Monday, March 27, 2017

Classics Club 44:The Good Earth

Pearl Buck's The Good Earth opens with the marriage of peasant farmer Wang- Lung to O-Lan, a slave girl from the big house nearby. Over the years, and through much hard work their family rises in both wealth and stature. They also suffer many hardships and setbacks along the way. A drought and subsequent famine force them to move south, where it is O-Lan's resourcefulness, knowledge and practicality that allow them to survive and eventually return to their land richer than when they left. Floods, pestilence and political upheaval all negatively impact the family over the years, yet through diligently working the land and living prudently they are able to buy more land from the once powerful House of Hwang whose fortunes are declining. As the family fortunes rise Wang-Lung in particular begins to expect more. He wants his sons to be become scholars, while he himself starts visiting brothels, takes a mistress and turns his back on his loyal, hard-working wife. In one of the novel's most heartbreaking moments he forces O-Lan to give up two pearls, the only things she had ever asked for and which she clearly valued dearly, so he could gift them to his mistress.

Despite this Wang-Lung is not all bad. His obvious love for and care of his disabled daughter is evidence of that. Rather he is a flawed human being, undoubtedly hardened by the hardships life has forced him to endure, trying to improve his lot and that of his family. As his wealth increases he struggles between his love of the land and his desire to be taken seriously and respected as a man of standing in his community. It is when he pursues status at the expense of working the land that he is at his worst. The land is good, not only because it allows the family to survive and thrive but because it enables Wang-Lung to be his best self.

Despite valuing the land and recognizing that it is the key to his wealth and survival, he doesn't always act accordingly. His actions, and more frequently his inactions, in this regard will clearly contribute to the family's eventual fall in fortunes which is foreshadowed at the novel's end when the sons indicate they will sell the land as soon as their father dies.

The Good Earth has been criticized since it is written from the point of view of a Chinese man while actually being written by a white woman. Not being a Chinese man myself it is impossible to say whether or not the representation is accurate. What I will say is that the themes of this novel - such as the power of the earth, man's connection to the earth, the status of women, and the way wealth counters traditional values  - are universal and that it is worth being read by anyone, regardless of their gender or ethnicity. The literary world's powers-that-be agree. The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 while, largely on the strength of this novel, Pearl Buck was awarded the  Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Week Ending 26 March 2017

It feels like it has been another uninspired week around here. I'm still slightly under the weather with a cold and the weather has been damp and dreary so I'm sure that's contributing. The other issue I'm dealing with is the realization that the university Miss 16 wants to attend will not even look at her homeschool transcript. Instead she'll have to do a short (one semester) pre-university course which will determine whether or not they will admit her. So part of me feels that what we do or don't do this year doesn't matter. Which is silly since she will still benefit from her education even if the university admissions office doesn't recognize it. So carry on homeschooling we will, even as I struggle to reach prime motivational levels!

Miss 16 started reading Carry On Mr Bowditch for literature. For some reason we never got to it when she was younger so I put it on a list of possibilities for this year. We watched and discussed To Kill a Mockingbird for her movies course and now she wants to reread the novel - after she finishes Emma, the rereading of which was also inspired by watching it for her movies course. This week she finished the first of her two grammar books - another thing I meant to tackle a year or two ago but somehow missed. Still it's never too late and we were able to whip through it pretty quickly. We tackled regression lines in statistics, a quick and simple process thanks to a new spreadsheet package Mr 19 found and installed for us. Good technology definitely makes a difference.

The highlight of Miss 16's week came on Monday. The local university was hosting a group of dogs. The opportunity to pet them was designed as therapy for stressed students I think since mid-term exams have just started! So she decided to masquerade as a university student and met up with     Miss 22 on campus to indulge in a little canine therapy! Then they went to a local cafe and shared a couple of delicious looking shakes. While she was otherwise occupied I finished The Dollmaker, a little-known gem that should be an American classic and was definitely the highlight of my reading week.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week Ending 19 March 2017

Monday was a cold and wet day. I spent the first part of the morning at the out of town university while Dh taught his class.  Then it was home to help Miss 16 with statistics.There were no technological hiccups this week so it went quickly. Given the weather it was a good day to snuggle up and watch a movie - Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window for her Movies as Literature course. Mr 24 and his girlfriend came to dinner. It's the first time we've met her, in fact the first time we've had any girlfriends/boyfriends to dinner. It doesn't seem that long ago that Dh and I were introducing each other to our parents.  Funny to be on the other side of the equation. Dinner was also a chance to celebrate Mr 24 receiving a job offer in his chosen field. He's been looking since he finished his PhD last year so it's great he finally has something. The one downside is that it's overseas. Thankfully a short plane ride, rather than a long one though. And I've long since reconciled myself to that fact that my four will likely end up widely scattered.

Tuesday was also cold and wet. We were supposed to go birding but the trip was canceled.  I've got a bit of  cold so I wasn't too disappointed. Instead we stayed at home and did some bookwork. It felt like the day dragged but that was probably just the cold. We started some poetry for literature using Sound and Sense and also watched a video on birding in eastern Europe  since we didn't get out ourselves. Miss 16 of course headed to the gym in the late afternoon.  Just one class to coach today before she started training. The day's highlight was receiving notification that there had been a cancellation for next month's teen birding camp and since Miss 16 was first on the waiting list she now gets to go.

The weather on Wednesday and Thursday was much better but we didn't really do a lot with it. Both days were just routine "homeschool then trampoline" days. Nothing out of the ordinary homeschool-wise except for history. I was pleased to discover back issues of our country's top academic history journal are available online. So I found an article relating to this week' topic and had Miss 16 summarise and analyse it. Our washing machine stopped working on Wednesday. Luckily I was able to get someone out the following day and it was a fairly quick and inexpensive repair.  The machine is more than 20 years old so I'm aware it is probably on borrowed time.

This week I finished The Dollmaker and started The House Without Windows. Highly recommend The Dollmaker to anyone who hasn't read it. It isn't an easy read but it is worth the effort.

On Friday Miss 16 and I were going to go birding while Dh was at the out-of-town university. But he was still feeling miserable due to a heavy cold so decided he give his lecture but postpone office hours meaning there wouldn't be enough time to make birding worthwhile. So she knocked off some schoolwork in the morning and then we drove across town to try and track down a rare bird that has been seen in vicinity. Despite looking in all the likely places we came home empty handed again.

Saturday was the monthly field trip with our local birding group. We were guided through a remote patch of native bush. It was a pretty challenging walk - no tracks, and steep slippery terrain but the bush was lovely and there was probably the greatest number of native birds I've seen in one small place. Not a huge variety of species but large numbers of the species that were present. As the bush is allowed to regenerate further hopefully more species will move into the area. We arrived home to the news that Miss 22's best friend had just got engaged and had already booked Miss 22 in for chief bridesmaid duties. Yet another sign my kids are growing up.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Classics Club 43: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

I didn't intend to read anymore Shakespeare for my Classics Club Challenge, but then the local theater company staged The Two Gentlemen of Verona this summer and traditionally we've always read the play before attending annual outdoor  Shakespeare. And so it was that I came to read (and listen since Miss 16 and I read along while listening to an audio version) this early, lesser known comedy.It also works nicely as my "Classic with a number in the title" for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge.

The plot begins simply enough. Proteus and Valentine are friends from Verona. Valentine decides to leave for Milan in order to see the world, while Proteus wants to stay, because that's where his love Julia is. However, as no one familiar with Shakespeare comedies will be surprised to learn, complications soon abound.  Proteus's father decides to send  him to Milan anyway, Valentine falls in love with Silvia whose father wants her to marry Thurio,  Proteus also falls in love with Silvia, Julia follows Proteus, disguises herself as a page and discovers his treachery, Valentine is banished but falls in with a gang of outlaws, and so it goes. But everyone ends up happy and reconciled in the end.

Admittedly this is not Shakespeare's strongest work and it does not contain any meaningful lessons about the dangers of unbridled ambition or revenge. Yet it was enjoyable in a lighthearted way and contained many elements which I think of as quintessentially Shakespeare The fast-paced witty dialogue from minor characters like Lance and Speed was repeated in many later plays. Mistaken identities as when Proteus did not recognise Julia are also a feature of many later plays. This was Shakespeare's first play to include song, and it was obviously popular since he included songs in many of his later plays. The theme of parents attempting to control their children's love lives was returned to in Romeo and Juliet for instance , and that play also featured a friar's cell, a device tried earlier but in a more limited way in The Two Gentlemen. Viola in Twelfth Night disguised herself as a page just like Julia did here, while the scene where Julia discusses her beaus with her servant Lucetta a is very similar to a discussion between Nerissa and Portia in The Merchant of Venice. In other words while the play itself was not his strongest many of the elements in it were so successful that Shakespeare used them again in later plays.

The ending of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is often criticized for being forced, weak, too quick and unconvincing. Certainly, Shakespeare had the lovers seemingly happily partnered up in just a few short lines and I wanted to yell at some of the characters  ("Valentine, if you love Silvia don't give her up to Proteus. Women aren't possession to be given away anyway and since he tried to steal her from you he isn't a worthy friend." "Silvia and Julia, look at the behavior of these guys and ask yourselves if you really want to be with them."). However, in context, the ending doesn't seem unduly rushed or unbelievable. Romeo for instance was deeply in love with Rosalind but a short time later could think of none but Juliet.

If you are looking to find Shakespeare at his finest this isn't the play for you. But if you are familiar with his work,  open to something light and are interested to see how his style developed then The Two Gentlemen of Verona would be a good choice.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Week Ending 12 March 2017

Earlier this year I worried we were too busy with the extra-curricular, fun stuff and maybe not spending enough time on academics. Now it feels like we are not doing a lot except for academics. And that doesn't make for a very interesting blog post. Nonetheless here are a few brief highlights and lowlights  from our week.

* I have a new tablet. Apparently mine was not economic to repair and luckily it was still under warranty.So the store gave me a credit and Mr 19 went and bought me a new one, since he knows more about what I want and need technology-wise than I do. My life  - barring the odd hiccup which seems inevitable when there is new technology - is now running much more smoothly!

*Miss 16 learnt about early Europeans in New Zealand, especially the sealers and whalers. We are now up to a period in history that is taught in high school so I've been able to find plenty of supplementary resources from the education section at the university library, conveniently a mere block away from home.  This week she analyzed primary sources plus tackled some questions from a high school text book.

*There was a big trampoline competition this weekend. Miss 16 wants to compete in the international section this year but her new set routine is not yet ready to compete. So she sat this one out but did judge one day instead. She's nearly completed all her required hours at the elementary level, so will be ready to move up the junior judging level later this year. Hopefully her new routine will be ready so she can compete at the next competition in April.

Judging paraphernalia. A score sheet and her logbook. Competitors start with a perfect 10 and deductions are made for each of their 10 moves which leads to the final score.

*Miss 16 wrote two articles for the next edition of the young birders magazine, plus wrote her new profile for their updated website.  She also started answering a questionnaire for a book that will include a profile on the young birders group. The book was meant to be published before Christmas last year, but the publication schedule has obviously changed.

* I got a lot of reading done last week, courtesy of waiting in the car while Dh teaches his class at the out of town university. I really enjoyed Pachinko, This is How it Always is and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. After watching the movie Emma and writing an essay about it, Miss 16 is now rereading the novel in her spare time.  

* Statistics caused us a few technical headaches this week and we could not get our computer programme to create normal quantile graphs exactly like those in the curriculum. However, the stated goal was more to know how to interpret the graphs than how to create them so I'm happy(ish) to let it go and move on. If Miss 16 has to create these in her future I trust she'll have access to better software and better instructions than we have at the moment.

*Miss 16 had the last of her free driving lessons. She didn't totally love the instructor and she didn't like his car at all. So I think I'll just continue to teach her myself (I'm pretty sure I'm a lot better instructor the fourth time around) and just get her one lesson with the instructor we used with the older three kids before she takes the test.  The other three all loved him and he is happy to use our car. It's much easier to pass the test if you are familiar with the route they use plus are primed inexactly what htey want in terms of hazard identification etc (talk about teachign to the test) and he is (he's also a senior tester as well as an instructor) so it'll be money well spent. The one downside is he is hard to get hold of so I'd better start trying to contact him this week.

* I published a Day in the Life post this week, for anyone interested in the nitty-gritty of our day to day.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Day in our Homeschool Life

6:50 am - The radio clicks on and I lie in bed, struggling to keep my eyes open. Surely it isn't time to get up already.

7:10 am - I  listen to the news then finally drag myself out of bed, empty the dishwasher, eat breakfast, quickly check emails and then go and start the exercises the physio has given me to try and keep my vestibular system from malfunctioning too badly. Only Dh is up yet and he isn't feeling anymore awake that I am!

8:00 am - Mr 19 is out of bed. I ask if he has a 9 o'clock class and he flicks me  a knowing grin. There is no way he would be out of bed this early if he didn't! We hardly saw each other yesterday since he was still in bed when I left the house and was gone by the time I returned . He didn't get in until after midnight by which time I was asleep.  So we chatted about the latest happenings at work, how the board game evening he attended  went, and he vented about his least favourite university course (the lecturer's teaching style does not mesh well with his preferred learning style). Miss 16 is also up and is busy grilling herself some stonefruit for breakfast.

8:30 am - Miss 22 is out of the shower so I say a quick good morning and then claim the shower for myself. Once I emerge I soak some laundry, chat with Miss 16 as she tells me about our cat's behaviour and how it ties in with the concept of single stimulus learning which she read about in her animal behaviour course yesterday. I also chat with Miss 22 about her plans - turns out she has two health psychology labs to teach today. She only started this teaching assistant job last week and I'm still learning her schedule.Then I get very domesticated and even do some ironing.

Miss 16 has just started using her whiteboard to keep track of her week's work. She likes the visual reminder.

9 am - I settle down to read today's entry from The Harvard Classics in a Year which both Miss 16 and I are reading. As I'm finishing up Miss 16 appears from her room to tell me she's finished with her vocabulary and wonders if I'm free to do grammar with her. We do this orally and it only takes 5 minutes or so. (Confession - I planned to do this with her a few years ago but forgot so we are whizzing through it now as a quick review.) Today is a review of phrases using sentences from Tolkien. She then moves on to statistics and I stay close by since she likes me to check her answers as she goes, rather than risk misunderstanding something and getting the entire problem set wrong.Today she understands the concept perfectly but we experience a few technical issues since we don't have the spreadsheet package the course provides instructions for. Still, she tinkers around and makes good progress.

Statistics. Not a favourite but it will be useful for her at university and beyond since she's planning a career in zoology/ornithology.

10 am. I head off to clean the bathroom and laundry while she settles down to read Huckleberry Finn, her current choice for literature. Fitting housework into the day is much easier than it was when I was homeschooling four younger kids.

11 am - Miss 16 takes a break from Huck Finn to bake some banana muffins. She's at the gym four days a week from 3:30 or 4:30 until 9 pm so needs a snack while there. We always struggle with ideas (I joke the reason we homeschool is because I could never come up with packed lunch she'd need for school!) so I'm glad she has a plan - for this week at least. I settle down to type up a letter of support for an acquaintance whose ex-husband is challenging her right to homeschool. They go to court next week and she needs letters testifying to her competency that she can show the court.

12 noon - A changing of the guard as Mr 19 returns home from university, just as Miss 22 is leaving to head there. Miss 16 makes lunch - soup along with cheese on toast since it is unseasonably chilly today - and then the two of us watch a video about birding in China.

Miss 16 is a keen birder. Watching a video isn't as good as being in the field but since we aren't likely to get to China any time soon it was a pretty good substitute.

1:30 pm - Video over, Miss 16 returns to Huck Finn and I start preparing and par cooking  beetroot risotto for tonight's dinner. Mr 19 and Dh head to university. Dh has been working at home this morning. Once she's finished the novel Miss 16 resumes work on an essay about the movie Emma which she started yesterday. Once I'm finished with the risotto I handwash a load of dishes .

History reading

2:30 pm  - Miss 16 has finished her essay and has moved on to reading this week's chapter from her history book. I hop on the exercycle while listening to a podcast. I'd rather walk but the rain puts me off.

3 pm - We watch a quick crash course video on Huck Finn and then she goes off to write a summary of the history chapter.

This Crash Course video was a good, quick once over of some of the themes and issues in Huckleberry Finn.

3:30 pm - Miss 16 starts getting ready for the gym . I read.

4pm - Time to head to the gym. She drives there and reminds me to stop at the supermarket on the way back since we are out of bread and milk. We're always out of bread and milk! In three months time, assuming she passes the test, she'll be able to drive without supervision. My life will feel strange without several trips to the gym each week. It's been a staple of my life for at least six years now.

4:30 pm  - I'm back home and ,while I'm sure there are plenty of things I should be doing, I opt to sit down and finish my book, Laurie Frankel's This is How it Always Is. It's definitely thought provoking.

5:30pm - Miss 22 arrives home and after checking how her two labs went I let her know I'll be able to pass the book on to her in  a mere 28 pages. She's been keen to read it once I finish.

6:00pm -  Miss 22 and I eat dinner, Mr 19 arrives home and finds some leftovers in the fridge. He isn't a fan of risotto. I check emails and catch up with the day's news,

7:45pm - I decide to squeeze some yoga in now. I like the videos from Yoga with Adriene.

8:45 pm - I head back to the gym to collect Miss 16, after first having a quick chat to Dh who arrived home while I was practising yoga. I grab a book - Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk -  so I can read if she is late out.

9:20 pm - We arrive home. Miss 16 drove and we chatted about the class she taught, how her training went and other trampoline related matters. She grabs her dinner, watches something with Dh, checks in with social media and takes a shower before bed. She'll probably read in bed before trying to sleep. I'm glad we homeschool so she doesn't have to get up at 6 or 6:30 am for school tomorrow.  I take my book and head straight to bed where I'll read for half an hour or so before lights out. I also remember to flick a text to Mr 24 checking some details about when he and his girlfriend and coming to lunch and any dietary restrictions she has. I'd hate to cook something she can't eat!

All in all a pretty good day. A  fair amount of academic work got done but  there was lots of home as well as school and we still had plenty of margin in our day - just as I like it.

It's interesting to see how my days have changed over the years. Here's one from 2016 , one from 2015, one from 2014,  another from earlier in  2014, and lastly one from 2013, my first year blogging.

Linking to A Homeschool Day in the Life

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fortnight Ending 5 March 2017

Some random happenings from the past fortnight.

* My tablet refused to charge anymore so it is away being repaired. Hence no blog post last week, since I'm having to use the old desktop (when Miss 16 isn't using it that is) and it and my vestibular system do not agree, so I try to use it as little as possible. It is alarming how much I used my tablet - paying bills, reading newspapers, accessing the answer keys to Miss 16's statistics, checking emails, reading blogs, listening to music, practising yoga, studying via MOOCs, reading books via Kindle or the Overdrive app, looking up all sorts of random questions, ordering library books, keeping up with the birding world etc etc. I hope it is repairable and in a speedy fashion!

* Dh has taken on a new short term job, teaching a semester long course at the out-of-town university Miss 16 took an ecology course at last year. This is good because we can surely use the extra income but of course it comes at a cost. Since Dh has a health condition which prevents him driving I'll be driving him there, waiting while he teaches and then driving him back. It'll be 2 1/2- 3 1/2 hours out of my day 3 time per week. Luckily the university is in a nice area in which to walk, I'm happy reading in the car and Miss 16 can do most of her work without me. Still the new normal will take a little getting used to.

* We arranged a day-long visit from our favourite dog. New readers may not know that we took him in while his owner's house was being rebuilt following the earthquakes and they couldn't find a temporary rental which would allow pets. He was meant to be with us for six months but the rebuild ended up dragging on for nearly two years. Basil the Boxer became a much loved family member and Miss 22 hadn't seen him since her return. He was diagnosed with bone cancer shortly after he returned to his family and has now exceeded the vet's estimated life expectancy. Whenever we have him over we make the most of it since we're very aware we may not get a chance to see him again. Consequently most of the day's homeschooling was replaced with "canine studies"!

* Speaking of homeschooling Miss 16 has been making steady progress in all her courses. She's reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for literature. Last week we watched a couple of short videos summarising and analysing the novel - one from Crash Course and one from Thug Notes (this one definitely won't be to everyone's taste but I like shaking things up a bit and exposing her to different ways of doing things). We watched Emma for her movies course and she has begun an essay looking at the ways Emma could be considered clueless - Clueless is a modern retelling of Emma. In statistics we've reached new material so have slowed down to one lesson per week. Last week she was looking at normal curves and the real-world context they used to introduce the topic was bird migration data - definitely a way to grab Miss 16's attention. In history the Europeans have just arrived in New Zealand, while in animal behaviour she has been learning about proximate causes.

A sure sign of late summer - plenty of Monarch butterflies are emerging from their chrysalises.

* At the end of February I took a moment to check in on my reading goals for the year. So far I've read a total of thirty six books and I'm well on my way to completing the three reading challenges I'm participating in - 4/12 for the Back to the Classics Challenge (although I'm shamefully behind blogging about these books ...again), 26/52 for Pop Sugar's Ultimate Reading Challenge and 13/24 for Modern Mrs Darcy's twin challenges. I allow myself to use a single book for more than one challenge, for instance The Two Gentlemen of Verona counted for Modern Mrs Darcy's "a book of poetry, a play or an essay collection",  Pop Sugar's audiobook category, and  as a classic with a number in the title. I suspect the number of completed titles will slow down soon - I've got some lengthy classics to tackle and several of the remaining categories are ones I'm not really looking forward to  - a book with career advice springs to mind, although that could be useful as with Miss 16's homeschooling days racing to their conclusion it will soon be time for me to reenter the paid workforce.

* We were supposed to have moved out of our house for earthquake re-repairs this week except the agency that will have to pay for our alternative accommodation (since they were the agency that authorised the initial, faulty repairs) has not yet approved that funding. No idea when things will happen which is frustrating - should I begin running our pantry down (food can't be stored and we won't have much pantry space in our temporary unit) or should I not bother since the repairs might not even happen this year? We've been waiting for over 5 years already so I figure things could easily drag on for a few more years yet.

* Miss 16 and I went on a relaxed birding trip yesterday. We had no real goals, just thought we would check out a few local sites. We ended up spotting two new birds for the year (a White Heron and a Little Black Shag) which was a pleasant surprise. Earlier in the week we attended an evening meeting for our local birding group. We also watched a video about birding in Texas - so many more birds than we can hope to see here. Oh for an unlimited travel budget!

A Pukeko and  a hybridized duck were two of the many birds we saw .

Linking to the Weekly Wrap-Up and Homeschool Highlights.