Saturday, July 25, 2009

Does Not Compute

When it, not only am I working a second job, but it's taking a hail of a lot more work than I anticipated, due to the aforementioned lame-o textbook. I'm also putting in some overtime at work, and we're going to be down one person in our 4-person department next week, so that's not going to lighten up anytime soon. Oh, and our Homeowners' Association board is trying to schedule a meeting in the next week or so, because it's time to start working on the fall party already.

Fine, I can suck it up, right? So the carpets are extra furry and I can't remember the last time I actually made anything in the kitchen besides a peanut butter and jelly sammidge. I'll get used to it.

But there's more! Our computer crashed last Wednesday. Stone cold dead. Push the button, nothing happens. Nothing.

So not only am I incapable of writing up lesson plans, accessing resources from previous classes, checking emails to find out if we're having a board meeting or if my students have questions...but I can't blog! No garden updates, no funny stories, no hair-pulling teacher experiences. And I'm only checking y'alls' blogs kind of randomly at work, when the manager and supervisors aren't too present. (I'm writing this from campus, where I had to come to do lesson plans for next week.)

If you all keep your fingers crossed, our hard drive may not be completely foutu, as they say in France. In which case a friend may be able to cobble us together a slightly improved computer from her old one this weekend, and I may be back up and running next week.

If that doesn't work, Miss Chef and I will be going computer shopping (when? I haven't the foggiest idea). I've already done some research on gigabytes of RAM, processor cores and other lovely number thingies. But all the gigabytes in the world won't replace everything on our hard drive if it's unrecoverable.

So let's hope for the best, kiddoes, and maybe I'll be back in the blink of an eye! Or, since we're so farm-friendly, two shakes of a lamb's tail!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Revenons à nos moutons

Literally, "Let's come back to our sheep." Colloquially, "Now, where were we?"

So...I have made it through my first week back teaching again. I have survived. No one was damaged, not even me, not even Miss Chef. Well, there's a plastic storage bin sitting just to my left here, which suffered some collateral damage, but y'know...Stuff happens.

Now that I've made it sound like a horrible experience, I have to say, my week went okay. Previous experience with various school administrations led me to watch out for myself, avoiding a couple of potential disasters. Experience in the classroom kept me from completely freaking out in Wednesday's class, when I realized I had left my lesson plan at home (although inside, I felt exactly like the picture above. Exactly). The students were actually a bit more interested than I expected them to be, and definitely more mature than high-school freshmen!

On the other hand, all that experience that buoyed me up was just a little bit further in the past than I had realized. I taught my last class in the spring of 2005, at a private high school in Alabama. Stepping into a classroom at a college-level, tech-savvy school 5 years later resulted in unexpected culture shock. I've gone from photocopied transparencies--saved carefully in my filing cabinet--to computer-linked projectors; from "leave it in my mailbox in the faculty room" to "leave it in the dropoff drive on the system." I had to ask a student to help me find the "Save As..." option on the newest version of Word. I felt like a dinosaur, and I'm not even 40 yet!

Although I'm very glad I got back into this before I completely fossilized, and I'm still optimistic about getting my shit together as I go, I do feel like there are a lot of obstacles in my path. I'm part-time, so don't have the opportunity for developing supportive peer relationships (or, in other words, dropping into conversation, "I finally found my drop-off drive" and gleaning helpful tips and tricks). Coming straight from a full-time office job, I arrive on campus only half an hour before class--assuming no traffic problems--and have to check two mailboxes, real and virtual, make my photocopies, address any administrative issues and hustle to the Other Building to get set up and focused on my lesson...this last of which hasn't really happened yet.

Beyond that, the classroom I'm in is a nightmare for a language teacher. It's long and narrow, and most of the "desk" space for the teacher is taken up by a ginormous computer, projector, and something else I can't figure out the need for. There are two dry-erase boards, but the larger one is blocked by a row of student desks; the smaller one is easy to get to, but mounted a bit high for a 5'2" person to use effectively. There are no windows, and an odd gap in the lighting that leaves one side of my board drearily dark.

It's no picnic for the students, either. Since they are seated in straight rows 5 or 6 deep, they are constantly peering around each other to see me. They have the dinkiest little chair-desks I've ever seen. The equipment on the desk blocks the lower third of the board (remembering I can't reach the top third). And their books still hadn't arrived by Wednesday.

And the book...oh my. If it weren't for copyright laws, I would have told them not to bother buying it, and photocopied all of my high school French 1 textbook for them. It's not a bad book for what it's meant for, but it was not, NOT meant to be a textbook. So between writing a new syllabus in a weekend, making up for the huge gaps in the textbook that none of the students has, and learning to write two-hour lesson plans, the students are not the only ones climbing a steep learning curve!

Oh, and have I mentioned that Miss Chef's Chef is planning on attending my class on Mondays? He's also an adjunct faculty member there, and teaches on Monday afternoons. His family is French, but he's never really learned the language, and thought this would be a perfect opportunity.

Now, it may sound cool to have a familiar face in the room, but anyone who's done any performance work can attest to the fact that it's much easier to play to a room of strangers. Even in my most dedicated, focused teaching days, when I asked a colleague to sit in on a class, just because I wanted feedback, I was embarrassingly self-conscious having someone else in there.

I think part of it is that you develop a relationship with your class that's unique. You have inside jokes, common experiences, stories you've told on yourselves. You all behave a little differently, especially in a foreign language. My teaching self is not the same as my restaurant / farmer's market self. Like improv, there's a little bit of trust involved--in fact, I flat-out tell my students at the beginning of a course, "We're all going to be making funny noises, and I'm going to be doing some goofy stuff up here" (I do a lot of exaggerated pantomime to supplement sentences I know they're only getting bits of).

So...I hope I can trust you, Chef. Actually, I've seen him do some pretty goofy things, so I guess we're even.

Well, revenons à nos moutons... I'm acutely aware that this sounds like a bitch session. But the truth is, I'm kind of looking forward to meeting this challenge. Monday's class went okay, no better or worse than I had expected. Wednesday's class, after recovering from the missing lesson plan, went a little better, but I stumbled a bit where I had planned to use the book. the students left, I felt that their patience with their distracted, disrupted, discombobulated instructor was beginning to run out.

So, this weekend I have been spending time putting together a much better organized, alternative-laced lesson plan for Monday. I plan to get my copies done pronto, get to the room early, and perhaps even do some rearranging. I will still turn red when Chef Adam shows up, but I'll be ready for it (I think). And, most of important of all, I will take a moment to stop, take a breath and remember: this is my class. I'm in control. And I do know what I'm doing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jour de la Bastille

Allons, enfants de la patrie....le jour de gloire est arrivé...
Happy Fête Nationale Française, everyone!

Hey, I'm a French teacher's required. Je vous jure!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Names I Call My Dog


I'm not very good at naming pets, but I seem to have a talent for nicknaming them.

Rosie Rosita
Sugar bear
Sugar bum
Tail wagger
Little One
Pookie-woo (hmm...this may be getting embarrassing...)
Miss Priss
Starvin' Marvin' (only at mealtimes)
Tiny Dancer

How about you? Got any good nicknames for your fuzzy companions?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ready, set...!

Whoo-whee! Hit the ground running, I have! Got some stuff to catch up on, and some news to share. But first...a little administrative work.

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I don't want to take credit where it's not due, and I've been wanting to let you all know that that firefly picture several posts back was not mine. In fact, I don't even think it's a photograph. Believe me, I am flattered that you consider me capable of such a cool shot, but I'm not quite up to that level yet. I simply found that picture on the I did the one above.

On the other hand, I did recently learn--from a 13-year old--that my camera has a close-up setting. Whoa, watch out flowers, here I come!

I also want to let you all know that Miss Chef was responsible for most of the skyline pictures in my Chicago slideshow. And neither of us remembers taking the elephant picture, so I don't know who to give credit to on that one...

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Ok, now I did want to blog a bit more about Chicago, particularly some of the meals we had. (Joanna, careful what you ask for!!) I see Claire has been to Tru--which kind of surprised me, because you're the only person besides one friend in Chicago who's even heard of it! And I never heard of it until Miss Chef put it on our schedule.

Claire, I have to admit you had a better time than I did. Not that it wasn't lovely, long and fabby...I was just intimidated by the service. A stupid thing to get hung up on, but there it is. I thought I was pretty much comfortable anywhere, but for some reason seeing that swath of silent, white-linened tables peppered with understated dark chairs made me feel like a kid that wandered into the Sanctum Sanctorum. Everyone on the service staff was cordial and helpful, but they kept appearing suddenly beside me when I didn't expect it, with a stool for my purse (!!), amuse-bouches and other fascinating services I'd never imagined.

But don't let me take away from the meal itself. We had the three-course prix fixe menu. Miss Chef had the beef tartare, complete with golden egg...and when they say golden, they ain't talkin' color. No, there was a gold-leafed egg yolk atop the carefully formed tartare--which tasted great.

I hesitantly ordered the foie gras, as I've had a few strongly-flavored experiences with it in the past. Not to fear, this was exquisitely rich and smooth, with a collection of garnishes that brought the flavor to its true height (salt, dried chives, and verjus, a concentrated grape pulp). I have to thank Miss Chef for instructing me in how to eat the dang thing; guess she learned a thing or two at that culinary school, huh?

Our main courses were salt & cocoa-crusted venison--complete with tableside carving--and suckling pig with a licorice sauce and tempura-fried mini pattipan squash. If nothing else, Tru made me enjoy flavors I normally don't like, such as foie gras and licorice. We skipped the cheese course, as we were both still exhausted from our early flight that morning, and getting a bit full. So we opted for dessert; Miss Chef for something called a chocolate "bar," me something I can't remember the name of, but which involved a buttermilk cake, a cinnamon custard and raspberry/blueberry sorbet.

But that wasn't all we were served...there were at least 3 amuse-bouches, a rolling "bar" of bonbons, chocolate-encased liquid truffles, and housemade rootbeer floats. I regret that I had to leave that last one half-eaten, as I had absolutely reached my limit. As we headed out the door, the maître d' handed us each a buttery pastry "for breakfast tomorrow, to enjoy with your coffee." Miss Chef and I were both relieved we didn't have to eat them before leaving!

Oh dear, I've only half-described one meal, and I'm way further down the page than I expected. Ok, well, we were much less intimidated at our other restaurants. We both loved Avec, where I could not believe how much I loved the shaved brussels sprouts. I enjoyed Topolobampo more than Miss Chef did, though it may be because the server's wine suggestions came across as too pushy. The sauces on my two dishes really amazed me; one was a pumpkinseed and one a thin but lush bean sauce.

We also enjoyed a couple of good local brunch places, a gastro pub where two of my college friends joined us for an early dinner, our hosts' favorite Chicago-style pizza place, and a surprisingly good little Mexican place right under our el stop.

Beyond food, we had a very enjoyable evening at Second City, a must-see for me on every trip. My first two trips to Chicago were with my college improv troupe, to do workshops with Second City and other professional groups. I haven't done any improv for a good 15 years, but it's still fun to see a good sketch comedy group in action. The actual improv portion I found a little disappointing, but I'm not sure if it was them or my idealized memories of what good improv is. Regardless, we laughed our butts off and went home happy--and slightly buzzed, after those 20-ounce beers.

We also visited Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum, for the Real Life Pirates exhibit. Both were much larger than we had imagined, and we ended up scooting by plenty of interesting displays as our time and attentiveness dwindled. You've seen pictures of our architecture boat ride, though not so much of our stroll afterwards up a busy Michigan Avenue.

The only shopping we did on the Magnificent Mile was at the Borders, and the Hershey's store I didn't even know was there. Most of our shopping happened on N. Wells street, in Old Town. Miss Chef had found a shop called the Spice House while looking for an online source for citric acid. When she saw it was in Chicago, she wrote it into the schedule. It was everything she'd hoped for, and along with her citric acid, she got two kinds of cinnamon, three kinds of salt, fresh peppercorns and some other stuff I can't remember. She also got the roasted garlic powder I've been looking for everywhere, and some good-quality vanilla extract I made all cute for, so she couldn't resist.

Right next door was Old Town Oil, where, after tasting some intriguing combinations of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, Miss Chef managed to limit herself to a lemon oil and a lime oil. I think. I got a little overwhelmed, I have to admit. We managed to stay out of the Fudge Pot, but returned on our way back to the Second City show to stock up on cookies at Twisted Sister Bakery--the guy at the oil store had praised the snickerdoodles there, and I have to say, they were nearly as good as Miss Chef's! (She does read this blog, so, y'know, I have to watch my language here, lol!)

There was even more I just can't go into, since I've got to share my little news...suffice it to say that when we got to the airport, our shared suitcase was 25 lbs overweight. We desperately stuffed every cranny of our carry ons, and somehow got it down below the limit. But I don't get it...we just carried all that removed weight into the cabin of the same plane. What's the point??

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Now, some of you may recall an allusion I made in my Award Awards post about teaching. Have I ever told you that I am supposed to be a French teacher? My graduate degree is in French linguistics, and I actually taught for about 10 years, from graduate school through two different high schools. However, I do not have certification, so when we moved to Charlotte, it was extra difficult to find a teaching job in a field that's not in very high demand to start with.

Well, after five years, I'm finally stepping back into the classroom. The Art Institute of Charlotte, where Miss Chef got her culinary degree, is expanding its electives to include foreign languages. At this point they only have one French course, requiring a part-time instructor available for two nights a week. Well, guess who is a) qualified, b) available, and c) friendly with several faculty members already? Bingo!

I am a little stressed about it, at least from a planning point of view. I only today found out what textbook has been chosen, and won't be able to get my hands on it until tomorrow. From the little I've been able to glean on the Amazon site, it looks pretty....dreadful. Ugh. Does not suit my teaching style at all. Oh, and did I mention that class starts next Monday?? Sigh. That's ok, once I get settled and started, it'll start to flow as it used to. I'll just have to supplement with lots of handouts and activities, and smile a lot.

I don't know how much time I'll have for blogging, unfortunately. Maybe I'll be able to manage it once a week; maybe more as I get more comfortable with my new schedule. I know that I'll have lots that I'll want to share, but as with this week, it may be hard to find the time. I will, however, be checking in on your blogs, never fear! And I just know I'll have some interesting tales and/or insights as I get back to where I once belonged.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm back!

Miss Chef and I had a great, busy, memorable and exhausting trip to Chicago. We ate a lot, walked a lot, rode the El a lot, saw a lot, bought some, saw some friends and generally crammed in as much as we could in the six days we had.

We stayed with a friend of mine from college days, Fred, and his wife Sarah, as well as their dog and two cats. We actually didn't see all that much of Fred & Sarah, as we were up and out of the house most days. Miss Chef had definitely scheduled in three restaurants she wanted to dine at--Tru, Avec and Topolobampo--and we found several more in the neighborhood's website. We were staying in Andersonville, a lovely, hip and increasingly touristy area north of town. So not only did we have the usual Chicago stuff to see--Second City, Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum--but a lot to see and do right around us.

When we got home, we had taken over 100 photos, but I've whittled it down to 20 to share with you all. Don't worry, I've done it in slideshow format, so this post won't go on forever. Fair warning though, it was overcast much of the time, so there's a lot of gray. Still, I hope you enjoy it!

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: July 2009