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A Cup Of English

Friendly, everyday English to help the anxious language learner. Texts, grammar notes, and photos on the blog page. Another great podcast by LibSyn.com
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Jan 20, 2017
Trump's Inauguration.

Today was an important, historic day here in the U.S. Today the President-elect, Donald Trump, was inaugurated. This means that a ceremony was performed at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, where he took an oath (made a promise) to serve the country as its president. This ceremony is the beginning of his presidency, the beginning of his 4 year term in office. The word 'inauguration' comes from the Latin word 'inaugurare' which means to install or consecrate when omens are good. Omens, as you might know, are signs that we see in the natural world that are supposed to reflect luck or good fortune. So, the inauguration is a tradition of promises, rituals, and hope for the future. The person who leads the new President through his oath is the Chief Justice who is the head of the nine Supreme Justices or judges of the Supreme Court which is the highest court in the country. Among the people watching the ceremony are previous presidents, obviously Barack Obama, and also a few others. A huge crowd of thousands of people also gathers to hear the new President's speech. President Trump's speech focused on all the usual things: jobs, industry, tolerance, and greatness. Political speeches are not really my cup of tea; in fact, I think that most of them are a complete waste of time. Everybody hopes that a new president will bring great, positive changes, and be honest and reasonable. But, as we say in English, 'Time will tell'. We have to wait and see the actions of the individual; words, to a certain degree, are much less important. Today's inauguration involved some violent protests which is highly unusual for U.S inaugurations. Political divisions here between the Republicans and the Democrats have degenerated into hatred, unfortunately. Trump must realize, that his campaign did lead to a lot of anger and resentment because of his careless words of prejudice and bigotry. Perhaps that is why in his speech today he said, "Whether we are black, brown, or white, we bleed the same color of patriotism." So let's wait and see, as we do in any country with each change of political leader. There are, after all, 196 countries in the world. So let's wait with patience and hope to see which of the leaders are brave and honest, and can follow their words with intelligent actions.

Jan 19, 2017

Peter's cell phone rings:

"Hello."

"Peter, it's Liz"

"Oh, hi Liz, you don't usually call me. What's up?"

"Actually, I really need your help. My car broke down. Thankfully I'm in the parking lot of a highway cafe. I stopped to get gas, and when I tried to start the car, nothing happened."

"Have you asked anyone to jump the battery?"

"I would have but there's no one here! It's just me."

(1)"How about you text me your location. How far do you think you are from the college?"

"Only three miles. (2)I'm sorry to ask you, but I didn't know who else to call."

"No problem; never hesitate to call me if you need help."

"Thanks Peter, I really appreciate it. (3)I was beginning to worry as it's so late."

"Look, just stay in the car, keep warm, and I'll be there soon. I'm leaving right now."

Try iTalki now for live English practice with a native teacher.

Jan 17, 2017
A Vegan Option.

Vegetarianism is growing in the U.S at a dramatic rate. It is estimated that 16 million, out of the population of 320 million people, are now vegetarian, and the number is probably much higher as not all of them have been counted. Half of those vegetarians are vegans who eat no animal products whatsoever(1). This is an unusual, counter-culture trend(2) for this country, as so much  of the general culture's diet includes meat and animal products. As you probably know, there is a health crisis here in the States. Obesity, cancer, and diabetes are accepted as normal. Most of this stems from(3) a huge consumption of sugar and a stressed and sedentary lifestyle. However, there is also more information available to people, and many are taking control and making healthier choices. Even the schools are trying to reduce the amount of sugar that they serve the children, and are also including more vegetables in their lunches. There is much work to be done and a long way to go before the young generation experiences a healthy balance of exercise and diet. A type of vegetarianism that is being adopted particularly by women and young people is veganism. Studies have shown that vegans can expect much lower rates of cancer of all types compared to the general population. Veganism has also become fashionable which, I think, is a good thing, as it exposes young people to healthier options for a longer life. My oldest son, Hudson, has been a vegan for about eight months, and is now committed to his vegetable based diet. He says that he feels so much better. He used to have migraines and gastric problems, but they have completely stopped. He has lots of energy, and his skin is perfect! He has also become a good shopper! He will go to the supermarket and buy bags and bags of vegetables, beans, grains, and fruit. Then he will rush around the kitchen like a chef, chopping, mashing, and stirring, and produce colorful, healthy dishes. I tried his vegan burrito the other day, and I was totally surprised at how it tastes like a burrito but so much better. Instead of a flour tortilla, he used Swiss chard. Instead of meat he used spiced beans and onion; and instead of rice he used finely chopped cauliflower. It was like a revolution in thinking. My son's example certainly has me thinking about my diet. I could probably give up meat and milk, but giving up eggs and butter would be very difficult. Also, I love to bake, and how can you do that without those two ingredients? I'm not quite ready for that step.

1. 'Whatsoever' is emphatic after a negative and means ' at all'.

a. The newspaper made no mention whatsoever of the charity that made a generous gift to the homeless.

b. It will be no problem whatsoever to beat the other team.

c. The hospital didn't have clean water, bandages, medicine, or any other supplies whatsoever!

2. 'Trend' is like 'fashion' or 'temporary tendency'. We also use the word 'trendy' instead of 'fashionable'.

a. She likes to follow Japanese trends in fashion.

b. Economies change their trends every few years, it seems.

3. 'To stem from' is similar to 'to come from'. When observing plants, most of a plant comes from the stem, its base. It is supported by the stem and develops from it.

a. His problems stem from a lack of communication.

b. The regrowth of forests stems from regulation that protects them.

c. The growth in industry and jobs stems from a general cut in taxes.

Try iTalki for conversation practice!

Jan 13, 2017
An Awkward Phone Call.

In your country, do you have many telemarketers? You know, the people you don't know who call you on the phone and try to convince you to buy something. Well, in this country they are like a plague (no offense intended if you are one!). Most people I know will tell me of difficult experiences that they've had with telemarketers who are pushy, or over enthusiastic to the point of being bizarre. It must be a difficult job, I think, to approach a stranger by phone, often while he's at home, and to try and sell him something. I'm not a natural salesperson, and being pushy is not me at all. I don't think I would be very good at it. I have, however, had a lot of experience of awkward telephone conversations with telemarketers. As an English person, I try to be polite. That's not to say(1) that all English are polite. But in general, our society does train us to offer politeness on a daily basis to strangers and to people we know. I think it comes from a general desire to avoid conflict and to get along. So, when I first found myself talking to telemarketers, I would always give them plenty of time to talk, even if they were talking so fast that I couldn't understand them. I would ask questions, make friendly comments, and then really apologize if I didn't want to buy the product they were offering. In fact, my first experience led me to(2) buy two dozen light bulbs for some reason or other. I had recently got married and moved to this country, and certainly wasn't used to telemarketers. When my husband found out, he shook his head and asked me why we needed so many light bulbs, and couldn't we just buy them in the shop when we needed them? The word 'naive' comes to mind. Yes, I was young and very naive. Well, not anymore. I'm older and wiser. So, yesterday as I was getting ready for work, the phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I answered anyway. Immediately, a high-pitched, giggly voice of a lady presented itself, and with breathy(3) enthusiasm told me that I had won a vacation somewhere. She spoke very fast, so fast that I wasn't sure if her voice was a recording or not. She raced through a list of details and values of the vacation while I stood there, looking at myself in the mirror, with only half of my makeup on my face, wondering why I was wasting my time. Would I listen to her and then politely respond with, "Oh really?" or "That's a generous offer!" or even, "I'm so sorry, but at the moment I don't think that spending X amount of dollars is in my budget." No, politeness didn't even occur to me, instead, I felt a definite instinct for survival rise inside me. I touched the red, round button on my phone, and welcomed the following silence. Then I went to 'recent calls' on my phone and blocked her number. That was it, done; it was over. My thought had been translated into action which had brought relief and success. It was thrilling, like I had just robbed a bank and driven away in a  Lamborghini. I continued putting on my makeup, and found that I looked prettier than usual. Well, they say that success makes a person glow. I look forward to another opportunity of hitting that adorable, little, red button.

1. 'That's not to say..' is used to balance a previous comment.

a. When I go to London, I visit my friend Sarah. That's not to say that I go there frequently.

b. The French are known for their cuisine. That's not to say that all French people love cooking.

2. 'Led me to' begins with the past participle of the verb 'to lead', and the general sense is that something has influenced you or guided you to a course of action or thought.

a. The salesperson led me to believe that my vacuum cleaner was the worst on the planet, that I should have never bought it, and that I should buy a new one from him immediately. 

b. The professor's lecture led the student to feel confident and hopeful about the next day's exam.

3. 'Breathy' is an adjective used to give a sense of the sound and 'windiness' of the lady's voice. Many nouns can be made into this kind of adjective by simply adding a 'y', like 'scratchy'.

a. She was nervous when she gave her speech; she stammered and sounded breathy like she had been running.

b. He had had a cough for a week, and his voice sounded scratchy.

Jan 10, 2017
What have you never experienced?

The title question for this podcast might seem unusual. A more normal question would be, "What have you experienced?" My choice of words was inspired by a conversation that I had with a friend of mine from Bangladesh, Suman. He told me that because his country is warm and tropical, that he and his countrymen have no experience of snow. A friend of his now lives in Japan, and was able to describe to him how amazing and beautiful this white phenomenon is. Having never experienced(1) it before, it was a surprising and pleasant shock. I searched online to find out how many people, similarly, have never experienced snow. Well, I only came up with(2) a rough estimate, as nobody can be absolutely sure of the number. About 40% of the world's population has never seen snow in person. The areas that get no snow are equatorial South America and Africa, and the desert areas of the Middle East. This made me think of natural phenomena that I have never experienced. Coming from England, a green, cool country, I have never experienced a vast desert. This might seem funny to those of you who come from drier countries. And even though I have traveled fairly extensively, I have only seen the desert briefly in Arizona, and also the semi-arid La Mancha in Spain. I am not familiar with miles of sand. And how about you? Which kind of climate or phenomenon have you never experienced? Would you feel comfortable, for example, in a very green, rainy country, or is it more normal for you to see sand and sun? I wonder what it would feel like for an Eskimo who has never been around greenery to experience a tropical forest, or rolling, green hills full of sheep. It would take some time to get used to it, for sure(3). Another thing that I haven't experienced is the Aurora Borealis. I'm sure that the sky full of shifting colors would hypnotize me, and it would take a while to realize that it is real. Let me know which phenomenon you have never experienced but would like to.

1. 'Having never experienced it before,..' having + a past participle, is a great way to make a sentence interesting and different, as the main clause has to come afterwards. 

a. Having gone shopping, she came back with ten bags and a big smile on her face.

b. Having never scuba dived before, he was nervous but excited.

c. Having studied non-stop for eight hours, he ate dinner and went straight to bed.

2. 'To come up with' is another interesting use of 'up' in English that adds to an idiomatic phrase. In this case, the phrase means to produce, discover, or to come to a conclusion.

a. The investigators examined the room for hours, but only came up with one fingerprint.

b. We brainstormed about how to fix the problem. It was our youngest child who came up with the solution!

3. 'For sure' is a little add-on that we often use to just confirm what we have stated. It can also be said to agree with what someone else has just stated.

a. If we want to avoid the traffic, we'll have to leave early, for sure.

b. "If she keeps practicing, she will be a proficient driver in a few months."

  "For sure!" 

Jan 4, 2017
Sleeping Lady Skating.

"Anna, do you want to go cross country skiing in Leavenworth tomorrow?" was the text I received from my friend Nataliya on Sunday. I thought about it for a few minutes. The lazy part of my brain thought, "Oh, just stay at home. It's cold, and you only have one day left of vacation." However, the better part of my brain thought, "You must go. It'll be fun, you'll spend time with your friend, and who knows when you will have another opportunity like this?" So I texted back, "Yes!" As Leavenworth is only twenty five minutes away, it's really not a hassle to get there. I had my skis, poles, boots, and warm clothes ready in the car when Nataliya turned up at seven the next morning. It was still dark. The neighborhood was perfectly silent, and my outside Christmas lights twinkled against the snow on the trees. I felt as though I was escaping! We arrived at The Sleeping Lady resort and parked in the skiing area. The pathways and ski tracks had been freshly groomed(1). I brought my skate skis, and Nataliya brought her cross country skis. The only difference between them, that I can tell, is that you use a different method to propel yourself forward. My skis require a sideways/ forward motion, whereas cross country skis need a simple forward and backward motion. Nataliya is quite good at the sport, but I am a complete beginner. She was very gracious, as I stumbled and slipped along next to her, she would wait patiently for me to catch up. We chatted the whole way, and stopped every now and then to photograph the amazing scenery. It was thick with snow, as Leavenworth is more mountainous and certainly gets more feet of snow than Wenatchee does. As I warmed up, several skate skiers came whizzing past me with the look of triumph on their faces. They really knew how to move! I studied their movements as they disappeared into the distance, and I mimicked(2)what they did. And it worked. I found myself more relaxed and moving quickly. When we got back to the car I was actually sweaty. I had been working much harder than I had realized, but I was content, and looking forward to a big breakfast. We will go again on Friday. The forecast is between -12 and -9 degrees C, so the conditions should be perfectly(3) snowy and cold, with hopefully some sun.

1. 'groomed' describes how the snow had been combed neatly in preparation for the skiers. 'To groom' is used mainly in reference to people and also animals.

a. I've never been really into grooming myself. Some of my friends spend hours doing their hair and makeup, but not me!

b. For the dog show, the owners spent a long time grooming their animals.

2. 'To mimic' is to copy the actions or expressions of someone or something.

a. My father can mimic the call of a lion perfectly.

b. The rude students were mimicking the teacher's instructions and making fun of him.

c. Some birds can mimic the voices of humans.

3. 'Perfectly' is a very useful adverb.

a. He painted every line and shadow of her face perfectly.

b. The contract was carried out perfectly.

c. Our customers are perfectly content with our services.

*We even use 'perfectly' ironically.

d. When we went camping, it poured with rain the whole time. I was perfectly miserable.

 

Help with pronunciation and fluency from iTalki.

Jan 4, 2017
The Best Santa Ever?

Every year, at about this time, I start to put away the Christmas decorations little by little. The whole process usually takes me about two months. Yes, two months. Why? Well, it's because I deliberately(1) delay it. I don't like saying goodbye to the Christmas period, nor do I like going back to a plain looking house that's no longer full of color and sparkle. Once I actually left our plastic tree up until March which was, admittedly, ridiculous. The winters are long and quite dark, and I try to compensate for(2) that by having cheerful lights and decorations for as long as possible. Also, I'm full of nostalgia during the winter months and so I try to extend that feeling of winter wonder for as long as possible. So I was sorting through my Christmas photos at the kitchen table, deciding which ones I should use for my podcasts, when I came across one of a happy, fat man dressed in red. Yes, you guessed, it was Santa. He was one of the hundreds of thousands of hired Santas that you find all over the world, but there was something special about him. I came across him as I was hurrying out of Walmart, pushing a shopping cart full of stuff, and trying to get through the crowds of Christmas shoppers. Normally, I would briefly glance at the Santa 'employee' and continue on my way. However, I looked once, then again, and then I stared. He was the quintessential Santa, the type you find on the lid of a Christmas box of chocolates. He had the perfect, friendly, grandfather features, a long white beard, he was plump but not disgusting, and his smile was warm but not overpowering. (Some Santas can be a little intense and scary). So, I had to say something. When I see something this perfect, I just have(3) to comment. "You are the most Santa-like Santa I've ever seen!" I said to him. "Why thank you, young lady," he replied. And then he promptly positioned himself just right for a photograph. I giggled to myself, "He is a confident model as well!" I thanked him, and said goodbye, and he replied with a "Ho-ho-ho!" which was so perfect that I had to shake my head, and wonder if there is such a thing as a Santa training course. If there is, he is one of the 'A' students.

 1. 'Deliberately' means on purpose. It is very useful in conversation, so it is worth practicing the pronunciation as it is a long word. Pronounced: del-ibrut-ly.

a. He deliberately parked in the middle of two parking spaces. How greedy!

b. I deliberately bought twenty pounds of meat, so I could cook and freeze some of it, and give away the rest.

2. 'To compensate for (that/it)'.

a. The lunches at work are very stodgy, so I compensate for that by having salads for dinner.

b. Our neighbor travels for work and is away from home a lot, so he compensates for that by several,lovely, family vacations each year. 

3. 'I just have to comment' this is an example of emphasis on 'have'. This is common in English on all forms of the verb 'to have' especially after the word 'just'. It gives a sense of obligation, encouragement, or opinion.

a. When I saw the chocolate cake in the window of the bakery I just had to have a piece.

b. You just had to drive too quickly around the corner, didn't you, even though I told you not to?

c. If you visit London, you just have to visit St. Paul's Cathedral.

Dec 14, 2016
A Sudden Freeze.

Recently the landscape here turned into a winter wonderland(1). It snowed for two days in a row, and transformed the whole area into a white fairytale. During my coffee break, I walked out of the school and found that the sun was shining brightly while the snow was still falling. How was that possible? Everybody seemed happy. The school children were excited, and even the teachers were more lively than usual. It was quite magical. Well, that lasted for a day. Today was a different situation altogether(2). It was dull and freezing, -5 degrees C. And what made it worse was that the wind was blowing. Ouch that felt icy on my face! Later I noticed in town that some people were well prepared for the weather. They were bundled up in winter clothes, lots of woolens, and their heads, necks, and hands were wrapped up. Some people, however, had been caught out(3). They were the ones who were walking quickly with their heads down trying to avoid the wind. Their skinny jackets offered no protection against the cold, and their hands didn't come out of their pockets. The only creatures who were fully prepared for this weather were the hundreds of geese that have not yet flown south for the winter. They are still resting and feeding in the school fields, and already fat enough to stay warm. It's surprising how many of them are still in the fields; they seem to be everywhere. Their black and grey bodies contrast with the snow, and look like freckles on a white face. Any day they will fly away and make their journey to a warmer part of the country, leaving us to shiver for a few more months.

1. 'A winter wonderland' is a set phrase that we always use when describing a very snowy scene that seems to be perfect.

a. The boy ran into his parents room early in the morning, "Mum, dad! Look out of the window! It's a winter wonderland!"

b. The town of Leavenworth relies on the snow to turn it into a winter wonderland for the tourists.

2. 'A different situation altogether.' Here, the 'altogether'  emphasizes the meaning of the first part of the sentence, as I am trying to emphasize that the weather totally changed from one day to the next. It can be substituted by 'completely'.

a. Mix the sugar and butter until the sugar has dissolved altogether.

b. His answer was not altogether surprising.

3. 'To be caught out' can mean to be discovered, to be proven wrong, but when it comes to weather it simply means that you were unprepared and suffered the consequences.

a. I had not checked the weather that day, and so when the downpour started, I was completely caught out.

b. In the card game BS, the other players will try to catch you out. They will judge if you are saying the truth or not.

Nov 24, 2016
An Unknown Artist.

'Never judge a book by its cover' is a saying that we have in English that you can apply to so many areas. If you think about it, in order to judge a book, you have to open it and read it, not just look at the cover. If you make an assumption about the book based on what it looks like, your judgment is likely(1) to be wrong. I was guilty of this when I went to an estate sale. First of all, let me explain that an estate sale is different from a yard sale. It is the selling of the entire contents of a house because either the owner is going to move, or has died. There was one of these sales last weekend very close to my house. I was in two minds about going; there always seems to be something else that I could be doing. But, I felt like looking for treasure for a few minutes, so I went. As I approached the house my expectations lowered. It was a small, run down place that had peeling paint, a rotten carpet on the porch steps, and a dingy(2) garage which, though it was open, was as dark as a cave. I assumed that I wouldn't find anything of any worth there. I walked into the garage and the man, who was about my age, greeted me. He showed me some items that he called 'brand new' and others that he said had not even been taken out of their original box. He wasn't a good salesman. So as I ignored his attempts to get my attention, I wandered towards the back of the garage and came upon a table that was covered in art. When I say art, I'm actually talking about pottery. The whole table was covered in gorgeous, shapely pots of all different sizes and colors, some with lids, others with delicate, thin openings. "Those are my mom's," he said. "She's got a ton of them downstairs too. Help yourself." "Your mother made these?" I asked with a mixture of surprise and admiration. "Oh yeah," he said dismissively. "She's always been into her hobbies." I gathered three pots that I absolutely had to have, put them to one side, and went downstairs. Two dusty, concrete rooms were filled with pots, bowls, and vases. There were patinas that shimmered(3), paint that was crackled, and enamels that were dabbed and mixed and swirled like the colors at a geological site. As I went upstairs I bumped into a local art teacher who is herself a very good artist. "Hello Anna," she said as she held up one of the cream colored crackled pots that rounded perfectly up to an opening that looked like a small flower. "Oh, that's just beautiful," she said. And she was right. This dark, dingy place was full of beauty. A lady had been working away for years with care and thought about her craft. I took my treasures home, examined them, and realized that the artist hadn't put her name on them. The sale is over now; the lady has gone, and the house is empty. But I have three blue pots that shimmer and wink at me, as if to say, "You can expect good things even from dark places."

1. The use of 'likely'. In this podcast it is used in a similar way to 'will probably'. It is an adjective, but can be used in front of a verb.

a. Storms have closed the roads; he is likely to arrive late.

   Storms have close the roads; he will probably arrive late.

b. What is the likely outcome of the boxing match?

    What is the expected/ forecast/ probable outcome of the boxing match?

c. The government is likely to lower taxes next year.

    The government will probably lower taxes next year.

2. 'Dingy' is another word for dull and dark. It has negative connotations, implying that a place is old and worn out.

a. The man went down to a dingy room and handed over the suitcase of money to a man with a gun.

b. I could not buy that house; it is far too dingy and needs total renovation.

3. 'To shimmer' is a mild shine; it is similar to glimmer.

a. The sunshine shimmered on her silk dress.

b. The gold pot shone brightly, but the bronze pot shimmered.

italki for practice with native English teachers.

Nov 23, 2016
London, The Lovers' Statue.

On my recent trip to London, I met up with a dear friend of mine who I hadn't seen for at least three years, Sarah. We met in university and have been close ever since. Since she lives in London, and I was passing through on my way to Spain, we decided to meet up at King's Cross station and find a place to have dinner. The weather had turned really cold that day, and I wound my scarf around my neck to keep out the cold while I waited for her outside of the station. There were the usual London crowds of all sizes, shapes, colors, and humors which I love to be part of, so I lost myself in 'people watching'(1) when suddenly I heard a voice say, "Anna!" We threw our arms around each other and giggled like college girls again. It was so good to see her. She suggested that we eat in St. Pancras station. I had actually not been there since the big renovation 9 years ago. It is a massive place that is used by 50 million travelers each year. There is a lower floor that is filled with elegant shops and cafes, and then upstairs, looking like strong, young horses all in a row are the Eurostar trains, ready to gallop into Europe. We ate at a restaurant on the upper floor in the shadow of the Lover's Statue. Well, alright, it's not really called that; its real name is The Meeting Place, and it was created by Paul Day. It is a 20 ton, 30 ft bronze statue of a man and woman in an affectionate embrace, touching foreheads. Significantly, the artist is married to a French lady, and the sculpture reflects the two of them. Just as England has a port to France and the rest of Europe through train travel, so the two figures, each from a different country are connected. Paul Day said, "I wanted to create a statue that showed a meeting of minds as well as a physical connection." And I think, for me, that is the hope of international travel: to meet the minds of others. Sarah and I certainly made up for lost time(2). The poor waitress kept coming to our table to see if we were ready to order, "Just a few more minutes," we would say, and then continue talking. Three hours later we finished our meal, but we were not even half way through our conversation. It had been a perfect encounter: a dear friend who I hadn't seen for a long time, meaningful conversation, and a beautiful, cosmopolitan setting filled with art.

1. 'People watching' is self explanatory, and an activity that many people enjoy in busy areas.

a. I had a four hour layover at Los Angeles International, so I bought a coffee and people watched.

b. The very best people watchers are babies; they are so curious and fascinated by human activity.

2. 'To make up for lost time,' is a common expression used often when talking about conversing with someone you haven't seen for a long time, or getting work done that you have delayed for a long time.

a. She got out the sheet music from storage and played the piano, making up for a lot of lost time.

b. My cousin and I have been so busy for the past ten years, but at my aunt's wedding we talked for hours and made up for lost time.

 

Nov 7, 2016
Sue's Creative Cooking.

"I love to cook," said Sue as she passed me my plate. It was early evening, and the Scottish farmhouse kitchen was filled with delicious smells of fresh seafood with a hint(1) of spice. We were warm, tired, but content after a day spent walking on a hidden beach with the colors of Autumn looking over us from the adjacent forest. I was ready for this meal, and I knew that it would be good. What I hadn't expected was its presentation. "What?" I exclaimed as I saw the huge oyster shell stuffed with shrimp and mussels in a creamy sauce, with garden herbs and a flower on top. "Good grief, this is gormet," I commented, a little unsure of whether or not(2) I should actually eat it; it looked too pretty. Sue does love to cook, and every time I come and visit my father and step-mother, she quickly throws together flavors and textures of food that are satisfying, memorable, and as colorful as her oil paintings. "I always cook what I like," she said, emphasizing the "I". "And it's just as well(3) that your father likes what I cook," she smiled. "Dad, you're a lucky man," I said as I heaped shrimp onto a large piece of potato. Even the vegetable side dish was unusual: raw zucchini in thin curls, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Well, my plate was empty in only a few minutes. I resisted the temptation to eat my dad's baked creation: an Eve's pudding which is a dish of baked apple with vanilla cake on top. I'm trying to avoid dessert for health reasons, and because I have too much of a sweet tooth. It wasn't difficult though to resist this time, as I wanted to savor the flavors Sue's seafood work of art.

1. 'A hint' is like a little clue, or a small taste. It is also a verb.

a. I don't know what the answer is; give me a hint.

b. He hinted that there might be a wedding in a few months.

c. The dessert had a hint of sherry which gave it a small kick.

2. The position of 'whether or not' should be practiced as it is a very native-sounding expression.

a. He was trying to decide whether or not he should study abroad for a few months.

He was trying to decide whether he should study abroad for a few months or not.

b. She couldn't remember whether or not she had paid her phone bill.

She couldn't remember whether she'd paid her phone bill or not.

c. They discussed whether or not to invest.

They discussed whether to invest or not.

3. 'It's just as well' means 'it's a lucky thing that...'

a. It's just as well that you brought your umbrella because it's started pouring with rain!

b. It's just as well we caught a taxi. We would have never got to the train station on time by walking!

Oct 28, 2016
Do you tangle with Zen?

Have you ever wondered around Youtube, looking for inspiration? I did a few years ago, and I stumbled upon(1) an activity called Zentangle. It is an art form that really suits everybody. Let me explain. A 'tangle' is a pattern that doesn't have to look like anything in particular(2); it is a simple pattern, repeated over the paper. It's similar to 'doodling' which is when a person draws any random shapes, connected or not, as a way of relaxing. There are no expectations of drawing a particular object or scene, just shapes. Well, a Zentangle is a collection of several different patterns on a small paper (usually 3.5 inches squared). The 'Zen' part of this practice is that a person is completely free to choose the patterns, style, and combinations, and to simply enjoy the process. There is no stress involved, no expectations of artistry or perfection. In fact, it has been proven that tangling reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and increases focus and happiness. Amazing! It seems to work with the human brain in a similar way to yoga: relaxation, freedom from competition, and focus. It has actually surprised me how this kind of organized doodling improves my mood. A booklet called 'Beginning Zentangle' lists why it is so popular:

1. It is unplanned, so its results surprise you.

2. Without up or down - can be viewed and drawn from any orientation.

3. Abstract nonrepresentative art, a collection of patterns - not a drawing of something.

4. Can be drawn with either hand.

5. Small enough to be drawn in 15 minutes.

6. Portable.

7. Not limited by technology. All you need is a paper and a pencil or pen. (3)

So, if you think about it, you can tangle in most places in order to relax and enjoy the moment. I'm going to slip a pad of paper and some fine black pens into my handbag so I can tangle with Zen whenever I feel like it.

1. 'To stumble upon' means 'to come upon' or 'to find by chance'. The verb stumble means to trip (over), so the phrase implies that a person finds something by actually falling over it. What a great picture! We often use this phrase when we explain that we have found something interesting in a book or a newspaper.

a. In a medical journal, I stumbled upon a remedy for my skin problem.

b. In the park, we stumbled upon a hidden path that led to a cottage next to the river.

2. I use the word 'particular' twice in this podcast. Once as an adjective 'a particular object', and once in the phrase 'in particular. This can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence, but is most commonly placed at the end. It singles out a noun as being special or focused on rather than others.

a. They loved to meet in cafes on Saturday mornings, in Cafe Mela in particular.

b. The theme of literature in schools in the month of October is Autumn, and Halloween in particular.

3. The list quoted from 'Beginning Zentangle' is written in incomplete sentences. This is fine to do when you are writing a list of basic information, or sharing facts; sometimes we will omit the verb or the article.

a. The advantages of exercising regularly:

1. Improves mood.

2. Speeds metabolism.

3. Less need to diet.

4. Body repairs itself more quickly.

b. Math class supply list:

1. Large eraser.

2. Packet of #2 pencils

3. Protractor and ruler.

4. No need to buy graph paper, - supplied by teacher.

 

Oct 20, 2016
Photos by the river.

The Riverfront Park is a great asset(1)that we enjoy in our community. It opened about the same year that I came to live here. It’s focus, as you can tell by the name, is the Columbia river. This wide and deep body of water starts in Canada, at the base of the Rocky Mountains. It travels about 1,200 miles, through to Washington State and Oregon and then it flows into the Pacific Ocean. So, Wenatchee is actually one of the many towns that it flows through. It is very pleasant to walk or bike next to the river, especially during the Autumn. Often in the morning, there is a slight mist rising from the surface of the water before the day heats up. The leaves on the deciduous trees have changed to yellow, orange, red, pink, or brown. You could say that it’s a perfect spot for photography. And that is probably why I received a phone call two weeks ago from the High School Photography teacher, asking if I could accompany a group of students to the Riverfront Park. Their field trip(2) was planned to encourage their photography of textures and colors. There are a few wooden buildings, benches, and winding(3) pathways in the park, as well as all the natural surroundings that you can take pictures of. I was there for the safety of the students, but as they were all mature and well behaved, I didn’t have much to do. I took some photos myself, and also observed what they were doing. Many of them got down on the ground to find the perfect angle of tree roots or a bench. There was also a lot of reflection on the water that was very bright and danced up the tree trunks, so the students took videos and pictures of that. They seemed to know exactly what to do. The teacher really only facilitated by adjusting camera settings every now and then. And I felt a bit like a spare part, but it was such a perfect day that I was glad to be in the park taking photos. This link shows a few more photos I took that day.
1. An ‘asset’ means a positive resource, a benefit, blessing, or beauty.
a. A helpful citizen is an asset to a community.
b. She has a million dollars in assets.
c. His greatest asset was his sharp mind.
2. ‘Field trip’ is another way of saying an outing that is organized by the school.
a. I will volunteer on the school field trip to the chocolate factory.
b. Museums are the perfect place for a field trip.
3. ‘Winding’ and ‘winding’. Ok 2 verbs that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. The most familiar is ‘to wind/ winding’ like the Beatles’ song ‘The Long and Winding Road’. It means to move in a snake-like manner, and also to tighten the main spring of a clock or watch so it functions. A very common British phrasal verb is ‘to wind up’ followed by another verb, meaning ‘to end up’ or ‘to irritate someone’. The meanings are quite different from each other.
The other verb ‘to wind’ simply means to physically cause someone to temporarily stop breathing by either kicking or punching them below the ribs. Let’s see examples of all of these:
a. I forgot to wind my clock, so my alarm didn’t go off in the morning.
b.That path winds through the forest and out to a main road.
c. It is so easy to wind him up; he gets angry so fast that it’s funny!

d. While we were practicing our Karate moves, I accidentally kicked my partner in the stomach and winded him!

Oct 3, 2016
Rules and expectations.

As I work in the schools in Wenatchee, I notice lots of things about the school culture. Each school here has its own mascot. Foothills Middle School, for example, has the Falcons. Any child who represents the school in any way, whether in sports, mathematics, art or anything else, is called a Falcon. Other mascots in the area are: The Wenatchee High School Panthers, the Eastmont Wild Cats, and the Pioneer Middle School Bears. Mascots help to create a sense of belonging to a group in each school. Another thing that helps children feel like they belong to a school is a set of guidelines, or rules. Recently, the school district has adopted(1) a framework of positive ideas about behavior at school. Each school uses this framework to make up its own expectations in the form of a mnemonic. An example from Foothills is:

S - solve problems

O - opt for excellence

A - always make good decisions

R - respect self, others, and environment

 So, I suppose, you could say that each school tries to establish the expectations of attitude. Then, in each classroom, guidelines of noise levels and steps in learning are also put on the walls and talked about. 'Restaurant voice' and 'spy talk' were two volume levels I saw the other day. The teacher uses these to describe how loudly the children can talk in a given situation. So while they are busy writing, they might have to use 'spy talk' or whisper, whereas(2), when they are working in groups they could use a 'restaurant voice'. These expectations are described and practiced at the beginning of the school year, and then referred to whenever necessary. I thought it was a very creative way of guiding the students to control the noise. Another element of this system of behavior management is capturing the imagination of the students by rewarding them for positive behavior. If a student has been particularly helpful, caring, or a good example in a class, the teacher can give him a blue note called a 'soar' ticket. The word 'soar' relates to the Falcon mascot. Two tickets can be traded in for a cookie which is handed out by the vice principal at lunchtime. Education has certainly changed since I was young. We had rules and expectations, but, as far as I can remember(3), there was no creativity involved, and certainly no cookies.

1. 'To adopt' is used in this podcast to mean 'to take on' when speaking about the 'framework'. So, ideas can be adopted, philosophies, behaviors, and, of course, people and animals.

a. The behavior management of schools used to be based on punishment. Now a more positive approach has been adopted.

b. We went to the animal shelter just to have a look. Of course, we ended up adopting two cats.

2. 'Whereas' is used in a similar way to 'but' to show contrast.

a. You would use this shoe in tap dance, whereas in jazz a completely different shoe must be worn.

b. The color black absorbs heat, whereas white reflects it. (borrowed from useinasentence.com).

3. 'As far as I can remember' is a wonderful way to inject some personality into a statement about remembering something. It can be used with short or long-term memories.

a. Did you put the hammer back in the toolbox?

    As far as I can remember, yes.

b. He was an honest man, as far as I can remember.

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Sep 20, 2016
Yoga please!

Oh yoga, yoga, yoga! It's such a passion of mine. And I started doing yoga only recently. I have found it to be so beneficial in so many ways: it gets rid of my stress, it loosens my joints, and it strengthens me, but gently. Why didn't I start it years ago? I sometimes turn on Youtube and do yoga in my lounge. However, my favorite place to do yoga, so far, is the WRAC, which stands for Wenatchee Racket and Athletic Club. It's a friendly gym with a host of different classes, and very experienced teachers. You can do anything from tennis, squash, swimming, and aerobics, to yoga, dance, and tai chi(1). I love it. Sometimes I will use some exercise equipment like a treadmill for an aerobic exercise, and then I'll finish my session by lifting weights. My favorite activity though is yoga. Now, for a few weeks, there have been renovations taking place throughout the building. A whole new exercise equipment room has been built, and the construction continues. When I walked into the yoga room and chose my mat, blanket, and towel, the room was nice and quiet. I chatted quietly with some of the ladies while we waited for the session to begin. The teacher dimmed the lights, put on some very relaxing music, and we began the deep breathing exercises. I thought of nothing. All obligations and plans for the day were instantly forgotten as I focused on my breath.Quietly the teacher guided us to, "Let go" of the day and to relax. I did, well, for a while. I suddenly realized that next door there was an aerobics class. It sounded very serious, and it was getting louder. Michael Jackson was playing on their sound system 'Beat it' which didn't help much with my relaxation, and it drowned out (2)the Indian meditative music. "Make it burn!" yelled the aerobics teacher suddenly while his class was bang, bang, banging on the floor. "Breathe in your positive desires," said my yoga teacher, "and breathe out any stress and tension." My empty mind was unfortunately starting to jump around, going back and forth between the tranquility of my class, and the commotion and pain of the aerobics class. I tried to block it out(3) but because I know the lyrics of 'Beat it' by heart, I couldn't help but follow the words, 'it doesn't matter who's wrong or right, just beat it!'. I brought myself mentally back to yoga and tried to focus on the 'Downward dog' position with big belly breaths and a good stretch of the spine. "Hold it! Squeeze, harder! Don't stop 'till I say so!" was the next instruction yelled out by the aerobics teacher. I found myself holding my breath, but then I realized that I shouldn't. I was supposed to be doing 'Pigeon pose', stretching my hips and releasing any tension. This was beginning to be a mental challenge. A few seconds past and I heard, "Wow! Awesome, good job everyone!" and some hand clapping. "Oh good," I thought to myself, "the class must have finished." I settled into the last few poses, thinking that I wouldn't have any more distractions. This time I was in 'Happy baby': legs in the air, knees bent, holding on to my feet, and rolling my spine  from side to side. I was back in the zone, at last! The teacher turned the lights down even more, and turned the music up. It was time to cool down and lay quietly. "Imagine yourself leaving your body and floating up to the top of the building..." she was saying when suddenly, "Bang! Bang! Bang!" The construction men had moved in next door. I giggled. The teacher jokingly said, "Come in!"

1. 'Anything from .....to .....' demonstrates a variety available.

a. The clothes shop has everything from cheap shoes to Gucci hand bags.

b. The university offers everything from philosophy to engineering.

2. 'To drown out' is an expression we use that refers to one sound covering another.

a. My son's rap music drowned out my classical music.

b. Your loud talking is drowning out the film!

3. 'To block out' is similar to 'to drown out', but it's a mental effort to not hear, see, or think about something.

 a. I blocked out her negativity by being positive.

b. I raised my hand to block out the sun.

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Sep 13, 2016
A Country Party.

The end of summer is one of the best times to have a party, especially if it's in the evening. The hot summer days give way to slightly cooler but long summer nights. You can linger(1) outside, barbecue, or even dance. And if you want to do what a friend of mine did, you can have a big country party. Kim and her boyfriend Casey both turned(2) 50 this year, so they decided to have a big 'bash'. They have a house with a large front garden where they usually ride a 4-wheeler for fun. They converted this place over a two week period into a cowboy-style venue for their celebration. Kim bought hay bales to put here and there for people to sit on. They built a dance floor out of apple pallets (which are strong, flat wooden boxes used in the apple industry). They strung lights all over the dance floor, the trees, and the fence. And then, they hired some caterers(3) to cook and serve a barbecue style meal, plus a birthday cake. The band they hired was actually very good; they played a lot of American rock and some country music too. The place gradually filled up with people wearing cowboy hats and boots, and there was lots of singing and beer drinking. There was even a trampoline! I took my daughter, Domini, as she is friends with Kim's daughter. They jumped on the trampoline and ran barefoot over the dance floor to the dessert table and back again. It was very casual. Even the smell of a nearby forest fire added to the atmosphere. "Anna, Domini's staying the night," Kim said to me, "and you should too! We could sit by the fire, drink wine and talk all night," she beamed at me enthusiastically. "Oh Kim, I turn into a pumpkin at midnight," I replied. This is one lady who both loves and needs her sleep! Before I knew it, it was midnight. I had really enjoyed myself, but it was time for this cinderella to pick up both of her shoes and go home.

1. 'To linger' is a fabulous verb which means to spend time in one spot because you choose to, or to be the last remaining ....

a. The sunset on the beach was stunning. We didn't want to leave, so we lingered and just took it all in.

b. The ceramic industry still lingers in the town, though most of the businesses have closed or moved to the bigger cities.

2. When it comes to having a birthday, we use the verb 'to turn' followed by the number of years.

a. Her baby turned one last week, and we were invited to the party.

b. When children in the U.S turn 16, it is legal for them to drive.

3. A 'caterer'/'catering company' is a person or company that is hired to make food for a special occasion. Another type of company that is used to help with the arrangements of a party is a 'rental company' which rents equipment or furniture.

a. The wedding planner advised us to hire a caterer, but I didn't realize how expensive it would be.

b. Robert's Rentals has all you need for your next big 'bash': tables, chairs, plates, cutlery, and even a chocolate fountain!

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Sep 5, 2016
WSU Vet Hospital.

Washington State University veterinary hospital is a place that is renowned throughout the state for being the best place to treat animals who have diseases. It is located in a small town called Pullman, in rolling, tree covered hills. All around it, however, are miles and miles of dry wheat fields, and so the town forms a kind of oasis. We went to Pullman two weeks ago because our rottweiler needed an operation. It was a first experience for me in many ways. First of all, I had no idea that Pullman was so famous, or that it was a three hour drive. Secondly, I am not used to having rottweilers. I love our dog, Chucho. He is well behaved and getting well trained. However, I was not prepared for his reaction to the hospital or the staff. We arrived at about 10:30, having left at 6am. Chucho didn't sleep all the way; he just panted, and wanted to put his head out of the window. He wasn't allowed to eat anything either, so by the time we arrived, he was obviously feeling anxious. He went in for a preliminary examination, before having an MRI. After only ten minutes, the veterinary student came back to me, looking a little out of breath, "We can't do anything with him; we can't even touch him, and he's really strong. Could you help us by holding him down?" When I went back into the examining room, I found him on guard, with a muzzle on his snout(1), and totally non-cooperative. The vet was surprised that she couldn't touch him. "He is a very intelligent dog," I said, "and you are a complete stranger who is trying to manipulate his body. Of course he is not cooperating!" I suggested that they put him to sleep and then examine him(2). She nodded in agreement. Well, we didn't see him for the rest of the day, or the following day. He had to spend the night and then have the operation the next day. When we finally picked him up, he looked like a real invalid; his front legs were shaved and he had a plastic cone around his neck. And he was on some serious medication! So Chucho is on the mend. Rottweilers are certainly not too much for the university hospital to handle. In fact, he is considered a 'small' animal. They have a part of the hospital reserved for large animals like horses and bears!

1. 'Snout' is the word we use for the nose and mouth of an animal, particularly of mammals like pigs or dogs, but others as well.

a. My dog buried his bone. He dug a hole with his front paws, and then covered the bone with soil using his snout.

b. At the farm, the pigs would stick their snouts through the bars of the fence.

2. The use of the subjunctive in English is quite simple. It is written like the indicative, especially after verbs like: advise, ask, command, demand, desire, insist, propose, recommend, request, suggest, and urge.

a. I recommended that they stay the night instead of traveling in bad weather. I recommended that they should stay the night instead of traveling in bad weather.

b. The doctor insisted that she take the medicine until she feels better. The doctor insisted that she should take the medicine until she feels better.

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Aug 22, 2016
Boeing: The Future of Flight 2.

The tour of Boeing started with us being bussed to the building where the seven hundred series of planes are made, particularly the 747s. It is the largest building in the world, measuring 13,385,378 cubic meters.  It has several entrances, several floors, and, of course, huge double doors through which the new planes can be rolled out. Our guide told us so many facts that I actually stopped listening; I just wanted to watch the men and women working on these huge planes. I did, however, pick up some information. The wings of the 747, for example, can hold up to 57,000 gallons of fuel. I saw that every piece of large equipment either had wheels or hung from the ceiling. This was because as the planes develop and get bigger, equipment needs to move out of the way. And, the day that a new plane leaves, a clear path must be made for it to get out of the building. The Boeing plant is in Everett which is to the north of Seattle. It has been there since 1943, the giant factory being planned in the 60's. Mr. Boeing had a German father and an Austrian mother, but was born in Michigan. After he became a pilot, he bought a hydroplane and came to Seattle. He soon broke the plane, and then told a friend of his, "We could build a better plane ourselves and do it faster." And that became the mission and destiny of Mr. Boeing. Looking around the factory gave me a sense of how serious and efficient Boeing is. The building itself(1) has to be organized by a mastermind! It is so packed with equipment, parts, and people, that to function correctly, someone with a great sense of design has to be in charge. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed on any planes because they already belong to airlines. Also, I'm sure, hundreds of tourists would be a distraction to the workers and also create a risk of injury or an error in building. We were kept far away from the important work. As we left, the guide told us about the new line(2) of planes called Dreamliners. They are smart planes that adjust the interior light and air to reduce jet lag. Also, more original materials are gradually being replaced with things like carbon fiber to make the planes stronger and lighter. This really is a time of advancement in technology, and the factory shows a sense of excitement about the future of flight.

1. 'The building itself' the word 'itself' is not totally necessary. I used it because I went on to emphasize the use of space inside the buiding, as if I was focusing in on what it looks like.

a. The singer signed my notebook herself!

b. The homework itself is easy, it just happens to be tedious!

 2. 'Line' of planes really means a series or a group.

a. Gucci has come out with a new line of handbags.

b. Nissan has a line of electric cars, the first of which came out in 2010.

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Aug 19, 2016
Boeing: The Future of Flight 1.

I found myself in Seattle for the third or fourth time this summer on Monday. It was time to take my cousin to the airport for his flight back to Mallorca. He had asked to go to the Boeing plant to see the planes being made. "Sounds like a good idea," I replied, remembering that, years ago, I had visited the second, smaller Boeing plant in the south of Seattle. We arrived at 4pm, early enough to look around the Museum of Flight. It is an impressive, modern display of the science behind flight, and how it is continually developing and improving. There were displays that people could interact with which demonstrated the physics of flying. Airplanes hung from the ceiling. A part of one plane was sliced open to show all the components of a typical plane. There was even a Lamborghini, yes a Lambourghini. It was there to demonstrate the need for aerodynamics in cars as well as planes. It also showed the advances in materials like carbon fiber. My cousin, my daughter, and her friend climbed into a flight simulator which was like an enclosed room that was elevated. Inside were the kind of seats you find on a plane, and in front of them was a large screen. The door was locked and suddenly the room started to move. I was watching from the outside. It went up and down, side to side, and then it started bumping and jerking forwards and suddenly dropping. I could hear noises coming from inside the room, like little squeals. From the outside, it didn't look like it was a very exciting ride. However, the employee who was manning the display turned on a screen so I could see what the people inside were watching. Their screen showed jet planes flying fast all over the world, and making drastic maneuvers. "Oh," I thought to myself. "That is why they are squealing!" Even though we had an hour before the tour started, we weren't able to do and see everything that the museum offered. The tour was about to start. We were going to be placed on a bus and driven to the biggest building in the world. 

1. 'Display' is both a noun and a verb. It means 'a show' or 'to show'.

a. The peacock gave a glorious display of its feathers.

b. The science competition in school will require the children to make displays about recycling.

2. 'Jerk' is also a verb and a noun. A 'jerk' is an insult for a person who is difficult and silly, and who makes life difficult for people. 'To jerk' is actually very different in meaning. It means to move sharply, in a choppy way.

a. That man is a real jerk; when he was in line at the bank, he started shouting, and then he cut to the front!

b. The brakes on my bicycle froze when I was riding, so it suddenly jerked forward and I fell off.

3. 'To man' is a very basic verb that means a person is employed to physically be somewhere, especially a vehicle or a place of work.

a. He will man the fishing boat because he is the most experienced.

b. The telephones are manned by volunteers who will take your donations for the charity.

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Aug 3, 2016
Let's go with Pokemon Go!

Did you know that the First Lady of the U.S, Michelle Obama, has been trying for years to get people exercising? Over a third of people in the U.S, including children, are obese. This is an epidemic, and a huge national problem which leads to all sorts of medical complications and expense. However, something has taken the nation by storm(1) which is getting people of all shapes and sizes outside walking, running, skateboarding, and biking. It's Pokemon Go. It has become a craze. The most unlikely(2) people, those who would normally be at home sitting in front of a computer, are out walking along the streets, or moving around in parks looking for Pokemon creatures. The game came out in July, and had 80 million downloads in the first week. It is a free game that is location based and uses augmented reality, which means a view of the real world with a touch of fantasy added to it. Players download the game on to their phones, they create an account with a personalized avatar, and then they move around looking for Pokemon. The aim of the game is to find, catch, battle, and train the creatures. So who are the Pokemon? They are cartoon characters that first came out in the late 1990's in a Nintendo game called Game Boy. Films, books, and cards also popularized them. They have names like: Greninja, Arceus, Mew, and Pikachu, and are generally very cute, blending the look of animals and fantastic creatures. Pokemon are trained by their human owners to battle other Pokemon and evolve. Thankfully it isn't a game that is violent or deadly, so it is appropriate for young people, and therefore a wide audience. If you think about it, it is a very involved game, with different levels and many different elements, and now the physical aspect of it makes it even more addicting. Two of my boys have certainly become quite addicted to it. My oldest son even walks around the parks with his group of friends at night, searching for the most valuable Pokemons. I can't see Pokemon Go losing(3) its popularity for a while. If that is the case, people large and small will be dressing up in warm clothes to find their creatures in the snowy parks in the winter.

1. 'To take something by storm' is to make a huge impact on something, a person, or a place.

a. The Harry Potter series took the world by storm.

b. The Beatles took the U.S by storm in the 1960's.

2. Unlikely means 'doubtful or not very probable'. However, it can also be used as an adjective.

a. Their house was in the woods in a very unlikely place for a home.

b. Out of the people I knew from school, he was the most unlikely to become a singer.

3. I can/ can't see .......+verb in gerund.

a. I can see him slipping and falling (prediction).

b. I can't see him calling back today; he never returns my calls.

c. I can see them missing the bus my two minutes; they need to hurry up if they want to catch it.

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Jul 28, 2016
An Interview at Scalar Learning.

I look through my emails each day to see if anyone who listens to my podcasts has written to me. I was doing that last week when I came across an email that took me by surprise(1). It was an invitation to be a guest speaker on an educational podcast called Scalar Learning. I immediately looked up the website, and found a very professional, mathematics focused site that offers both tutoring and regular podcasts. Well, how could I say "no"? I was intrigued and flattered(2). I sent an email back to say that I would love to be interviewed. We went back and forth(3) until we agreed upon a day and time. I told all of my children, "Now, this is very important, so I need you all to be quiet for half an hour.  Is that possible?" They nodded. "I'll be up in the bedroom, so it will be nice and quiet. You can play or watch television, but please, I don't want banging or crashing or dogs barking, ok?" I think they got the message(4).

The time for the interview came, and I was quite nervous. Huzefa, the gentleman who created and runs Scalar Learning, is a young man who used to be a lawyer, but who has a passion for education. He was very personable, so I immediately felt relaxed. We talked for about thirty minutes, and he asked me all kinds of pertinent questions about: my background, my podcasts, culture, and how to be an effective teacher. Huzefa is on a mission to enable students to be successful with mathematics, and to have the right approach to exams. His insights about teaching obviously come from experience and study. The time flew. The next day, he released the podcast, so I listened to it. I'm happy to say that it is very informative and clear, and if you click here  you can hear it too

1. 'It took me by surprise,' is the same as saying 'it surprised me'. This expression is simply longer and more descriptive because of the verb 'to take'.

a. His decision to go and live in Australia took us all by surprise.

b. We were completely taken by surprise when she walked out of the wedding.

2. 'Intrigued' means very interested and curious. 'Flattered' means that I felt complimented.

a. I was intrigued by his political ideas; I had never heard anything like them.

b. The young lady felt flattered by all the attention she was getting.

3. 'Back and forth' really means 'one way and then the other way' or 'from side to side', but we use this phrase a lot when talking about discussions and verbal agreements.

a. The politicians went back and forth until they finally agreed.

b. We talked all night, and went back and forth, but we still don't understand each other.

4. 'I think they got the message' is a casual and slightly joking way of saying that 'they understood'.

a. My mother put up two posters saying 'please remove your shoes'. She put one on the front door and another in the entryway. We got the message!

b. If you travel on the underground, or 'Tube', in London, you will hear "Mind the gap" all the time. You will eventually get the message.

italki for practice with native English teachers!

Jul 13, 2016
A Visiting Student.

The number of people in my house has grown from six to seven recently. A young man from Spain has come to spend six weeks with us. He is no ordinary young man; he's actually my second cousin, and is here to spend time with this side of the family, and of course, to learn English. Thankfully, he is the same age as my youngest son, and is very fun-loving. I'm sure that he will pick up(1) a lot of English while he plays with my kids. That was actually how I picked up a lot of Spanish when I was a child. My mother would take me to Mallorca in Spain, to spend about a month in the summers. Because children play so much, and are less inhibited than adults, they absorb language like little sponges. Well, that's what happened to me, and I'm very thankful for the experience. So far(2), we have taken my cousin to Seattle for a couple of days, and down to a local river to look for gold. Today, I plan on taking him to the museum in the town of Cashmere which is excellent. He will get his first view of Native American life, and be able to walk through some of the original pioneer cabins of this area. Like most boys who are thirteen, he is very curious and constantly asks questions. Of course, I don't always have the answers! Coming to the U.S is a big step for him, especially being so young(3). Mind you, he is a world traveller. His mother is an air hostess and is able to get cheap airline tickets, so they travel internationally all the time. So he is extremely comfortable in airports, and understands the routines of getting from one place to another. I hope that him being here will encourage my children to spend time in Spain, and also become international travelers.

1. 'To pick up' is used in this podcast to mean 'to come to understand', ' to learn in a natural way'.

a. When we went to Iceland, my kids picked up a lot of vocabulary.

b. I used to watch my mum cook, and so, over time I picked up how to cook.

2. 'So far' is like saying 'up to this point'. It is a very simple and conversational phrase.

a. So far this summer, we have only had a few very hot days.

b. The fund-raiser so far has made $2,430,000.

3. 'Coming to the U.S is a big step for him, especially being so young,' the last part of this sentence has a great structure that is flexible. You can add many things to 'especially being so ...'.

a. They will have a great time at the party, especially being so sociable.

b. She will feel so much better with the new medicine, especially after being so ill.

c. It will be a relief when the presidential race is over, especially after so much news coverage.

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Jul 1, 2016
A better way to waste.

With the fire season approaching, we have been preparing our back garden. My husband trimmed off some old, dead branches from our pine trees. These trees are notorious for(1) burning easily because they are both dry and oily. Most of the horrendous fires that make international news are those of pine or fir forests which are both conifers. We have seen this kind of devastation in Canada recently, in Alberta. To avoid as many fires as possible, it is always best to clear forest floors of dead wood, dry bushes, and diseased trees. There is a new community effort in Wenatchee to do the same in as many places as possible to avoid the problems that we had last year. So, the garden is clear, but what do we do with the huge pile of branches and pine needles? "Take everything down to Stemilt Organic Recycling Center on Columbia street" my husband texted me early in the morning. I didn't even know that this place existed. I've lived here for over twenty years, and I'm still discovering things about this town. I looked up the direction on Google Maps and their website. They take all kinds of garden waste and shred it up(2) with a giant shredding machine. This then gets composted and delivered to many of the orchards in town. The rich compost increases the levels of sugar in the fruit. So my oldest son and I loaded up two trucks and made two deliveries to the recycling place. It was hot and heavy work. When we drove in, I was impressed to see an enormous pile of branches and green garden waste. Other people were there emptying bags of weeds, old bushes, and garden clippings (3). Next to the pile was a machine that looked as big as a brontosaurus. "Now that would be fun to operate," I thought to myself. We emptied the trucks, paid a small fee, and left. It's good to know that our waste will become a compost that feeds and nourishes the trees that make up so much of this valley.

1. 'To be notorious for ...' means that a person or thing is well known for something, and it has a negative sense.

a. He is notorious for being late. He was even late to his own wedding!

b. Those valleys are notorious for flooding every spring.

2. 'To shred (up)' this verb describes a way of cutting which leaves the item being cut in thin, long pieces. In cooking, we talk about shredding carrots or cabbage to add to a salad. Notice that I didn't have to use 'up'. This little word is used a lot in the UK to give a sense of completeness or fullness.

a. Fill (up) the watering can and water the flowers please.

b. We need to finish dinner now and get to the cinema; the film starts in six minutes. Eat up!

c. Children, button up your coats, it's really cold outside.

3. 'Clip, cut, trim, cuttings' are all ways of cutting that you can use in the context of gardening. 'Cuttings', however, is a noun. It is the piece of a plant that you break off and encourage to growing roots and become a completely separate plant.

'To clip' is a brief cut that is deep enough to shape or prune a plant. We can use this for our finger and toenails as well as 'to cut'. 'To trim' is more superficial. We often say 'I will trim the hedge' instead of 'I will cut the hedge' which sounds too deep. Likewise, a trim at the hair dressers is a superficial cut, one that just shapes the hair a little.

a. I clipped off the dead rose heads to encourage more blooms.

b. I took cuttings from my hydrangea; I hope they all root and become big, healthy plants. 

c. I went to the hairdresser for just a trim, but she gave me a serious hair cut!

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Jun 23, 2016
Brexit or Pumpkin Cake?

I'm a little nervous today. It is a very important day for the UK, as it is the Brexit referendum. Most informed people will know that UK citizens will vote today to either leave the European Union or to remain in it. This isn't a small issue(1). The country is divided on the subject. I have been reading about it and watching videos, some that are for leaving and others that are against it. To be quite honest(2), my head is spinning with all the information. I find it difficult to get on with other activities like cooking and cleaning, because I really want to know the result, and have a clear idea about the consequences of leaving or staying. I had planned to make a pumpkin cake yesterday. I had the ingredients on the kitchen counter, and the recipe. It would be a simple treat to make for my family, but every time I approached the cans of pumpkins, I would immediately turn around and surf the internet for more information about Brexit. How can I think about pumpkin cake now, when the UK is about to, perhaps, make a huge change? The economy and immigration are the two biggest issues that have been talked about for months. If Britain leaves the EU, trading with it will be more complicated, and the free flow of immigrants will be stopped. More power will be given back to the UK government to determine laws and regulations. However, does anyone really know if the changes will be beneficial? And will the EU suffer if Britain pulls out(3)? Perhaps it won't leave, but regulations from the EU will change? It's all a big unknown at the moment, like the quality of my future pumpkin cake. I know the ingredients, I know the process of making it, but you can never really tell how good it will be until it is cooked. So what do I think? Well, I believe in independence, but I also support unity. I think that humans and communities are supposed to work together. The trouble is, that is exactly where problems occur if members are ignorant or corrupt. I think that we are also supposed to think for ourselves, and determine what is best for us, but advice from many can often help generate creative and efficient ideas. I have decided to hope that however the vote goes, man's ingenuity will solve problems that arise, and find creative and fair ways to keep good relations between Britain and the rest of Europe. And for now, I will open the cans of pumpkins, mix the ingredients carefully, and hope for the best.

1. 'Issue' in this context is similar to 'matter' or 'subject', it is also used as 'a personal problem'.

a. The cost of living is an issue that any government has to deal with.

b. Needing to control everything is a real issue for him.

2. 'To be quite honest' is a phrase that is often used at the beginning of a sentence, expressing a strong opinion.

a. To be quite honest, I don't want her to stay with us.

b. To be quite honest, I think he treated you unfairly.

3. 'To pull out' is similar to 'to leave'. However, we use 'to pull out' more in the context of competitions, unions, and groups where the members are invested.

a. The long distance runner pulled out of the competition because of an injury.

b. The teachers' union pulled out of the discussion because they disagreed with the terms.

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Jun 18, 2016

Peter: Hi Liz. What are you looking at?

Liz: Oh, hi Peter. I'm looking through some information about cars. It's about time I bought one, but I'm quite fussy. I don't want to spend a lot of money, but there are certain things that I definitely want.

Peter: What kind are you after?

Liz: Well, I'd like a hybrid. Eventually when I'm working, I don't want to spend a fortune on gas. Other than that, I'd like a medium size, four-door that is reliable and safe.

Peter: Why don't I go with you to some dealerships and we can have a look? I know a lot about cars, you know.

Liz: Ha! Why is it that men know so much more than women (do) about cars?

Peter: It's probably because we're really interested in them....Anyway, I can protect you from the greedy salesmen who want you to spend too much money.

Liz: Yes, protect me, please! 

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