Friday, August 25, 2017

Student Engagement

Here is a paper Grant and I are publishing this November on student engagement. If you have any feedback, we would love to hear it!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Little DNA

This board is in our department break room. We had our college photographer print several pictures from my trip to the Congo and one picture of Carmela's trip to Tanzania. He put them on canvases, but they turned out sort of small. We originally just put them on the wall, but they were swallowed up by the large space. I took some of the leftover hickory floorboards from Kipp's house and used the scraps from Patricia's door to trim it out. I like these pictures - at 1 o'clock, is the picture of the bunk bed the camp carpenter and I designed for one of the blind students and his four children. At 4 o'clock is the Pelagie Tree. Pelagie was the very efficient and friendly administrative contact I had in Zongo who helped me with all my needs. I named this tree after her, and her curves, and the drivers had a lot of fun teasing her about it. At 6 o'clock, there is a picture of one of the town children peaking in on a lesson I was giving. At 8 o'clock, there is a picture of Carmela ascending part-way up Mt. Kilimanjaro while on a study/service trip to Tanzania. At 10 o'clock, there is a picture of Christine, Benjamin, and one of Juliet's daughters who the B260 staff donated dress materials for. At the center, there is a picture of me working with the Girl's Empowerment Group at the carpenter's shop. They were making the furniture for their new English Club space. It's nice having these various memories and artifacts nearby :)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Kipp's HiFi Makeover

Kipp bought an old HiFi cabinet a few months ago and we have been steadily refitting it. We took out the old stereo, turntable, and speakers, then reworked the interior to hold larger components and modified, smaller speakers. I think it turned out very well after a few minor design challenges:

Here is the original unit

This is the center of the unit, the two sides were filled with large speaker we would replace

Starting to gut the unit

Patrick cut out the new hinged lid for the turntable

Making cleats for the new shelf to hold the turntable

The new turntable space

Cutting through the top to make the new lid

The new speakers are much smaller, allowing us to put shelves above them on either side

Kipp's first stab at upholstering the speaker panels - too much white showing through

A quick coat of black paint cures everything

The new receiver was far too large to sit in the center space, so we built this angled cradle for the receiver

The receiver cradle and new space for the turntable

Chiseling out the slots for the hinges

Treated myself to a new set of nice chisels - well worth the expense!

The finished product with the new lid on the right

The turntable was a tight fit, but it worked out well

The receiver sits nicely at an angle and there is room for LPs on the side

It's 1965 again!

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Nice Evening

Tonight, I attended our annual employee recognition dinner. It is a great event where faculty and staff from every area of the college are recognized. This year, Kipp, Aaron, and Jeff were part of a larger interdepartmental team that won the Innovation of the Year award. It is called the COM 101 Bridge program, and it allows students to bypass one of their developmental English courses and enter directly into a credited course. Kipp and Jeff were part of a small team that attended a conference in Baltimore several years ago where they created their version of the program. They worked hand in hand with the COM faculty to develop the supplemental instruction necessary to bridge the students' skill gaps.To date, more than 300 students have participated and they are succeeding at a much higher rate than those students who test directly into the COM 101 course. Aaron was the first of our developmental faculty to teach one of the credited courses, and the collaboration is helping us align our respective curricula. It really has been a stellar program from the beginning.
I was also very happy to see many of our staff and faculty receive recognition for their years of service to the college. Those with ten, fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five years were honored. It humbles me to think of all the quiet and great work so many do for our students. It really is a great way to finish off a school year :)

Aaron, Kipp, Rose, Jeff, and Samson 

I like this picture! Evidently, from this angle I look taller and a bit thinner

We all got certificates that symbolize a great deal of teamwork. I couldn't be prouder of this team

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Door That Keeps On Giving

Last fall, one of our IEL instructors approached me and asked if I could make a sliding barn door for her loft in downtown Chicago. After a little research, I agreed. She found a restoration outlet that sold her the reclaimed barn wood and brought it to school. Being that I am still shopless, I worked on the door at Kipp's and Tony's garages. The design of the door was simple, but milling the wood was tricky as there were still a lot of very old and rusty nails everywhere. I managed not to nick my planer blades and got them to reasonably uniform thickness (I do love working with "rustic" projects as imperfections are part of the deal, whether I made them or not). I attached the cross boards to a piece of 1/2 in plywood then attached the outside trim. Finally, I placed a nice, clean piece of 1/4 inch plywood over the back so she can paint or stain the back. Tony helped me deliver the door to her loft and we are just waiting for pictures after she finishes it and her handyman hangs it on a rail. I think it looks great as it is.

While I was working on this project, I found a design for a condiment/beer caddy that I really liked. I made the first out of walnut, but then decided to make an industrial influenced caddy for Kipp. I used scraps from the door an some hardware from Home Depot. Funky but cool (not referring to Kipp btw).

A few weeks ago, Carmela, Meg, and Nina went to and Adult Ed conference in southern Illinois. While there, they stopped into a craft shop and noticed a crayon holder made from a block of wood. I guess they liked it, because Carmela came back and asked me if I could build one for Nina's kids. By coincidence, I had some left over wood from the door project that was perfect. I cut it down and laminated two pieces to make a three 3.5 by 3.5 blanks. The wood was really chewed up (100+ years on an old barn will do that) and I knew they would look neat for people that like that kind of stuff. Tony helped me drill two inch holes in the blanks then I spent four or five days sanding them and applying polyurethane. I bought some crayons and brought the three holders in the other day.

Carmela gets the smaller version as Kiera is her only grandchild to date

Hortencia, who sometimes has to stop and count how many kids she has, gets the most rustic version. Tony chose it.

Nina gets the other larger one for her three kids.

I have a few more ideas for these small craft project for the near future. Stay tuned :)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cool Caddy

My Condiment/Beer Caddy

I came across the plans for this backyard barbecue accessory on a woodworking website. It is a clever idea with some fun woodworking challenges. After a long perusal of dozens of different woods, I choose walnut for my prototype. With a little Tung Oil, it really came alive. I made a bunch of mistakes that I will avoid in the future, but it still looks good enough to give to a friend. To sweeten the gesture, I filled it up with many of my favorite Caribbean sauces and a bottle of Ting. I prefer it as a condiment caddy, though I cannot swear it won't find other utility. I think I will make several of these for friends this summer :)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Kipp's Hipster Mid-Century Modern Console/Bookcase

Kipp and Rose bought a house a few months ago that was built and embellished somewhat eccentrically by a man who loved wood and mid-century (1950's) decor. After we put in a few hickory hardwood floors in the upstairs bedrooms, we decided to tackle a mid-century console/bookcase that he had found in a book. The floors proved to be challenging but they turned out great:

While we were doing the upstairs floors, they had a professional crew come in and install oak flooring in the living and dining rooms. Now it was time for the new piece of furniture. Even though the design of the console was very simplistic, there were some difficult parts to the process. The basic case is made from cherry plywood and the trick there was getting all four 45 degree corners to line up. We edge banded the plywood and tried out a few new techniques to add wooden fasteners to the case. The base is made of solid cherry with pocket screws connecting the runners and legs. Finally, we used my favorite formula for a stain - 3 parts tung oil, one part boiled linseed oil, and a few splashes of denatured alcohol. It really darkened the cherry nicely and it will continue to darken with age. We finished it with a few coats of wipe on polyurethane and some furniture wax. 

I have become a vagabond woodworker - having no real shop, I squat in the garages and basements of friends. Here we are working in Kipp's garage on his console and Patricia's sliding barn door.

Kipp is ironing here; anyway, he is attaching the edge banding to the sides of the plywood with a heat-activated veneer.

The edge banding is slightly wider than the plywood so we trimmed some of it with a flush trimming router bit. I did revert back to my favorite block plane to do the rest of it.

The case built with the dividers installed and the first coat of oil.

The base is a bit unusual, as the Scandinavian design called for it to be smaller than the case.

The finished console/bookcase attached and sitting pretty on top of the new oak floor in the dining room. 

Rose was ready and had it adorned in no time at all. I have to admit, even though it is kind of hipster doofusish, it looks really nice.

Kipp's next project is to gut and restore a mid-century stereo console he bought last week. I will probably help him with the internal woodworking bits. For me, I hope to get the last bit of wood to finish the sliding barn door, then move on to something new :)

Monday, March 27, 2017

International TESOL - Seattle

I was fortunate enough to attend the International TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) in Seattle, Washington last week. It was a massive conference - several thousand participants at least. I was honored to present on refugee issues with Samson and Bryce. We did a panel session that was well attended. Unfortunately, the other folks who were to join us on the panel couldn't make it.

I included this picture of a State Department meet and greet to offer an idea how big this conference was. There were a few hundred folks at this function alone!

Samson and Bryce ready to present

There were hundreds of presentations, and dozens during our time slot. Those who attended were engaged and we had a good time. Bryce was very gracious and I appreciated his vast experience with and dedication to refugees. Samson also did a great job and I was beginning to think that he knew half the people at the conference.....

One of the highlights of the week was meeting Jocelyn, Grant, Joanne, and Al for dinner the first night in town. We got together at a nice Mexican restaurant near our hotel and spent a few hours catching up. Good people!

It was a very interesting conference, and also my first time to bop around downtown Seattle. I liked it much better than I thought I would. I found a very nice little hotel lobby (actually it was Grant and Jocelyn's hotel, the Hotel Vintage) with a great fireplace and marble mantle. I spent several hours there just reading and decompressing. I am not very good at decompressing, so I appreciated the rare respite it offered me. One day, while wearing the jacket you see here, I noticed a younger man staring at me. He finally came over and asked if it was a UCO jacket. It turned out that he was a fellow alum - go Bronchos!

I had a lot of good food with good company during the week, but the biggest surprise was the English pub Jocelyn and Grant picked out. I ended up going back later in the week! I had Yorkshire pudding the first night and chicken pot pie the second. Oh, and I had the best dessert I can ever remember eating - bread pudding :)

This is me coveting Grant's chicken pot pie - I went back for it a few days later :)


Ok, so this isn't the bread pudding, it is Jocelyn's brownie. The bread pudding didn't last long enough for a pic

I also got to reconnect with an old (she's not old, I am) Peace Corps pal, Jeanne. She came downtown to meet me for lunch and took me to Pike's Market. It was good to see her and we caught up a bit. I had gone there a few years ago to paint her house, and I may return next year to help her with her laundry room :)

Views from the restaurant

It was a productive week - I got a new Brooks Brothers shirt, a new IPhone and mini I-Pad, Aristotle's Poetics and Rhetoric, and I got away from work for a bit. 

I appreciated walking past the Plymouth Church of Christ each day on my way to the Convention Center

I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation and networking the conference provided. I also came away energized as I was in the company of scores of good people doing good work all over the world! It saddens me to think that people here in my country think cutting these programs and building a bigger war machine is the answer to our problems.  People who teach English teach so much more - they model democratic ideals, support girls' and women's empowerment, teach young people how have elections and how to discuss ideas civilly, and they give America a warm, friendly face. I interacted with hundreds of folks from other countries (visiting for the conference) who had nothing but positive American influences around them. I don't think I need to say much more.

I would like to go back to Seattle to kick around downtown a bit more, to sit at the Hotel Vintage, and visit that pub again. It was the closest approximation to a feeling of peace that I have had a long, long time.