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.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Week Ending 24 May 2015

It was a very noisy week, and as a result we we weren't as productive as we'd have liked. It's a little hard to concentrate with diggers, jackhammers and the like operating right outside your window. Our driveway, paths and patios were all dug up and replaced. They were damaged in the largest 2011 earthquake and replaced later that year. Except the contractors didn't do a good job and everything began cracking in less that two weeks. After lengthy negotiations with the contractor and then the insurance company it was finally agreed that they would need to be relaid. At least the contractors this time around appeared to know what they were doing.

We also took an unexpected field trip to the sewage ponds. I know- we sure know how to pick our venue! But birding networks reported a rare bird that we'd never seen before so we had to go and check it out. Turns  out that first reports were incorrect  and the bird was in fact a Hoary-Headed Grebe that we travelled north to see last year. But this is the first time one has been seen in our region for 30 years so it was worth the effort (and besides it got us away from the jack hammering). No photos sadly - it didn't come close enough to shore for our camera. Since we were across town we visited a few favourite birding sites while we were there.

Lots of waders and gulls at the estuary.

We spotted this White Heron fishing in a canal.
Mr 17 was knocked off his bike during the week. A driver opened a car door directly in his path. Luckily he only suffered some minor scrapes and bruising. He was on one of the city's busiest roads at the time so it could have been a lot worse. At least bikes can be repaired and helmets replaced.

In amongst all this we did get some bookwork completed. A trawl through my computer files revealed a geography notebooking pack which included a country study. It was perfect to supplement our geography studies which are currently focused on the Americas. Miss 14 has picked Colombia, while Mr 17 is looking at Panama.


We also spent plenty of time with this guy. He was perplexed by men destroying his paths!

Basil appears to be eating the maths homework!

The week ended with sleety showers. Perfect for curling up in front of the fire and watching a video.Since we've just finished Romeo and Juliet I thought an adaptation was a great idea. My first pick - West Side Story - was out. So we settled for the somewhat lighter Gnomeo and Juliet instead!

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Week Ending 17 May 2015

Some random snippets from our week.

When I stumbled across a recipe for these owl biscuits in a magazine I just knew Miss 14 would want to make them.

It sometimes feels as if Mr 17 never does any schoolwork. But I caught him hard at work on his comparative politics this week. He's just starting a unit on Iran.

Two birding trips this week. Miss 14 and I joined a small group of friends for a mid-week ramble around a local wetland. On another day she travelled south to visit a private wetland and aviary complex. I've been knocked around again by inner ear problems and didn't feel safe going. Hopefully I can get a referral to a specialist and fix this problem since I'm totally over it.

Mr 17 helped run a leadership camp for Scouts over the weekend. And no Scout camp is complete without a roaring campfire. Then he had the panel interview (a three hour marathon affair) for his Queen Scout Award - the highest award in scouting here. I didn't realise what a big deal it was - the awards are actually presented in person by the Governor-General, the Queen's official representative. Mr 17 was pleased the panel recommended that he receive the award - now he just has to wait for the paperwork to be processed and approved at both the regional and national offices.

Miss 14 read The Disappeared for her World Lit course. Set in Argentina in the 1970s, it is a nice complement to our current geography studies which are focused on South America.

Mr 17 has been playing a bit of indoor cricket over the past few weeks - regularly filling in on a friend's team. They had their first win (at least in the games he's played) this week.

Homeschooling in pyjamas - in this case a penguin onesie since it seems everything around here has a bird related twist.

The technician came back and finally fixed our hob. Four working elements again (he did have two of them working after his initial visit) and it was still covered by the warranty. Cooking is much simpler and I'm a happier cook.

Linking up with Kris at the Weekly Wrap-Up.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Week Ending 10 May 2015

I thought this had been a fairly mundane week but when I write it down it turns out we were out and about a fair bit.

On Monday Miss 14 and I went swimming. Mr 17 wasn't still in bed recovering from his weekend camp! We were there for a couple of hours and actually had the entire pool to ourselves for about half that time. I especially enjoyed soaking in the spa pool at the end. Monday night was our monthly bird group meeting, featuring a talk and photos from one of our members about a couple of wildlife trips he'd made to the United States. I loved the way he included particular details that he thought would appeal to specific members,such as information on Dr Julia Platt and her work in Monterey Bay especially for Miss 14.

On Thursday the weather was glorious and, inspired by this post from Jessica over at Teachable Moments, I told Miss 14 to hurry up and get dressed since we were going birding - despite all the bookwork that needed to get done. We headed north to a small estuary (probably my favourite local birding spot).

The sun warming our skin, the smell of the sea behind us and a great variety of birds preening, bathing, searching for food and otherwise going about their lives all made for a wonderful morning. The highlight of the day was this Black Stilt, one of many of our endangered natives.


Friday was dominated by caring for Mr 22 who had oral surgery. I spent the morning driving him to and from his appointment and then he had to spend the rest of the day with us. He wasn't allowed to be alone and all his flatmates were busy working and/or attending class. It was nice to have the whole family back under the roof for a night - even if Mr 22 was somewhat subdued. I spent a lot of time fetching ice and pills, and preparing soft food!

Saturday was the Global Big Day in support of global bird conservation . Naturally Miss 14 and I had to do our bit - any excuse for a day's birding! We were out and about for about six hours during another great autumn day plus another hour at night.

The highlight for us was the first Cattle Egret of the year. There was a group of three feeding on the ground with these White-faced Herons.

But the cattle egret were very photo-shy. Every time Miss 14 got the camera focused on them they took to the air.

At one lake stop Miss 14 spent ages trying (unsuccessfully) to capture all the Welcome Swallows swooping and soaring over the water as they fed. If you look closely you can see a small dot of white in the background, slightly to the right of centre. That's our first Great Egret of the year!

We were hoping to spot the Little Egret that has returned after spending the summer elsewhere. Sadly, it proved elusive - but that just gives us a reason to go back again.

In amongst all this some (but not all) of the planned bookwork got completed.
Miss 14 began working with adjectives in Latin, looked at thermal energy for physics (she's opted to stick with her existing textbook for now but might try some other resources I have when she moves to light and sound) and endured some lessons related to polynomials in maths. In geography they've moved on to South America. In literature she's finally finished To Kill A Mockingbird (I'm trying to find a movie version but none of our libraries have it) and we moved into the third act of Romeo and Juliet. I continue to be impressed by the SmartPass audio guide we're using). Art History dropped off the radar this week so we'll have to get to it first next week. Of course there were the usual twelve hours in the gym training and coaching.

Mr 17 has a less exciting week than his sister. He took on a few extra shifts at work, continued to look at Nigeria's political system, sat and passed his first economics exams and plodded along with his other subjects. Tonight he's off to a Jamboree on the Trail event, an annual event for Scouts worldwide to hike together.

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up.