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!