Saturday, April 26, 2014

Week Ending 27 April 2014

The schools here are on a two week break and we've decided to join them. I needed a break even if the kids didn't. Sadly, the first week is over and I don't feel like we've had all the free time I was anticipating. Probably because the week has been muddled with public holidays. Easter Monday is a holiday here and the university was also shut on the Tuesday so Miss 19 and Dh were both at home . It's great to have everyone at home together (doesn't happen a lot any more) but it does alter the dynamic. Friday was yet another public holiday - Anzac Day this time, which commemorates returned service men and women as well as those who lost their lives in war. Dh and the kids enjoy the local Dawn Service and Mr 16 attended another service later in the morning as well. This one included a parade and he marched as part of a combined  Scout group. After the early start everyone was tired, so there was not much energy left for anything else that day.

Despite the break, fun and learning are still happening, just not anything too school- like. I think it is safe to say Miss 13's maths book won't be coming off the shelf!

There has been  a lot of game playing and reading.

Game playing goes in jags around here and right now Dominion is the game of choice, We've played several games most days.

For a relatively sensitive child Miss 13's taste for crime novels has come as a bit of a surprise. Thankfully her taste runs to Agatha Christie rather than more graphic and explicit novels. We've both enjoyed Son, the fourth of Lois Lowry's The Giver quartet.

There has also been French language practice - Duolingo is "addictive" apparently - cooking and trampoline training.

Music appreciation made an appearance. Initially it was brief and light-hearted but, as often happens, one thing led to another. We listened to Dvorak the Czechoslovak from Beethoven's Wig 2, and followed it up with Dvorak's Humoresque #7 on which it is based. Then we did some online research to discover exactly what a humoresque is, and to learn a little about the background behind Dvorak's series. We'll definitely remember #7 since it has been used as the basis for a so-called folk song beginning "Passengers will please refrain, from flushing toilets while the train, is standing in the station". Of course this led us down the small rabbit hole of passenger train toilets - amazing where music appreciation can lead you! We also listened to Dvorak's complete cycle of Humoresques. I'm grateful our public library has a subscription to the Naxos Music Library which we can access online from home for free. Makes music appreciation much easier.

Mr 16 has had a busy break so far. He's spent time most days at the local Scout hall where he is busy reorganising all their gear (they've just merged with another troop so there is a lot of extra gear to fit into the same amount of space) and compiling an inventory for his Queen's Scout project (Queen's Scout is the highest Scout award here - the equivalent of Eagle Scout I think). Today he left for a three day tramp. It is meant to rain most days with snow down to 1000 metres so I'm sure he'll be cold, tired and wet on his return.

Miss 13 and I have also managed some birding. Not as much as I might have expected but the weather and other commitments have conspired against us. A friend gave us a tip off that the Cattle Egrets were back in the area. They are Australian birds, but some migrate here for the winter. Food availability must be the reason because they surely don't come for the weather! Anyway we tracked them down one day. Sadly they were too far away to get decent photos. We'll try again later. The the following day we checked out several spots on a local lake. Dh came along too which was great. Duck shooting season starts next weekend and I'm not keen on walking around the lake when it is crowded with  hunters. Besides I'm sure the gunshot will drive many of the birds away - even the ones not being hunted. So we'll keep our birding to other areas for the next few weeks.
Miss 13 was delighted to discover these Muscovy Ducklings. Muscovy's are not common here and as yet aren't officially recognised in the bird books. One reason is that wild ones are believed to be just farm escapees and  there is not enough evidence that they can form a self-sustaining population in the wild. Signs of successful breeding like these two mean the Muscovy may well be added to the next edition of the official field guide.

Linking with Mary's Collage Friday
and Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Week Ending 20 April 2014 (Birds and Easter)

Here's some of what we've been up to this week. Birds and Easter seemed to feature in a variety of guises!

Miss 13 and I went on a mid-week bird ramble with our local birding group. The highlight was getting our first sighting of the Glossy Ibis this year. We'd made half a dozen previous attempts with no success so were delighted to finally spot it. We had great views of it feeding but sadly it was too far away to get any photos. But we did get photos of plenty of other birds - both the common (Mallards and Pukekos) and the rarer (White Heron).

The following day we enjoyed a great Poetry Teatime with freshly baked biscuits and hot chocolates. After spotting a White Heron yesterday, reading the book An Egret's Day was perfect - a picture book with a variety of poems  about the appearance, habit and behaviour of the Great Egret, more commonly known as the White Heron in our part of the world.

We spent a lot of time reviewing both cells and genetics for science. Last week I discovered a $1 deal for a month long membership at Supercharged Science, an online resource featuring readings, videos, quizzes and experiments. - so we decided to give it a go. Covering much the same material as our regular science programme but in a slightly different way has really helped Miss 13's understanding and retention. She's looking forward to trying out the bird related sections - just for fun. Fortuitously I also rediscovered an activity I'd pinned more than a year ago - Easter Egg genetics. Miss 13 enjoys working with Punnet Squares so the activity was a fun review. I think she would have enjoyed it more if I'd put M+Ms inside the eggs  as specified in the instructions! But I didn't have any and, with Easter coming up, I didn't feel we really needed any extra sugar entering the house.

Our fine arts focus continued with Modigliani and Dvorak. For Modigliani, as with all artists we study, we currently have some reproductions from old art calendars pinned to a section of our noticeboard. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has a page devoted to Modigliani and it includes several lesson plans. So as well a learning about his life and times we  worked through two lessons - one focusing on his painting Servant Girl and the other his sculpture Head. For music we read the picture book Two Scarlet Songbirds, then read about the Scarlet Tanager and listened to its call. Finally we listened the third movement of Dvorak's American Quartet (also known as String Quartet No.12), which was partly inspired by the Scarlet Tanager, listening especially for the call.

A large proportion of Good Friday was spent in the kitchen making dozens of Hot Cross Buns. The weather was terrible  (as it was earlier in the week putting paid to our plans to observe the Blood Moon lunar eclipse) so a nice warm kitchen was a good place to be.

Thankfully the weather was much better on Saturday and Sunday so we got out and about.  I love autumn and these two sculptures always make me smile - especially at this time of the year.

We also enjoyed  The Big Egg Hunt. Apparently this is a world wide event, but the first time it has been held here. Giant eggs, decorated by local artists and designers are displayed in secret public locations. There are prizes for locating the eggs and they are eventually auctioned off with the money going to charity - in this case a children's hospital.

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that Miss 13's favourite egg was bird themed - featuring a Tomtit on one side and a Kokako on the other.

Linking up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Week Ending 13 April 2014 (Fitting it all in)

Recently I've been feeling a bit frustrated about all the things we don't do. Not just those enticing looking projects I've pinned but especially those things that we used to do and enjoyed. Somehow we just don't get to them anymore and I couldn't figure out a way to fit them all back in. There simply aren't enough hours in the day. Finally, inspired by Julie Bogart's Once is Better than Never post plus another post that I just cannot find again (don't you hate it when that happens?)  I came up with a potentially workable solution - pick one or two things and do them for a while before switching it up, dropping those things and replacing them with something else for a time. Just because it no longer suits us to do something all year long doesn't meant we won't enjoy it or benefit from doing it on a short term basis. And there is also nothing wrong - and many things right - with doing things, even very academic type things, that don't fit in any of the boxes on whatever transcript we might be maintaining for our teens.

The first thing we wanted to reinstate, at least for a time,  was poetry teatimes. At one stage we did these every Friday morning - mind you I seem to recall all four kids taking part and it has been five years since all four were homeschooled! Since April is National Poetry Month it seemed like the perfect timing. And while I know we can't do it every week I thought I could manage four top notch teatimes over the course of the month. It hasn't quite worked out as smoothly as I'd envisaged - mainly because I didn't check the calendar before coming up with the plan!

Last Friday we were on the road - but I was prepared with a selection of bird related poems and some fancy treats. So topical poetry was read, discussed and enjoyed overlooking a lake on a lovely autumn day- perfect. However, no poetry happened this Friday - a trip to the orchestra intervened and next Friday is Good Friday which will involved much Hot Cross Bun making. So I'm switching the day. Three more poetry teatimes will happen this month - just not on a Friday!

The next thing I wanted to bring back was music appreciation. I loved our variation of the Charlotte Mason approach -  pick a composer, listen to several pieces of their music over several weeks, read a little about them and, if we were feeling like model homeschoolers, we might even write a narration or make a notebooking page. Simple enough in theory but it wasn't happening in practice anymore. While I was tying myself up in knots trying to pick the perfect composer Mary at Homegrown Learners released a free SQUILT (Super Quiet UnInterrupted Listening Time) lesson based on Dvorak's Serenade for Strings. So the composer and the first piece were sorted. This week we listed to the Classics for Kids series on Dvorak and listened to Slavonic Dance No.7. since that was the piece they focused on. I also discovered one of our libraries has a picture book based on how Dvorak composed one of his pieces - and birds are involved! 

The third thing we missed was reading aloud. Miss 13 has been on a real roll reading wise recently but we both missed my reading aloud. Following an online recommendation we started Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani.

So far we are about a quarter of the way through it and are enjoying it. Lots to talk about - the distinct voices of the two main characters, racism, environmental issues, and immigration among others.

Other note worthy events this week:-

*  We started working our way through the final clues for Journey North's Mystery Class. So far we're pretty certain we have 8 of the 10 locations sorted. We've got two weeks before we have to submit our answers so plenty of time to double check those eight and figure out the final two.

* We learnt about about cannibalism in frogs. Unfortunately this was not theoretical learning. We heard strange noises coming from the tank and discovered the large frog had the entire leg of the smaller one in his mouth and was trying for more. We did manage to rescue our small frog but sadly, he died a couple of days later - probably due to shock.

* There was plenty of playing with Basil. One of his favourite things is chasing water from the hose. I'm sure he'd do it all day long if he could.

*  We attended a concert by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. It was a concert for schools and since there was a limited adult-child ratio Miss 13 was going to attend alone. But when I dropped her off we discovered that our homeschool group had been allocated extra seats, so I got to go as well. A bonus birthday gift for me! All the pieces had a nature theme. Miss 13 really enjoyed Vivaldi's Spring, while my favourite was The Moldau by Smetana.

*  We began the process of taking over the editorship of the local bird groups' newsletter. Miss 13 was approached  at last month's AGM and has agreed to give it a go - with a little help from me to begin with. The current editors are continuing with the next issue due out in June and then we'll take over. This gives us a few months to get to grips with the technical issues - new software programmes etc.

* The current editors gave Miss 13 an excellent camera they no longer use. They're delighted to see a "young person" interested in birding and want to encourage it. Hopefully you'll see some better quality photos here, once we figure out how to use it that is!

* Mr 21 passed his first year progress assessment for his PhD thesis. He'd submitted his written report several weeks ago but the department only just managed to convene the five person committee for the oral examination. He's pleased, not only because they're pleased and his funding will continue, but also because the process has really helped him plan and fine tune his work next couple of years.

* Miss 13 attended the first module of a Gymsports leadership course. This may open up coaching possibilities for her in the future - which will be a great help when it comes to paying her training fees!

* We were meant to have a weekend full of outdoor highlights. Dh was to go camping on an island in the harbour with Scouts, Mr 16 was going tramping and I was going to explore a new patch of regenerated bush with a group of other birders. Unfortunately the weather put paid to all of that - everything was cancelled. Looking at it positively I did at least get caught up on some boring but long overdue tasks around the house.

* Miss 13 had another trampoline competition and was thrilled with her marks - especially for the routine that didn't go so well in the last competition. She also decided to compete in the Double Mini event for the first time ever and did a pretty good job - not quite the level in the video though! She's now contemplating trying to qualify for Nationals in that discipline. Nationals runs over several days and competing in another event will help to pass the time!

Some shots of Miss 13 in action. These stills were captured from video which explains the quality!

* Miss 19 survived the end of the first quarter and the associated exams. We still can't believe she's on track to graduate with her Bacherlor's at the end of the year. She's looking forward to a couple of week's rest - except for the four essays to write  and the major test to study for that is! Nobody said university life was easy.

* We watched the first of five weekly webcasts from Birdlife Australia. They're entitled Farewell Shorebirds and focus on some of the migratory birds that are beginning their migrations backs to the Arctic to breed. We've seen four of the five featured species so it'll be good to learn a little about their life away from here.

* We were meant to have a weekend full of outdoor highlights. Dh was to go camping on an island in the harbour with Scouts, Mr 16 was going tramping and I was going to explore a new patch of regenerated bush with a group of other birders. Unfortunately the weather put paid to all of that - everything was cancelled. Looking at it positively I did at least get caught up on some boring but long overdue tasks around the house.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Week Ending 6 April 2014

The highlight of this week is also the reason I'm late posting. Miss 13 and I went away for a very full on weekend of birding - and I'm still recovering! Kaikoura, a small coastal community about 2.5 hours drive north of here, was hosting a weekend focusing on seabirds so we decided to go, hopefully benefit from some of the expertise, and do some exploring on our own.

Sadly my interpretation of some of the events and what actually occurred didn't always bear a lot of resemblance to each other. Holding a farewell ceremony for a special bird that has already left on its annual migration doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It seemed like a real missed opportunity in terms of education and public awareness. However we had a great - if somewhat exhausting - weekend of full on birding. Just not necessarily the weekend I'd expected.

Kaikoura itself is located on a very narrow stretch of flat land, wedged between the sea and the mountains so it is great for seabirds and bush birds. Plus we made several stops along the way, taking the opportunity to look for birds in places we haven't visited before.

There was a lot of walking around beautiful lakes like this, featuring plenty of fungi, which I've always liked, and trees in splendid autumn colours.

There was more walking in the stunning bush. Much of it was uphill and my legs are still complaining a bit, but the fresh smell of the bush and visual treats like this waterfall made the slightly aching muscles (not to mention the wet feet on the day it rained!) worthwhile.

Still more walking up around rugged coastal peninsulas, and  down around the coast itself over rocky outcrops and smoother, slippery rock pools.

We saw nearly 60 different species which doesn't seem like a lot (and isn't for many birders). But there are only 375  birds on New Zealand's official checklist and considerably more than half of those are only seen far out to sea, on isolated, uninhabited coastal islands, or are rare vagrants that may have only been seen in the country on one occasion. Although hoping for more species (of course) we were pleased with our efforts. Best of all seven of those were birds we hadn't previously seen this year and two were birds we'd never seen before.

 This Reef Heron was probably  our favourite bird of the weekend. He was one of our two new birds - and we had to walk the furthest to spot him!

These Ruddy Turnstones were another favourite. We have seen them before but never in such large numbers - there were about 70 on this small stretch of beach one day - and never before in their breeding plumage. They did blend in rather well with the kelp. They'll soon begin the long trip back to Alaska, Siberia, Northern Canada and Greenland to mate and raise their young.

Pied Shags are fairly common birds that we see frequently . This is one of ten or twelve we spotted roosting in a tree by the coast. Spotted isn't really the right word .Heard is more accurate. A couple of neighbours seemed to be having a territorial dispute and they were loud! Miss 13 and I decided we were glad that tree wasn't outside our house.

Yellowhammers are also really common but we always look at them closely in case one should turn out to be the similar looking, but much rarer Cirl Bunting. This one wasn't but  I thought Miss 13 got a pretty good shot.

We also saw this rather bedraggled and bewildered looking Little Blue Penguin. We're hoping his sorry looking state is due to a moult rather than a sign of sickness.

The weekend wasn't entirely about birds, however. Kaikoura is famous for its seal colonies and we had plenty of close encounters along the coast - much closer than these shots show.