Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fortnight Ending 19 June 2016

An update from the last couple of weeks.

* Mr 23 finally submitted his PhD thesis and has now started a short term research position while he looks for a job that is more permanent and in a field he ideally wants to work in.

* Mr 21 made another trip to London and ventured across the channel to Paris. We've been delighted to virtually join her. She's currently battling work issues - a contract guaranteeing a certain number of hours work per week is not being honoured and fewer hours means less money which means less travel which means she is in the process of looking for a new job even though she is otherwise happy and settled where she is. Hopefully she finds something soon so it doesn't put too large a dampener on her big adventure.

London sightseeing this time included 221B Baker Street, Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussauds, Covent Garden Market, Oxford Street and Leicester Square among others.

Scenes from Paris

Some Parisian architecture.

* Mr 18 is in the middle of exams. His first semester as a full time university student is nearly complete which I find hard to believe. His approach to university is very different from mine and his older siblings but he seems to be doing fine so I bite my tongue as much as I can.

* Miss 15's homeschooling continues much as always. Now that her university ecology and conservation class is finished we're switching to a study on child labour. It's a little slow to get underway since neither of us seems clear as to exactly what she wants to do or should do with it but I think progress is beginning to be made. Right now she is focusing on the period of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. We managed a few birding trips - some more successful than others which is the way it goes. Last weekend was another trampoline competition. She volunteered as a recorder one day and competed the other, coming away with a first and second placing.

* I've been spending far too much time and money at the physiotherapists trying to deal with some annoying health issues. The physio is helping me with the symptoms (although I'm still far from where I would like to be) while I await some more tests to see if we can discover the underlying cause. Since I've been very limited in terms of what I can do (I've been on a sort of elimination diet but for activities rather than food) I've plowed through a pile of books. The Forgetting Time, East of Eden, Ordinary Grace and The Makioka Sisters have been the highlights. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James was probably the most memorable of my recent reads but it was graphic and confronting, and I'm still unsure whether or not I'm pleased I read it! Powerful but definitely not enjoyable.

Linking to Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Classics Club 27: A Tale of Two Cities

One of the things that has always helped me "get into" the previous Dickens' novels that I have read is the strongly written, fully rounded and therefore relateable characters. Rooting for Pip, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist or even Scrooge himself  has helped me through the dense language that Dickens is somewhat infamous for.

A Tale of Two Cities is very different. It is much less character driven than many of his other novels  and the focus is more on plot and the broad sweep of history. Because this is one of just two historical novels that he wrote the focus on plot more than character should not have been a surprise. The fact that it impacted on my enjoyment of the novel was. Obviously much of my enjoyment of Dickens is based on the colourful characters he typically creates.

The other thing that made the novel difficult to get into at the beginning was the constantly changing location - London, then Paris then back again -and the shifting cast of characters. It was difficult to figure out what was going on and how people and events might relate . It wasn't until the two strands came together than the novel picked up - at least for me.

While the charcaters in A Tale of Two Cities are not as colourful and well drawn as in other novels they did evolve over time - or we at least saw a side of them that had previously been hidden. Initially Lucie appears a stereotypical female character - weak and morally too good to be true. Yet when the need arises she is shown to have an inner strength few would have suspected. Sydney Carton first seems a minor character, a flawed wastrel. Yet by the end his actions have turned him into the major player, a self-sacrificing hero. And Madam De Farge has changed from a revoluntionarty heroine to an unprincipled, revenge-seeking villain.

A Tale of Two Cities does an excellent job of highlighting the atrocities of the French Revolution - the power plays, the constantly changing rules, the lack of any semblance of justice, the barbarity. The personifcation of the guillotine is just one masterful way Dickens achieves this.  It  memorbaly illustrates the wrongness of judging and being judged based on class or societal position, rather than ipersonal behaviours.  It also has arguably the best opening ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...) and closing (It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done...) lines in the literary world.

All in all, A Tale of Two Cities is well worth persevering with, but I wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to Dickens.

Although set in the French Revolution this novel was published in 1859. I'm counting it as my 19th century classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 over at Books and Chocolate.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Week Ending 5 June 2016

A bit of a disrupted week this week, with lots of extra work hours for Miss 15 - she ended up working four times as many hours as usual, medical appointments for me, and sickness for most everybody - nothing serious but enough to have us struggling with energy and motivation.

In amongst this there were a couple of highlights though.

* Miss 15 and I attended a conference on braided rivers. It was full of short presentations by graduate students, government conservation staff and private ecologists. Some focused especially on birds, while others looked at other aspects of the braided river ecosystem. Some of the presentations were depressing - habitat degradation, declining populations etc - while others were more inspiring looks at research that might help to turn the depressing picture around, at least a little. It tied in beautifully with her ornithology course plus the ecology and conservation course she just completed.  Again I'm grateful that  I don't have to count hours and stress about whether I should credit this conference to Course A or Course B!

* We also enjoyed a virtual field trip to Cardiff, courtesy of Miss 21.

One of the highlights (for her and us) was the amazing art collection at the National Museum. Good to know that the art appreciation we did when she was homeschooling had an impact!

Linking up with the Weekly Wrap-Up over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.