Monday, October 27, 2014

Week Ending 26 October 2014

Several weeks ago I saw an advertisement for an essay competition run by the university's College of Business and Law. I hoped it might interest Mr 16 and somewhat to my surprise it did. While I knew the topic - looking at different political parties' approaches to a capital gains tax - would appeal to him, writing is not his favourite activity and he spends as little time as possible on it. However, he spent ages drafting, revising and editing and actually complained that the word limit was too short (something he has never said before in his life!) and that he couldn't include all the details he wanted to (my standard response to his writing is that it needs more detail). All that effort obviously paid off since this week he found out he'd been awarded first prize.


He's now busy planning how to spend his prize money!

Miss 13 and I spend the week at my parents' place. My Mum had back surgery a couple of weeks ago so we went to give them a hand since there is a lot she isn't allowed to do for several more weeks. It could have been a four hour journey but because we took the scenic route and made several lengthy stops the trip down actually took us over ten hours!. Since one of the areas we drove through was rich in geological history many of our stops were geology themed.



Most of these shots are of Elephant Rocks which was the location of Aslan's camp in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie.


The cliffs in the collage above had caves underneath. This is some of the ancient Maori rock art that can be seen there.

We even managed to tie our interest in birds into geology. A small geology museum we visited held fossils from an ancient giant penguin plus several moa bones.

Regular readers won't be surprised to learn that we made several birding stops on our journey plus fitted in a couple of birding trips while we were at my parents' place. All up we added six new species to our year list. Three of these were new to our life list as well which is especially exciting. Miss 13 is now just one bird short of her goal of 100 species for the year! Our efforts to crack that magic number on our return trip were all unsuccessful.


This is a Takahe. They were thought to be extinct but were rediscovered in 1948. Takahe live in very remote mountain regions but this one was translocated to a predator proof sanctuary where it roams freely.

This is a Yellow-Eyed Penguin. This one was already in his burrow when we arrived but we watched another come ashore after a day spent fishing at sea.



Ducklings are always cute. These are Paradise Shelducks. On the first day we visited this site there were eight ducklings. The next day only four remained.

In between travelling and birding we managed to keep up with our three MOOCs. The Shakespeare one is our current favourite. This week's play was Henry V and the lectures looked at how the play reflected warfare of the time. There was also time for reading. Miss 13 has begun the Hunger Games trilogy while I started The Miniaturist which I'm now enjoying, although it did take me a while to really get into the story.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Week Ending 19 October 2014


The highlight of Mr 16's week was this weekend's Scout JOTI where he was part of the crew, moderating the channels to ensure there was no inappropriate behaviour. He arrived home this afternoon having survived on just 45 minutes sleep so I'm not expecting a lot from him tomorrow!

Mr 16 is the tall guy just heading out the glass doors.

For Miss 19 and dh the highlight was undoubtedly the end of the university teaching year. She's pleased to have finished attending lectures (at least until she enrols as a postgraduate next year!) and he is beyond pleased to have no more lecture notes to write for the foreseeable future. Next year will be the first one in a while where he won't be teaching a new course so we may actually get to see him on nights and weekends. The highlight for Mr 22 was arriving safely back from his trip to Chile, although he has now come down with a cold - doubtless a result of all that time spent in an airline cabin.

One of Mr 22's snaps from Santiago.

For Miss 13 the week was all about  trampolining, birding, and MOOCs.
She's back to regular training four times per week. In addition she has started helping to coach some recreational classes once a week. At this stage it is part of a trampoline leadership programme she's enrolled in. Hopefully next year it will develop into a paid job. She also received the certificates she earned at Nationals for the events she made finals in, and was advised she'd earned a proficiency pin (awarded to those who score above a certain level) although the pins haven't yet arrived. I really wish they would award the pins and certificates at the competition itself but for some unknown reason they don't. The official photographer has finally posted the photos online so we spent some time scrolling through trying to spot Miss 13 and her teammates, and working out which photos we'd like to buy. With her new competition hairstyles I barely recognised her. She really doesn't look like herself. If you're interested  you can see her here, here (her favourite since it is a move she has struggled to perform well and she's doing a good job in the shot) here,  and here.


We managed four birding expeditions this week which was great. Tuesday was  a sedate group ramble around a local reserve. The highlight was the large number of California quail we spotted, especially in trees. Previously we've only seen them feeding on the ground. On Thursday Miss 13 and I visited our regular wetland where we are counting all the birds once a month. This time it was disappointingly quiet, which was surprising given that it was high tide and the spot is usually favoured as a roosting spot at high tide. The following day we headed north hoping to track down one particular bird. We had no luck so also checked out an estuary but it was so windy we could hardly hold the binoculars or scope steady to see anything. We did catch sight of a gorgeous young dotterel chick scurrying along on the sand and were both amazed that it didn't get blown away! Over the weekend we joined with some other members of our birding group for a hike on the peninsula to explore a patch of recently regenerated native bush. While the route wasn't particularly long it was very steep and narrow in places. We were heading downhill and trying not to lose our footing on the  rocks or loose dirt was challenging to say the least. Still the weather was nice and we saw lots of birds - more tomtits and brown creeper than we've ever seen before. We heard a shining cuckoo call at really close range. Despite six pairs of eyes keenly searching no-one managed to spot it which was so frustrating. The shining cuckoo is a bird we've heard but never yet spotted and we had hoped to see one on this trip.

We finished out Irish history MOOC with a look at personal lives. We both enjoyed this course and the historian in me appreciated the focus on primary sources. Our Shakespeare course focused on The Merry Wives of Windsor and looked especially at the connections between the play and Shakespeare's life in Stratford. This week the Laura Ingalls Wilder course looked at the relationship between Laura and her daughter, and how that impacted on her writing career. Our final MOOC is A Brief History of Humankind and we completed a section on the unification of humankind. The course is always thought provoking. Mr 16 is doing this one as well and he and I frequently have lengthy, interesting discussions as a result.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Week Ending 12 October 2014

The week was bookended with trips to the airport - first to drop off Miss 13 and then to pick her up. In between I spent a lot of time in the garden - mostly weeding, but also enjoying further signs of spring.


Our cherry blossoms are finally out. For some reason our trees are the last in the street to bloom.


I also read the rest of the Little House in the Prairie books since the whole series is discussed in one of our MOOCs and I wanted to refresh my memory. Plus I checked out an additional Shakespeare MOOC to see if we could use bits of it as a supplement to our main course. I think some lectures will be a good addition, but I'll have to see if Miss 13 agrees. My Mum had back
surgery in the middle of the week and so far the signs are promising that it should stop the excruciating  pain she's suffered for the past year or more.

Mr 16 spent some of his time working working through the certification process that will allow him to be moderator at the forthcoming Scouting JOTI (Jamboree Over The Internet). He had his first game of cricket for the season and spent time one evening capturing the lunar eclipse/Blood Moon.



Meanwhile Miss 13 spent her time in a 4 star hotel complete with spa pools and maid service (whoever thought the team needed such luxury clearly has a different budget to us - the accommodation cost was the reason I didn't go) , a large sports arena, and a minibus shuttling between the two.
 
One advantage of my not being at Nationals was that a teammate's mother did Miss 13's hair - and she did  a much better job than I could. My hair repertoire doesn't extend beyond ponytails!
She felt she did three good sound routines in her main event and was satisfied with her 5th placing. In the synchronized event she and her partner came 4th (tantalizingly close to a medal). Unfortunately she had trouble with one of her passes on the double mini which left her in 19th place for that event.  At least her main event went smoothly.

The only photos Miss 13 took were before the competition started while her team was waiting for their practise session.
One of the first things she said when she returned was "Auckland is so strange. It has buildings!" She was referring to multi-storey office buildings. Most of the ones here were demolished post earthquakes and have not yet been rebuilt.  She also commented on how smooth the roads were. Many of ours have only been roughly patched after the quake and some leave you feeling as if you are riding a mini roller coaster.

The week ended with a pleasant surprise. We won a group pass to fantastic hotpools complex about an hour out of town. Something to look forward to - perhaps once Miss 19 finishes her exams next month.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Week Ending 5 October 2014

It's been a strange sort of a week around here with the focus being on departures.

Mr 16 headed away on a four day tramp with a group of friends. The first part of the week was busy as he hunted down new gear he wanted. He was lucky enough to get the opportunity to try out a new pack, with a design meant to better distribute the load. He loved the design and doesn't think he can go back to what he used before - so some large expenditure is looming in his future.

Mr 16 bought a new raincoat and wanted to test it out before he went. Both Miss 13 and Basil were happy to help!
The famous pack!

Although the weather was not as spring-like as it could have been he really enjoyed the tramp. Nothing like the chance of a snowball fight to break up a hard day's hiking!



 
Mr 22 also departed - for Santiago, Chile where he's attending a conference for theoretical and computational chemists. We've had an email to say he arrived safely at his hotel - despite the efforts of fake airport guides and potentially dodgy taxi drivers! His rudimentary Spanish was obviously sufficient to negotiate the challenges.

And, Miss 13 leaves for  the trampoline national championships tomorrow. So we've been busy this week sorting her uniform, and buying other things that she needs for the trip. Not to mention driving to and from extra training sessions. A complicating factor is that overnight there was a major fire at a power substation in Auckland, where the competition is being held. As a result parts of that city, including the suburb where her team will be staying, may be without power for 48 hours! I think I'm glad I'm not going.

Packing the team leotard and training shirt. Red and black are our province's colours - in case you hadn't guessed!


The only child not departing was Miss 19. She had to make do with the "excitement" of starting a new part-time job at a local supermarket.

Despite the departures and despite the fact that we are officially on a break some school-like learning happened anyway. On Monday night Miss 13 and I attended our monthly birding meeting, where we listened to a fascinating talk on what scientists have been able to discover about ancient moa from their coprolites.

We started an online course on Shakespeare and his World this week. Fascinating stuff. I also discovered another Shakespeare MOOC  - Shakespeare: On the Page and in Performance. Sadly we just don't have the time to fit it into our schedule. I plan on checking it our next week though. I should have plenty of spare time! If it looks good we might use it as a supplement and work through those sections that focus on the plays we are already studying. Talking of Shakespeare our Oxford School Shakespeare plays arrived so we began reading Henry V aloud and managed to get halfway through the third act.

We also continued with our other online courses - A Brief History of Humankind (Miss 13 opted to do two weeks work to make up for her absence next week - the lectures looked at the role of money and the role of imperialism in contributing to the trend towards global unification), Irish History (Social Lives) and Laura Ingalls Wilder (her life in the Dakota territories). 






Saturday, September 27, 2014

Week Ending 28 September 2014

Wow, it's been a very busy and focused week around here.

* Maths - Lessons on Forming Solids and Symmetry, Permutations, The Subsets of Real Numbers, Representing Data, Approximating Roots, and Basic Trigonometry. Algebra 1/2 FINISHED!

* Science - Chapters on Kingdom Animalia and Kingdoms Fungi and Protists. Real Science Odyssey Biology Level 2 FINISHED!

* History - A lesson on Looking Forward and an essay. Big History FINISHED!

Yes, Miss 13  finished all her assigned work for the year - well, all except a Coursera history course that I belatedly added to her schedule and which will continue until December. Still it's only 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week so shouldn't be unduly taxing. I'm not sure who is most looking forward  to unschooling until late January or early February - her or me.

Mr 16 was also in a celebratory mood on Friday since he finalised  an economics essay he's submitting for a competition. He's redrafted and edited it far more than anything else he's ever written. So to celebrate (it was also the last day of a school term - we don't have to follow school terms but mostly we do) we had a Poetry Teatime. In honour of the occasions I went all out on the food and we turned it into a luncheon and since dh was working from home he was able to join us.

Hot chocolates, delicious food and great poetry - the perfect way to celebrate the end of the term and the finishing of a lot of work.

There was also a beginning this week since our online course on Laura Ingalls Wilder:Exploring Her Work and Writing Life started. So far it doesn't seem too taxing work wise and it is interesting to see where fact and fiction diverge and consider why that might be.

We're continuing with two other online courses. This week Irish History looked at people's economic lives while A Brief History of Humankind wound up a section on the Agricultural revolution by considering the difficulties of establishing just and equal societies. Next week our online Shakespeare class begins. I know it seems like a lot for someone who has supposedly "finished" but Miss 13 is only required to complete A Brief History of Humankind. She opted to give the others a go and if she doesn't like them or finds the workload too much she'll drop some or all of them. Alternatively she might complete some lessons but not bother completing the courses in their entirety. Since the Irish History course only has two more weeks left to run and the topics still to come are the one's she is most interested in, I suspect she'll finish that one.


Mr 16's workload is winding down as well - a week left in one subject, two or three to go in another. He's in no hurry to wind everything up though. He'd rather stick to a leisurely pace.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Week Ending 21 September 2014

It's been a frustrating week - more a tale of what didn't happen than what did. Miss 13 got sick, spending one whole day in bed and being really below par for another two. Amazingly enough she managed to finish most of her planned school work. However, she didn't go as in-depth with as many of the primary sources for her Irish history course as she normally would. And she postponed her final essay for Big History by a week.

We did manage a quick birding trip to "our" wetland. We've committed to visiting this spot once a month and counting every bird that we see. The highlight this month was 30 bar-tailed godwits, including several that looked very skinny, with bedraggled feathers - tell-tale signs that they were newly arrived from Alaska.

We were also meant to go on an outing with our birding group to an island in the middle of the harbour. Sadly, due to miscommunication, it was cancelled at the last minute - as in just before we boarded the ferry! Still the trip wasn't a total waste of time since we discovered that our birding group is going to totally fund Miss 13 to attend a week long field course early next year. So excited for her - and so grateful for the funding offer.

The advantage of our birding trip being cancelled was that we were able to attend a special session at Miss 13's gym. The trampolinist who won a gold medal at the recent Youth Olympics plus the gymnast who won bronze at the Commonwealth Games were there to talk about their experiences. Hearing how they overcame setbacks in their career and how they mentally prepared themselves for competitions was especially enlightening. But hearing how much their parents had to sacrifice was daunting - and a reminder of just one reason why we  put limits on how involved Miss 13 can get with the sport!


Highlights of the week included birding (now that warmer weather is here birds like this pied stilt are returning) and getting up close and personal to Olympic and Commonwealth medals.


Real life and history intersected in interesting ways this week. Our Irish History course focussed on political lives in the period 1912-1923. Fascinating to compare that period to the campaign for and vote on Scottish independence which was playing out right before our eyes. Geographically closer to home Fiji also held a national election, the first since a military coup in 2006. And our own national elections were also held. Much to discuss, compare and contrast - voting ages, electoral corruption, the importance of voting, party campaign strategies, and more. I had planned to do more, especially with Miss 13, but she was sick so what we did may have to suffice for now. This week also marked the anniversary of New Zealand becoming the first country in the world to grant national women's suffrage.

Mr 16 had another busy week . He seems to have Scouting activities more days than not. He is involved in a regional Scouting leadership group and this weekend they went on a road trip so they could have their meeting at the far edge of their region - part of an effort to be more inclusive I think. An awful lot of travelling, but he of course had a great time.

Miss 19 was also busy, but in an unexpected way. Her dance club held a large ball to celebrate their 21st birthday. At the last minute the woman who was supposed to bake and decorate their cake came down with the flu. So our kitchen was commandeered and Miss 19 spend the day creating a birthday cake to serve one hundred and fifty people. Luckily she still had the enough energy to dance the night away!

Linking up with Collage Friday over at Homegrown Learners.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Week Ending 14 September 2014

This week has been so busy my head is spinning (and I'm really sick of driving) - but it has been full of such good stuff that a spinning head is a small price to pay!

Miss 13 and I took a road trip early in the week. Our goal was to spot a hoary-headed grebe. Miss 19 laughs at the name and think it sounds like something from Harry Potter - the sort of creature Hagrid would raise! In actual fact it is a an Australian bird - a rare vagrant to New Zealand, with no sightings reported this century. So when reliable reports came in last month of three hoary-headed grebes at a lake several hours north of here we were tempted. It took a while to sort our car issues and settle on a suitable date but we finally made it this week. After a four hour drive we arrived at the lake - and waited and scanned and waited and searched and waited and looked - and had no success.


We spent hours standing on this viewing platform, scanning across the water and among the willows.

After three hours we gave up and drove for another hour in search of a black kite - a bird of prey. It's also a rare vagrant but there has been one living in the area for several years. However, partly hampered by a poor map and missing road signs, we had no luck finding the area. We drove back to the lake and spent another hour looking but still no luck. Feeling rather dejected we opted to spend the night nearby. Bright and early the following morning (and armed with better maps and directions) we headed back to look for the black kite. And within 30 minutes we were rewarded with a great view as it flew up the valley and passed right in front of us. Forty five minutes later and we were back at the lake - searching from one vantage point, then moving and looking from another. After an hour we were finally rewarded when one of the grebes appeared from among the willows and swam right in front of the viewing platform before disappearing into the willows on the other side of the viewing platform. Magical - and such a relief!


Apart from the birding there was the incidental learning - wind turbines (which we knew a little about but hadn't actually seen before), wind machines on vineyards (we saw them and wondered what they were for - did some research when we got home and discovered they prevent frost damaging the grapes) and sharing some family stories are a few of the discussions I remember.

I remember travelling up this way as a child and this bridge was a highlight. Trains went over the top row and cars used to travel on the bottom row. I have fond memories of my Dad parked on the side of the road waiting for a train before driving over. The thrill (and the noise) of driving over a bridge with a train right over head!


Mr 16 completed the final classroom module of his Mountain Safety Course and then spent the weekend on a two night tramp. Last time he went tramping in this area was three years ago and he slipped during a river crossing, breaking two bones in one arm. Thankfully this tramp was a lot less eventful.

Miss 13 attended the third module of her Gymsports leadership course. Apparently there has been a major miscommunication. All the participants were supposed to be do over 30 hours of coaching alongside a mentor during the year - except the organiser of the first session forgot to tell them or their clubs! I foresee much busyness in the remainder of the year squeezing in the required number of coaching hours.

The saga of our ongoing earthquake repairs dragged on and took an interesting turn this week. Our repairs were "completed" at the end of 2011 except they were not satisfactory. As part of the process to get the repairs repaired, asbestos testing was carried out. Minor amounts were found but in a solid state which is safe so we were not expecting anything to happen. This week insurance sent contractors again and they now recommend removing and replacing all the wall linings which have asbestos. This will involve us moving out for a week or two while the work is done. Time will tell whether or not the insurance bureaucracy agrees to the contractors' recommendations. It would be good to have the asbestos removed but the hassle of finding and relocating to temporary accommodation would not be enjoyable at all.

Miss 13 and I also attended our regular monthly bird ramble this week. A lovely morning on the estuary and some views of bar-tailed godwits which are starting to return from their summer in the Arctic.

In amongst all this we managed to get through a surprising amount of  bookwork. We finished the Merry Wives of Windsor - and then I ordered Oxford School Shakespeare versions of the rest of the plays we'll be reading! Even though Shakespeare is freely available online, we decided the Oxford series really helps with our comprehension so it was worth paying for. While we are waiting for those to arrive we've started rereading several of the Little House books in preparation for an online course which begins in a little over a week. Our Irish history course was really interesting, this week focusing on what it was like to fight. As a trained historian I really like the way this course encourages students to interact with a wide variety of primary sources. The joys of the Internet mean we can sit at our computer in New Zealand and read words written by men who fought in a conflict across the world nearly one hundred years ago.  Our other online history course  - A Brief History of Humankind - continues to be thought provoking - with this week's lecture looking at why the agricultural revolution could be considered history's biggest fraud. With a national election next weekend Miss 13 and I also spent some time focussing on our political system. This may turn into a whole course on law, economics and politics or it may remain a brief, topical interlude. In science we finished a unit on ecology and started one on classification.



We'll be watering these lettuces with various mixtures of water and vinegar to learn about the impact of acid rain.
A dichotomous key was one of the things we covered in science this week.




Mr 16 worked on an economics essay on the pros and cons of a capital gains tax, finished a unit on optics in physics, and learnt about data creation, description and presentation in statistics. He also started reading To Rule the Waves, a history of the British Navy and how it shaped the modern world.

Over the weekend we watched the first episode in a new tv series by one of our favourite cooks. Looking forward to getting my hands on the book and getting re-inspired in the kitchen as a result.

The sight and scent of the first freesias of the season in my garden were another highlight of my week.