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Archive for March, 2010

Tuesday - March 30, 2010

The Winner: The Beatles!

Last week, you, our wonderful listeners (and readers), helped me pick our next Karaoke English song by selecting your favorite recording artist in a poll.  The clear winner, with 20% of the vote, is the Beatles!

The Beatles have had so many number-one hits that it’s difficult to select just one of their songs to include here.  After looking at the lyrics (words in songs), though, I realized that many of their songs have simple lyrics that probably don’t require very much explaining.  That’s why I selected “Penny Lane.”

A lane is a small street and Penny Lane is a street in Liverpool, England, the city where the Beatles are from.  Penny Lane is in a busy shopping area, and when Paul McCartney and John Lennon were growing up, they would meet there to take a bus into the center of the city. This song, then, is a nostalgic (with warm feelings for the past) look at a place where McCartney and Lennon spent so many of their younger days.

Since the street Penny Lane became famous, Beatles fans have made it a point to (are certain to) visit this landmark (important historical location).  In fact, the Penny Lane street sign had been stolen by tourists so many times that for several years, city officials stopped replacing it, instead painting the name of the street on the side of the buildings there.  In 2007, however, the city installed (put into position permanently) a new Penny Lane street sign that is very difficult to steal.

Thanks, again, to those who voted, and I’ll include songs from some of the other top vote-getters (people/things getting votes) in future weeks.  Here are the four lads (British English for “guys”) from Liverpool.

~ Lucy

“Penny Lane”
The Beatles

Penny Lane there is a barber (man whose job is to cut hair) showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello

On the corner is a banker with a motorcar (old-fashioned term for “car”)
The little children laugh at him behind his back (without him knowing)
And the banker never wears a mac (short for “mackintoch,” a British English word for “raincoat,” a coat you wear to keep the rain off your body)
In the pouring (very heavy) rain…
Very strange

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath (under) the blue suburban (not city; neighborhood outside of the city where people live) skies
I sit, and meanwhile back

In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass (a glass container with two parts, in which sand takes an hour to move from the top part to the bottom part)
And in his pocket is a portrait (picture or image of a person) of the Queen.
He likes to keep his fire engine (vehicle driven and used to put out fires) clean
It’s a clean machine

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
Four of fish and finger pies
In summer, meanwhile back

Behind the shelter (temporary structure that gives protection from the weather) in the middle of a roundabout (British English term for “traffic circle,” where cars coming from several directions move around an area in a circle to reach the next street)
A pretty nurse is selling poppies (type of flower) from a tray
And though she feels as if she’s in a play
She is anyway

Penny Lane the barber shaves (removes hair from one’s face (and other areas) with a razor) another customer
We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim (a minor haircut; cutting off a little hair to make the hair look neat)
Then the fireman rushes in (enters in a hurry)
From the pouring rain…
Very strange

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies…
Penny Lane.

Thursday - March 25, 2010

The Mountains’ Spell

The Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and especially the mountains in Yosemite National Park, cast a spell on (give a magical feeling to) everyone who visits them. I know. I’ve been there and experienced it.

If you look at a map of California, you’ll see two mountain ranges (lines of mountains). The Coastal Range is next to the ocean. The Sierra Nevada Range – and Yosemite – is on the opposite, or east, side of California. It’s more than 500 miles long and its mountains are from 8,000 to 15,000 feet high.

I don’t go to the mountains as often as I would like, but I have two friends who can take me there in an instant (immediately) anytime I want to go. Let me introduce you to them.

No one can describe nature (the natural world) like John Muir. Muir was an American naturalist (student of nature) and explorer. He fell in love with Yosemite when he first visited it in 1868, and he returned many times before he died in 1914. He often spent many weeks hiking (walking in the mountains) alone through the park.

Muir paints word pictures like an artist. When I read his words, I can clearly see the mountains in my mind. Here is my “simple English” version of one paragraph from his book The Mountains of California (If you want to read his original words, you can find them here.).

The walls of Yosemite’s valleys (low land) are made of rocks as large as mountains, separated (kept apart) by narrow canyons. They are so steep (vertical, up and down) in front, and so close together on the valley’s flat floor, that when you look at all of them at the same time, the spaces in between them look like vast (very large) rooms lighted by the sky above. Every rock seems to glow (shine brightly) with life…. They are awesome (impressive), majestic, and permanent. But at the same time, they are full of delicate (fragile, easily damaged) and temporary beauty. The feet of the mountains stand in groves (groups) of pine trees and bright green fields. Their heads are in the sky, covered with light and floods of singing water. Snowstorms, avalanches (snow falling down the mountain), and winds quickly come and go all year long. These mountains remind me of mansions (large homes) where Nature has carefully collected her most valuable treasures so her lovers will come close and spend time with her.

If I want to look at Yosemite’s mountains, for me there is nothing better than Ansel Adams’s beautiful black-and-white (without color) photographs. Adams is one of America’s most famous photographers because of his photographs of Yosemite National Park. Adams first visited the park when he was 14 years old and it quickly became one of his favorite places. He lived there for many years and took many of his best-known photographs there.

If you want to learn more about Adams and see some of his photographs, I recommend two articles from the New York Times newspaper. The articles are What Adams Saw Through His Lens and Ansel Adams’s Yosemite. In the second article you can see nine of his photographs and hear a brief description of each one.

If you want to learn more about Yosemite, be sure to listen to English Cafe #238 on April 21st and hear what Jeff has to say about it.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of www.successfulenglish.com where you can learn more about how to improve your English.

~ Photo by Jim Brekke used by permission.

Tuesday - March 23, 2010

You Be the DJ

From time to time, I have selected songs and provided the lyrics (words in songs), with explanations.  They are usually songs I like, so you’ve had to suffer (go through the pain of) my choices.

Finally, it’s your turn to be DJ (disc jockey; the person on the radio who selects the music to be played and who announces the songs).  We’d like to hear what songs you’d like to hear and which lyrics you’d like explained.

We sometimes get questions from podcast listeners who ask about lyrics from Elvis songs, Beatles songs, or songs by other well-known and legendary (remarkable; very famous because of their talent) artists, so I thought we’d start with some of these, taking the top five in record sales (the number of records or CDs sold), and then adding a few other popular recording artists (anyone who records music for sale).

Tell us who your favorite recording artist is of all time.  If the artist does not appear in the poll below, tell us who it is by posting a comment. Also, suggest a particular song in the comments that you’d like to hear.  Let’s see which artist/song gets the most votes or the most mentions and you’ll see that here on the blog.

~ Lucy

Which of these is your favorite recording artist?

View Results

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Wednesday - March 17, 2010

Erin Go Bragh!

Today is one of the most important celebrations in the country of Ireland, and for those of us who are Irish-American (or Irish-Anything): St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th.  St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, a Roman Scot (from Scotland) who eventually went to Ireland and converted the Irish people to Christianity in the 5th century.  A saint is a holy man or woman, especially in the Catholic Church, and a patron saint is the saint who is especially associated with a place or kind of activity.

St. Patrick’s Day is especially important in the Irish-American community here in the U.S. as a day to be proud of our ancestry (where we came from originally).  While it is common for immigrant groups to bring with them the celebrations of their native (home) countries, the large size of the Irish immigrant population in the U.S. made St. Patrick’s Day the most popular and well-known ethnic (relating to a specific country) celebration in the country.  Cities with large Irish-American populations have parades (groups of people marching (walking) down the street with signs), including Boston, New York, Chicago, and of course my hometown (where you were born) of St. Paul, Minnesota. Each year, I remember we would take the day off of school and go down as a family to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown St. Paul.  Even though the first McQuillans came to the United States in 1840, this day was – and still is – a day we all get together as a family to celebrate, something that is true for a lot of Irish-American families.

Irish-Americans usually wear something green on this day, since green is the color associated with Ireland.  My father, for example, had the world’s ugliest green coat that he wore each year on this day.  Those celebrating today often have hats and shirts with shamrocks on them (see photo), which is one of the national symbols of Ireland.  (St. Patrick is said (is thought) to have used the three-leaf shamrock or clover to explain the Christian concept of the Trinity, that there is one God (one shamrock) but three Persons (three leaves).)  You will also see people with buttons on this day that say “Erin Go Bragh,” which means “Ireland Forever!” in the native language of the Irish, Gaelic.

St. Patrick’s Day is so popular in the U.S. that we say that everyone is Irish on this day, even if you really aren’t.  Non-Irish add the traditional Irish “Mc” or “O” to the beginnings of their last names as a joke, so Lucy Tse might be “Lucy McTse” or “Lucy O’Tse.”  Our president would be, of course, Barack O’Bama.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

~Jeff

Tuesday - March 16, 2010

Getting Crafty with Crafts

KnittingMost people know about the Internet selling website eBay. It is a website that allows individuals and businesses to list items for sale.  Then, buyers use an auction process, where each buyer indicates how much he or she is willing to pay for an item and the person who is willing to pay the most buys the product.

eBay is probably the most well known Internet auction website, but recently, I heard about a new Internet selling site aimed at (designed for) individual sellers who are crafty (two meanings: 1) clever; 2) able to make things with one’s hands, especially decorative things).

In the past five to ten years in the U.S., there has been a resurgence of interest (increased interest after a period of not being popular) in crafts, especially knitting and crocheting. Knitting and crocheting are two methods of using yarn (thick thread) and long needles (sticks) to make things like sweaters, scarves, baby clothes, handbags, and many other things. (Crocheting (pronounced “crow-shay-ing”) uses one needle with a hook at the end, and knitting uses two needles, with no hook.)

This new selling website takes advantage of this interest in crafts and is called Etsy. All of the products listed on the website are crafts, or things that are handmade (made by one’s hands, rather than by machines in factories). On the website, you will find sweaters and scarves (long pieces of fabric you put around your neck to keep you warm), of course, but also handmade greeting cards (such as birthday cards, Christmas cards), cases for cell phones, candles, furniture, clocks, jewelry, and much more. On the site, the seller sets (determines) the price. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the website, there is a page where customers can ask for custom (made for a specific customer) products and the price they are willing to pay.

For many people, crafts are a hobby (activity done in one’s free time for fun), but many people are turning crafts into cash, especially in these difficult economic times. When I was little, my mother taught me how to knit, and later on, my sister taught me how to crochet. Looking at the nice quality products that other people can make on this site has really put my own efforts to shame (makes me embarrassed about the low quality of the things I’ve made).  If you ever see me with an odd-shaped (strangely-shaped) scarf or a lopsided (with one side smaller or lower than the other) hat, you’ll know I didn’t get it from Etsy. I made it myself.  I’m afraid I’m not too crafty with my crafts.

Are you crafty?  What can you make?  What would you like to learn to make?

Me?  I’ve always wanted to learn to make things with wood, perhaps to build small pieces of furniture or other practical things.  But given (considering; keeping in mind) I’m not very good with my hands, I think I better stick with (stay with) writing scripts!

~ Lucy

Thursday - March 11, 2010

California Dreamin’

California dreamin’ is a song by a group called The Mamas and The Papas (you can find it on YouTube). They were popular in the 1960s, when Jeff was still very young.

In the song, the song writer, who is suffering from (having a bad experience as the result of) a cold winter day, is dreaming about moving to Los Angeles:

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A. (Los Angeles)

According to an article – America’s Most Popular States: The Reality of Living the Dream – at The Book of Odds web site – California has flooding, earthquakes, and wildfires. It’s short on cash (the state doesn’t have much money) and drinking water, but it’s still the state that most people want to live in. People prefer (like one thing better than another) California to Florida, Hawaii, Texas, and Colorado – the other states in the top 5.

What about the California dream? Is California a good place to live? How does it compare to other states? Here are some of the things I found in the article (some of the numbers have changed since the article was written):

  • 12% of Americans already live in California (the population is more than 36 million!)
  • 11.5% of Californians older than 16 are unemployed (don’t have a job). It’s better in Texas, where only 7.5% are unemployed. The national average is 6% (Since the recent economic problems, these numbers are much higher.).
  • The odds (see explanation below) of being a victim of violent crime in California are 1 in 198.5. California is safer, or less dangerous, than Florida and Texas.
  • Fewer people in Texas – only 75% – have a healthcare plan (health insurance). In addition, about 37% of the people in Texas are overweight (weigh too much). That doesn’t sound healthy.
  • Hawaii and Colorado have the highest number of insured residents (people with insurance) and the lowest number of violent crimes in the top 5 states.
  • Hawaii has almost as many earthquakes as California.
  • If you live in Colorado, there is a 1 in 10 chance that you will experience a wildfire each year. In California the odds are 1 in 3.33. I know about that; one of the recent wildfires was only a few miles from where I live.

The article asks an important question – “What do these numbers tell us about what life is really like in America’s most wanted states?” – and answers it – “Not much.” To really know what life is like somewhere, you have to know and think about more than these numbers. They are only part of the story. But they are interesting.

I’m curious: if you moved to the U.S., where would you like to live? Why?

Explanation: When we say “the odds are…” we are talking about the probability or chances of something happening. Here’s a simple example: when a woman has a baby, the odds are 1 in 2 that the baby will be a boy (or girl). Another example: if a horse is expected to win 25% – ¼ – of its races, the odds of its winning are 1 in 4. When the second number is smaller, there is a greater probability, or chance, of the thing happening. Oh my, I see that there’s a 1 in 1.4 (70%) chance of rain tomorrow. I need to make sure I carry my umbrella!

~Warren Ediger – ESL teacher/tutor, perpetual (permanent) learner, writer, musician, husband & father, creator of www.successfuenglish.com.

photo by W. Ediger

Thursday - March 4, 2010

Headlines: Health Care Bill

Last year I experimented with the idea of taking a news headline (the title of a newspaper story) and explaining both the words of the headline and the background of the story.  Today I’ll give it another try, this time for a story that appears on today’s New York Times website.

“Obama Calls for ‘Up or Down Vote’ on Health Care Bill”

President Obama announced yesterday that he wants the U.S. Congress (our national legislature, consisting of Senators and Representatives) to have an “up or down vote” on health care.  To vote means to say yes or no about some issue in an election or group decision.  A bill is a proposal for a law that needs to be approved by the two houses or parts of Congress, the Senate (100 people) and the House of Representatives (435 people), and then signed by the president to become a law.  For most things, a simple majority (50% + 1) is enough to pass or approve a bill.  But in the U.S. Senate, there is a way to prevent a vote on any bill by, basically, refusing to stop talking.  This procedure, known as a filibuster, can only be stopped by a super-majority (more than 50% + 1) of 60%.

President Obama is asking the Congress (specifically, the Senate) to avoid any filibusters and simply vote on the proposed bill for health care (taking care of people who are sick).   This is what he means by an up and down vote – no filibusters, just a simple majority vote of yes (“up”) or no (“down”).  While the president’s political party, the Democrats, has a simple majority in both houses of Congress, it does not have a super-majority in the Senate, so it cannot stop the opposing party, the Republicans, from filibustering.  Hence (therefore), the president is asking Republicans to stop preventing a vote on the bill.  If he can do that, the bill has a much better chance of passing.

Unfortunately for the president, the majority of Americans are not in favor of the current health care bill, and many of the Democrats in his own party are afraid to vote for a bill that has become so unpopular, largely due to (because of) the high cost of it.  We’ll have to see if the Senate Republicans take the president’s suggestion to, well, shut up and let the vote proceed (take place, happen).  Even if they do, it is still possible that the bill will fail to pass with a simple majority.

~Jeff

P.S. Feel free to comment on whether you think this sort of blog post – about headlines – is useful.

Tuesday - March 2, 2010

Desert Island Companion

800px-lakshadweepislandI often come across desert island questions, asking if we were stranded on (not able to leave) a desert island, or a deserted island, that is uninhabited (with no people, other than me), what would we want to bring along?  It’s not too difficult to select our favorite books or movies to accompany (go with) us to our lonely new home, I think.

But what if you were stranded on a desert island and given the chance to have one companion, someone to keep you company (give you friendship or companionship)?  This person cannot be a relative or even someone you know personally, such as your spouse (husband/wife), boyfriend/girlfriend, or best friend.  It must be a historical figure (someone famous from the past) or a character from books, movies, or TV shows.

Of course, those of you who are practical-minded (thinking of and doing the most useful things) may immediately think of someone like MacGyver, or someone else who is extremely resourceful (able to do a lot with only a little), to help you on the island. This person would certainly be helpful as a companion, so let’s assume he’s already on the island with you.

The question is:  If you were picking someone else to be on your desert island, who would you pick?

You might be interested to know that when I asked Jeff this question, first he said he might pick someone like Socrates or Albert Einstein.  And then, he thought for a minute and asked me, “Is my wife dead?” so we know where his mind was going…and of course, we don’t blame him (say that he did something wrong)!

I’m still trying to decide. I think I would pick someone who is a great storyteller to help me pass the time.

Who would you pick and why?

~ Lucy