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Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

Tuesday - April 22, 2014

Pizza for Breakfast

icon_3818One out of every eight Americans will eat pizza today, according to a nutritionist (someone who studies the science of food) from the federal (national) government agency that tracks (follows; analyzes) such things, the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Among teenage boys, that number is twice as high – 25% will eat pizza today!

Most people eat pizza for dinner. Since people buy big pizzas, there are usually leftovers (extra food from a meal that you keep to eat at another meal).

And when do people eat their leftovers?

Surprisingly, at breakfast. This is especially true for children: four percent of all American children eat pizza for breakfast. Amazing, but true.

Pizza has an important part of popular culture in the U.S. When I was in high school, I used to eat pizza all the time (like most teenage boys, we now know). On Friday and Saturday nights, my friends and I would often go to a pizza joint (informal term for a restaurant or bar) to eat pizza and spend the night talking.

In fact, in the late 1970s when I was in high school, pizza places (restaurants) were popular with teenage boys for another reason – video games. Many pizza restaurants had videos game machines, providing the owners of the restaurant with another way to make money, and teenage boys with another way to pass the time.

Did you eat pizza today?

~Jeff

Image credit: Pizza by Marcus Michaels from the Noun Project

Thursday - April 17, 2014

An Anniversary For Remembering

1st_Boston_Marathon_blast_seen_from_2nd_floor_and_a_half_block_awaySome anniversaries are for celebrating – like wedding anniversaries. Some are for commemorating – for recalling (remembering) and to serve as a memorial (to remind people of an event or person). This week we commemorate an anniversary.

One year ago two bombs hidden in backpacks spread death and mayhem (an attempt to seriously and permanently injure someone) among people near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three were killed. 264 were injured. And 14 required amputations (removal of an arm or leg).

Jeff Bauman was at the marathon to cheer for (to give encouragement to) his girlfriend Erin, who was running in her first marathon. He was there, standing next to one of the backpacks, when it exploded and destroyed both of his legs below the knees.

Jeff has become an icon (something or someone that represents something) of what happened in Boston. The photo of two emergency workers and a bystander (someone who is watching what is happening) in a cowboy hat pushing Jeff – with no lower legs – to the medical tent in a wheelchair was one of the first photos many of us saw.

The story of Jeff’s battle to recover from his injuries and regain (get back) his strength have kept him in the public eye (seen on TV, in the newspapers, etc., a lot). We followed as he endured (to be in a difficult or painful situation for a long time) the amputation of both legs above the knees. We watched and cheered when he took his first steps using artificial legs made especially for him.

Jeff and Erin are now engaged to be married, and they’re expecting their first child. They recently bought a house and spend a lot of their time preparing it for the arrival of their baby. He says that he knew he loved Erin when she laughed after he jokingly told her not to worry because “our kids will have legs.”

In a recent interview, Jeff said that he sleeps a lot, which doctors say is good because it helps his body heal (recover from the injuries). He still has trouble walking on his artificial legs, so when no one is around (nearby), he wears what he calls “stubbies.” They are small platforms (thick pieces of wood) that attach to the bottom of his thighs (upper leg) and make it possible to walk and stand for several hours.

Jeff says that “the things normal people take for granted (don’t think about) – going to the bathroom on their own, getting out of bed without falling down, making a latte for friends – once seemed insurmountable (too large or difficult to do).” There were times that he wanted to give up (stop trying) because he thought he would never be able to take care of himself, no matter how hard he tried.

But he didn’t give up. He continued to try. And he’s slowly improving (getting better). He says that “doing household chores (small regular tasks), being helpful, living a normal life … is what matters. It is what I worked so hard for. And right now, it’s all I really want.”

Jeff has written a book – called Stronger – about his experiences this last year. It will be released this month.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo of Boston Marathon bombing courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - April 15, 2014

Spring Break!

220px-Beach_Party_Annette_Funicello_Frankie_Avalon_Mid-1960sWe are in the middle of the spring break season. I say “season” (period of time), because in the U.S., there are no set (fixed; firm) dates for spring break, and each school, school district (collection of schools under the same management), or region decides when to take this typically one- or two-week vacation. For students, this break (temporary stop; short interruption) occurs near the middle of the spring term (period of schooling) and is a welcome respite (short period of rest).

Spring break occurs in early spring, usually near or around the Easter holiday, which is April 20th this year. The most popular dates include the week before Easter, although they may occur anytime within a four- to five-week period in spring. If you take a look at a popular student travel site, you can see that spring break occurs this year anytime between February and April.

Spring break occurs at all levels of schooling, from kindergarten (for children ages five to six) all the way through college. For younger children, spring break may just be a week or two home from school, or it is a time for a family vacation. For college-age students, it is something else entirely.

For college students, spring break is a time to go on vacation with friends, often to a vacation destination (popular location) where many other spring breakers congregate (meet; also go there). This is typically a week-long party, with a lot of drinking of alcohol and a lot of hooking up (casual sexual experiences). Not all college students party during spring break, of course, but this type of spring break activity is so popular that there are places in the U.S. that cater to (are designed for) college students on spring break, earning most of their money during this four- to five-week period each year.

Beach or lake locations are among the most popular for spring break holidays. The typical image of spring break is of a lot of young people in bikinis (two-piece swimsuits for women) and swim trunks (swim suit for men, similar to shorts). Some of the most popular in the U.S. include Lake Havasu, Arizona, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Daytona Beach, Florida,and South Padre Island, Texas.

Is there a spring break where you live? What are the most popular “party destinations”?

- Lucy

Photo Credit: Beach Party Annette Funicello Frankie Avalon Mid-1960s.jpg from Wikipedia

Thursday - April 3, 2014

Too Close For Comfort*

LHearthquakesI had never sat on top of an earthquake. Until last Friday.

Last Friday evening was interrupted (to stop someone from doing what they were doing) by what sounded like the rumble (deep sound) of a large truck outside our house, followed quickly by what felt like a giant hand angrily shaking the house.

It happened again an hour later. Only this time the truck was much larger and the hand much stronger and angrier.

We had experienced the beginning of a series (one happening after another) of earthquakes, more than 200, which have continued through (including) today.

Fortunately, these were not major** or strong earthquakes. The first was a minor 3.6 on the Richter Scale (a measure of the strength of an earthquake). The second, the largest, was a moderate 5.1 earthquake. And Saturday afternoon there was a light 4.1.

Fortunately, Friday night’s earthquakes caused only minor damage. Store windows were broken. Large cracks (narrow spaces between two parts) appeared in the walls and foundations (the layer of cement or other material that a building stands on) of some houses and apartment buildings. Water mains (large pipes cities use to distribute water to different neighborhoods) were broken. Many items on the shelves of stores in the area were shaken onto the floor. And many, like us, had books, vases, and other items knocked off of shelves in our houses.

We’ve lived in California for 27 years and have experienced many earthquakes. California, as you may know, is sometimes called “earthquake country.” Shortly after we moved to California, we experienced the Whittier Narrows earthquake, a 5.9 earthquake in the city next to ours, which killed eight people and caused millions of dollars of damage.

Two things made these earthquakes different from our previous experiences. First, the largest of them, the main earthquake, was very nearly under our house. The epicenter (the point directly above an earthquake) was only about 1 to 2 kilometers away. Second, many of the more than 200 aftershocks (a smaller earthquake that occurs after an earlier large one) were very shallow (near the surface of the earth).

These two factors (something that causes a situation) – the nearness of the earthquakes and their shallowness – dramatically (greatly) changed our experience. Because we were so close, we experienced more of the earthquakes’ force, or energy. An earthquake’s force dissipates (becomes less) rather quickly as you move farther away, and you experience less of it. And when an earthquake is near the surface, its energy is concentrated (held together) in a smaller area. So for us, these earthquakes have seemed (appeared to be) much louder, stronger, and more violent than stronger earthquakes we have experienced from farther away.

As you may imagine, the earthquakes of the last few days have given us an unsettling experience (made us feel uneasy). You never know when the next one will hit (occur, happen). And when it does, you always wonder how strong it will be and how long it will last.

* Too close for comfort = to be dangerously close. For example, “That car almost hit me! That was too close for comfort.”
** Minor earthquakes are from 3-3.9; light are from 4-4.9; moderate are from 5-5.9; strong are from 6-6.9, and major from 7-7.9.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo: map of recent earthquakes near La Habra, CA courtesy of SCEC.

Tuesday - April 1, 2014

Americans No More

Us-passportMany people would like to be American citizens, legally becoming “members” of the United States. However, last year a record number (more than in any other year) of Americans renounced (gave up; ended) their American citizenship.

About 3,000 people last year renounced their American citizenship, up sharply (very much and suddenly) from about 500 each year in recent years. Why the spike (sudden rise)? It’s because it’s getting more expensive and difficult to be an American, especially one living abroad (in another country).

Politicians (people with elected government jobs) are always promising Americans before elections that they will close tax loopholes, weak points or “holes” in the tax laws that allow people, especially rich people, to avoid paying taxes. That’s what the government tried to do with people taking their money abroad.

In 2008 and 2010, the government passed laws that require foreign banks and other institutions (businesses) that hold American money to comply with (follow) new laws. The purpose of the laws was to prevent (not allow) Americans from hiding money in overseas (foreign) bank accounts or investments, and thereby (as a result) avoid paying taxes on that money. These new laws, including the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act of 2010, affected all banks and other businesses accepting American money. The trouble was, many banks and financial institutions decided that the requirements for compliance were too much trouble. They started closing the accounts of many Americans, deciding that it wasn’t worth the hassle (trouble).

Added to this are the higher tax rates on rich Americans since President Obama has been in office (in the job as president). Unlike many other countries, if you are an American citizen, no matter where you live, you must pay U.S. taxes. This includes people who have lived outside of the U.S. for 20 or even 50 years. In the eyes of the American tax system, you’re still an American and must pay American taxes, even if none of your earnings (how much money you get from a job or other business) are made on American soil (in the U.S.).

With the increased difficulty of getting financial services abroad and higher tax rates, more Americans than ever who live abroad are opting (choosing) to stop being Americans. Government officials say that while this is an unintended consequence (unexpected and unwanted result) of recent new laws and regulations (rules), those laws and regulations are stopping tax cheats (people who successfully avoid paying taxes they owe).

If you were in a similar situation in your country, would you renounce your citizenship? If not, are there any circumstances under which you’d do so?

- Lucy

Photo Credit: US Passport from Wikipedia

Thursday - March 20, 2014

Elbow Doctor

Baseball_pitching_motion_2004r“It’s time for … baseball!”*

Yes, baseball season is almost here. And we who live in Los Angeles hope, once again, that our teams will do well. For Jeff it’s the Dodgers. For me the Angels. And both teams look good going into (at the beginning of) the new season.

When baseball season begins in two weeks, many players, especially pitchers**, will be able to play because of the pioneering (to do something for the first time) work of Dr. Frank Jobe. In 1974, Dr. Jobe, who died recently at the age of 88, developed a surgical procedure (medical operation) that has made it possible for more than 1,000 baseball players to continue playing after seriously injuring an elbow.

Pitchers often throw the baseball more than 100 times per game. They throw very hard and their pitching motion (arm movement) twists (turns) and bends (moves it so it’s not straight) the elbow and puts a large amount of stress (force or pressure) on the ligament (strong flexible material that holds the bones together) in the elbow.

After a while the ligament may begin to tear (pull into pieces). And it stretches (becomes longer) so much that it can’t hold the bones tightly together. When this happens, a pitcher begins to feel pain on the inside of his elbow. The elbow may begin to feel loose, and the pitcher may experience tingling (stinging feeling) or numbness (loss of feeling) in some fingers. If the ligament damage is bad enough, it ends a pitcher’s career. Or it did until Dr. Jobe developed what we now call Tommy John surgery, named for the first player to receive the procedure.

To do Tommy John surgery, the surgeon removes a length of tendon (another kind of connecting material) from somewhere in the patient’s body. He also drills tunnels (holes for the tendon to pass through) in the upper and lower bones of the elbow. He passes the tendon through the tunnels, connects the ends to the bones, and adjusts the tension (tightness) of the tendon. When he finishes, the tendon often looks like a figure eight (the pattern or shape of the number eight) as it passes in and out of the tunnels.

After Dr. Jobe operated on Tommy John’s elbow, Tommy went on to have a successful pitching career. According to the Los Angeles Times, he pitched so well after the surgery that Pete Rose, a famous hitter, said, “I know they had to give Tommy John a new arm. But did they have to give him [Sandy] Koufax’s (Koufax was one of the best pitchers ever)?”

If you watch baseball – American or from another country – there’s a good possibility that you’ll see a pitcher who is able to pitch today because of Dr. Frank Jobe’s Tommy John surgery.

* Vin Scully, legendary (famous and admired) broadcaster (person who describes games on TV and radio) who has broadcast Los Angeles Dodger baseball games for 65 years, always begins his broadcasts with, “It’s time for Dodger baseball!”

** For more about pitchers, read my blog post The Knuckleballer.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. 

Tuesday - March 18, 2014

It’s Still Mom at Bedtime

François_Riss_LullabyIf you’re part of a working couple (two people who are married or in a committed relationship) with children these days, you’re probably sharing more of the household (related to home) work than parents did 50 or 75 years ago.

According to the American Time Use Survey (set of questions asked of many people) conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, men and women now work roughly (about; approximately) the same number of hours each week, although men still work more paid hours and women work more unpaid hours. And while men report doing more at home, there is still one area where moms do the lion share of the work (do the majority or most of the work): childcare (taking care of children).

You may think, well, if fathers are doing more of the other housework, such as vacuuming (using a machine to remove dirt from floors, rugs, and carpets), then the housework is equally divided (split evenly) and everyone’s happy, right? Not according to sociologists (people whose job is to study how people interact and other social issues).

According to recent research, childcare is much more stressful than household tasks done alone, such as washing the dishes. As one mother put it (illustrated it; explained it) in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “dishes don’t talk back,” meaning dishes don’t argue or reply in a disrespectful or disobedient (not doing what one is told) way. And at bedtime (time when people prepare for sleeping) when parents have to deal with children who are perhaps at their grumpiest (most bad-tempered) and most reluctant (not wanting to do something), it’s moms who are most often doing this duty (work).

According to the American Time Use Survey, in a dual-income (both members of a couple with paying jobs) family, the mother is three times more likely to have her sleep interrupted (caused to stop for a period of time) if the couple has a child under the age of one than the father is, and stay-at-home mothers (mothers not working in jobs outside the home) get up six times more often than fathers. Less sleep and more interrupted sleep means more stress.

Do these figures (numbers) and observations jibe with (agree with) what you’ve observed among families where you live? Are fathers and mothers sharing the work at home equally, not only in the amount of time needed but in the level of stress involved?

- Lucy

Image Credit: François Riss Lullaby from Wikipedia

Thursday - March 6, 2014

Ruby’s, Hot Rods, and Custom Cars

Rubys CruiseWhen you walk into a Ruby’s Diner in southern California, you take a step back in time, into the 1940s and 50s. The red booths (a table between two long seats), white table tops, soda fountains, and colorful 1940s posters (large printed pictures) are typical of (like, similar to) what you would have found across the U.S. during those years. So is their menu (list of food they sell) – mostly hamburgers, French fries, and milk shakes.

If you visit Ruby’s in Whittier, near where I live, on any Friday evening from May through October, you’ll experience more of the 40s and 50s. That’s when the Ruby’s Diner Friday Night Cruise* fills Ruby’s parking lot with dozens of cars – many of them hot rods and custom cars built during those years.

In the 1930s and 40s, many American young men, especially in California, began to buy older classic (admired by many people) cars and “hop up” or “soup up” (modify, change) the engines to make them more powerful. Sometimes they took out the original engines and put in newer, larger engines and took anything that wasn’t needed off of their cars to make them lighter (have less weight) and faster. They called their cars hot rods; unfortunately no one is sure how the name got started. Roadsters (2-seat open cars) were especially popular for hot rods because they were light and inexpensive (didn’t cost much).

These young men with the hot (powerful, fast) cars began a kind of competition, called drag racing – which Jeff talked about in this week’s English Cafe. In drag racing, two or more cars raced side by side on a street to see which one was fastest over a short distance. Street racing was dangerous and was eventually (after a time) outlawed (made illegal), so after World War II, many hot rodders moved to deserted (unused) airports and raced on the runways.

In the 1950s another kind of hot rod – the custom car – appeared and quickly became popular. Custom cars often had modified engines, like hot rods. But what made them different were changes made to the car’s appearance (how it looks) inside and out, like colorful, unusual paint jobs (if a car has a paint job, it is painted again). When creating a custom car, the goal is to make it look different than any other car. Today there are quite a few custom car shops in California, and some people spend thousands of dollars to have their cars or trucks customized.

The young men – the hot rodders and custom car builders – of the 1940s and 50s are older now and many are gone. But the traditions they started are still alive. You can still find them and their cars at places like Ruby’s Diner all across California.

If you’re interested, Pinterest has a large collection of hot rod and custom car photos, and here is a set of photos of hot rods and custom cars made from the classic 1932 Ford.

*Many young people used to drive their cars slowly up and down a particular street, usually the main street of a town, as a way to spend time with their friends. This was called “cruising”.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

 Photo credit: cb750cafe.

Thursday - February 27, 2014

“Gentrification” Might Not Be Such a Bad Word

698px-Minneapolis_Warehouse_DistrictTo many people, the word “gentrification” is a dirty (offensive; vulgar) word. Gentrification refers to a change in an urban (city) area with new businesses moving in and housing prices going up, creating a more wealthy (rich) community than was there before. The reason the term “gentrification” is generally considered a negative one is that conventional wisdom (what most people believe) is that this change in a neighborhood pushes out (causes someone to have no choice but to move away) old residents (people who live there) and businesses, changing the character (the things that make something unique or special) of the community.

But is that really true? Several recent studies, including one conducted at Columbia University about the famous New York neighborhood Harlem, which is currently undergoing (experiencing) gentrification, gives us a different perspective (point of view). (To hear more about Harlem’s gentrification, listen to English Cafe 411.)

At least in terms of people being displaced (caused to move), these studies found that people who were there before a neighborhood’s change didn’t leave, and in many cases, stayed longer than those in neighborhoods that didn’t undergo gentrification. This may be because the community becomes more attractive and those already there do what they can to stay. There are often more parks, better schools, and safer streets, so those who are able choose to remain in the neighborhood. New housing and space for businesses are created by converting (changing for a new use) old industrial (used for manufacturing, such as factories) buildings into livable (able to be lived in) and workable (able to be worked in) spaces, augmenting (increasing) the amount of space available in the community.

It’s certainly true that some rents (how much people pay to live in a home or operate a business out of a property) go up, and both businesses and people can be displaced. But the idea that this happens on a grand scale (in large numbers) doesn’t seem to be supported by these recent studies.

Are there any areas in the cities you’re familiar with that have undergone gentrification? What has been the reaction of the old residents? In your opinion, has gentrification changed the character of those areas?

- Lucy

Photo Credit: Minneapolis Warehouse District from Wikipedia

Tuesday - February 25, 2014

The Most Bible-Minded Cities in the U.S.

383px-KJV-King-James-Version-Bible-first-edition-title-page-1611.xcfIf you’re wondering which cities in the United States could be considered the most religious, you may be interested in a recent survey (piece of research where many people are asked the same questions) released by the American Bible Society (ABS). The ABS is a non-profit (not intended to make money) organization that distributes (gives to people) Bibles and Bible-related materials. (The term “Bible” in American English is usually used to refer to the sacred or holy texts of Christians, the Old and New Testaments, although it could also be used to refer just to texts sacred to Jews as well.)

After asking questions of 46,000 randomly-selected (select by chance) people, the ABS has determined the most “Bible-mindedcities in the U.S. (Minded here means having your mind on or thinking about something.) The ABS asked people whether they had read the Bible within the past seven days and if they agreed “strongly with the accuracy of the Bible.” Based on the responses, the ABS ranked 100 U.S. cities.  The top 10 cities are all in an area known in the U.S. as the “Bible Belt.”

The top 10 most Bible-minded cities are:

  1. Chattanooga, Tennessee
  2. Birmingham, Alabama
  3. Roanoke/Lynchburg, Virginia
  4. Springfield, Missouri
  5. Shreveport, Louisiana
  6. Charlotte, North Carolina
  7. Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C./Asheville, North Carolina
  8. Little Rock, Arkansas
  9. Jackson, Mississippi
  10. Knoxville, Tennessee

The Bible Belt is an informal term for the south central and southeastern parts of the U.S. that have traditionally been considered more religious than other parts of the country. (Belt here means an area where some characteristic or trait is commonly found.) The term is said to have been (believed to be, but not completely certain) coined (created) by an American journalist and commentator (person who gives his/her opinion professionally), H.L. Menken, who wrote for the newspaper Chicago Daily Tribune (now simply called the Chicago Tribune).

Perhaps ironically (being opposite of what one would expect), the American Bible Society is located in New York City, which is number 89 on the list, just ahead of (before) Las Vegas, often called Sin City, with “sin” referring to bad things people do that are against what God would want. Los Angeles doesn’t fare (do) much better at number 73, but we’re not as bad as San Francisco, which is ranked 97th.

If you’d like to see for yourself which cities are considered most Bible-minded according this survey, take a look at the full list here on the American Bible Society website.

- Jeff

Image Credit: King James Version Bible 1611 from Wikipedia