Friday, December 27, 2013

Week ending 29 December

Normally I love the days after Christmas - all the hustle, bustle and hard work is over and it is a great chance to kick back, relax and do nothing apart from enjoying summer. This year hasn't gone like that.

Monday was a bit of a mad rush buying last minute gifts (only because we had no idea what to get anybody this year, so kept procrastinating in the hope we'd get a great idea which we never did) and food. Tuesday I was busy in the kitchen - mainly preparing desserts. My kids are traditionalists and if we have something one Christmas they want to have it every subsequent Christmas. This resulted in three desserts being made - trifle, raspberry cheesecake and pavlova rolls. I also made the stuffing for the turkey and made black currant jam. Mr 21 did look at me like I was slightly insane - I mean who makes jam on Christmas Eve? But Dh had picked the black currants from our bush the day before and I still hadn't come up with a gift for our elderly neighbour, plus fresh jam would go really well with bagels for breakfast. So once I finished with the jam I made bagels as well. The day ended with yet another driving lesson for Mr 16 (every time he comes into the same room as me it is to ask if we can go driving! ) plus A Miracle on 34th Street

In some ways Christmas Day was really low key especially in terms of gift giving. Plenty of time spent in the kitchen preparing vegetables - new season carrots, potatoes and peas  not to mention a broccoli salad, a zucchini mint salad and, my personal favourite,  a mixture of roast peppers, red onions and cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar. With my  parents plus Dh's mother and brother joining us , and Mr 21 being home this year (last Christmas he was in Australia on a summer scholarship) it was a nice family day. Very different from when the kids were younger though.

 Boxing Day was a bit of a blur as Mr 16 was packing for Jamboree - let's just say his idea of organisation and mine are a little different and I wasn't surprised that we needed to make one trip to collect some items he needed but didn't have. At least there were plenty of leftovers so cooking wasn't required. On Friday morning Mr 16 had to be at the airport by 7:30 am. Then I took Miss 13 to buy her own binoculars. She's been saving for a while and with birthday and Christmas money finally had enough for the pair she wanted. The rest of the day was spent with more packing chaos as Miss 13 and Dh got ready to leave.

It's now Saturday morning. Dh and Miss 13 had to be at the airport by 6:30am. Luckily it is close by so I didn't have to get out of bed too early. With them safely away I can finally relax and do nothing. Sadly the weather isn't cooperating - cold, rainy and very unsummery! Still it gives me a good excuse to put off the gardening, curl up with a good novel, browse through my new cookbook (thanks Mr 16 - not sure I intend to do any actual cooking though - when you are used to cooking for six it hardly seems worth the bother when there are only three people left to feed) and eat chocolate. The courier arrived an hour ago, delivering a new homeschooling book. I try to read something new each year - just to keep things fresh and ensure I don't fall into a rut. So I may just crack the cover of that as well.

Week Ending 22 December 2013

The main focus this week should have been last minute preparations for Christmas - and goodness knows I'm still not as prepared as I would like to be - but we had yet another birthday in the family. This week it was Miss 18's turn and she opted for  a party/pot luck dinner with 20-30 of her closest friends. So a little more work than Miss 13's and Mr 16's birthdays last month. Now our fridge is stuffed with leftovers and I'm desperate to get it emptied so I can start filling it with Christmas food! So much so that I didn't bat an eyelid when various offspring told me about their less than nutritious breakfast choices this morning.

We have managed a few Christmassy things. Not sure what it says about our family that the one activity we all took part in this week was watching  A Christmas Carol on DVD - the Muppets version! We've got a couple more videos to watch between now and Christmas.Miss 13 managed to combine her birding passion with Christmas by making some of these decorations for our trees. The two oldest have been incredibly busy with various Christmas functions and other end of year parties.

Dh has had an unexpected week off work. His department was supposed to move from their post-earthquake temporary accommodation into a newly repaired building. Everything was packed up and  moved over to the building when someone discovered there hadn't been enough sprinklers installed so staff aren't allowed in until that has been fixed - hopefully early in the new year. Not a bad time of year to get a bonus holiday!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Week ending 15 December 2013

Lots of Christmas preparations going on around here. For both Miss 13 and Miss 18 the preparations are their favourite part of the season. Early in the week they were busy making decorations. We finally got to use some clear ornaments which I'd bought last year but hadn't been able to use since Miss 13 broke her arm in the lead-up to Christmas. I had a whole range of ideas pinned and they opted to use melted crayon and paint. After a bit of trial and error, experimenting with techniques, they created some great looking ornaments. They also worked with felt, making heart baskets and a simple nativity.


We ended the week by going to the tree farm, selecting a tree and decorating it while eating Christmas Mince Pies. I always enjoy seeing all the decorations again and recalling the stories behind them - the year the kids made them, the person who sent them etc.

My favourite is "the Platts Lane angel". Many years ago Dh and I lived in Canada while he completed his PhD - in fact Mr 21 and Miss 18 were both born there. We lived in a student housing complex and I made many friends - young Mums like me whose husbands were also studying. The year my husband finished his PhD was also the year many of my friends' husbands were also planning to finish their studies. To mark what would be our last Christmas there one of our friends made angels for everyone using pinecones and acorns collected from the Platts Lane estate where we lived. So hanging that decoration always brings back fond memories of our time on Canada, all our friends there and of White Christmases. I must confess a summer Christmas just isn't the same!

Miss 13 and I went into the centre of town to see the Christmas window in one of the department stores - actually the only department store left in what used to be the centre of town!

While in town we  took a quick look around other parts of the city centre.

 The art work and mental health messages adorning the fences which protect construction and demolition sites caught our eye. As did the Sound Garden - a new Gap Filler initiative. This one involved filling an empty lot with large size percussion instruments made of recycled materials such as old street signs, used fire extinguishers and piping of all sizes and types.

Miss 13 and I have been reading Professor Carol's advent calendar and have also started listening to an audiobook version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I dug a literature study guide off the shelf  (one area where we didn't do much this year so doing a little now is a good bonus) and we're learning about characterisation as we go. I've got lots more Christmassy ideas I'd like to do  - both crafty and more academic - but time is running out . As usual December is moving far too quickly for me.

Miss 13 finished her Scouting year with a game of Laser Strike - a good time was had by all apparently, even if the rules were only loosely adhered to! She also had one last Sausage Sizzle - the final fundraiser for Jamboree. They (Dh is attending as an adult leader and Mr 16 is also going as part of the Youth Service Team - he'll be working on the IT base)  leave just after Christmas for the 10 day event.

In other news Mr 16 sat and passed his learners license this week and is now pressuring me to take him driving at every possible opportunity. He finally finished the last of his Economics which I'm very relieved about. I had been joking with him that he'd end up furiously trying to finish it on Christmas Eve since "Santa won't come if it isn't finished"!  Funnily enough that doesn't hold a lot of sway with 16 year olds.  He spent this weekend at camp . The credible and realistic threat of my not driving him to camp until the Economics was finished may just have had something to do with it finally getting done!  The camp was to  celebrate the 50th anniversary of Venturers (the Scouting section for 14-18 year olds) and involved mountain biking, water sliding, a psychedelic party and other fun events.

I had discussions with both Mr 16 and Miss 13 about how they felt this year had gone, what worked and didn't work for them learning-wise, what they wanted to do next year, and (especially important for Mr 16 since he'll only have another two years at most at home) what they thought they should do next year even if they didn't necessarily want to. They both offered some good insights and ideas (he likes work with an applied, real-world focus; she prefers spines which provide her with some focus but leave enough flexibility for her to follow her own interest as well) so I've got plenty to work with when I do so planning for next year - probably in the quiet ten days when half the family will be away at Jamboree!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Week ending 8 December 2013

There were plenty of highlights this week. Lovely summer weather was just one of them.

Miss 13 and I managed three birding trips this week. Our first was to an estuary north of here where we happily spent the morning observing wading birds and managed to spot one new species - not as many as we'd been hoping for but certainly better than nothing.

Two days later we went to an estuary in town to get a close-up look at the Bar-Tailed Godwits roosting at high tide. In particular we wanted to get a close look at the male (who due to some hormonal fluctuation perhaps) is donned in his breeding plumage now, the complete opposite to every other godwit! He's apparently been here for about five or six years, and never makes the annual trip back to Alaska or Siberia.

You can spot the godwit in reverse plumage in the centre of the middle photo. We couldn't get close enough to get a clearer shot this time. Miss 13's scope does let us get great views from a distance though!

While there we met another birder who is known for his work monitoring the banded godwits. He kindly took the time to explain the system to us,  and another birding friend has since sent some information to us. So now we'll be checking out the bands on the godwits that have them and be able to tell where the bird was banded and possibly where else it has been on its travels.

Our third trip was to a lake with the local birding group where we helped conduct the annual summer wader count. No rare waders on our patch but we did see 50 Royal Spoonbills in one group - about ten times as many as we've previously seen together. They are one of my favourite birds - probably because they look so exotic.

Another highlight for Miss 13 was kayaking with Scouts. She hasn't been kayaking for a while and was pleased to discover she is a lot better at it than she used to be.

Mr 21 returned safely from his conference.   One of the highlights for him was a side trip to Weta Workshop, famous for the special effects on movies such as Avatar, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and, most recently, The Hobbit.

Three trolls outside Weta Workshop.

He'd previously made the acquaintance of Gollum and Gandalf  at the airport!

 While in the capital he also found the time for a tour through Parliament.

This is the Beehive. The Prime Minister's office is here.

Miss 18  spent the weekend away with the rest of the newly-elected committee of the university's dance club. Apparently a chance to get to know each other and to plan the programme for the coming year. Much was accomplished apparently, even leaving enough time to indulge in a visit to the local hot pools! Her other highlight of the week was the release of  her university results - all As or A+s so she's happy.

Mr 16's highlight was  his cricket team winning their section of the competition at the weekend.


He attended two Annual General Meetings for Scouting this week - one for his group as a whole  and one for his section. He was re-elected Chairperson of his section and also elected Activities Officer, a position he more or less did by default this year anyway. Not sure if this counts as a highlight or not!

Christmas is starting to make its presence felt . Miss 13 and Miss 18 made the family's Christmas cards this week.

They completed a lot of the decorating (still got the real tree to go but we don't get that until a little closer to Christmas Day - an issue with a summer Christmas is that if you get your real tree too early it looks a little bedraggled by Christmas Day no matter how well you care for it), planned the menu and shopping list and wrote the Christmas bucket list. They are real traditionalists when it comes to Christmas. If we do it once they want to do it every year so it is important to keep track of exactly what we should be doing. 

One tradition is the Santa Parade. Since Miss 18 was out of town Miss 13 talked Dh into going with her. 

While they enjoyed it I think some of the  magic has gone for her. Probably an inevitable part of getting older and maybe a sign that we're almost ready to retire some of our Christmas traditions and replace them with newer ones, now that we are a family comprised only of teenagers and young adults.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Week ending 1 December 2013

Another week, another birthday. This time it was the son previously known as Mr 15.  Now, for the next 12 months at least, to be known as Mr 16 he's eagerly looking forward to gaining his learner's licence and learning to drive. He just needs to wait until his new glasses arrive first - since I'm afraid he might fail the eye test at the moment!

Miss 13 and I went on two birding expeditions this week. The first was to a local lake known for attracting rare Arctic migrants. Sadly hardly any birds were there to be seen since the lake level was  very low and all the ponds around the edges, where the waders like to feed, have totally dried up - even the fairly large ones. We felt a little despondent on the drive home until Miss 13 spotted a female pheasant on the side of the road. A closer look revealed she had two young with her. By stopping in the middle of the road Miss 13 was able to get a few good shots while I kept a close look in the rear view mirror for other cars. Luckily, it was a quiet country road!

The other trip was with a conservation group to see a colony of White-flippered penguins which are unique to our region of the country. Our guide was the man who has as a volunteer, for the past thirty years, single handedly managed the area. He's trapped predators, built nesting boxes in the cliffs (no easy task when all the supplies including cement have to be carried in - the walk takes about 45 minutes), monitored and recorded all the birds, published research and everythign else that has needed doing. He knows the ancestors of all the chicks for several generations! We also talked to a woman who rehabilitates sick and injured penguins and maybe going to take over managing the colony.

It was a beautiful day  and the coastline looked pristine. This made for a very enjoyable walk.

If you look carefully you can spot the track zig-zagging in the distance.

A close look reveals the predator proof fence and steps leading down to the colony.

This is one of the hundreds of nesting boxes. The penguins happily choose to use these and it is easier to monitor the birds in these individually numbered boxes.  

The first burrow we inspected held this pair of 7 day old chicks. Our guide was surprised neither parent was around so he'll check to see if a parent returns tonight or tomorrow. If not the chicks will need to be sent to the rehabilitator.
A closer view of one of the week old chicks. Miss 13 had a chance to stroke them and their feathers were just as soft as they look apparently.

Another burrow held this pair. They are about 2-3 weeks old and  will be left alone by their parents during the day. Normally one parent will return at night to feed the chicks. The following night the other parent will return.

This adult was in one of the burrows. The white edging on the flipper distinguishes this bird from the more common Little Blue Penguin.

Once the adult was removed we got a chance to see the two eggs.They had a slight greenish tinge and were about the size of a chicken egg. The adults take turns incubating the eggs.

The rest of the week was quiet and mundane. We vamped up Latin by using our flashcards to play our adaptation of  this game of  Bang. Miss 13  began reading Ravens in Winter which Mr 21 gave her for her birthday. There's been more gardening , French, deep-cleaning and cooking ( Christmas shaped shortbread made with her sister). We also attended  a talk on birding in Burma, with special attention to the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper. The following day we stumbled across an online article about these same birds that had been hand-reared in Russia. Love it when that sort of coincidence happens. At the very last moment (last day of the month) I remembered I had a SQUILT music appreciation lesson on Tchaikovsky's November (also known as Troika) so we fitted that in. We both enjoyed the music, especially the orchestral version.

Mr 16 is still plugging away at his Economics. I think having very little work to complete just gives him more time for procrastination. He currently spends  about six hours per week training for cricket since he's part of a short term academy on top of his regular team commitments. Plus, the game itself takes up about 8 hours every Saturday. Scouting also takes up plenty of his time . He's currently Chairperson of his group and is learning that organising teenage boys isn't always as easy as it could or should be! This week he's been spending  any spare time with Miss 13 playing Yahtzee inside and shooting baskets outside - when he hasn't been studying the Road Code that is!

Miss 18 started a Defensive Driving course this week. Apart from making her a safer driver the main aim is so she can  more quickly  escape the 10pm curfew of the restricted licence - completing the course shaves 6 months of the restricted licence period. I took her shopping to find a dress for her friend's wedding next month (a big deal for me since I hate shopping and malls - especially leading up to Christmas).  She took part in a psychology study and has been getting in plenty of socialising prior to starting summer school after Christmas when she'll be too busy studying to do anything else! A trip to see Catching Fire with a friend led to a reading blitz as she re-read all the Hunger Games books over the weekend - interrupting the reading just long enough to go to a Christmas in the Park concert.

We've seen less of Mr 21 than usual this week as he's been hard at work preparing for a conference. He flew out today so we won't see him at all for most of the coming week.

I've spent too much time on Pinterest and as a result have driven myself slightly mad - should we basically unschool next year, should I use some of the great looking year long programmes I've pinned, or should I keep things light and interesting and finally get around to using all those fun, individual activities I've pinned? At least I'm not stupid enough to try and do all three approaches - even if I want to!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Week Ending 24 November 2013

The week started with a big event  - a birthday . Miss 12 is now Miss 13. Celebrations were quiet because she opted for one large early gift in lieu of a party. Can't believe my baby is now a teenager - even though she is nearly taller than me. Plus she now has the pierced ears to prove it - a gift from Miss 18. Years ago Dh declared that the girls had to be 13 before they were allowed to get their ears pierced . So finally being able to get them done was a big deal.

The rest of the week was fairly quiet and uneventful. I think Miss 13 was enjoying some down time after the busy week before. There was plenty of reading including Charles and Emma and Longbourn  (Pride and Prejudice. The Servants' Story) plus lots of game playing - Fluxx  is the current favourite.  There were errands and catching up on Coursera classes and the on-line bird class, not to mention the resumption of trampoline training after the break for the World Champs. We also started to deep clean and declutter the house  -  one of those tasks I hate doing but enjoy having done. We also spent plenty of time in the garden - weeding seems a never ending task, not to mention pruning, staking,watering and some more planting.

The week ended with another big event - Scout camp for Miss 13 and Dh. This was a prelude to the National Scout Jamboree which starts just after Christmas.  Lots of fun by all accounts (except having to get up prior to 7am to help prepare breakfast for 48 people - Miss 13 is not a morning person!) and a good opportunity to get to know those they'll be living and working with for ten days.

Rolling her troop's new Jamboree scarf.

Cooperative challenge using pulleys to pour water from the teapot into the pan.

Stretcher race. Construct your stretcher, then carry a patient over the course as quickly and safely as you can.

Same stretcher - different patient.

Team based barrel racing.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Week ending 17 November

What a hectic week it has been. Definitely looking forward to some down time - and less long distance driving - in the week ahead. Last Friday Miss 12 and I decided to head down to spend some time with my parents. My Mum had been unwell and was just home after a week in hospital, Miss 12  wanted to do some research in the area for a project she is working on and she had a break from trampolining so the timing was perfect.

Apart from catching up with my parents there were plenty of other highlights.

We did plenty of birding and it led to more than its usual share of dramas. An unexpected road closure - on a narrow, isolated dirt road no less - led to the car getting stuck in a ditch. Luckily Miss 12 was able to push it out!

In seven days we saw eight new bird species including a rare arctic migrant (Miss 12's new scope got a real workout as we spent ages looking at it then consulting the guidebooks then looking at it some more in an attempt to identify it), the most colourful bird in the country, the smallest bird in the country, and one that we'd made seven previous unsuccessful attempts to track down.

With it being spring time cute baby birds were in abundance - especially at the lagoon near my parents' place.

We  spent a happy couple of hours watching the Yellow-Eyed Penguins coming ashore after a day spent hunting at sea. It was such a treat to watch them preening and calling to each other before waddling back to their burrows in the cliffs. Seeing fur seals at close range was a bonus.

There was also time for plenty of history. We explored Lanarch's Castle - not a true castle but a fairly impressive cliff-top home built by one of the area's early merchants and politicians in the late nineteenth centre. Miss 12 indulged in a few Downton Abbey moments, we both admired all the ornate details but I mostly felt sorry for the maids with all the cleaning that would have been required!

We visited a museum where Miss 12  experienced some social history. She did not relish the sea voyage out to New Zealand from Scotland - the recreated interactive cabin, complete with sound effects, was a little too realistic for her taste! She didn't fancy life when the settlers were first ashore either. Trying on a crinoline was more fun - although she quickly decided it would be too hot and heavy to wear during summer. The country's oldest surviving farm buildings are a short drive from my parents' house so we took a walk up there as well and learnt more about early local history.

We took plenty of walks - in the bush, on the beach and around the city. Dunedin's Scottish heritage was obvious with the statue of Robert Burns and a bagpiper in the centre of town.

Dunedin's railway station is magnificent. Some claim it is the most picturesque in the world. Such opinions are always subjective but it certainly is an architectural gem.

Since I grew up in the area I subjected Miss 12 to the tour of "This is the house we used to live in, this is where I went to school, this is the site of the worst flat I ever lived in when I was a student (now demolished thank goodness)" etc. Luckily she seems to enjoy such things.

One day we took a walk along the beach to the Moeraki Boulders. The spherical boulders are up to three meters  in diameter.. According to Maori legend they are the remains of calabashes, kumara and eel baskets that washed ashore after a canoe was wrecked at sea. Science of course has a different explanation.

The town of Oamaru is famous for its historic precinct with buildings made of Oamaru stone.  Many storekeepers dress the part but sadly the shops were shut when we arrived. Oamaru is also the self-proclaimed Steampunk capital of the country. Even the playground has a Steampunk vibe.

On our first morning home Miss 12 and I were out of the house bright and early to helping with a survey of bird life on a local river. This river is a breeding ground for several endangered native species so an annual survey is carried out to keep a check on the populations and to locate nests so that they can be monitored and protected if needed. Three hours walking along our stretch of braided river - having to cross through it (up above our knees in some cases) several times - recording all we saw. No new species for us but we did see banded dotterel chicks. Chicks are always cute and these ones were swimming.

The final highlight was a long phone call from a friend of mine who now lives overseas. It was great to actually talk to her - letters and emails just aren't the same - and to learn that she'll be back for a visit and possibly permanently early next year. Something to look forward to.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Short Week Ending 8 November 2013

This week's post is early and the "week" is short since we are heading out of town tomorrow for  a week and won't have great Internet access for most of the time.

I sometimes wonder if readers think the only things we do are bird related. While that's not true this week's highlights certainly won't dispel the notion. On Monday morning we visited the local wetland after receiving a couple of tips from a friend. We spent more than an hour outside the bird hide peering in via the viewing windows at a Welcome Swallow nest (we didn't want to disturb the parents as they fed their brood and they seemed unwilling to enter when we were actually inside the bird hide). At first glance the nest appeared empty but as soon as the parents appeared four tiny heads popped up and four wide open gapes appeared ready for whatever morsels the parents had on offer. We learnt a lot from our careful lengthy observations. Another highlight was the two Pied Stilt young plus a raft of Paradise Shelduck ducklings - they seem to be very cautious, keeping away from people and they certainly zip speedily away if they feel you get too close. Very amusing to watch.

The young Pied Stilts are lower right. The other three shots are the Welcome Swallow family.

Monday afternoon saw us paying a quick visit to the reserve where we observed cygnets for many weeks earlier this year. The highlight of this visit was undoubtedly the two families of Australian Coots. Miss 12 was fascinated by the way the adults fed the young - in all the waterbirds we've observed so far the young  just feed themselves and the male black swan would often snatch food from his offspring. So seeing the Coot parents taking food to their babies, carefully dunking the bread in the water as they went was rather sweet. In one family we observed the chicks were slightly older than the other and they were feeding themselves but the parents would still take them some as well. We also spotted our old swan parents with their new family -currently they have five cygnets, so they are surviving better than the lot earlier in the year.

The main shot on the left is of the younger Australian Coot chicks and a parent. Upper and lower shots on the right are of slightly older chicks while the middle shot shows a parent returning to the nest with some well-dunked bread for the young chicks.

The local ornithology group's monthly meeting, with a talk on birding in Kenya, was held on Monday evening. The talk inspired dreams and musings on some day being able to travel overseas to see more exotic birds for ourselves. It also led to us making some new friends and contacts.

On Tuesday we had planned a trip to a small forest area about an hour out of town. But on Monday night  we were introduced to an older birder who  invited us to join her  and some others on a visit to an estuary instead. She knew we were looking at scopes and would have two with her that we could try out, plus she is very experienced (the first person in the country to officially sight one species of  migratory wader- articles published in scientific journals as a result) so we changed our plans! We had a great day, learnt heaps about birding, identification and scopes and even saw a new species to add to our lists!

Wednesday was a quieter day bird wise . Some books were read, the bird bath and feeder were topped up and observed and an article was written for the ornithology group newsletter.

Thursday was a day of high excitement since, accompanied by our experienced friend, we went and purchased a spotting scope of our own.  It's an early birthday present and Miss 12 is very excited by how it will improve her birding experience. In the afternoon she spent plenty of time getting familiar  with it. She also researched and wrote a blog post for her online bird class.

Friday morning was the day we watched the class. Lyrebirds were the focus this week. In the afternoon she spent some time planning the journey for our short trip away. The route itself is straight down the main highway but she is planning the diversions that will provide us the best chance of observing some birds she wants to see! We also watched a home made DVD were were lent of local birding experiences. It was great to "see" some birds we have yet to see for ourselves in the locations we are likely to find them.

All in all a good variety of bird-related learning this week - with hopefully more to come over the weekend.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Week Ending 3 November 2013

It's been a fairly relaxed week around here. We seem to just be cruising through our days doing the same old things - lots of reading, some game playing, viewing our online classes, some cooking, some gardening, plus continuing to plug away at French and Latin.

The main highlight was a birding trip to a local lake where we finally had success spotting some of the Arctic migrants that can often be seen in the area over our spring and summer, albeit in a hit and miss manner. Up until now we had never been in the right place at the right time. This time a small group of five birds flew over head then landed nearby and started feeding , giving us plenty of time to observe and identify them as Turnstones. We didn't have the camera with us unfortunately.

We spiced up our French a bit this week with two apps - Memrise and Duolingo. They are proving to be a good way of getting more exposure to well-spoken French, with an accent much better than mine. I'm also roping in Miss 18 since she pursued French for a few years and developed a passable accent.

We had a sausage sizzler fundraiser for the Scout Jamboree this weekend. Dh was meant to be participating along with Miss 12 but he is currently incapacitated by a nasty cough every time he eats, talks or moves. So I went in his place and Mr 15 came to lend a hand. Fundraising isn't my favourite thing to do but sausage sizzles are not too bad.

In one of those "Wow my kids really are growing up" moments Miss 18 received an invitation to her friend's wedding. Admittedly this friend is a few years older than Miss 18 but it is sobering to realise that she is old enough to have friends who are marrying. Possibly even more sobering was thinking the friend was so young to be marrying and then realising that she's the same age I was when Dh and I married!

I've been spending some of my spare time not exactly planning but thinking seriously about next year. As is typical for me I'm torn between lots of great looking curricula and leaving the kids free to pursue their own interests and passions. In reality I'll probably plan one or two courses to give us some structure, but leave other areas and plenty of time open to be filled with those things they are passionate about. The battle will be getting the balance between the two just right - and then working out what great looking courses we should pick and which to pass over. It's a problem I'm having in my own life as well as the kids education - so many great things I want to pursue and clearly not enough time to do so.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Week Ending 27 October 2013

After being out of the house for five days last week I feel like we've been playing catchup all week - not only in terms of other things we want/need to do but also in terms of having some much needed down time. Much of the week was simply spent hanging out at home, reading (I noticed Miss 12  rereading The Penderwicks - an old favourite), cooking and generally recharging our batteries.

One highlight was watching a  live streaming session from The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa, focusing on their prion research. Prions are sea birds and, although fairly common in the southern hemisphere, not many people see  them because they spend most of their time at sea. In 2011, following a lengthy severe storm, 300,000 washed up on our shores. Many of the bodies ended up in Te Papa where they are being used for research. During the live stream we learnt how the six different species are identified (not an easy task because the differences are small), how a dissection is carried out and how it identifies the age and sex of the bird , how DNA is extracted from their tongues and what it can tell us about where the birds came from,  how their feathers can tell what they eat, plus how and why the bodies are stored and displayed in different ways.Great stuff and also a good insight into future career options for Miss 12. In other bird matters Miss 12 watched two of her online classes and wrote up a blog post for  looking at the efforts to conserve New Zealand's Black Robin ( at one stage only five birds remained) and Old Blue, who was the only surviving fertile female and is the ancestor of all today's Black Robins.

Another highlight was Miss 12 and Miss 18 going on a shopping expedition to the mall. A highlight for Miss 18 since it marked the end of her exams, a highlight for Miss 12 because she enjoys shopping and desperately needed new clothes, and a highlight for me because I hate shopping so not having  to go myself was a real treat! 

A third highlight was getting a large chunk of the garden planted. I'm more a fair weather gardener and more or less neglect things over winter so there is always a fair amount of heavy duty weeding and general tidying to do at the start of spring. Once that was done Miss 12 and I started planting. It's not finished yet but we've got lettuces, tomatoes, zucchini, capsicum, corn, beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, silverbeet (swiss chard for North Americans), carrots, radishes and a few other plants in so far. We've only got a small section so we can only plant a little of each thing - certainly not enough to fully feed us all but it is nice being able to eat some food that we've grown ourselves.

Another highlight was the start of the fourth season of Downton Abbey. It's one of the few tv shows we watch and everybody (except Mr 21) enjoys it. Dh and Miss 12 have also started rewatching the first season of Once Upon a Time, in preparation for the second season which Dh has just received on DVD. I've never watched it but the rest of the family enjoys it - and I know Dh is enjoying having time to do things other than work.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Week Ending 20 October

Wow, it has been an insanely busy week around here with three major, out-of the ordinary events and activities.  First up was a two-day 5 Minute Bird Count course for Miss 12 and me. 5 Minute Bird Counts are used by the Department of Conservation and other organisations to monitor bird populations, especially in forested areas. Basically a whole lot of points are selected in a specified area and an observer records all the birds they see or hear at each point in five minutes. This gives a good indication of the bird population in  the specified area. During the course we learnt a lot about bird identification especially bird calls, which are especially important in forests where birds can be more easily heard rather than seen. We also learnt the correct methodology for conducting a count and recording the data as well as looking at how it can be analysed and used. If we pass - and I think we should since we know we passed the section we found most difficult - we'll be certified to assist with future counts.  As conservation funding is cut trained volunteer help with tasks like 5 Minute Bird Counts becomes more important. It's nice to think we'll hopefully be in a position to contribute something positive to the birds that give us so much enjoyment.

The annual Scouting JOTI (Jamboree over the Internet) is being held this weekend. It's an international event where Scouts from all over the world connect with each other on line, chat and hopefully learn about life and Scouting in other parts of the world. Our Scouting Zone had an overnight camp where JOTI was the main activity for more than 24 hours.  Dh and Mr 15 attended all weekend since they helped with set up and pack away as well . Dh was mainly involved in helping the Scouts meet the requirements of the Computer Badge but Mr 15 has completed some extra training and he was involved in monitoring on-line chat, warning and banning people for inappropriate behaviour as well as trouble shooting with any technical issues. It was a great outlet for his computer knowledge. Given world time zone differences the JOTI continued after the official camp here finished so even though everyone is now home Mr 15 is still busy with his online monitoring and probably will be until the early hours of tomorrow.

Miss 12 is also taking part in JOTI this evening since she was unavailable for most of the weekend. We spent the weekend in Akaroa on an ornithology outing. Akaroa is a lovely seaside village with a very French flavour. It was first settled by the French and was intended to be an official French colony but the British ended up claiming it just weeks before the French arrived.  The bush comes right down to the sea, many of the original wooden buildings from the mid 1800s remain, the French flag flies and many of the streets and business have French names.

 It is about an hours drive away but it took Miss 12 and I about 8 hours to get there because we made so many birding stops along the way! The main activity was a four hour boat trip out of the (very long) harbour and several miles out into the open sea to look for seabirds.  Several species of albatross, petrel and shearwater were seen plus little blue penguins, a gannet and many species we are more familiar with. We also saw a sea lion colony plus Hector's Dolphins (the world's smallest and rarest) jumping right alongside the boat. Some magical sights. Sadly we personally didn't see as many species as others or enjoy the experience as much as we could have since we were both afflicted by seasickness :-(  The anti-seasick pills did not work!  Mind you the boat was lot smaller than I had envisaged and we were really rocked by the waves in open water. Thankfully we both recovered quickly once we returned to land so we were able to enjoy a late afternoon birding expedition into the bush with some more experienced birders. Still not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved that they had no more luck than us finding one particular species that we were keen to see! Still it was lovely walk with lots of birds to enjoy. No bird photos though because it's hard to stand up and take photos of large sea bird when you are felling queasy and just as hard, albeit it a different way, to take photos of small birds that move quickly in and out of forest greenery. Miss 12 and I quickly made the decision to just enjoy the birds and not worry about trying to capture a decent shot.

Before driving home we indulged in a little history  morning with an audio tour of the historic township. The commentary was filled with lots of stories that really made the past come alive. We followed it up with a visit to the museum. On the drive home we took a slight detour to try and track down a small flock of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos, a bird fairly uncommon in this country . Being a large white bird they were relatively easy to spot (especially since we'd been give some tips on where to find them) but were a lot quieter than Mr 21 led me to believe. He spent the summer in Australia where he was woken by their loud call in the morning and kept awake but it at night. Possibly they are less vocal at noon on a hot day!

It was great to arrive home to  freshly cleaned house and with dinner already prepared. Responsible teens and young adults are a wonderful part of the family!

As wonderful as this week was - well most of it - I'm looking forward to next week being a more normal, sedate pace.