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Posts from the ‘Learning’ Category

*If I were a car…

…I would be a Jeep.

(An analogy.  Scroll down for more).

I have an amazing talent for doing everything in the longest, most difficult, and most complicated way possible.  Sometimes it’s intentional.  In college, I often turned the 4.5-hour drive home into a 7-hour trek, taking back country roads the entire way, enjoying the beauty of the “scenic route.”  (I thank my dad for that one).  Just today I realized that I could drive to my student’s house in 20 minutes.  Instead, though, I took the bus, (three buses, really), making this an hour and 20 minute trip instead.  For me, riding the bus is more enjoyable, interesting, and relaxing.  Plus, I had extra time.

Sometimes though, it can be frustrating, both for me and others.  I have a vivid memory from elementary school; I must have been only five or six.  I was wearing a blue and white striped dress that had small white buttons down the center on the front, all the way from the top to the bottom.  There must have been at least 20 buttons.  After lunch, my teacher took the girls to the bathroom.  I unbuttoned the dress, did what I was there to do, and then tried to re-button the dress.  At that age, those buttons were more than my fingers could handle.  I remember getting frustrated and starting to cry, and then finally asking my teacher for help.  She took one look at me and immediately exclaimed, “Melanie!  Why did you unbutton the dress in the first place??”  The fact that it was unnecessary to unbutton even one of the buttons had never even crossed my mind!  Instead, as always, I made a simple task into something difficult and time-consuming.

In college, printing out design projects never failed to be a disaster.  By the end of the viscom program, I made a point to finish all design projects at least six hours before they were due, to ensure I’d have plenty of time to go through the hassle of getting them effectively printed and matted.  No one else in the class ever seemed to have this problem!  They finished the project, printed, and pasted.  Easier done than said.

So, what’s the point?

This afternoon as I rode through downtown Seattle on my way from a coffeehouse to my student’s house, I thought about how much quicker and easier it would have been to drive from door to door.  I could have walked from my front door to the car door, parked a few feet from my destination, avoiding the bitter cold and the hassle of chasing down the bus.  (I took a total of 7 buses today; I raced at least two of them, trying to take a short cut to get to the nearest bus stop before they did)! I thought how this stubborn commitment to bus when possible was just one of the many ways I made life more complicated than it need be.

However, I also thought about how, by taking the bus, it was simple to spend some time downtown before tutoring.  I didn’t have to look for parking, and I didn’t have to pay to park.  Instead, I could spend some time reading and day dreaming in one of my favorite coffeehouses.  Also, it was really easy to go from the coffeehouse to a bookstore downtown.  And from the bookstore, it was only one bus to tutor.  The bus rides were enjoyable; I chatted with the bus drivers and enjoyed listening to music while looking at all the Christmas decorations downtown, without having to worry about crashing my car or hitting a pedestrian.

Yes, the long scenic route can be frustrating at times.  Often, I think I’d prefer to take the short, simple, direct way to get from place to place.  However, I guess that’s just not how I was made.  While I may not always (okay, rarely) do things in the simplest way or take the most direct route from point A to point B, I suppose I might as well learn how to enjoy the ride and see what there is to see on the way.  And although the road may seem long, messy, and complicated at times, I’ll just have to be confident that eventually I’ll get where I’m supposed to be going, and there will always be a lot to learn on the way.

*Life, at the Moment.


Medieval Helpdesk: Before There Were Computers.


Last Thursday I wrote that I had been offered a job as a sub that would become a full teaching job as soon as a new teacher was needed. Last Wednesday and Thursday I observed two Level 2 (low intermediate) classes and then subbed for one of them on Friday. That was my first official time teaching in a classroom with full responsibility. The class lasted for three hours but I felt like it went really well.

Monday afternoon, only 3 days after I subbed, my substituting job became a full teaching job (didn’t take long)! The program director called and asked if I would like to begin teaching a Level 3 class (intermediate English) ASAP. He combined my class with another Level 3 class on Tuesday and Wednesday and I observed the teacher. Today was my first day teaching my class and I loved it! I have a small class that is very multi-cultural. (Because of Seattle’s West Coast location, many of the classes are made up almost entirely of students from Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan). I have nine students; three from Korea, one from Japan, one from Taiwan, two from Colombia, one from Turkey, and one from Slovakia. Six of the students had just moved up to level 3 from level 2 and were students from the classes I observed last week, so I was already a little familiar with their names and faces.

I’m also really enjoying having a job that is located in an exciting part of town and that has coworkers close to my own age. Last night I ran into one of my coworkers while studying at my favorite Tully’s. Today I had lunch with a friend after work and ran into several students while walking down the street. I even ride the same bus as several of the students at the school.

I’m really excited about how well everything seems to be going so far; I definitely have a lot to learn, but I think this is going to be a lot of fun too 🙂 I’ll keep you updated.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!



No week like finals week to make you ask yourself why, when you could be finished with school, did you voluntarily sign yourself up for two more years of it! Luckily, all of my exams and final papers are due by Friday afternoon and I’ll be happy to be a student again after Christmas break! For now, however, I find myself right back where I was this time last May; sitting in the library with an energy drink in hand. Except this time the library is a couple hours away from the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic, all but one floor are above ground instead of all but one floor being below ground, and my energy drink is proudly boasting that not only is it organic, it contains natural caffeine and was made with certified Fair Trade green tea. (Haha, welcome to the West Coast). In addition to the library being above ground (and therefore having windows and cell phone service), SPU’s library also has a special room “For Faculty and Graduate Students ONLY.” This may be one of the only times in my life that I have access to a private study room reserved for Academics; I’m taking full advantage of it while I can!

On that note, it’s time to get motivated to write my paper about motivation… back to work!

Learning Arabic.


I was supposed to be learning Russian this semester, but when the class didn’t have enough people register, I switched into Arabic instead. Classes began last week, and learning Arabic is, without a doubt, the hardest language I’ve ever tried to learn.

At least, it is right now.

The first two classes were spent learning the alphabet and a few phrases (such as “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “where are you from,” “Are you a student?” etc). My pronunciation is terrible! Our teacher is a native speaker of Arabic. He taught us the sounds each character makes by writing the letters on a white board. At the end of the second night he pulled out some flashcards to quiz us. I thought I was doing okay with learning the sounds, until he started using the flashcards- instead of having the handwritten form of the characters, the flashcards had the calligraphic form instead, and it completely through me off!

Luckily, I didn’t have a chance to be quizzed, so I have a little time to review before Tuesday!

Once I’ve mastered the alphabet, I think learning Arabic might not be too much more difficult than learning another language- we’ll see.

I’m taking the course at Seattle Language Academy, a language school in Fremont. This is the kind of place I might like to teach one day. The first floor of the building is a cafe, Café Babel. Many of the people who work there are English students who came from various countries to learn English here. The second two floors of the building have all of the classrooms. The average class size seems to be about ten students.

My Arabic class has an interesting mix of students. We range in age from a high school senior all the way to people in there 40’s and 50’s. Everyone is friendly, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. (I think this comes from our continuous laughter at how ridiculous we sound trying to pronounce some of the characters)!

The purpose of taking Arabic is to complete the Language Learning Practicum requirement for my degree. By studying an unfamiliar language, we are supposed to “take notes” on what was easy or hard for us as students, and what our teacher did that made learning harder or easier. I think I will definitely get a good perspective on these things through this Arabic course!

An Unnecessarily Long Post on Being (and NOT Being) Lost.

I used to claim I had only been lost once, this being during the Great Hungarian (Mis)adventure that I took Chasity on during the summer of ‘06.

I make this claim of only being lost once based on my own definition of “lost.” While defines the state of being lost as “having gone astray or missed the way, and, bewildered as to place or direction,” I prefer to think that one is lost only when they are both a) unsure of where they are, and b) unsure of how to get to where it is they are trying to go.

If you do not know where you are but you know how to get where you are trying to go, you are not lost. If this was being lost, then thousands of travelers would be lost every day, finding themselves somewhere on the 1,927 miles of Interstate 95, although quite likely not exactly sure where. (Switzerland, South Carolina, where is that)?

If you do know where you are but you don’t know how to get where you are trying to go you may be a little more frustrated than in the situation above, but you are still not lost; of course not, you know where you are!

So the only time I did not know where I was or how to get where I was trying to go was when Chas and I found ourselves being kicked off a train in the town of Eger, Hungary. Problem was, as I remember it, you cannot see Eger from its station, giving wayward travelers the impression that they are literally in the middle of nowhere. (Perhaps ‘Eger’ is Hungarian for “nowhere?” Who knows, the language has no cognates unless you’re talking about computers)! Anyway, we did not know where we were, and thus met the first qualification of being lost.

We knew where we wanted to go, however. Our destination was the town of Lučenec, Slovakia, and as far as we knew, we were headed in the right direction. Geographically speaking, in fact, we were. However, the lady working at the train station promptly informed us that it was not in any way (short of walking for the better part of a day or renting a car for which we didn’t have a license to drive) possible to get to Lučenec from Eger.

We didn’t know where we were and we didn’t know how to get where we wanted to go. We were, as we put it, “straight up” lost.

The picture says it all:


That being said, since moving to Seattle I can no longer say that the only time I have been truly lost was when I was kicked off a train in Middleofnowhere, Hungary. In fact, you might say that being lost has become my new hobby. It definitely makes the time between nanny shifts and waiting for school to begin (two weeks and counting) pass quickly.

When you move to a new city, especially one considerably bigger and further away than anywhere else you’ve ever lived, you begin to feel a sense of accomplishment when you find yourself arriving at the destination you were actually trying to get to. (If MapQuest was on Facebook, we’d be top friends). Even greater of a feat, however, is finding your way to the same place again.

Take tonight, for example. As I write this I am sitting in a café that is “10.02 miles and 15 minutes” from where I’m living. It took me no less than an hour to get here.

I decided that I would come downtown to get a little city life and a good cup of coffee while editing some photos, writing a few various thank you notes, and updating this blog. (If I haven’t specified before, I’m not actually living in the city, although I would love to be. As you might guess, the family I am nannying for decided not to raise their children in downtown Seattle, but live instead in a quaint neighborhood just across Lake Washington from downtown).

I thought about going back to Bauhaus Books & Coffee in Capitol Hill but decided to google “Seattle coffeehouses” to find a cool new place to try instead. I found several that looked interesting, including Blue Dog Coffee House, Victrola Coffee Roasters, and Café Vivace. After all that, however, I had another idea, and decided to try and find my way back to this neat café I went to last week with Karen and some of her friends when she was in town. I didn’t remember the name of the place but I did remember where it was. The sun was still shining and I knew I had plenty of time left to find it in the daylight, so I set out, leaving MapQuest at home.

I drove across the I-90 bridge with the windows down singing along with the 70’s station on XM radio (free for the first three months, and then I’m sure going to miss it)! Traffic came to a standstill in the tunnel just before I-90 intersects I-5. I rolled my windows up (it was a little creepy being parked in an underground tunnel), but traffic was moving again soon and the windows came back down.

Somehow, in a momentary lapse of memory, I forgot that exit numbers increase as you go north and I passed my destination exit (166) without notice, “knowing” that it came after 167 and not before. I was a little surprised to pass 167 and see 168 ahead of me, but, not concerned, I decided to just take 168 and make my way back south along the city roads. Through a series of right turns I turned myself around and began making my way back towards Capitol Hill and Cal Anderson Park.

Cal Anderson Park is a nice city park in Capitol Hill. After discovering that parking is free there I have been using it as a jumping-off point when exploring the area. I knew that the café was just off the perimeter of the park and that I could both park and find the café easily from there. (How bad could parking be on a Tuesday night)?

Anyway, although I didn’t know where I was at the moment (other than somewhere north of where I wanted to be), I quickly realized that I was in a very beautiful part of the city. To the west I could see the setting sun sparkling on the water of Lake Union; the streets to the east were lined with beautiful old houses, reminiscent of those you might find in Charleston or even Europe. Runners were enjoying the pleasant weather and small groups of friends were walking together on the sidewalks. I drove along as the wind blew through my hair, singing along with Dave Mason’s version of “We Just Disagree.”

I decided that, as nice as this was, I should probably find my way to the park before it started to get dark. That’s when I realized I really didn’t know where I was, and I definitely didn’t know how to get where I was trying to go. I had an idea of the general direction, but no definite course.

Was this my daily dose of being lost?

Maybe not; through a random series of left turns, right turns, and most likely several wrong turns, I found myself on one of the streets I was looking for!

Sweet success!

Then, I found myself in a right-turn only lane, barricaded in by a city bus to my left. I was forced to turn off the street, on to another I didn’t recognize.

Lost now?

Maybe, but no sweat. I remembered how our Hungarian excursion ended (happily ever after, of course). A very nice Hungarian guy (who was patiently waiting to buy a train ticket as I cross-examined the lady at the ticket booth to double and triple check that there was really no way to ANYwhere in Slovakia from Eger) interrupted us long enough to inform me, in perfect English, that he did not speak English.

Useful information I’m sure, but I couldn’t see how that was going to help Chasity and me at the moment.

However, he then pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to book us a room at a nearby hotel. He also drew us a detailed map to the hotel from the station, complete with useful landmarks such as an ATM where we could get Hungarian Forints to pay for the hotel and a grocery store that accepted credit cards. Finishing just as he started with perfect English, he informed us that he had to go because he had a train to catch, bought a ticket, and swiftly disappeared, before we even had a chance to thank him for his help.

Anyway, although I had previously only been lost “once in my life,” that one experience turned out okay, so I was sure this one would as well.

I drove around the block until I was back where I had been a few moments before, making a point to stay in the left-hand lane this time. This time I made it through the intersection only to discover that the street I needed to turn right on was one-way, heading left! I kept going, zigging and zagging in what I hoped was the direction of the park, hoping to find another familiar street.

Suddenly I came to a stoplight at the intersection of one of the streets I was looking for! Now, the only question was this: left or right? At first I was certain the park had to be to the right, but, typical of me, I changed my mind at the last moment and turned left instead.

Finally, things began to look familiar. There was a corner Walgreen’s I was certain I had walked by a time or two, a memorable gourmet dog biscuit store, and Area 51, an interesting furniture store.

Then, I saw it:

Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Okay, I’m not a huge fan, but the KFC had been a landmark on a previous trip to the park, I knew I was getting close.

I made several left turns and was relieved to find not only the park, but also that the café was exactly where I had left it last week. (Turns out it’s not true that if you leave something at a city park it will be gone when you come back for it).

Once I found the café, however, I realized that I couldn’t find the one thing I hadn’t even realized I had lost: a place to park. I had passed several between the park and the café, but I wanted to find the café before I parked so I would know how far away it was.

My 15-minute trip had already taken me half an hour. The search for a parking spot, however, doubled the length of my commute again. Finally, after another thirty minutes of parking spot prowling and one hour after I left the house, I found a place to park on a side street between two cars, about 6 inches wider than my car.

At first I was a little leery, but after two short adjustments, I impressed myself with how easily I maneuvered the Trailblazer into the uncommonly small space.

Meet Melanie, parallel parking extraordinaire! (Don’t call me for directions, but if you need help parking your car, give me a ring)!

I left my car and walked the few blocks between the café and the car. I laughed when I got there as I discovered that the café turned out to be Café Vivace, one of the “new” cafés I found through Google and had decided to wait to visit until another night!

Now, three and a half hours and two cups of “Café Americano” after climbing into my car to go somewhere to write thank you notes and edit some pictures, I have opened neither my box of thank you cards nor Photoshop. In fact, all I have to show for my effort is one unnecessarily long, rambling, blog post.

I could write my thank you notes now, but I think I’ll try to find my way home again instead!

I wonder what else I’ll find along the way… ☺