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.