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.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Week Ending 13 October 2013

This was an uninspired week - I blame the cold, windy weather. At least we had the regular stuff to carry on with. Miss 12 continued with her French and Latin and watched her final bird class of the quarter . This week's topic was Trogons and Mousebirds. Her video  - a PowerPoint presentation on birds' nests was played this week as well and got some positive feedback which helped to make the painful technical learning process worthwhile - we could have done with some advice from the girls at 7 Cool Homeschoolers! She also spent plenty of time in the kitchen and plenty more time reading (Chinese Cinderella was one I spotted her with).We did get one birding expedition in on  a day when the weather was nice. No photos though.

I decided to focus on one of the Thomas Jefferson Education keys You, Not Them,  and enrolled in a couple of Coursera courses - - A Brief History of Humankind (this one was half over before I discovered it so I'm working hard to get through two or three lessons per week so I can get caught up before it finished!) and What a Plant Knows. Miss 12 is viewing the plant course with me and both her and Mr 15 have looked  in on the history one from time to time. I think they'll be keen to watch more when we get to topics they are more interested in. Not only are the courses personally interesting but it is a great way for me to try out Coursera before having the kids use it. I'm  keeping my eyes open for courses that they (especially  Mr 15) might be interested in doing next year.

The highlight of the week has been the end of the university teaching year. Dh has had a horrendous semester workload wise and has been working 7 days (and nights) a week since June with no time off. The end of the teaching year means he should no longer have to regularly work nights or weekends and we may actually get to see him again! Miss 18 is also feeling relieved - although not as relieved as she will be once finals are over!

The cricket season officially gets underway this coming week and Mr 15 had  a trial match this weekend. Despite not having  a good game he was thrilled to earn promotion to a higher grade. One of his friend did  as well and they'll be reunited with a third guy who they first played with when they were 7 or 8. Dh coached all three of them for several years. On the downside cricket practise clashes with trampoline training so I'll spend at least two days a week driving from one side of the town to the other and constantly juggling which kid has to get dropped off early and/or picked up late. I do envy those with just one child or those who can at least manage to get their kids interested in doing the same thing at the same time. That's one parenting skill I never mastered when they were younger and it is totally impossible now they are older and involved in higher level sport. Short of telling one of them they have to quit I'm resigned to my fate!

I'm hoping that the weather will be better next week - Miss 12 and I have a couple of really exciting birding opportunities coming up. One of them involves a boat and I don't normally do well with boats so wish me luck. I fear I'm going to need it!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Week Ending 6 October

This week was pretty much like last week - Latin flashcards, French, plenty of reading  (including the newest bird journals which arrived in the post), logic puzzles, daily game playing, finishing off her Powerpoint  presentation for her online bird class (and then the teacher didn't play it because Miss 12 didn't attend class - the reason we made the video was because she couldn't attend class - it starts at 3am our time, and the teacher had been told that - aargh!) plenty of birding  and watching this week's bird class (this week's topic was kingfishers).

We ended up going on four birding trips this week. It has been a tough week for Miss 12. Trampoline Nationals are being held and all her team mates are there - everyone except her. And they are doing really well - all her squad have won gold medals in at least one discipline so far. And she is really pleased and excited for them - but also wistful and  a bit sad that she isn't there bouncing to glory herself - or at least cheering them on. So keeping busy has seemed like a good plan. Our first outing on Tuesday was to a lake just outside town.  It's a good spot for rare waders and some had been seen the previous day. We had no luck with the rare ones - partly due to luck but also because they tend to frequent the far side of the lake and you need a scope (expensive) to be able to see them. But we did get to see lots of Wrybill - a bird endemic to New Zealand and unique because it is the only bird in the world with a beak that bends sideways - to the right. Miss 12 hadn't seen one before so she was especially pleased. On Thursday we went across town to a wetlands where Shining Cuckoos had been heard for the first time this season - they migrate north to Pacific islands for the winter and are just returning to breed. We managed to hear one but didn't get to see it . Not a surprise because they are more commonly seen than heard. Friday was beautiful so we opted to take a long walk through another reserve. We weren't expecting any new species but we did see lots to make us smile - especially good views of a Kingfisher, Bellbird, Harrier, California Quail plus a pair of Paradise Shelducks and their five stripey ducklings. Not to mention hearing another Shining Cuckoo plus several Grey Warblers. In some ways I enjoy these trips more than the sort we were are trying to spot a particular species. But on Sunday we went back to the lake to hunt down waders. We had no more luck than earlier in the week. Next Time!

Miss 12 and Mr 15  watched two versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They stumbled across the modern version with Johnny Depp on television one night but decided they preferred the original so watched that a few nights later. And what better to do while watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than eat Wonka's chocolate!

There was also plenty of cooking (bread, lemon apple cake, steak burritos and parsley crumbed fish). Plus lots of browsing through recipes looking for new inspiration. There was lots of discussion about local body politics since we are in the middle of elections. It's a postal ballot and votes close next weekend so all the adults in the family  (four of us this time around since Miss 18 is now eligible to vote) were busy reading all the election material and making decisions. Finally, Miss 12 and I attended an ornithology society meeting where we listened to a speaker talk about her experience with southern seabirds and particularly  her research on albatross.