Saturday, January 17, 2015

using music to teach ESL

This is hardly original with me, but I have a feeling every ESL instructor who tries it feels the same way I do -- amazed and thrilled at what great teaching tools popular songs can be.

In recent months I have used songs of various types for teaching pronunciation, parts of speech, vocabulary, grammar, and more.

Last week it was I've Never Been to Spain, by Three Dog Night, for practice with the present perfect tense and compound sentences.

On Thursday we listened to the song and discussed the use of the present perfect. Then  on Monday, we listened again and I gave a writing assignment: Write your own "I've never been to..., but I ..." sentence, and go on to explain a little bit about it. 

My example was, "I've never been to Denmark, but I like to play with Lego." I reminisced about my childhood Lego collection, the special chest of drawers my dad built to store it, and the endless hours I spent building castles and houses, people and cars. I  told about how sorry I was that my parents sold the Lego when they sold their house. My own sons and their love for Lego came next, followed by a lesson learned: don't sell the Lego!

Some of my students are very well educated and literate, so they wrote at length. Others wrote 3 or 4 sentences. But all the compositions were superb, each one unique. One student has never been to India, but she loves Indian food; while one of the men has never been to Italy but loves Italian food and told the story of taking his girlfriend -- now his wife -- to an Italian restaurant on their first date.

All in all, it was a highly successful set of lessons based on a song from my youth. 

Afterwards, however, I realized that I had missed a great opportunity: 
I've never been to Finland, but I ride my bike in winter!

Friday, January 16, 2015

back to work

I've had a bit of a rocky start this session. The first Monday, January 5th, I drove because I had 3 large bags of books and other stuff I wanted to bring with me. The load included some books I had  borrowed almost 3 years ago, so I thought it was time to bring them back! That day also happened to be really cold -- maybe -35C with windchill -0- but even so I was frustrated at being behind the wheel. It took me almost 90 minutes to drive the 30 km from home to downtown, a combined result of snowy, icy roads and the detour for the bridge construction on 102 Avenue. 

The next day I was happy to be back on the bike. However, it had snowed a fair bit and I wasn't sure about trail conditions, so I decided to try something new. I parked in Glenora and rode from there. I took Stony Plain Road and the bike trail that runs behind Original Joes, ending up on the contra-flow bike lane and 100 Avenue. It wasn't bad, but when I came back to the car after work, I noticed that there is an entrance to the trail system just up the street from the place I had parked. Just as I took that in I was hailed by a guy who came out of one of the houses; he asked whether I was lost. I replied in the negative, telling him that I had parked there and ridden downtown. "You're good!" was his response, and he then went on to tell me about the entrance to the trail system, adding that the city is good about clearing the trails. 

So, on Wednesday I parked there again and rode down down down into the River Valley. It was pretty scary -- riding in the dark on a new, very steep trail, with a deep ravine on my right and no guardrail (and on top of it all, I'd forgotten my phone), but I made it to the bottom safe and sound, and from there it was but a short ride to the Faraone Park trail crosswalk. In all it was a much shorter ride than my usual 8.6 km, but it was fun to try something new, and it's good to know that on really cold days I have that option. On Thursday I took my usual route and arrived at work cold but happy.

Well, then the next Monday, January 12th, I arrived at my parking spot only to discover that I'd forgotten my helmet. I briefly considered bare-headed riding, but it was -24 C and I was afraid I'd arrive at work with no ears. I didn't have a hat in the car. I was rather annoyed with myself, but decided to simply be thankful that I am allowed to park for free as long as it is only occasionally, and I drove. These two days of driving have made me more thankful than ever that I can ride my bike, and I stuck a spare helmet (along with a hat, extra gloves, and a scarf) in the car so that I will never find myself in that situation again!

The weather warmed up dramatically for the rest of the week, so I enjoyed 3 days of absolutely delightful bicycle commutes through MacKinnon Ravine and the River Valley. The trails are ploughed and smooth, and I even had a couple of dog-walkers whom I pass every morning tell me that they are impressed with me! There is also a friendly guy who walks along the Railtown Trail and gives me a big smile whenever he sees me. Little things like this contribute to a great start to the workday! 

This graphic, spotted on Twitter, says it all!

this grandma rides her bike in the winter

I recently read this article about winter cycling.

The whole article is interesting, but what really caught my attention was this quote from Tom Babin's book Frostbike, in regard to Oulu, Finland:
But what really opened my eyes was being at the grocery store and seeing a grandma come out with a bag of groceries and pop it into her basket and ride off into the snow. You never see that in Canada.
Well, I hate to contradict the expert, but... on a visit to the small prairie city of Spruce Grove on a Friday or Saturday during the winter you just might see a grandma come out of the grocery store with a bag of groceries -- or two or three -- and pop them into her panniers and ride off into the snow. That grandma would be me, doing my part to normalize the idea of winter biking.

the full-to-bursting panniers
True, at first glance you might not realize that I am a grandma. I don 't have grey permed hair and a bulging midsection. I don't wear aprons. I don't even have very many wrinkles. But I do have two little grand-daughters, so that makes me a granny. 

And I ride my bike in winter. 

I ride about 17 km each day for work, and on my days off I use my bike to do all my errands around town -- grocery shopping, library, you name it. 

If it's warm, like today, I add on some extra riding on the trails in the woods.
If it's minus 30-ish, like it was earlier this month, I bundle up and sometimes make my ride a little shorter. 
But I ride almost every day. 

Why do I ride in the winter? I don't do it with the goal of normalizing the idea of winter biking; I don't do it to save money on transportation; I don't do it to make other people feel lazy -- I do it because it's fun and I love it! 
It makes me feel strong and tough and fit and happy. What other reason could I need?

I am Canadian and I am a grandma who rides her bike in winter!

Friday, January 2, 2015

new year, new snow

About 10-12 cm, to be exact.

It snowed all night and then all morning, but by about 2:30 the sun was out and I decided to ride to Safeway for a few groceries. It was -17 with a bit of a wind, but I dressed warmly and was just fine.

The multi-use trail along McLeod had already been cleared, so it was smooth sailing most of the way, with just a few mounds of snow to test my bike-handling skills. I rode Miranda, my Chubby Bike. Not a Fat Bike, just an old GT mountain bike with plump tires. It handles well in fresh snow and on packed snow, and is usually not bad on ice.


One morning last month I slipped and fell twice on my way to work, so I took that as my cue to start riding Silver, my Trek 7.2 hybrid, with its studded tires. Since we didn't really get any new snow all through December, this bike was just the ticket, but now that there is a fresh layer, with more in the forecast, I will probably ride the mountain bike next week when I go back to work.

The aforementioned morning was the day I met another commuter as I crested the Ezio Faraone hill. I was right behind him, so I bade him good morning and we ended up chatting as we rode through the park and onto the Railtown Trail. One of my spills took place during this conversation, and of course he asked me whether I had studs on my tires. That gave me even more incentive to start using the studded-tire bike!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

why i ride

Time for another "why I ride" post.

Almost every morning as I ride along the shared pathway on 100 Avenue, I see a woman with a stroller. We always say good morning to one another, and she has a lovely smile. I had never really looked at the stroller before, but I naturally assumed it contained a baby. Today, however, I saw her in the morning and then again after work, and both times the stroller held nothing but a purse. A large purse, to be sure, but not so big that it would be easier to push it around in a stroller instead of carry it. So now I find myself wondering -- is there ever a baby in that stroller? Do I just happen to see her after she has dropped the baby off somewhere and before she picks it up? Or does she really walk on the snow-covered trail pushing her purse in a stroller? Tomorrow I will look more closely and try to solve the mystery.

To add to today's excitement, as I rode cautiously downhill into McKinnon Ravine, something noisy and big came out of the bushes on my right. Startled, I looked in that direction and saw a hawk, holding a rabbit in its claws. I have to confess that I screamed. The hawk must have been equally surprised, because it dropped the rabbit beside the trail and flew across the path -- right in front of me. It looked huge and scary, and I had a fleeting moment of fear that perhaps a 58-kilo woman would not be too large to be tempting prey. But my fears were groundless, as it simply flew past, leaving me to continue my ride.

I was pleased to see, upon reaching the trail that leads to Ezio Faraone Park, that a city maintenance machine had gone before me, leaving bands of sand crisscrossing the path. It wasn't exactly icy, so the sand was possibly a bit superfluous, but it was good to see that the well-being of us active types -- cyclists, walkers and runners -- was being taken into consideration.

All these little things added up to make today's ride pretty awesome, and once again I felt thankful that I can use this method of getting to work, instead of driving or sitting on the bus.

And it didn't hurt that it was a warmish day, starting out at about -7, and ending at an unbelievable +11. Lots of melting going on. Tomorrow is supposed to be warm again, so I am enjoying it while it lasts.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

extreme cold warning

It's hard to believe that less than a week ago, I was riding merrily along River Road, chatting with another bicycle commuter about what a beautiful warm morning it was. The trail was cleared of snow (not that there was much snow) and there was no wind. 

The guy was telling me that he works at Epcor, so he doesn't need to climb out of the valley to go to work. "Must be nice," I said, and I told him of the climb awaiting me. I said those words, but as Dr. Suess would have it, "I said them, but I lied them." Deep down inside, I was looking forward to riding up that steep hill and to the satisfied feeling that is mine every time I reach the top. Yes, it was a glorious day for a ride to work!

Today, things are very different. Not only is there about 30 cm of snow on the ground -- more in places because of drifting -- but Environment Canada is warning of extreme wind chills of up to -45 C. 

The warning contains this tidbit:
While anyone who isn't dressed warmly is at risk in cold weather conditions, some are at greater risk than others for frost bite and hypothermia:
  • homeless people
  • outdoor workers
  • people living in homes that are poorly insulated (with no heat or no power)
  • people with certain medical conditions...
  • winter sport enthusiasts
  • people who consume excess alcohol
  • infants and
  • seniors
I had been planning to get on my bike this afternoon and ride to the library to return some stuff. Now I will have to think twice about that. I do have lots of warm clothing, but I need to figure out how to "Be sure to cover your nose to protect it." Maybe today's the day to try out the balaclava.

I'm just glad I don't have to go to work today and that I have a couple of days to try out various clothing combinations so I can be prepared to ride on Monday. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

the wheels on the bus

Yesterday was my first bus day of the season. With 30 cm of snow in the forecast, there was no way I was going to drive into the west end. I wouldn't have minded trying to cycle to work from Crestwood, if I could have teleported there. I know it would have been hard, but there is nothing we winter cyclists like better than a good challenge.

The bus ride into downtown wasn't bad -- about 65 minutes, or only 10 minutes longer than usual. BUT -- the ride home was a different story. It took about three-quarters of an hour just to get from NorQuest to NAIT and more than an hour to get home from there -- total of almost two hours. I stood the whole way; I prefer standing to sitting, but even so, I was elated when it was time to get off.

Not so elated when I saw our street. Thanks to the drifting snow, the sidewalk was piled so high that I had to walk in the road. And as I reached our driveway, I saw a woman in a small SUV trying to get out of a snowdrift. So I got a couple of shovels and we dug her out.

It's at times like these that I am thankful for a big strong 16 year old son. I don't really mind shoveling, but the amount of snow this time was simply overwhelming. It was nice to be able to assign someone else to do the job. 

In spite of the heavy snow, we had a decent turnout for class today: 14 of the 20 registered students showed up for the morning class, and 9 out of 11 in the afternoon. It was a good day of learning.