Tuesday 26 February 2013

Nature Study - Birds, Blooms & Bugs

The focus for February's Outdoor Hour Challenge has been on birds. We've only managed to photograph a few of the birds we've seen recently but we've been focussing on the sounds the birds we are familiar with make. Being surrounded by bush we often don't catch sight of some birds until we hear them and then we'll try and see them. 

The Handbook of Nature Study blog has a very helpful link to a bird checklist by country - knowing which birds are known to be in our area has often helped us discover the identity of a new bird we've seen - or at least we can have an educated guess.

This gentleman visiting our bird bath is a male King Parrot. These beautiful birds are fairly quiet compared to the other parrots we hear regularly and we know they're around when we hear them eating in the privet trees at the back of our place.

The Crimsom Rosella below is fairly shy but we just managed to get this photo before it flew off.  It has a bell like sound but they swoop very quickly and with their bright colours they make themselves obvious more by their flight than by their sound.

This baby Brush Turkey was having a feed the other morning and wasn't too concerned about us. We've had a couple of baby brush turkeys around before but they've never kept still long enough for a photo and have flown off very quickly.

A sound we hear at night fairly regularly is "boo-book" which we know to be the Southern Boobook owl (also known as the mopoke) but we hadn't actually seen one properly. A few times we'd seen an owl swoop in front of the car when we were driving in the area at night but that was about it.

Then the other week three of the boys went for a walk in the late afternoon and took off up through the bush for a bit of adventure and as they came to a cleared area at the top of the ridge an owl suddenly rose up in front of them and flew off. They were excited about that and when they got home and had a look at some owl pictures they thought it was probably a boobook or perhaps a Barking Owl. 

Then last night my daughter and I went for a walk in the evening and as we were walking down the hill to come home there was a boobook owl sitting on the powerlines and we got a good look at him because he didn't move - he just looked down at us. I was so annoyed I didn't have a camera!
You can see what a Southern Boobook looks like at the Australian Museum.

Drawing Made Easy by E.G. Lutz is an old book written in 1921 and is available free online. I got a copy as a PDF here and if you look on page 40 & 41 you'll find some neat instructions on how to draw owls.



A young Praying Mantis found its way inside and we were able to get a good close up view with a magnifying glass. It would be very hard to see if it were outside in the garden greenery. Head shaped like a triangle which can turn 180 degrees, bulging yellow eyes, spiked front legs - some people raise young mantis's but I decided not to suggest this to anyone because we'd have to supply them with other insects to eat - so out it went into the garden to look for its own food supply.

Summer Flowers

Hydrangeas - I've grown these from cuttings taken when I've pruned them after flowering. I just stick quite 
a few of them the ground and usually have some success in propagating them.

 Fuschias - I've managed to grow two varieties from cuttings. The first one below took me a while to get going. It must be a particularly slow growing type and its flowers and leaves are quite different from the others.

This is one I bought to get started and it was quite easy to propagate. I just took multiple cuttings and placed them in water until they developed roots and then planted them in pots.
We have sandy, low nutrient soil where we are and I tend to put most flowering plants in pots otherwise they tend not to flower.

 Another slightly different variety just beginning to flower for the first time

  I love the Chinese lantern look of the flower as it opens

Flowering begonias - well, they are never not in flower, even in winter. All varieties are easy to grow from cuttings. I've taken cuttings at different times of the year with success.

Dragonwing Begonia

'Nature-study cultivates the child's imagination, since there are so many wonderful and true stories that he may read with his own eyes, which affect his imagination as much as does fairy lore; at the same time nature-study cultivates in him a perception and a regard for what is true, and the power to express it.'

Anna Botsford Comstock

Friday 15 February 2013

Reading Challenge

I wrote a few months back about expanding the scope of my reading and trying out some new authors as part of implementing Mother Culture.
I mentioned that reading Charlotte Mason's Original Home Education series and not relying on interpretations of her works (even though I've found them helpful at times and enjoyed reading many of them) has helped me understand the principles that undergird her methods.

Before I started reading Charlotte Mason's own writings I'd often question this or that idea and wasn't always convinced it was going to work for us. The long, slow reading of multiple books was one of those ideas that didn't grab me at first - if I was reading something I'd always finish it before I'd start something else. If I was reading a book aloud I'd never think to stop at a good bit and leave everyone in suspense. I liked to keep going if I thought I was on to a good thing - if I put the book aside we'd lose momentum, or something.

After reading A Philosophy of Education I started to assign my children a larger number of books to read over a longer period of time than what they'd previously done and I cut down on the amount of reading aloud I did over the week, extending the books over a longer time frame. I was pleased with the results - there was better retention and I didn't feel so rushed.

I decided to try doing this in my own personal reading and started to read some meatier, longer books knowing that I was not in a rush and could space the reading out. I kept a record of when I started and finished each book and a note here and there commenting on what I thought about it.
Here are some of the books I've read (or am still reading):

Little Dorritt  by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Not a new author for me and possibly one of the easier to follow Dickens plots - or maybe I'm just more used to him now.
Like all Dickens' novels there are many threads to this story but the main characters are Amy, otherwise known as Little Dorritt, a young woman born and bred in a debtor's prison, and Arthur Clenham, recently returned to England from India after his father's death to face his cold, rigid and severe mother, believing someone had been wronged by their family and desirous of seeking justice for the wronged party.
Little Dorrit takes the reader first to France, then England and on to Italy - which apart from A Tale of Two Cities is his only novel I can recall that leaves London. I loved Dickens's description of Arthur:

'Bred in meanness and hard dealing, this had rescued him to be a man of honourable mind and open hand. Bred in coldness and severity, this had rescued him to have a warm and sympathetic heart. Bred in a creed too darkly audacious to pursue, through its process of reversing the making of man in the image of his Creator to the making of his Creator in the image of an erring man, this had rescued him to judge not, and in humility to be merciful, and have hope and charity.'

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

I'm only half way through this book and I really don't know what to think of it. I've been tempted to give up and have wondered why I'm bothering with it at all. I've just come to an interesting section and I'm hoping it will all fit into place and I'll understand why it is up there in the must read classic pile.
I probably should have started with Crime and Punishment for my first foray into Dostoevsky territory - it's shorter and a friend said that she loved it but I'd already started reading the other for a bookclub I'm involved with so I've kept going.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

My first introduction to Thomas Hardy was Tess of the D'Urbevilles, which I thought was very fatalistic and quite depressing. I appreciate his style of writing though; it is quite lovely and descriptive, but Tess, an innocent young woman, was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, with everything against her, and every way of escape barred to her. It was as if her fate were determined by some malignant personality and would run its course come what may. 

The Mayor of Casterbridge still retains some of this fatalism but it has more to do with the character of the protagonist, Michael Henchard - as Hardy said in reference to Henchard, 'Character is Fate.'
Young Michael Henchard gets drunk and sells his wife and young daughter to Richard Newson, a sailor passing through the village fair. The next day when Henchard is sober and remorseful he searches for his family but it is many years before he sees his wife, Susan and her daughter again.
Twenty years later, with Newson missing presumed lost at sea, Susan arrives in Casterbridge with her daughter to seek out Henchard and they are reunited as man and wife. But has he learnt anything from the effects of his rash behaviour?

The proverb, 'A double-minded man is unstable in all he does,' sums up Henchard's character. One minute he is behaving like a fool and plunges into erratic and callous behaviour, the next he is full of remorse and realises what an idiot he has been but then has to face the repercussions of his previous actions.
I think this book makes a powerful statement on the issue of personal character and how much influence it has on our lives. Our decisions, attitudes, actions and reactions over time reveal our true character.
The temporary nature of Henchard's numerous episodes of 'repentance' showed that his basic character remained unchanged throughout his life - he was a double-minded man. It brought home to me how essential it is to be redeemed from our old way of life for real, lasting change to occur.

'Henchard......was incensed beyond measure when he learnt what the young man had done......his voice might have been heard as far as the town-pump expressing his feelings.....These tones showed that, though under a long reign of self-control he had become Mayor and churchwarden and what not, there was still the same unruly volcanic stuff beneath the rind of Michael Henchard as when he had sold his wife at Weydon Fair.'

Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh (?1895-1982)

A New Zealand crime writer and one of the 'Queens of Crime' in the 1920s to 1930's alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham.
Opening Night is a murder mystery set in a theatre in England and involves Martyn Tarne, a young penniless New Zealander trying to find work as an actress. She is taken on as a dresser at The Vulcan Theatre where a suspected suicide turns into a murder investigation. Ngaio Marsh's background included theatre production as well as writing and painting and a number of her books were set in the theatre or involved actors. Opening Night, in addition to being a good mystery, was also an interesting look into the world of theatre life and acting.

Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (1904-1966)

A recent new author for me, Margery Allingham was a British crime writer who published her first novel when she was seventeen. Albert Campion is the eccentric and mysterious young amateur detective in this particular novel.
When American Judge Crowdy Lobbett has attempts made on his life his son convinces him to leave the country. On board the ship to England Albert Campion comes into the story when he saves the judge from an attempted electrocution and offers to take him and his son and daughter to an isolated manor in England.
This book is an entertaining read and moves quickly but it is well written.
I've only read this novel and one other, Black Plumes, which I enjoyed also. I think Margery Allingham's writing style sits somewhere between Dorothy Sayers' and Agatha Christie's and she has a neat sense of humour.
Some biographical details of this author are here.

 Mr Albert Campion 
Coups neatly executed
Nothing sordid, vulgar or plebeian
Deserving cases preferred
Police no object

I've really enjoyed the (mostly British) crime writers from this era. They wrote cleverly crafted, interesting stories without the shock value of more contemporary crime books and they feature likeable and sometimes quite eccentric detectives. They are also a good introduction to this type of writing for younger folk – I’d say around 15 years of age for the books I mentioned here.

Monday 4 February 2013

Read Alouds and Rabbit Trails

These are some books I read aloud that were particularly enjoyed by the boys in the family when they were between about 6 and 12 years of age. For reading on their own I'd say about age 10 years but when I  read them aloud we got out the atlas and had a look at google images together and afterwards I found the boys going back to read them on their own.
I don't plan the rabbit trails before I read a book aloud but I do make sure we get out a map of some sort - we have an old Reader's Digest International Atlas which has the most obscure places all through it - apart from that I let them make their own connections and if the book is a good one, there are always trails to follow.

Phantom Patrol by A.R. Channel

One of the our all time favourites, Phantom Patrol, written in 1940, tells about the series of adventures of five boy scouts in Finland at the start of the Russian invasion. Two Finns, two Lapps and their young English  leader perform a daring rescue of the leader's father from the burning city of Petsamo in the far north of Finland. Action from start to finish and vivid descriptions of a frozen wasteland drew us into the story and made this book a hard one to put down. We had many interesting threads to follow throughout this book - the Lapp (Sami) people, the geography of Finland, and Stalin were some. The youngest boys at the time were also curious about reindeer which are such an important part of the Lapplander's lives.
The author dedicated this book to the Boy Scouts of Finland who helped to defend their country in the war of Petsamo, 1939-1940.
As I was writing this post my youngest son looked over my shoulder and said, "I loved that book!"

"We must become the Phantom Patrol," Stuart interrupted. "We are now behind the Russian lines, and only a phantom can hope to live. Only a phantom can hope to get into Petsamo and live. While these parachute gunners are driving the Finns back, Russian troops will be marching over the border. Forget that we were ever the Reindeer Patrol....from now on our name in fact and fancy must be Phantom Patrol."

The Strange Intruder by Arthur Catherall

Arthur Catherall has written many books and has used at least seven pseudonyms, one of them being A.R. Channel who wrote the above book. The Strange Intruder was published  in 1964 and is about a cod schooner which was headed for Thorshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, after a six months' trip up the Davis Strait. On its journey homeward the schooner's propeller shaft hit a clump of wreckage, resulting in major damage to the engine room and serious injury to the ship's engineer.
An SOS sent out by the master of the schooner alerted the residents of Mykines who remained on the island that day - a handful of women, old men, young children and Sven, a 16 year old boy.
Sven had been bitterly disappointed when the other men and boys of the island had rushed off in the sudden excitement of a whale hunt and he had been left behind to help his disabled uncle haul in the fish catch. Now as they were rowing back to the island they realised something was wrong as Napoleon, Sven's Grandfather, appeared on the cliff top waving his arms. Not understanding that he was trying to get them to go out after the whaling party, Sven and his uncle returned to the island where they heard the news of the stricken boat.
Sven's father was first mate on the schooner but in the face of a force ten gale about to hit the area there was no chance of attempting a boat rescue. Napoleon asked Sven to run the four miles to the east end of the island to try to smoke signal the boats on the whale hunt but with the change in the weather the signals fail.
This book moves quickly and has a surprise twist with a 'reign of terror' - which I won't spoil by revealing anything more........

"The Faroese Seeker was riding with her bows into the wind, kept thus by a
massive sea anchor paid out from her foredeck. She drifted along immersed in a
continuous patch of foam. Now that she had come abreast of Mykines the rocky
coast line was throwing back the surge of the Atlantic rollers, and as a result the
the seas were more broken.......

Like a tired swimmer she had struggled upward, but for seconds her afterdeck
had been hidden under a roaring flood. Then, in a flurry of foam, something went
over the starboard stern rail. From the cliff top it looked as if someone had upset
a box of giant matches.......and in the middle of them was a swimmer!"

Both of these books stirred up an interest in the people, wildlife and areas we read about. The author obviously knew what he was talking about and his descriptions made us curious to have a look at maps of Finland, Russia and the island of Mykines and pictures of the Faroe Islands. Yes, there was action and adventure which appealed particularly to the boys, but he wrote with a first hand knowledge and an identification with the people in his stories. It was interesting after we had read the book, to look at photos of Mykines and the tiny island of Mykinesholmur where Sven battled across the trembling bridge to take news to the lighthouse keeper. It was so like what we imagined from the author's description.

Images of Mykines in the Faroe Islands: here.

For information about this author: see here.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Hymn - Trust and Obey

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still
And with all who will trust and obey


Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey
Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies
But His smile quickly drives it away
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear
Can abide while we trust and obey


Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share
But our toil He doth richly repay
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross
But is blessed if we trust and obey


But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favour He shows, for the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey


Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go
Never fear, only trust and obey