or consider others at all. Even when her conscience told her she was acting unwisely, unkindly or unjustly she ignored it, telling herself that "tomorrow is another day". In the end her selfishness, manipulation and inability or unwillingness to moderate her behaviour even a little had cost her and those she claimed to care about, dearly.

If one of the characteristics of a classic is that it can teach us lessons in how to live a good life then Gone With the Wind, through the negative example of Scarlett O'Hara, while not a perfect novel and not as erudite as many, is definitely still a classic.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fortnight Ending 21 June 2015

I can't seem to keep to a weekly posting schedule at the moment - perhaps because nothing very interesting has happened.

* Homeschooling is rolling along, relatively smoothly. Miss 14 is busy factoring trinomials in maths. Turns out she enjoys this and finds it straightforward. Mr 17 is doing lots of things with logarithms. Turns out he does not enjoy this and does not find it straightforward!

* We're still in Africa for geography. Miss 14 opted to memorise all the countries at once and did so with surprising ease. Mr 17 stuck to the regional breakdown suggested by the programme but hasn't devoted a lot of time to the task. He got through last week's quiz with 100% anyway which irritated his sister no end. I'll be interested to see how the next test goes, since it includes West Africa which I found the hardest region to memorise.

* She's just started Things Fall Apart, which looks at the impact of colonialism on a traditional Nigerian society, for her World Literature course. Meanwhile he's working on a film analysis essay for his Comparative Politics course. He selected Traffic, a gritty look at the Mexico-US drug trade.

* Miss 14 is nearing the end of her Art History/Appreciation course. Just Post-Modernism plus one other topic - probably Islamic Art to cover. Which means I'd better check I've got all my ducks in a row for Music History/Appreciation which we'll do for the rest of the year.

* It's not all serious study around here. I love the fact that the kids still break up their day with a variety of board and card games - although I wish they were better at tidying them away when they were done!


* Miss 14 and I have managed a couple of good birding expeditions. Last weekend was the winter wader count. It was a bitterly cold day - poor Miss 14 lost feeling in her fingers and couldn't hold her pencil while I thought my ears might fall of, despite my hat - but we did see a few interesting birds. Once we'd finished the count we headed to a nearby lake hoping to spot a Little Egret, a species which is relatively rare but has visited this area regularly for the past few years. We'd already made a couple of recent visits without success. However, we had luck this trip. We spotted one, it's long filoplumes blowing in the breeze, at the far end of the lake feeding with a White-Faced Heron and a White Heron. Sadly, they were on the opposite bank, well out of range for our camera. On the drive home we were surprised to spot another one roosting in a willow at the other end of the lake, along with some Pied Cormorants. The  tree was right beside the road so we stopped to get a photo - but the Little Egret flew off before we could get the camera focused!

Two seconds previously there was a Little Egret roosting with these guys!

We also went on our monthly mid-week ramble with several other birders. This trip was around a smaller man-made lake close to the city and airport.

It was another crisp morning but at least hypothermia wasn't a risk! Lots of Fantails flitting about, plus several majestic looking Australasian Crested Grebes.

* Mr 17's homeschooling will undergo a bit of an overhaul in the next month.  The local university has long offered high school students the opportunity to take a couple of first year papers while not being formally enrolled. Just recently the decision was made to offer some of those papers for free - including a couple that Mr 17 intended taking when he enrolled next year. After careful consideration, we've rejigged our plans and he'll start his first university course when the second semester starts in a couple of weeks. This allows him to get a taste of university study (we're not entirely sure that university is a good fit for him) and to save some money at the same time. I think/hope he'll rise to the challenge.

* Mr 22 left on Friday for two weeks in Europe - a conference in Germany, followed by some research in a lab in France. He doesn't really like to travel, but the rest of us wish we could go in his place. With all the frosts we've had lately a couple of weeks of European summer sounds good to me. He was lucky to make it though. Fog delayed his flight from here which meant he nearly missed his connection to London. They were just about to shut the boarding gates as he raced up. But he's there safely now which is the main thing.

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fortnight Ending 7 June 2015

Last week was particularly uneventful - hence no blog post. The major event was what didn't happen. No trampoline training since Miss 14's coach and many of her club mates were in Australia for a competition. However, many of her club mates are also recreational coaches so Miss 14 ended up covering for them and coached every day instead of training.

This week was more interesting. On Tuesday Miss 14 and I went to a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the local professional theatre company. There was a discussion with the director and some of the actors afterwards. It was interesting to hear the reasoning behind some of the decisions. For instance the production was not set in any one time or place - hence the costuming being a mix of Elizabethan, 1940s, plus more modern garb. We'd have preferred a more unified look but overall we enjoyed the performance.

The following day we went birding - hunting for yet another rare bird that had been sighted at the local sewage ponds. No luck this time though. It was bitterly cold and raining so we were pleased that we could actually bird from the car.

On Friday we finally went swimming again. We had planned to go last week but had to postpone at the last minute. Then we were going on Wednesday but reports of the rare bird led to yet another change of plans. So it was good to finally get to the pool - and a soak in the spa is a great way to end the week!

Academic work continues - mostly uneventfully. Miss 14 was unhappy with physics so for the past couple of weeks she tried a unit from Supercharged Science. She didn't like it any better and found it harder to follow so this week it was back to the Prentice Hall textbook. I have another couple of options she could look at. However, I think she has relegated  physics to the realms of "must be endured and got through as quickly as possible" and the textbook at least doesn't take up too much time. Despite my best efforts we always seem to end up with something in this category. Last year it was history, the year before it was maths. I could put a lot of effort in trying to make the subject more enjoyable but I would rather save that time and energy for something she actually enjoys - like birding. If she was really miserable I might just drop physics altogether but she's not. So for now, we'll probably just carry on. Idealistically I'd like my kids to love everything they did, but the realist in me knows that won't always be possible. So long as they like and enjoy most of their studies, most of the time I'll be content.