Saturday, August 31, 2013

Week Ending 1 September

The last day of winter this week and the first day of spring. And spring just wouldn't be spring without ducklings!

Winter wasn't the only thing that finished this week. Miss 12 finished not one, not two but three programmes she has been working on! First to be completed was Latin Primer 2. The course, selected by Miss 12 at the start of the year, ended with a final exam. Normally we don't bother with exams but I was curious so had her complete it - even though I hadn't forewarned her and she hadn't studied. She earned an A+ so I concluded that this course (very no frills - basically just words lists and worksheets) was a good fit for her. If she wants to continue I'm pretty sure we have Latin Primer 3 on the shelf. Second on the list of courses to be finished was Middle School Chemistry - lots of fun neutralizing a acids and bases to finish up. Most of the experiments used easy to find supplies, the videos and animations highlighted what happened at a molecular level, and the questions and activity sheets were well designed to lead the student to a solid understanding of the underlying chemical principles. Last but not least, Miss 12 finished Practice Voyage  which we'd been using as a quick way to review and keep basic grammar concepts clear.

Mr 15 also completed one thing this week, with the last match of his indoor cricket season. Two days later he began a six-week pre-season training programme for the regular cricket season. It's the first time he's had a serious programme of pre-season training before but he can't wait to get started.

Plenty of bird-related learning this week. Miss 12 researched and drafted a blog post on the Kereru for New Zealand pigeon for her on-line class. She viewed the second session - this one on parrots - and began work on an entry on the Kaka, her favourite bird which just happens to be a parrot. The first semester of this year's course is working far better for us than the three session summer workshop session she did. The other students seem more motivated and involved - lots of them are regularly posting to the class blog and commenting on each other's entries.  We attended a meeting of the ornithology society and saw some interesting film from the 1940's by an early sea-bird researcher, recording his work with both penguins and albatross. So funny to see his wife (and research assistant) in her skirt, hat, white gloves and pearls weighing the young penguins! Miss 12 and I have also been invited to take part in a two-day workshop learning how to officially identify and count birds. If we pass we'd be qualified to act as volunteers for official conservation projects. It's not until October (and there is some official concern about Miss 12's young age) but definitely something to look forward to. We're back working on memorising bird calls as preparation. The final bird related learning was a birding expedition to a local estuary. We'd hoped to spot one particular species and although we had no luck with that the trip was not without its highlights - good observations of banded dotterels, a pied shag nesting and spotting juvenile little shags in their nests.

In other happenings there has been a lot of work on budgie training - although I sometimes think he is doing better at training us than we are at training him! A lot of time had also been spent caring for and observing the frogs. A good thing about the warmer weather has been the return of flies (never though I'd say that!) - they seem to be our frog's preferred food.

Miss 12 has  been busy in the kitchen preparing or helping to prepare meals most days. She's also helped in my ongoing "tidy up the garden" project. And we've spent time most days playing games - Bohnanza (which I normally win) and Carcassonne (she usually trumps me on this one) are on near daily rotation. This week she's read  Birds, Beasts and Relatives by Gerald Durrell, a sequel to My Family and Other Animals. We used the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to learn more about it and to study rhetoric and public speaking via Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.. We're finishing up the Civil Rights focus by watching "The Help" on DVD. Miss 18 and I both really enjoyed the book but hadn't got around to seeing the DVD.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Week Ending 25 August 2013

It's been a tough week. The news regarding redundancies was, at first glance, not as bad as we had feared. Only one position to be lost and dh's role is not in the firing line. However, this plan is not yet finalised and his colleagues, whose positions may be cut and who effectively have to reapply for their jobs, are not happy that dh's role is protected. Things have the potential to turn fairly nasty.

As a result of the job and financial uncertainty we had to make the call not to allow Miss 12 to attend the National Trampoline Championships. I'm gutted and feel like a bad mother.  While disappointed she is understanding which in some ways makes me feel better but in other ways makes me feel worse.

Not surprisingly, it doesn't feel like this week was our most exciting learning wise. Routine work happened - and in many ways the routine was especially valuable - but it certainly wasn't a week I'd use to advertise the benefits and joys of a homeschooling lifestyle ;-)

We did end well though. Yesterday Miss 12 and I  took a trip with some local birds to some bush remnants within the city that have been used for 5 Minute Bird Counts.  We were glad that we had made some progress on identifying birds by call only and vowed to make more progress on this since some species are much more likely to be heard than seen. We did get especially good viewings of bellbirds and fantails, not to mention red admiral butterflies. Today we enjoyed an hour or two in the garden, attempting to make up for the months of neglect over winter. It's magical to see the spring growth and to look forward to making spring and summer plantings. Just have to finish clearing all the pesky weeds first!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Week Ending 18 August 2013

The start of the week was beautiful and spring-like but I was still a little surprised when I found the first daffodil of the year blooming in the garden. Of course we had to recite Wordsworth. The lines

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils
are really true. Scented spring flowers really do fill my heart with pleasure.

Another thing that fills our hearts with pleasure is birds. One of the highlights of the week was a bird ramble at a local wetland led by an experienced birder. The weather was lovely and we spotted thirty different species. Highlights for us included the Grey Warbler - a lovely songbird and the second smallest native -  plus the Glossy Ibis flying in and landing just a few metres in front of us. The bird hadn't been spotted for a few weeks so it was great to know that it hadn't come to any harm.

The other highlight came at the end of the week at a local inter-club trampoline competition. Miss 12 successfully completed a new routine and managed third place so she was pretty happy.

We're been doing plenty of reading. The two highlights have been A Single Shard (as much for the fact that we are doing it as a read-aloud - not sure why we fell out of the habit for a few weeks, but both Miss 12 and I are enjoying it again) and Avian Architecture, which is a very well-organised readable examination of bird nest building. Miss 12 will probably use it as the basis for a project for the first semester of her online bird class which starts this coming week.

There was plenty of action on the postcard front too. Three cards arrived her during the week and four of the cards we've sent have also arrived at their destinations - meaning we can look forward to more cards in our box in the next couple of weeks.

Science went much better this week than last. Not only did I already have all the supplies but all the experiments actually worked! Fizzing, bubbling, colour-changing chemical reactions are always fun.

However, the main event - not necessarily fun -  of the week has been this.

Dh's knee surgery went well and the recovery seems to be going smoothly so far. I seem to be very busy though doing all the stuff dh usually does around here plus remembering to take him his painkillers on a regular basis! Hopefully he'll get a little more mobile this week. Not that the kids mind since it gives them a great opportunity to join him for plenty of video watching!

In other matter related to dh the "change proposal" for his department was delayed until this week so we still don't know what his job status is likely to be next year. I just wish they'd hurry up - waiting and worrying is not fun!

In one of those "how you know your children are actually adults" moments Mr 21  had to leave for his office at 6am one morning since he had a conference call with some colleagues in Germany. For some reason I find it hard to believe my first-born is old enough to be having conference calls with colleagues.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Week Ending 11 August

It's been a week of ups and downs this week. The first part of the week was really warm and springlike. It was lovely to be able to enjoy the garden especially the scents of the jonquils and daphne.

One day Mr 15, Miss 12 and I decided to go for a walk in a reserve that is an old quarry site. The exposed rock face is quite amazing in places and it certainly made us feel small and insignificant to stand at the bottom of the quarried pit and have rock walls towering around us.

For Miss 12 and I the highlight was sighting a small flock of Cirl Buntings. They are the rarest of the introduced finches in our region but a group is known to be based in the quarry so I was hopeful we might spot them. We'll definitely go back later in spring when the males should be sporting their breeding plumage. On the way home we made a quick stop in to see the swans. We laughed at one of the cygnets whose moult has left him with  an amusing cap of fuzzy down feathers - a bit like a medieval monk's tonsure in reverse!

The following night  we went on a great Owl hunt. Owls are not common in and around the city but there is a park not too far from home that is supposed to be the most reliable place to spot Little Owls. So after picking Miss 12 up from training we headed to the park. We hadn't  even turned the engine off and we could hear them. We hoped that by playing their calls we could lure them into good viewing range but sadly we didn't manage that. But we could certainly hear them and they were vocally responding to our recorded owl calls. Miss 12 is also pretty sure she caught a glimpse of one in flight. It was a weird feeling walking around in the dark in the undergrowth with our necks craned upwards (while trying not to walk into tree trunks or catch our feet on fallen branches or holes in the ground) - it often felt like something was watching us! The following day we returned in the late afternoon because this species can apparently sometimes be seen in the open then but we had no luck. We'll keep persevering though - Miss 12 is determined! She has a trip planned one night this week around sunset.
By mid-week the weather and various other aspects of our life began to pack up. First, and least importantly, were the science experiments. I couldn't get the chemicals for one of the experiments we were meant to do and the other experiment did not work. No idea why unless our chemicals were just too old. Undeterred I found a YouTube video and we sat through a very boring 5 minutes with the teacher "droning on" (Miss 12's words but I had to agree) before she finally got the experiment set up...and then announced that we'd have to do it ourselves if we wanted to see what happened. Aargh!!! The upside was that as we talked about what should have happened and why, Miss 12  was able to predict what would happen and could explain all the reasons. So I won't stress it and we'll just move on.

Then we got bad news about our house. We'd finally arranged to buy it and had managed to get a reasonable interest rate. Unfortunately the solicitor didn't get the paperwork sorted in time which means we lose the interest rate we had and face financial penalties with the bank. Then came potentially worse news regarding dh's job. A meeting has been announced regarding a "change proposal" for his department. We've got to wait until late next week to find out how many redundancies the "change" will involve. It's been on the cards for a while but a definite date for an announcement makes it that much more real. One the positive side it will be nice to have something concrete to deal with as opposed to the contradictory rumours and potential proposals which have been swirling for months and months.

Returning to the good stuff. This week saw plenty of reading (Miss 12 has started Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals which she is enjoying ), plenty of game playing (Yahtzee seems to have replaced Monopoly as the game of choice) and plenty of cooking (warm gingerbread certainly helps to brighten a cold damp day).

More than a year ago I started a simple daily calendar journal - like this but not nearly as pretty . Sadly I didn't keep it up but redicovered it the other day and loved reading what I was doing and what was important to me exactly one year ago. So I'm resolved to get back on the journalling bandwagon - an imperfect one will be better than not having one at all. And (thanks to this blog) I will be able to go back and fill in some of the gaps.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Week Ending 4 August

Miss 12 had her last live bird class via Currclick. This one was on a bird we are pretty familiar with - the kiwi!  Despite ongoing technical problems these classes have been worthwhile - she's pleased to be getting comments on her posts to the class blog. I was delighted last weekend/earlier this week  when Currclick had a Pay What You Want Sale . All four quarters of the bird classes for the 2013/2014 year  were available. For us the regular price was a bit steep but I was thrilled to buy the whole year's worth at a price of my choosing. Even if she doesn't want to continue for the entire year I'll be happy I made the purchase.

We're on the final chapter of the American Chemical Society's Middle School Chemistry programme. It has been a great fit for us. Most of the experiments and demonstrations have been easy to do at home - and You Tube has come to my aid when they haven't. The pacing of the lessons and the explanations has been just right and I'm pretty confident that Miss 12 has gained a solid grounding in the basics of chemistry

We took another trip to see the swans and discovered several new pairs near the smaller pond. A couple of them were calling to each other, mutually displaying etc. We'll be interested to see if any have started building nests when we pop back next week.

We finally started looking at the art of Jacob Lawrence - an artists I'd never heard of until I saw him (and some good resources) featured on a fellow blogger's page a couple of year's ago. I had planned to pair him with our study of Duke Ellington several weeks back but somehow we  were sidetracked with Edvard Munch then. The good thing about this is it gives us a chance to review Ellington now. We found a fun interactive site which was a great introduction to his Migration series - plus it included a track by Duke Ellington that we hadn't heard earlier! It had me grooving on my office chair until Miss 12 pleaded with me to stop ;-)

Miss 12 and I attended an evening meeting of the ornithological society I think we'll enjoy the field meetings better but it was a chance to meet more people .. and pick up a few more tips.

Mr 15 started back at woodwork class this quarter. They are held in a local high school and for some reason are only held in the first and third quarter of each year. He's working on a bookcase this time around.

I'm busy pondering whether or not Miss 12 and I will travel to the trampoline nationals or whether I'll have her skip them this year. Trying to work out the best way for her to develop and enjoy the sport within our financial constraints, while dealing with the inevitable politics within the club and the sport as a whole does my head in sometimes.  I am definitely not cut out for this aspect of parenting. I actually hate competitive sports!

Mr 15 has been spending plenty of time working on his photography skills.

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Spring is in the air :-) While outside this week I noticed a distinctive scent and found the daphne bush beginning to bloom. I love the fragrance of daphne. Closer inspection of the garden also showed the swan plant beginning to get new leaves. Hopefully the Monarchs will return to lay eggs in six weeks or so. Even though this winter has been relatively mild so far, signs of spring are always welcome. I'm looking forward to getting out into the garden once it warms up a little and dries out a bit.

Other things that made me smile this week were receiving a letter from a good friend who sadly now lives overseas - and chatting online with her as well. For some reason we've never done that before even though our daughters frequently do. We also had a surprise visit from my parents - albeit a brief one. They really hate earthquakes so we hardly ever see them up here anymore.

Other than that it was a fairly uneventful week - relatively productive but not very exciting.