Remember your first job? I do. And I remember learning something very important from it.
I got my first “real” job when I left home after high school to go to college. My parents couldn’t afford (didn’t have enough money) to help me, so I worked my way through college (paid for my education by working).
I went to class in the morning and, occasionally, in the evening. Every afternoon I went to work in a small manufacturing company where I was responsible for the mail room.
I did the things you might expect. I went around to all the offices, picked up the day’s outgoing (being sent) mail, and made sure it was ready to be picked up by the mail truck. After the incoming (received) mail was delivered, I distributed (took it around) it to each of the offices.
Most of my time, however, was spent preparing the day’s promotional (advertising) mail. Each salesman scheduled multiple (more than one) mailings to each of their customers. For example, they would send one promotional piece the first month, a different one the second month, and so on.
Every day I would take the envelopes for that day from a large file cabinet. I put the appropriate promotional pieces into the envelopes, put postage (money charged for sending a letter) on them, sorted (organized in groups) them according to their destinations (where they were going), and put them into large mailbags.
The flow (smooth steady movement) of mail was important to the company. And I was responsible to see that the flow was not interrupted (stopped).
Several weeks before Christmas, I went to see the office manager, to tell him that I would be gone for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. We didn’t have school during the holidays, and I planned to spend them with my family.
George invited me to come into his office and sit down across the desk from him. He listened attentively (thoughtfully) to what I had to say. When I finished, he was quiet for a short time and then asked, “Where do you plan to work when you return after the holidays?”
I must have looked puzzled (confused), so George explained. “You may get time off during the holidays, but we don’t. Our work continues. If you leave, I’ll have to hire someone to take your place. I can’t do that and then ask him or her to leave when you come back. So you need to decide if you want to continue to work here.”
Happily, George and I were able to work out a compromise (a different way to solve the problem). I worked until the day before Christmas, took the train home so I could enjoy Christmas with my family, and returned to work a day or two after Christmas.
George taught me an important lesson: when you are given a job, you are responsible to do that job. You’re a part of a team, and when the team works, you work. You can’t come and go whenever you want to.
Who is the best? Or, at the end of the year or end of the season (the time of the year that a particular activity takes place), who was the best?
Sports commentators (someone who knows a lot about something and writes about it or discusses it) spend hours answering these questions every year. And so do the fans, the people who follow the sports.
I enjoy sports, but in general (usually), I don’t care who is or was the best. However, there is one honor (a special title given to someone who accomplishes something) – the Triple Crown – that always catches my attention because it’s a way of saying that someone was the best of the best.
Triple Crown is a term (word or expression with a particular meaning) for winning or completing the three most difficult or important events of something, such as a sport. The idea first appeared in the 19th century (1800s) England in the sport of horse racing. Since then it has spread to other countries and other sports and activities.
In the U.S., we have three well-known Triple Crowns. The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing is a series of races for three-year-old horses. A thoroughbred is a horse breed (kind) used in racing.
The first race, the Kentucky Derby, is run on the first Saturday in May in the state of Kentucky. Two weeks later the Preakness Stakes is run in Maryland. And three weeks after that, the Belmont Stakes is run in New York. Three races in five weeks and travel in between!
More than 4,000 horses have run in the three Triple Crown races. Fifty-two have won two of the three races. But only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown, and no horse has won it since 1978. Thanks to the 2010 movie about him, Secretariat is probably the most famous Triple Crown winner.
Major league baseball (the teams that make up the highest level of American professional baseball) has two Triple Crowns. One is given to a batter (player who hits the ball) if he is the best in three categories (areas):
Batting average – He hits the baseball a higher percentage (%) of the time than any other player.
Home runs – He hits the baseball out of the park (over the fence) more than any other player.
RBIs, or runs batted in – the number of times players score a run (point) when he hits the ball.
The first batting Triple Crown was won in 1878. Since then only 16 other players have won the award, most recently in 2012.
The second baseball Triple Crown is awarded (given as a result of winning) to a pitcher (players who throw the ball to batters). To win the pitching Triple Crown, a pitcher must:
Win the most games.
Strike out the most batters (keep them from hitting the ball).
Allow the fewest runs (scores or points) per game.
Thirty-eight players have won the pitching Triple Crown, including eight since 1997. Clayton Kershaw, a player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, won it in 2011.
I’m curious: do you have any Triple Crowns in your country? Some Triple Crowns, like in cycling (bicycle racing), are international.
In the U.S., you start to hear Christmas music played on the radio after the late November holiday of Thanksgiving, and you continue to hear it all the way through the month of December. By New Year’s Day, the radio stations stop playing Christmas music. For most people, Christmas is “over,” finished. Time to get back to work!
But traditionally (and still in other countries around the world), the celebration of Christmas begins on December 25th, and doesn’t end until January 6th. January 6th is celebrated under different names depending on the culture and particular Christian group you’re in, but most people who know about it in the U.S. associate it with the “Three Kings” or “Three Wise Men” or “Epiphany” (for the story, see here).
There’s a popular song called the “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which some Americans think refers to the 12 days before Christmas, when in fact it refers to the 12 days after Christmas – that is, from Christmas to the celebration of the Epiphany. The song is about gifts that your “true love” (your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse (husband or wife)) gives to you. Each day you get a different gift, starting with one of something, then two of something, then three of something, and so forth.
Most people (including me) can remember the first five verses (sections) of the song, corresponding to (relating to) the first five days of Christmas, but can’t remember the rest of the verses. So below are the “gifts” for all 12 days and an explanation of them.
If you are not familiar with the song, you’ll want to watch a video of it also (see below).
Here then are the 12 gifts (look at the image above also to help you):
A partridge in a pear tree – a partridge is a kind of bird, and a pear is a type of fruit
Three French hens – also called Faverolles, they’re a type of chicken
Four calling birds – also called a songbird for the noise they make
Five golden rings – a ring is what you wear on your finger as jewelry
Six geese a-laying – geese are (of course) birds, and “a-laying” is another way of saying that they are producing eggs (the “a” in front of the gerund “laying” is an Old English way of indicating the present progressive, so “a-laying” would be “is/are laying”)
Seven swans a-swimming – swans are beautiful birds related to ducks and geese
Eight maids a-milking – a milkmaid is a girl or woman who works getting milk (white liquid) from a cow (maid is an old word for a young, usually unmarried woman)
Nine ladies dancing – a lady can refer to a woman, but an older use of the word refers especially to a woman of authority, power, and wealth (lots of money) (I’m pretty sure my wife would never give this gift to me.)
Ten lords a-leaping – a lord is an older term for a man of power and wealth, often the owner of a large house and a lot of land; to leap means to jump
Eleven pipers piping – a piper is someone who plays a musical instrument such as a bagpipe; to pipe is the verb used to refer to playing a bagpipe or other similar instrument
Twelve drummers drumming – a drummer plays a drum, a musical instrument that requires that you hit it to make a sound; to drum refers to playing that instrument.
To really appreciate the song, you have to listen to it. Here is a video with the music and images of the different gifts.
Do you have this song in your language (or a similar version)? Has anyone ever given you seven swans a-swimming or ten lords a-leaping?
It’s nearly here. The year 2014 is coming to a close (end) and we’re getting ready to welcome 2015. At parties and get-togethers (informal social events) this week, we’ll be hearing a lot of people ringing in (welcoming) the new year with a toast.
We’re all familiar with toasts. When we’re at a celebration, such as a wedding reception (party after the marriage ceremony), people offer a few words of good wishes, asking the guests to raise (lift up) their glasses in celebration. Most toasts begin with the word “May,” as in “May the newly married couple live a happy and long life together.” “May,” in this case, expresses our wish or hope that something will happen.
It is also common to begin a toast with Here’s to, as in “Here’s to all of the people who helped us make this event a success” or “Here’s to ten more years of our company’s success.” In this case, “Here’s to” means “I’m offering these words or wishes to [something or someone].”
And on New Year’s Eve, the day before the first day of 2015, many people will be offering toasts to each other, wishing good things for their friends and family. Since you are all part of the ESL Podcast family, I thought I’d present a few toasts to you.
May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.
Joey Adams was an American comedian (person whose job is make you laugh) and writer. He was born in 1911 in New York. He wrote for newspapers, published 23 books, and had a long career in comedy.
Your troubles are your problems, the things that bother you or that cause you problems. Resolutions are the promises we make to ourselves to do things differently or better in the future. We all make New Year resolutions, and as Joey Adams points out, we don’t always keep them for very long.
Here’s to being single, drinking doubles, and seeing triple. ~Irish toast
This is a traditional toast from Ireland.
Being single means to not be married and to not have a girlfriend or boyfriend. If an alcoholic drink is a double, it contains more alcohol than a regular drink, which we do not call a “single.” (It’s just called a regular drink.) Sometimes a “double” has twice (two times) the alcohol than in a normal drink, and sometimes it’s just a little more alcohol than usual. It depends on the bar, the place serving the drink.
When we’re under the influence of (have drunk or have taken) alcohol or drugs, our vision or sight is often not very clear. We call this seeing double. This toast mentions “seeing triple,” with triple meaning three times, so this is just a joke meaning that the person offering the toast hopes you’re having so much fun that you see a lot of strange things.
May your troubles be less and your blessings be more and nothing but happiness come through your door.
Finally, this is another traditional toast from Ireland. I won’t say anything about the Irish and drinking, but I think we all know where our favorite Irish American podcaster gets his gift of gab (ability to speak easily and well).
We’ve already talked about “troubles.” Blessings are the exact opposite. “Blessings” are the good things in our lives that we feel grateful for or happy about. Some people may consider their children or good friends a blessing. In some religions, a “blessing” also refers to God’s protection and help, so someone might say, “I hope that our new project has God’s blessing.”
And now my own toast to you:
May you all improve your English faster than you thought possible, speak like native English speakers, and not care if you don’t.
On behalf of (representing) all of us here at ESL Podcast, have a happy New Year and a wonderful 2015!
In 1933, there were not many gifts under Christmas trees in Canton, Ohio. The Great Depression had taken most of the joy and much of the hope out of Christmas. Jobs were hard to find. And the jobs that people found didn’t pay much. Many people in Canton, and other American cities, struggled (tried extremely hard) to survive (continue to live normally).
Eight days before Christmas, an advertisement written like a letter appeared on the front page of the Canton newspaper. Here’s what it said (in my words):
What if I couldn’t find food for my family to eat tomorrow. Would I accept help from a welfare organization (one that helps needy people)? I don’t think so. I would be too embarrassed (worried about what people think). And I know that many of you feel the same way.
If you’re in a situation like that, I would like to help so that your family will be able to spend a merry and joyful Christmas. I don’t want anyone to know my name, and I will never tell yours.
Please send a letter to B. Virdot, General Delivery, Canton, Ohio. Tell me about your situation, and I will send you financial aid (money to help) without delay (as soon as possible).
During the next few days, 150 needy Canton families received checks for $5 – almost $100 in today’s dollars.
No one knew the full story of the mysterious B. Virdot and his anonymous (without a name) gifts until 2008. That’s when Ted Gup’s mother gave him an old suitcase. When he opened it, he found a stack (pile) of letters written just before Christmas in 1933.
In his letter, Harry Stanley, who hadn’t worked for two years, said he hoped to give his five children a good Christmas dinner. Ruby Blythe didn’t want anything for herself. She wanted to help her neighbor whose children didn’t have clothes for school and would have only bread for Christmas dinner. One after another, the letters Gup read described the needs of good people who wanted to care for family, friends, and neighbors but couldn’t because of the Depression.
Gup also found a stack of canceled (used) checks – all for $5 and signed by B. Virdot. And he discovered something else: B. Virdot was his grandfather, Samuel Stone. He had made up the name B. Virdot so no one would know who he was.
Stone was not a wealthy man. His Jewish family had escaped persecution (bad treatment of a group of people) in Romania 30 years earlier and come to America. His secret gifts were his way of saying thank you to the people of Canton and America for accepting their family when they were needy.
Gup, a writer and professor of journalism, spent the next year looking for and sharing the stories of the letters with the families of people who had received his grandfather’s checks. He also wrote a book – A Secret Gift – that tells the stories.
Gup learned that one person who had received a check was still alive. When he asked Helen Palm if she remembered, she replied, “Oh my God! You better believe it!” Palm bought herself a pair of shoes: her old ones had holes in the soles (the bottom of a shoe). And she bought gifts for her brothers and sisters and took her parents out for dinner.
Gup says his grandfather knew that his gifts couldn’t change much. But, he writes, “[my grandfather] had learned from his own hard life that even the most modest (small) of offerings (gifts) can provide the gift of hope and the knowledge that someone cares.”
Sylvia had always dreamed about being a mother. She was 49 years old and thought her dream would never come true when she received a phone call. Would she be willing (say yes), the caller asked, to take care of four children? The children had been neglected (not taken care of) by their mother. As a result, they had been missing school and sleeping on the streets or with other homeless people.
The children had been moving from home to home for more than a year because no one wanted to take care of all four of them together. Sylvia agreed to become a foster parent (someone who takes someone else’s child into their family without becoming their legal parent) for the three girls and one boy. “I went from zero to four overnight,” she said. “It was a big change. But what else could I do? Those children needed me.”
Foster children are minor (younger than 18) children who are taken care of by foster parents. Some are placed in foster care voluntarily (without someone saying they have to) because their parents can’t take care of them. Others are taken from their parents and placed in foster homes because they are in danger of physical or psychological abuse (cruel or violent treatment).
Often grandparents or other relatives (family members) become foster parents for needy children. But frequently people who are not part of the child’s family become the foster parents and take care of these children. Usually children are placed in foster homes by the government or a social-service agency (an organization that helps people with special needs).
Many children are placed in foster care for a while and then adopted (to take someone else’s child into your home and become the child’s legal parent). This process usually takes about four years. More than 100,000 foster children in the U.S. are waiting for a family to adopt them, and about 50,000 are adopted every year.
The idea for foster care in the U.S. began about 150 years ago with Charles Brace in New York City. Brace was concerned about homeless and neglected children who were living in the streets and slums (areas in very bad condition) of New York. From 1853 to about 1890, he found families to take care of more than 120,000 of these children.
For Sylvia, becoming a foster mother wasn’t the end of her story. Last summer, the children’s mother was killed. And a few months later, Sylvia officially adopted Rebecca, Giovanni, Olivia, and Mary as her own children. “This love is different from anything I’ve experienced,” Sylvia said. “I really feel now that my life is complete (as great as it can possibly be).” Her dream of becoming a mother had come true.
“This week, the lame ducks are returning to Congress for their last bit of legislating (making laws). But no one seems too excited to see them.” That was the lede (or lead; the first sentence or paragraph) for a news story in the Washington Post last week.
Other newspapers and websites echoed (repeated) those feelings in their headlines (the title of a news story):
Lamest Lame Duck (Politico)
How Lame Will The Lame Ducks Be? (The Atlantic)
Don’t Let Lame Ducks Spend Your Money (American Spectator)
We all probably know what a duck is. But, a lame duck? If you know the word “lame”, you might say that a lame duck is a duck that can’t walk because its foot or leg is weak (not strong) or injured (hurt) – like the duck in the photo.
You’d be right, but in politics, “lame” means something different. Let me try to explain. In the U.S., our national elections (when we vote) are always early (near the beginning) in November. But the president and Congress – members of the Senate and House of Representatives – don’t take office (begin work) until later, in January. Each session (work year) of Congress begins on January 3rd, and a new president takes office on January 20th.
Do you see the problem?
Between election day and January 3rd or 20th, people who were not reelected (elected again) have to go to work, but they have no real power because their jobs will soon end. In a very short time, someone else will have their job. These people are the lame ducks.
An American newspaper first used the word “lame duck” this way in 1863 during our Civil War. In 1932, Will Rogers – an American cowboy and a very funny man who became a popular performer and writer – suggested his own definition. He wrote that a lame duck Congress is “like where some fellows (men) worked for you and their work wasn’t satisfactory (good enough) and you let ‘em (them) out, but after you fired (told them they had to leave their job) ‘em, you let ‘em stay long enough so they could burn your house down.”
This situation may seem strange to people from countries where politicians begin their terms (time in political office) shortly (very soon) after they are elected. But it’s actually better in the U.S. today than it used to be. Before 1933, the president and Congress began their terms in March. The 20th Amendment (change) to the U.S. Constitution (the highest law of the government) moved the beginning of the terms to January, where they are today.
I guess you could say that we haven’t eliminated (gotten rid of) the lame ducks, but we have shortened their lives.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.
If you want an unforgettable drive, drive west from Washington, D.C., for about one hour, turn onto Skyline Drive, take it to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and drive to the end. These two roads follow the Blue Ridge Mountains for almost 600 miles (965 km). And if you drive them, you’ll experience one of the most historic (important to history) and beautiful areas in the eastern U.S.
You can’t drive fast here – the speed limit (how fast you can drive) is lower than usual – but you wouldn’t want to. Every turn in the road shows you something new – rugged (rocky) mountains and pastoral (farm-like) valleys (land between mountains) with waterfalls, rivers, and lakes. Forests and fields (areas of open land) of colorful wildflowers come to the edge of the road. And if you look carefully, you may see deer, bears, wild turkeys, and other wild animals.
One thing that sets these roads apart (makes them different) is that the area around them is treated as a historical museum. Historical places and buildings have been protected and taken care of so people can enjoy them as they were originally (from the beginning) and learn from them. When you drive these roads, you drive through history.
If you open your car window and listen carefully as you drive, you may hear something else that sets this area apart – the music. These hills are alive with the sound of music.
The hill music can be difficult to describe. It’s old-time music, some of it brought by immigrants from Ireland and Scotland. It’s string-band (see the photo) music. It’s bluegrass music. It’s the music of the people who live here. And they love to make it.
You can hear the music on street corners and in barber shops (where men get their hair cut). Evenings and weekends you can find people gathered on someone’s front porch (area in front of a house with a roof but no walls) or in someone else’s barn (large farm building), making and enjoying music.
Chris Wohlwend recently wrote about his visit to a popular gathering place called The Red Barn. It was a very casual gathering, he writes. Admission (cost to get in) is free. And everyone is welcome. Many of the people bring food to share with everyone else.
When it’s time to start, the musicians pick up their instruments and, in the words of one of their popular songs, “make them sing.” Any musician is welcome to “sit in” (participate; take part), and many do.
The Red Barn has about 100 seats (chairs), and on the night Wohlwend went, about 75 people were there. During the performance, some listened, some danced, some sampled (took a small amount of) the food, and others visited with (talked to) friends. A dog wandered (walked casually) through the crowd from time to time, and a young boy leaned (rested) against the stage (raised area where the musicians sat), fascinated by (extremely interested in) the fiddle (violin) player.
At the end of the evening, Wohlwend wrote, after almost everyone had gone, one of the men picked up his fiddle and began to play one of his favorite songs alone, “oblivious (not aware) that the barn was empty. He was playing for his own enjoyment.”
If you’d like to look at Wohlwend’s article, which includes photos and a link to one of the songs he heard, you can find it here.
I’ve recently come across (seen without looking for it) a couple of reports about American-themed (style) parties in other countries. The idea is to decorate, eat, drink, and play games that are stereotypical (a widely believed but too simple idea) of Americans and their celebrations. People attend these parties dressed like Americans — or at least what they think Americans look like — perhaps in cut-off shorts (short pants made by cutting off the pant legs above the knee, usually from jeans) and t-shirts, team jerseys (uniform shirts) of American basketball, football, or baseball teams, and baseball hats or cowboy hats.
The food served at American parties is also common American food, although not always the food real Americans actually would serve at parties. Among the things served are popcorn (made by cooking corn kernels (seeds) in hot oil and adding butter and salt), cupcakes (small, individual cakes), and hamburgers.
And, of course, there has to be beer. Apparently (it seems that) the most important part of having an American party is to have red Solo cups. Solo is an American brand of disposable (used once and thrown away) plates, utensils (knives, forks, and spoons), and plastic cups.
Most Americans would be surprised that people from other countries have identified these red plastic cups to be so, well, American. In fact, there is nothing special about these cups, to our way of thinking (from our point of view). The main reason they are so often used at parties is because they are cheap and they’re relatively large. They are large enough to hold a good amount of beer (16 ounces) and they are fairly sturdy (not easily broken) for a disposable cup. There is no particular reason for the cups to be red; it’s just the company’s way of distinguishing (separating themselves in people’s minds) its product from those of other companies. But because of its association with American parties, some companies are now selling red Solo cups on websites and in stores abroad (in foreign countries), precisely so they can be used for American parties.
The red Solo cup even has its own song. Popular country music singer Toby Keith released (made available to the public) a song in 2011 called “Red Solo Cup.” It’s a tribute (something done to honor or appreciate something) to the cup, and if you must hear it, you can see the video for it here. It’s truly a dreadful (terrible) song. I normally wouldn’t pass judgement (give an opinion), but it really is a bad, bad, bad song. You have been warned.
If you have had or have gone to an American-themed party, tell us about it.
If we were to have a party based on the country or culture you live in, what is the one thing that the party must have?
“Time is money” is an old saying in English, meaning of course that your time is valuable. The time you spend doing one thing is time you are not spending doing something else, something that might give you more money or benefits.
Most of us don’t think about the time it takes us to travel to places as being part of the “price” or cost of using their products or services. For example, if you want to borrow (get something from another person to use temporarily) a book from a public library in the United States, you don’t need to actually give any money to the library. The book is “free.”
But is it really free?
In order to borrow a book (and I’m talking now about paper books, not an electronic ones), you have to get in your car, get on the bus, or walk in order to get to the library. The trip therefore costs you both time and, if you drive or take a bus, money. And since time is money, we can think of the effort of going to the library in all cases as a having a certain “price.”
So borrowing a “free” book from the library does in fact cost you something. Now, generally speaking, the more expensive something is, the less likely you are to buy it. As price increases, sales (things sold) decrease.
This means that if you live a very long distance from the library, you are less likely to pay that “price” to use it, and will therefore borrow fewer books.
Studies on public library use have found exactly that: the farther (greater distance) you lived from a public library, the less likely you are to borrow and read books from the library.
Communities that have more (and better) libraries do, in fact, read more, and children in those communities do better at reading in school! The reason is simple: when you lower (decrease) the price of something, more people will “buy” it. Living closer to a library decreases the cost of using it, and increases your likelihood (chance; possibility) of using it.
This relationship holds true (is true) for many different kinds of services. A recent article in Time reported on the average (typical) distance Americans live from certain kinds of people, businesses, and services. The article didn’t mention this relationship between access (the ability to get to or to use something) and the amount that people visit these places, but it is interesting to think about how the “price” of getting to these places influences how much they are used.
Here are some typical distances found in the article that are true for at least 50% of all Americans (distances are given sometimes in miles, sometimes in minutes needed to travel by car):
Mom – 30 miles. This is true for married Americans, and means that the average (married) American lives within 30 miles of his or her mother.
>> I live 1,985 miles from my mother, since I’m in California and she’s in Minnesota.
Body of water – 60 minutes. This would include living near a lake or an ocean.
>> I live eight minutes from a body of water (the Pacific Ocean).
Starbucks – 20 miles. This is true for 80% of Americans, but the distance is much closer for those living in big cities like Los Angeles.
>> My nearest Starbucks is 1.1 miles from my house. There are more than 25 Starbucks within just five miles of where I live, and probably close to a hundred within 20 miles!
YMCA – 5 miles. The YMCA is a well-known, low-cost place with gyms and swimming pools.
>> I live 2.6 miles from a YMCA.
McDonalds – 3 miles.
>> I live 2.3 miles from a McDonald’s, very close to the national average. But I almost never eat there, so here even a low price doesn’t get me to buy!
Gun Dealer – 10 miles. A gun dealer is a person or store that sells guns for hunting or other uses. An amazing 98% of all Americans live within 10 miles of a place that sells guns.
>> I don’t know how many miles I live from a gun dealer, and hope I never need to get a gun!
How far do you live from your Mom, a Starbucks, and a McDonalds?
Image credit: Town Library, Petersborough, New Hampshire, site of the first free public library in the United States, Wikipedia