Fri, 29 April 2011
Once a week, as part of his practice schedule, my son Cass has batting practice for baseball. It takes place in a sports complex called Sportsplex. The building actually used to be an ice skating rink, but has been converted into a place where you can play sports that don't involve ice. It is an old building that has a comfortable, used feeling about it. Cass usually has to go on Wednesday's for a an hour and a half. A small corner of the building has been reserved for any team that wishes to book in advance, and perfect the batters' swings. The boys put on their helmets, and face the pitcher. Thankfully, the pitcher is usually the coach, so the pitching is good and accurate. However, because the coach is an adult, there is no mercy when it comes to the speed. The boys have to be ready, with their eyes on the ball. Another piece of protection that the boys wear is the 'cup'. It's to protect their genitals, or as we say, their privates. It's a very necessary piece of equipment that older boys won't play without. In fact, if you can't find your cup, you'd better not play. It could be used as an excuse to get out of playing...
"Your son not playing today, Bill?"
"Nope. The poor boy couldn't find his cup."
"Oh, gees. He'd better not be out there without it. Nope. No way!"
I don't see what all the fuss is about, really. I thought that sportsmen were supposed to be tough. Anyway, I digress. Batting practice is essential. The kids acquire what's called 'muscle memory', when their correct response to the approaching ball is automatic. Practice makes perfect; it's the same with anything, isn't it? Another good thing about batting practice is that it can take place any day of the year. If it is snowing heavily, or blowing a gale, it doesn't matter. You don't have to miss out on your practice time, because you have the Sportsplex. In a town where the longest seasons are cold Winter, and very hot Summer, it's a relief to have a place where the temperature is a consistent seventyish degrees. There is a full weekend of games coming up, and we'll see how the practices pay off. So cameras and cups at the ready!
Related vocabulary: ...doesn't involve, reserved, the pitcher, converted.
1. I'd like to see a movie that doesn't involve shooting and police for a change!
2. Our table was reserved for six thirty, but we were an hour late, so the table was taken.
3. The pitcher stared fixedly at the catcher, as if the batter wasn't even there.
4. We converted our garage into a playroom, and our basement into a wine cellar.
Thu, 28 April 2011
It was a windy, sunny day. You certainly needed to have a jacket on, as the wind was blowing down from the snow-capped hills. The crowd had gathered in the park, as scheduled. Everyone was excited, and waiting for the teacher to appear. A few passersby looked over and wondered why this group of people was standing and waiting for something. Finally, a car pulled up, parked, and out stepped the teacher, with a big box in his arms. There were all sorts of smaller boxes and pointy things protruding from the larger box. Anyone watching would wonder what he was up to. A couple of the kids ran up to him, "Hey, Mr. Mugg. Do you want some help?" After putting the box down, the teacher set up two launch pads, or rather launch sticks, for the morning's event. Some of the younger kids jumped up and down with excitement, and giggled nervously. It was time for the first student to see what he could do. He got his rocket, that he had spent the last few weeks building, from the box, put it on the launch pad, and started the count down, "Five, four, three, two, one, blast off!" And with that, the student pressed the button and there was a sudden, loud, "woosh" noise. Smoke blasted out of the bottom of his rocket, and up it went at great speed, high into the sky. Loud cheers sounded out from the crowd, and even people jogging in the park stopped to take a look at the disappearing and then reappearing rocket. This was the special rocket launching morning that the students had worked hard for. They had spent weeks learning all about how they work, why they work, and building them. Today, it was time to show off their knowledge. Some of the rockets had plastic soldiers with parachutes attached, and others had folded up glider planes tucked inside which out of the rocket and down to earth. There were so many cheers and squeals of excitement from one of the youngest students, that an older classmate said to him, "Hey dude, could you quit yelling!" You couldn't blame the little kid, though. It's not exactly an ordinary day in class.
Related vocabulary: passersby, snow-capped, to protrude, to launch.
1. The street entertainer amused the passersby with his mime.
2. The snow-capped mountains contrast with the green forests that are further down.
3. The robber's gun was protruding from underneath his long coat.
4. We all stood back while my father launched firework rockets into the sky.
Fri, 22 April 2011
Those of you who follow my podcast probably remember that I live in a rural area. Our house is located towards the outskirts of a small community. Our neighbors tend to have lots of trees, vegetable gardens, and animals. Across the road from us is a horse. Around the corner are two mules (which are like donkeys), and right next door we have chickens and goats. So, you can imagine that in this neighborhood there are lots of interesting noises and smells. There is a new set of noises and smells now, to add to those that we are used to. A baby goat was born a few weeks ago, right next door. Cheri, the lady who breeds them, invited us over to take a look. She has always kept animals and bred them for shows, and as a general hobby. The goats live in a triangular shelter that has a heat lamp, and they have an area to run around in. They are black and white, plump and playful. We were all very excited to see this newborn. The children desperately wanted to hold it, but it was still a bit too young. It was the size of a very small dog, and bleated beautifully. I was surprised how agile and strong it was for its age. The family next door also has bred doves and wiener dogs. Animal shows take place throughout the spring and summer months, so our neighbors travel a lot to different towns to show off their animals. And we have the advantage of seeing the newborns, as we live so close. Until recently, they also had a miniature pony, but they sold it to someone who has more land. An animal like that needs room to run around. Sometimes I feel like we have a bit of a farmyard here, with our dogs, fish, and bearded dragon. Animal breeding is taken quite seriously around here. I know of many people who have farms of different types. My husbands cousin has a large cattle farm, and requires good quality horses and cattle dogs. Goats, of course, are great waste disposal machines for a large vegetable garden. And, after consuming the waste vegetable matter, they produce wonderful manure. For a gardener like myself, that stuff is priceless. I'm planning on beginning work in my vegetable area, and I could really do with some manure. Once I take out the weeds, and airate the soil, that precious stuff needs to be mixed in. I might just ask my neighbors if they have any that they can spare.
Using 'used to' and 'to get used to':
1. We used to go to the beach every weekend; now we only go once a month.
2. She used to sing, but now she prefers to dance.
3. I used to have to get up really early. Now, with my new job, I can get up at eight o'clock.
4. I can't get used to the time difference; when we reset our clocks, it takes me days to adjust.
5. We got used to our new car quickly because it was more comfortable than our last.
6. You have to get used to practicing, otherwise you won't improve.
Thu, 21 April 2011
Every now and then, I make a trip to the local library, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with my children. I love the quiet that you can experience there. It also reminds me of the fact that there is always something that you can learn; there is always something to read about. I've heard it said that it's good for children to become 'library rats'. That means that they should get used to going there; it should be familiar to them, as if they were rats who lived in its walls. Our local library has an upstairs children's section that has recently been renovated. It's a good idea to keep the kids separate from the rest of the place, so noise can be controlled. In their area, they have a castle-style entrance, all kinds of floor toys for youngsters, Legos and puzzles, puppets, and a fish tank. It's a really cozy place where kids can explore and do the things they enjoy. I also use another library that is in the part-time school that my two homeschooled children go to. It has some amazing resources. I was there today, and found that I didn't have enough time to see all that they have to offer. You can choose whichever book, video, game, or manipulative, and check it out for the whole year. You don't even have to show your identity card to a librarian. Most of the time there is nobody in charge. Everything works by an 'honor' system. That means, that once your children are registered, you have a right to use the library, and you simply have to write down the number of each item on a piece of paper, and sign. They trust that you will bring everything back when you are supposed to. I left the place with armfuls of items. They even have interactive writing systems that you can borrow, which you would normally have to buy for about fifty dollars. All of this borrowing and returning is great, because I can keep my house full of great educational materials that are specifically targeted to what my children need. As I write this, I have in front of me, a pile of books that need to go back. I've got books in the kitchen, books in the lounge and in the bedrooms. Ahh! There are too many of them, but they're all so good. Another good thing that we are encouraged to do during the summer, is the summer reading program. You sign your kids up, and every two weeks you visit the library, get books for them to read in two weeks, and then keep coming back. The children get a small toy when they have read a month's worth of books. The summer holidays are so long here, that kids need an incentive to keep reading and not fall behind!
Related vocabulary: puppets, registered, to borrow, an incentive.
1. There was a puppet show in town that taught children not to bully.
2. You have to be registered as a resident before you can use the local library.
3. If you can't find the book in the shop, maybe you can borrow it from the library.
4. We all need incentives to get our work done; sometimes a treat or a break will work.
Wed, 20 April 2011
As you study English, you will become familiar with question tags. A tag is a little something that is added on, just like the tag on your shirt that tells you the size and type of material. We use question tags all the time in English to add a brief question to the end of a sentence. Some examples are:
It isn't raining, is it?
He works in real estate, doesn't he?
You're okay, aren't you?
You might have noticed already, that there is a pattern that is followed when using question tags. Usually, when the sentence is positive, the tag is negative. And vice versa. Also, the same auxiliary verb should be used, though there are some exceptions to this rule. Listen to the following that use the verb to be:
This dress is too tight for me, isn't it?
The film is going to start, isn't it?
They're late, aren't they?
We're on time, aren't we?
She's our tour guide, isn't she?
You can see the pattern quite easily here. In the tag, the subject comes at the very end. Before that, you simply put the verb 'to do' or 'to be' in its correct form, and contract it into a negative. So, 'we are' becomes 'aren't we', 'she is' becomes 'isn't she', 'they did' becomes 'didn't they', and 'he does' becomes 'doesn't he' etc. There are a few exceptions to the rule that I will cover at the end of the podcast.
Let's try the opposite way around, negative to positive. When I read these examples, listen closely to the verb form:
It isn't raining, is it?
We're not in a hurry, are we?
I'm not in the wrong building, am I?
He doesn't have any spare change, does he?
They don't sell hot coffee here, do they?
Can you see the pattern? Once you get used to it, it's as easy as riding a bicycle, isn't it? Let's go over some of the exceptions. When we are using the verb to be with the 'I' form, we end up using 'are' or 'aren't' as the tag, instead of 'am'. Let's listen to some examples:
I'm picking you up at 3pm, aren't I?
I'm ordering the cake tomorrow, aren't I? * Note, this second sentence is more like a confirmation, rather than a question.
Now let's look at the 'you' form with the verb 'to have to'.
You have to study for your exam, don't you?
We have to cook the fish while it is fresh, don't we?
She had to wash the car, didn't she? We use, as you can see, the verb 'to do' in the tag, after we use 'to have to' in the main part of the sentence. Likewise, with a negative statement using 'to have to', we would use 'to do' in the positive.
You don't have to drive tonight, do you?
They didn't have to pay again, did they?
He didn't have to go to the office for more paper, did he?
So, there you have it. Like most things, it's a question of practice. But, you are all very clever, aren't you? You didn't have much of a problem with regular questions, did you? And, I know that you will practice and learn tags very well, won't you?
Tue, 19 April 2011
The local news the other day was just the kind of news that I don't want to hear. A cougar had wandered down from the nearby mountains and was found in a residential area of town. Now, I know that we live in an area that is close to wilderness. You don't have to travel far from here to encounter bears, cougars, coyotes, and now increasingly, wolves. I remember having a conversation with my brother about the wildernesses around here. He is in love with wild, out of the way places. I, on the other hand, quite like towns and cities, though I do appreciate the beauty of the wild. As he is a photographer, he tries to find a way to wildernesses whenever he can, to have encounters with wild animals, and take photos whenever possible. I, on the other hand, came here to marry my man who is only slightly wild. I have deep respect for all the predatory animals that surround us, and I enjoy the fact that they are up in the hills, and we are down in the towns. I hope it stays that way. But, instances of both worlds colliding are bound to happen. The cougar in question turned out to be a young, starving orphan who had come to the town in desperate search of food. The police managed to find it. They had to scramble to find it. They brought in dogs to help them. They had very little time, as it was early morning, and children from the residential area would soon be walking to school. There was another incidence a year ago in a town nearby, this time with a full grown female. A man had fallen asleep in his lounge, and woke up to the sound of his dogs barking and growling outside. He went out sleepily, and in the half light saw what seemed to be a huge dog attacking one of his dogs. He ran up to it and swung his fist to punch it. When his fist hit the animal's head, he said, it felt like punching steel. It was an immensely strong cougar who, thankfully, was frightened by the man approaching it. It sprang up in the air, like cats do, and ran off. My husband laughed when he told me about the cougar news the other day. He knows that I am quite fearful of cougars, more for my children's sake than mine. He always tells me how it's much easier to have a car accident, or seriously fall down the stairs, than to be attacked by a cougar. I'm still not comforted. Oh well, I'll keep my eyes peeled, and if I see anything bigger than a large dog, I'll certainly let you know!
Related vocabulary: to collide, to scramble, to keep your eyes peeled.
1. The plane collided with the mountainside; thankfully, no one was hurt.
2. We scrambled to get to the camp breakfast on time, where they were having scrambled eggs.
3. I've lost my iPod; keep your eyes peeled because it could be anywhere.
Mon, 18 April 2011
Have you ever wondered what a stereotype is, and why we have them? Do you, culturally, have certain stereotypes about certain people? Of course, all countries do. I'm sure that, in the past, I have judged people according to stereotypes I had learned, and been completely wrong about those individuals. One definition of a stereotype is an assumption about someone based on his looks, dress, job, age, and ethnicity. When I first came over to the U.S., everything was quite new to me. I had, up until then, only experienced the U.S. culture through television, and through some American friends who I had met in London. But, as they say, 'there's nothing quite like being there.' One day, while I was visiting for the first time, I walked into the lounge and saw Tom, the man I later married, and his father sitting on the sofa watching baseball on television, both wearing baseball hats. My immediate reaction was to laugh. It seemed, to my ignorant eye, that they had put their hats on out of enthusiasm for the game. To me, because baseball is very much an American game, it seemed typical or stereotypical. Well, now that I live here, I realize that nearly everybody wears baseball hats because it is so sunny. Wenatchee receives about 300 days of sun a year, and a very strong sun at that. I wear baseball hats regularly to protect my eyes and skin. Some people wear cowboy hats for the same, practical purpose, or even because they are cowboys. So, my immediate assumption was wrong, and I had made that assumption by judging how two people looked. It's scary how easily, and quickly we can make an assumption like that. To widthhold judgement I think needs higher thinking skills and some wisdom. And I think the most important part of not living in judgment of others is to see them as absolute equals, so rather than fearing the unknown and forming ill informed judgments, we can perhaps respect and care about the individual, simply because he is our equal. Gosh, I'm getting philosophical! I have experienced a lot of assumptions from people about me because I am from England. They have assumed a lot about my knowledge, likes and dislikes, and even experiences. The U.S. is faced with a huge challenge, at the moment, of how to deal with a stereotype that came up ten years ago on September 11th, when the Twin Towers in New York were bombed. How do you control a stereotype that has developed through something so tragic and violent, so as not to make terrible wrong judgments? What do you think? Are we capable of withholding judgment? There is a saying here that you have to read to understand properly. It says, 'When you ass-u-me, you make an ass out of you and me.'
Related vocabulary: to withhold, stereotypical, ethnicity.
1. My boss withheld my salary for two months until his tax troubles had been resolved.
2. A man in a bowler hat, drinking tea is a stereotypical view of an English man.
3. My ethnicity is English, though my blood is mixed.
Fri, 15 April 2011
Hands up any of you who don't like English phonics. I can't see your hands, but it certainly sounded like a lot of them went up. Do you think English phonics are a pain? Well, do you know what I think? I agree with you; they are a pain. Believe me, as an English person, learning my own language was not that easy. Of course, speaking it came easily because I'm a native, but the writing part was much more problematic. I'm reminded now of the struggle that it can be to come to understand and remember all the different rules to English phonics. My second grader, who I homeschool, is climbing up the hill of phonics knowledge. He has almost got to the top, but still has a little way to go. It's extremely satisfying, as a mum, to see a child make progress with reading or writing, and to see how, once they know a rule, they can apply it. I'm looking forward to the day when he can read for pleasure. Today, in an effort to help my son get to the top of that reading and writing hill, I went to The Academic Toolbox. It's an amazing shop that supplies teachers and homeschoolers with everything: books, DVDs, games, toys, maps, art supplies. You name it, they have it. I didn't have enough time to really look around, but I did manage to find an interesting series called 'Explode The Code' all about phonics. These books give very clear, simple practices of all the phonetic rules that we use in English: vowel combinations, double consonants, endings, beginnings, irregularities, and comprehension. I like the style of the series; the art is simple but cartoonish at the same time. Kids like that. Many of the sentences are funny, and some of the activities are simply to draw a line or a circle to identify a word or its meaning. I'll have to do a podcast some time on the history of English. I think then we can all understand why it is such a mix of different things. Remember, that England, being a small island, was invaded many times by people of many different languages, my ancestors. So, it makes sense that the language has its complexities. Hopefully, my son will like these books as I do. And I also hope that he will quickly learn from them, reach the top of the hill, and then discover what fun English books can be,
Related vocabulary: in an effort to, problematic, comprehension, cartoonish.
1. In an effort to clean the kitchen, he ended up making a real mess.
2. The situation is problematic; there are many possible solutions, but also many risks.
3. His reading is great, but his comprehension is not at the same level.
4. That expensive painting looks too cartoonish to take seriously.
Thu, 14 April 2011
Confidence, it seems, can get you a long way in life. Confidence around other people can actually make those around you feel comfortable. I'm talking about the kind of confidence that lets you just be yourself; you don't have to prove anything or impress anyone. When I took my daughter with me to the hair dressers so I could get a hair cut, she charmed everyone there and made herself at home. As the hair stylist wet and combed my hair, I heard Domini chatting to a lady in a wheel chair who was waiting to have her hair cut. She openly asked her questions about her lack of mobility, and talked about all sorts of things, until both of them were smiling and laughing. The woman obviously felt at ease. Then Domini moved to someone else and chatted for a while, asking questions, and talking about her school and her friends. Finally, she jumped up on a seat next to me and got the attention of my hair dresser. I had hair in my eyes, so I couldn't see very well. I was concerned that the stylist would lose concentration and chop a chunk of hair that she didn't mean to. Domini swung around in the chair, asked her what she was doing, and what all her equipment was for. I've taught my kids that if they start a conversation with people and are polite, then people will like it. But, while I sat in that chair and listened, I heard my daughter take her 'niceness' one step further. She called each woman in the room "pretty". You can guess what kind of response she got. They all thought that she was a sweet angel. She even told the ugly ladies that they were pretty. Perhaps she'll be interested in politics when she's older.....Well, the compliments came back in her direction. She was given a balloon, and finally, she was allowed to sweep up the hair that was on the floor, press a button that turned on a vacuum that sucked all the hair out through the wall. She thought that was the greatest thing. I thought about our little trip later, and realized that with a bit of initiative and confidence, she had managed to turned a potentially very boring half hour into a fun practice of using charm to get people on your side.
Related vocabulary: to charm, mobility, to feel at ease, to take something one step further.
1. He certainly knows how to charm; he always buys us chocolates and flowers, and is extremely polite.
2. After the accident, he lost some mobility in his hand.
3. After paying my bills, I always feel more at ease.
4. He took the conflict one step further and started punching and kicking.
Wed, 13 April 2011
My daughter is obsessed with fashion. She is only six, and it comes as a surprize to me that she is so fashion conscious. She is not so concerned with the seasons' colors or styles, but she does like to know the 'pop' fashion. I think it comes from her being very musical. When she hears a pop song, or sees artists sing on television, she really takes notice of what they are wearing, and their general style. Also, she is influenced by her girl friends at school. If so'n'so has a pretty, new jacket, she will want one that is similar. She won't necessarily get the jacket, but she will certainly talk about it a lot, and try her hardest to get what she wants. So, she started to become interested in makeup. You know, you can find little girls makeup sets that they play with at home, and with their friends. I went along with this, thinking that, as long as she keeps it at home, but washes it off before going out, then it was okay. However, sometimes we would be going out, and without me realizing, she would have eye shadow on, or blusher. Once, she even got into my makeup and put on mascara which looked ghastly. So, I decided that I had to do something about the situation. My thinking was, if I could transfer her attention away from her face, and onto something else, it should help. So, I came up with nails. I bought her a collection of cute nail polishes, and she immediately took the bate! This now has developed into a habit. She'll paint her tiny nails, and go to school and show her friends. We're both happy. So, the other day, I took her to V-tech nail salon for a special, professional manicure. They didn't actually do much. Her nails were short anyway, and clean, so they only had to paint them. Plus, her nails are so small, that they hardly had to use any nail polish. She sat down at the table with the lady and picked out some nail stickers that would go on each nail. Then the lady set to work. She applied one coat of pink, carefully placed the stickers, and then applied a clear coat to keep the stickers on, and to add shine. Domini felt very special and grown up. She had to hold her nails over a dryer, and then place her hands in a UV machine that quickly sets the polish. The salon was packed, with nail technicians working away, beautifying ladies' nails and toe nails. It was warm and colorful, and there was a buzz of conversation from these happy females.
Related vocabulary: to take notice, so'n'so, to go along with something, eye shadow and blusher.
1. He was very angry, but I didn't take any notice.
2. So'n'so is an example of someone who you don't know, a nameless example.
3. The group played a joke on my friend; I went along with it to really trick her.
4. That eye shadow really brings out the color of your eyes, and the blusher makes your cheeks look healthy.