Friday, October 9, 2009

Flat Friday

My title is because I'm feeling a little flat today...a little tired, a little dull. So I don't think I'll be amazing anyone with my prose this week!

First, a follow-up to Ma and Pa Flartus' visit last week:

This is some of the unglazed pottery available for painting at artspacestudio, where I dragged my parents during their visit, for some enforced creativity. I rejected a big pitcher and opted for this simple vase. I thought it would be the perfect shape to hold the smallish bouquets I gather in the summers.

Miss Chef of course went for a platter:

I'd guess it's 10 or 12 inches across. I didn't get a picture of Ma's unglazed napkin holder; hers seemed to be the last one on the shelf.

The more complete version of the story I alluded to last time is that Miss Chef only had a couple of hours to spend with us before she had to leave for work (the story of our lives). So of course I told her I'd finish up her project for her.

Ugh. Turns out you have to put at least three coats of paint on everything, and she had all kinds of stencilled details I had to paint around three times. I ended up sending Ma and Pa home, to come pick me up later. Four hours later, to be exact! I texted Miss Chef at work, "U owe me."

Anyway, a week later, I went and picked up our painted, glazed and fired results:

Ta daa! I think Ma's turned out the best, though she claims she's still turning a critical eye on it. (She's only seen pictures; imagine how carefully she'll examine it in person!) And she tactfully asked me, "Were you expecting such a vivid red?" Hee hee. You can see on the platter where I didn't get the third coat evenly all around; the paint dries so fast it's hard to keep track of where you've been. But Miss Chef thinks it looks great, so that's all that matters.

Not like she's dumb enough to complain, anyway!

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An update on teaching...Monday the 5th was the first day of class in the new quarter. I have a new, completely overhauled syllabus, a new classroom (in the main building, hoorary!) and a new crop of students. And so far, everything has fallen into place.

My first two classes went beautifully. There are several reasons, I think, that this quarter is starting out so much better. First, I have more confidence: the course design better fits the students' needs, I know how much I can cover in a two-hour period, and I've better remembered how to establish a class atmosphere.

Second, I have a critical mass of motivated, interested students. It takes only two or three outgoing students who love to play with the language to show the others how to enjoy class, and set a positive mood for everyone. I like to use humor and play a lot in class (big surprise, right?), but sometimes students interpret this as being treated like children. They just don't appreciate the difference between childish and childlike.

Third, I honestly think the environment has a subtle but strong impact. Last quarter we were in a small, windowless room created by one of those rolling dividers in a larger conference room. It was gray, it was dingy, it was isolated from the rest of the classrooms in an annex building. This quarter we have a small room again, but it's a corner room, with two big walls of windows. It's dark outside, but still, it feels like we are not forgotten, shoved into an extra corner.

Or maybe it's just me, and my attitude carries over to the students. Either way, I like my new room.

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Amazing teaching moment...I try to speak as much French as possible in class, even presenting vocab all in French, with lots of examples, gesturing, images, whatever. Often the average students turn off, not even trying to capture what little meaning they can, depending on the "good" students to clue them in.

In Monday's class, while laying the groundwork for the quarter (no chewing gum, get here on time, raise your hand if you have a question...), I mentioned that I prefer to have students seated in a horseshoe or u-shape, and that I would be asking them to move their desks. I left them sitting in rows the rest of the class, since we were so far into our first hour by then.

Wednesday, I came in and didn't speak a word of English: "Bonsoir, comment allez-vous? Bien? Excellent..." Then I remembered about moving the chairs. I swept my arms to the sides, saying, "Il faut changer les..." and before I could finish, all the students were on their feet and the desks were moving like magic back up against the walls.

I never finished my sentence. I'd never seen students respond so rapidly to a sentence they didn't understand! Right now, I love 'em all.

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Commuter inspiration....I don't really like my commute, especially in the afternoon. While, for the most part, I'm going against traffic, I still have to take 485, the ring highway around Charlotte, in between getting stopped at numerous traffic lights, regretting the exhaust fumes I'm adding to the environment. Charlotte's public transportation doesn't reach us, and the bus routes are confusing and all go in the wrong directions. I did carpool for a while, but my second job put an end to that.

Actually, the only reason I think my carpool buddy was interested in carpooling was the fact that gas was hovering around $4 a gallon when we started. Remember that? All of the sudden the buses were full, the new Lynx train here was running about 150% above projected passenger numbers, and carpooling was socially acceptable.

That's when I first noticed The Biker.

I was sitting at one of Charlotte's enormous 5x5 intersections (two four-lane roads plus turning lanes), burning gas at yet another red light. It was warm, summertime in the city, and there sat a guy on his bike. New red bike clothes, new helmet, chugging water from his new water bottle. He looked miserable. I noticed he wasn't in biker shape; he looked like he might have a little bit of a gut, and his legs looked soft compared to the rock-like calves I'm used to seeing on serious bikers.

But bless him, he kept at it. I would see him randomly over the next several months, both morning and afternoon, pushing himself along a busy light-industrial parkway through rush-hour traffic. I admired his commitment, as well as his brass balls in sticking it out with all the SUVs and semis fighting for first place around him.

That was last summer, though, and I have to say, I didn't really think much about him outside of those occasional sightings. I pretty much forgot about him. Until recently.

I was sitting at the same red light where I'd first noticed him, and there he was again. Same red jacket and helmet. New water bottle. And completely new body. He looked so much more comfortable there, sitting up with one leg on the pedal. He wasn't hunched over, lungs heaving. He was just sitting calmly, waiting for the light to change, doing his commute.

I'm so proud of him, so happy for him, so amazed by him. And yes, I'm a little bit jealous. But not much. Cause damn...he earned it.

Congratulations, Mr. Bike Man. You're a new man, aren't you?


  1. I really respect BikeMan, gosh I wouldn't have the guts to ride a bike in Charlotte.

    All the pottery looks great. We have one of those places here but I haven't tried it out yet. A couple of lifetimes ago, I did some pottery. I made a lamp for my folks and they loved it.

    Sounds like you have it together for class, good going.

  2. I love the pottery!! We had a couple of places near us that did that and both have closed in the 7 years we've lived here. One was just a pottery place and the other was also a coffee shop. Boo!

    I love hearing about your French classes!! I was trying to call up some of my conversational french the other day... it was a struggle but it also came more easily the more I thought about it.

  3. Well for someone feeling so flat, you sure had a lot of interesting things to say. I'm feeling flat today, too. Kind of in the dumps, so I won't lather the dumpies into a blog post, and intead will enjoy reading your blog instead :)

    Yay for Mr. Bike Man. How awesome that you got the opportunity to watch his transformation in process. What and inspiration!

    And I was overjoyed with your Amazing Teaching Moment. Stuff like that makes it all worth it, eh?

    All of the pottery is lovely, but my fave is the vase. (Don't hit me) but the red reminds me of blood and seems perfect for Halloween. hehe! Really! Place it in a Halloween vignette with a pumpkin and a vampire or ghost decoration, maybe some spooky gourds or a bloody hand....and voila!



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