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Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

Tuesday - October 6, 2015

Pickled Beets In A Mason Jar

PreservedFood1Last week my friend Don gave me something that reminded me of (made me remember) my childhood – pickled beets (a plant with round dark red roots eaten as a vegetable) in a Mason jar. Let me explain.

Years ago, people who grew their own vegetables and fruit had to preserve them (do something so they wouldn’t become bad) so they could keep them for a long time. They used several different methods to preserve their food:

  • Drying – removing the water from it.
  • Curing (used for meat) – drying it, hanging it in smoke, or covering it with salt.
  • Pickling – putting it in vinegar (a sour-tasting liquid) or salt water.
  • Freezing – keeping it at a very low temperature.
  • Canning – putting it into a container that all the air had been taken out of.

My mother and grandmother canned a lot of vegetables and fruit every year. If you went down into my grandmother’s cellar (area under the house), you would have seen shelves full of canned food like those in the picture. You would have also seen cured hams (meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg) and sausage (a tube, or round container, of skin that had been filled with a mixture of meat and spices).

The idea of canning your own food first appeared in the early 1800s and was made popular by Nicholas Appert, a French cook.

When someone cans their own food, they put the food into glass jars, like those in the photo. My mother, grandmother, and probably everyone else used Mason jars. The Mason jar was designed especially for canning in 1858 by an American named John Mason. For many years the Ball Corporation (company) made most of the Mason jars. People who can today still use Mason jars.

Home canning was necessary for people who grew their own food until refrigerators made it possible for them to freeze their food at home. During the 1800s, some companies began to put canned food into cans (metal containers) that were similar to what we see at the supermarket today. However, the canned foods we buy today didn’t appear in stores and supermarkets until the early part of the 1900s.

Home canning made a comeback (became popular again) in the 1960s and 70s and its popularity continues to grow. Today it’s part of a larger trend (the way something is changing) called artisanal food – home-grown food prepared in traditional ways. A growing number of people can food for their family to eat. Others prepare it to sell at farmer’s markets similar to the outdoor food markets that have been popular in Europe and other countries for many years.

My wife tells me that we’re having the pickled beets for dinner tonight. I hope they taste as good as they look!

What about where you live? Do people can fruit or vegetables? What about using traditional ways to make or do other things?

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

Photo of canned food is from Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - September 22, 2015

Cold Case: Uncle Sam

800px-Uncle_Sam_(pointing_finger)Every week from 2003 to 2010, on the television program Cold Case, detective Lily Rush found ways to solve (find an explanation for) crimes that no one else had been able to solve. A cold case is a crime or accident that has not been solved, often for many years (for more about cold cases, listen to Podcast 974).

Sometimes new information surfaces (becomes known) that makes it possible to solve a cold case. Sometimes, however, the new information adds to the mystery (what we don’t know or aren’t sure about). And that’s what seems to have happened in the case of Uncle Sam – a symbol (something that represents or stands for) of the United States. That’s him in the photo.

Some of you may remember the story of Uncle Sam from English Cafe 309. At that time, most people believed that the name came from Samuel Wilson, who, in 1813, received a contract (written agreement) to supply meat for the U.S. Army during the war with England. The letters “U.S.” – for United States – were printed on every container of meat, but someone – as a joke – suggested that U.S. meant Uncle Sam. People began to use Uncle Sam to refer to the United States, and this use became very popular about 100 years later, during World War I.

I recently discovered that the use of Uncle Sam to refer to the U.S. may not have come from Samuel Wilson. A couple of years ago, Barry Popik, a kind of “word detective,” found Uncle Sam used to refer to the U.S. in a newspaper that was printed in 1812, about one year before Samuel Wilson received his contract from the government.

And since then, other researchers have found new evidence (facts, information) that suggests that Uncle Sam was used even earlier, in 1810.

Isaac Mayo was a young U.S. Navy sailor (someone who works on a ship). Here’s what he wrote in his journal (personal record of things that happen) on March 10, 1810:

[We] passed Sandy Hook (town in New Jersey), where there are two light-houses, and put to sea, first and second day out most deadly seasick, oh could I have got on shore in the [height] (worst) of it, I swear that uncle Sam, as they call him, would certainly forever have lost the services of at least one sailor (In other words, the storm was so bad that he would have quit the Navy if he could.).

So, where did Uncle Sam come from? We thought we knew. But now we’re not so sure. And until new evidence surfaces, we may have to think of Uncle Sam’s origins (where something began) as a national cold case.

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

This post includes information from “New Light on ‘Uncle Sam’” by Ben Zimmer.
Photo of Uncle Sam from Wikipedia Commons.


Tuesday - September 15, 2015

Here’s the Statue of Liberty . . . in 350 Pieces

Head_of_the_Statue_of_Liberty_1885We’ve all had the experience of assembling (putting pieces together) furniture, a toy, or an appliance (machine used in the home). Sometimes, it turns out to be (has the unexpected result of) a bigger and more difficult job than we anticipated (expected; predicted).

Now imagine putting together the Statue of Liberty.

I talked about the Statue of Liberty in English Cafe 488, so you already know that the Statue was a gift from France, and that it was transported from France to the United States in June of 1885.

But did you know that the Statue arrived in over 210 packing crates (large containers made of wood used for transporting things) with 350 pieces inside?

Once the pedestal (base; foundation) was built, the workers began assembling the Statue. Fortunately, under the direction of (with the guidance or help of) French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty, the Statue had been constructed on a frame (hard structure) in France. Each piece had been assigned (given) a number or a symbol (simply drawn figure or picture) before it was dissembled (taken apart) for transport to the U.S.

The pieces that should be fit together (put next to or connected to each other) had matching numbers or symbols, and they had holes that lined up with (matched) holes in the adjacent (next to it) piece so that they could be riveted together (for short metal pins or bolts to be placed through both, connecting the two).

The outer (on the outside) pieces were made of thin copper, a light-weight metal that is a reddish-brown color. Although the French workers had packed each copper piece very carefully, many of the pieces were bent (had their shape changed) during the sea voyage (trip). The workers assembling the Statue had to patiently (carefully, without being in a hurry) put the pieces back into their original shape.

The Statue of Liberty was unveiled (shown to the public) on October 28, 1886. You can see some of the pieces before and during assembly here and here, and here.

~ Jeff

Photo Credit: Head of the Statue of Liberty  from Wikipedia

Tuesday - September 8, 2015

Kodak Moments

187px-Kodak_logo_1987.svg“You press the button … we do the rest.”

That was the promise made in 1888 by the Eastman Kodak company when they introduced their first camera. Here’s how they described it:

“It’s the easy-to-use camera for everyone. There’s no control for the exposure time (how long the shutter is open) or aperture (how much light is allowed into the camera) – you simply point the camera and click (push the button to take the photograph). The whole camera with 100 pictures must be sent back to KODAK after exposure (the photographs have been taken) and is returned with the finished circular (round, like a circle) photos and a freshly loaded (new) film.”

When Kodak introduced the first point-and-click (automatic) camera, they promised to provide everything the everyday photographer needed: camera, film, developing the film (making the picture visible), and printing the picture on photographic paper.

l-dev8to047s0h4sSoon after they introduced their first camera, advertisements like this “Kodak as you go” advertisement turned the word “Kodak” into a verb and encouraged people to take their Kodak cameras wherever they went. Kodak ads (advertisements) had one very simple message: Kodak cameras, film, and processing (preparing the photographs) make it easy to photograph life’s important moments (times, events) so they will never be forgotten. These moments came to be known as Kodak Moments.

Kodak Moments were an important part of Kodak’s advertising for many years. They advertised heavily (a lot) in magazines that were popular in the middle of the 20th century – like Saturday Evening Post and Life. And when television appeared, they ran (broadcast) ads like Turn Around in 1960 and Daddy’s Little Girl in 1989.

Many people have filled walls, albums (books of photos), and boxes with Kodak Moments – Christmases, birthdays, baby and wedding showers (parties for someone having a baby or getting married), weddings, and vacations.

The phrase “Kodak Moments” has became a common way to refer to moments of strong feelings or special memories, even if photographs aren’t taken to help remember them. And, in contrast, someone might say, “What a Kodak Moment!” when they mean the opposite, perhaps as an unkind joke or to show that they are a little angry. This what we call sarcasm.

For many years, Kodak continued to make Kodak Moments possible with new, easy-to-use cameras, new kinds of film, and all the services needed to help everyone make photographs of their important personal moments. Unfortunately, Kodak’s moment (period of time) didn’t last. They couldn’t compete with digital and smartphone cameras and, since 2012, no longer do most of the things that made Kodak Moments possible.

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

Photo of Kodak logo from Wikipedia Commons;
photo of Kodak advertisement from Vintage Ad Browser.

Tuesday - September 1, 2015

Sleeping Through Math Class

Venice_High_School_(Los_Angeles,_small)Labor Day, observed (celebrated; scheduled) on the first Monday of each September, is the unofficial beginning of the school year at many schools (see English Cafe 49). This year, Labor Day is next Monday, September 7th.

As high school students return to school, I can predict which high schools will have students with better grades and which high schools will have students with poorer grades.

No, I don’t have a crystal ball (glass ball used to see the future). Instead, I’ve read about research findings (results) showing that schools that begin later in the morning have students who typically perform better in their classes. One study of over 9,000 students in the U.S. found that students in schools that began at or after 8:35 a.m. earned grades that were significantly higher, so that a “B” or “C” grade became “B+” and “C+” grades.

Grades are used to calculate (give a numbered total for) a student’s grade point average (G.P.A.), which is a single number that indicates that student’s overall school performance. A student’s G.P.A. is used for many things, including college admissions (being allowed to study at a college or university). Here’s how it works: Each letter grade equals a certain number of points: “A” = 4.0, “B” = 3.0, “C” = 2.0, “D” = 1.0, and “F” = 0.  A “+” added to a grade is worth another 0.5 points, so the difference between getting a “B” and a “B+” or a “C” and a “C+” is significant (important).

The explanation behind these findings may be found in teenagers’ changing bodies. When people reach ages 13-19, their circadian rhythms — their natural “body clock” — change and teenagers stay up (remain awake) later at night and sleep later in the morning. A later start time for school matches (is in agreement with) this change in the teenage brain.

Other research has found that later start times for school are also related to fewer car crashes (accidents where two cars hit each other) among teenage drivers. In a 2008 study, when a school delayed (made later) its start time by one hour, students reported fewer and fewer car accidents over the next two years, dropping over 16%. The researchers concluded that students slept more hours and as a result, were more alert (awake; aware of what is happening around them).

Some of the arguments against starting school earlier have to do with logistics (planning and organizing). American high school students often participate in after-school activities, such as sports and clubs. A later start time leaves less time for these activities. And school buses that transport high school students in a single district (collection of schools under one management) also transport elementary and middle school students, making changes in scheduling more difficult.

Every high school’s start time is different. Venice High School, the high school nearest to where I live, begins at 7:57 a.m. Jeff’s high school in Minnesota and mine in Arizona just happened to have (occurred by chance and not through planning) begun at the same time: 8:10 a.m. Now I have an excuse (reason or explanation) for my grades, although Jeff clearly overcame this obstacle (succeeded despite this difficulty).

Is the school year beginning where you live? What time did the school day begin when you were in high school? Is it different now?

– Lucy

Photo Credit: Venice High School from Wikipedia. Venice High School has been used as the location for several famous films, including Grease and Nightmare on Elm Street, and for several music videos, including one by Britney Spears.

Tuesday - August 25, 2015

Ragpicker, Governor

d__images_F196809PThe Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California is shaped like a large “H”. If you walk across the middle of the “H” to the left leg and look left, you’ll see the Ragpicker – a painting by Edouard Manet. He hangs on the wall at the bottom of the “H” and, I imagine, keeps an eye on (watches) everyone who walks through the galleries (rooms for showing art) that display (show) the Museum’s modern art.

I’ve always been fascinated by (attracted to; curious about) this life-size painting of such a humble (not important) man. Ragpickers were early recyclers. They walked around cities, Paris for Manet’s Ragpicker, and picked up rags and other objects that could be sold to people who recycled, or reused them. Rags were used to make paper.

Manet was one of several painters of his time who painted the everyday people of Paris. They weren’t wealthy. They weren’t powerful. And many people probably didn’t notice them. But they were an important part of Parisian life.

I thought of Manet’s Ragpicker when I read about Sarah Godfrey’s recent experience. She was at the Park Street subway station under the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, when she saw what she described as “a nice old man who was picking up garbage at the train station on his way to work.”

Sarah walked up to him and remarked, “What a good citizen you are!” He was grouchy (in a bad mood), she said, and complained that the stations were always filthy. She agreed.

She was uncomfortable when she watched him reach down to pick up a “food wrapper and what looked like a used napkin” and reminded him to “make sure he washed his hands when he got to work.”

He looked at her and replied, “That’s what my wife says.”

When they got to the top of the stairs, he threw the trash he had picked up into a trash container, then turned to Sarah and asked, “How many ex-governors do you think go around picking up trash at train stations?”

Sarah said that she laughed and said, “Not many.” She thought for a moment, then asked if he had actually served as governor of Massachusetts.

“Yes, for 12 years,” he answered, and she realized that she had been talking to Michael Dukakis, the former governor of the state.

Hmm. I wonder how many ex-governors – or anyone else – go around picking up trash to try to keep their cities clean. Probably not many.

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

Photo of Ragpicker from Wikipedia Commons.


Tuesday - August 11, 2015

Where Buffalo Used To Roam

640px-Nebraska_Sandhills_NE97_Hooker_County_3Home on the Range (land covered by grass) – an old song from the American West – begins like this:

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam (wander; move from place to place),
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

The Great Plains is a large area of land in the middle of the U.S. covered by mostly by grass and farms. The Plains begin in Texas and go all the way north into Canada. There are no mountains there. Instead there are miles of flat land and what we call “rolling” hills that gently rise (go up) and fall (go down) as you drive through them.

The state of Nebraska, where I lived before moving to California, is in the middle of the Great Plains. When you drive across Nebraska from east to west, you’ll drive through the city of Omaha, then pass mile after mile of corn fields until you reach the middle of the state. When you get there, you will have arrived at the area that the songwriter might have been thinking about – the Nebraska Sandhills.

The Sandhills are exactly that, about 20,000 square miles (~52,000 square kilometers) of grass-covered hills of sand. If you leave the freeway, you can drive many miles without seeing another car or truck. But what you will see are ranches (farms where cows are raised) with large herds (groups) of cows and a few small towns.

In the small towns, you’ll find the essentials (things that are necessary) but not much more – groceries, ranch supplies, gas for your car or truck, a church or two, a bar or two, and possibly a small hotel.

It doesn’t rain much here, but there is a large amount of underground water for ranchers to use for themselves and their cattle (cows). And the cattle, mostly Black Angus (a kind of cow), provide Nebraska and the rest of the country with some of the finest beef (meat from cows) you can eat.

The deer are still there. And so are the antelope. But not so many buffalo; many of them were hunted by the American Indians and early Americans for food and for their skin, which was used for clothes.

They say the sky is bigger in the Sandhills. And the sunrises and sunsets are more beautiful. During the summer, it’s not unusual for fast-moving summer storms to form (appear and grow) and fill the sky with towering (very tall) clouds that quickly change from white to gray to black.

People who know the Sandhills talk about how peaceful it is there. Ron Scheer, a California professor, writes that “the Sandhills provide an endless supply of peace and quiet…. The best moments are spent just listening to … the birds singing from every direction, and the wind.

To learn more about Nebraska and the Sandhills, I encourage you to watch two short videos. The first, My West: The Sandhills of Nebraska, is by Professor Scheer. The second, Nebraska Skies, is by Bill Frakes, a well-known photographer.

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

Photo of the Nebraska Sandhills courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.



Tuesday - August 4, 2015

Forget That Ferrari and Opt for a Trip

Paaka_kahakai_kailuaWe’ve all had that experience of waiting to buy something we want: a new smartphone, a car, or even something simple, like a book or a pair of shoes. We want it now, but we wait in anticipation (with the expectation) of the pleasure we’ll get out of a new possession (thing we own).

But if we want to get the most pleasure out of waiting, we should opt for (choose) an experience rather than a new possession. You may have heard people say that experiences, rather than things, give people more happiness. Well, that’ true, even when you’re simply waiting for it.

In a series of studies published last year, a Cornell University doctoral (getting a Ph.D. degree) student asked people to evaluate (judge) what it felt like to look forward to (wait with expected pleasure for) experiences versus buying things. He found that the waiting period was even more pleasurable, more exciting, and with less impatience (having the feeling of not wanting to wait anymore) when buying experiences than things. Experiences could be anything from taking a trip to attending a concert to going surfing (the sport of standing on a long board on ocean waves).

The researcher suggested two reasons for this. He surmised (guessed based on the evidence) that material goods (things worth money; things with value) are easier to compare to other material goods than experiences are to other experiences. For example, it’s easy to compare your new smartphone to your friend’s and perhaps find your own smartphone wanting (not as good; less than perfect). We want to keep up with the Joneses (be as good as our neighbors and friends), and buying new things is accompanied by anxieties (worries) about not measuring up (being as good as others or what is expected).

Another reason waiting to buy things might be less pleasurable is that when we buy material goods, we know beforehand (ahead of the event) pretty much (nearly) exactly what we’re buying. If I buy a new shirt, I can picture myself wearing the shirt and looking good, but there isn’t much more to imagine. If I plan a trip, I might be able to imagine all kinds of scenarios (possible situations) that could be fun, exciting, and even life-changing.

The good news is that the older you get, the simpler the anticipated (expected; predicted) experiences can be. While you may need extraordinary (very big, major, and unusual) experiences to maximize (give you the most) happiness when you’re young, as you get older, those experiences can be quite ordinary (common; everyday; not special). The thought of taking a walk on the beach, listening to music, or enjoying a good meal with friends might be enough to give you the same level of anticipated enjoyment.

And since I’m very old, all I need is the anticipation of reading your comments to make me happy…and maybe a very small slice (piece) of cake.

How about you? What anticipated experiences – extraordinary or ordinary – gives you pleasure?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: View across Kailua Beach to the offshore islet known as Moku nui from Wikipedia

Tuesday - July 28, 2015

Are You A Hoarder?

smaug_the_magnificent__fanart__by_redwryvenart-d6qfma1“Hoard” is not an everyday word, but the idea of hoarding often appears even when the word isn’t used. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Some of my students have enjoyed The Hobbit and Treasure Island – two books that have been made into movies. In The Hobbit, Smaug is the dragon that kills most of the dwarves (imaginary creatures that look like small men), takes their gold and other treasures (something valuable), hides them deep inside Lonely Mountain, and uses them as a bed. Smaug is a hoarder.

In Treasure Island, Jim finds a map and, together with some others, follows it to an island where a very large treasure has been buried by a pirate (someone who robs or steals from ships at sea) named Flint. Flint is also a hoarder.

A hoard is a large collection of things that someone hides so no one else can find it. Sometimes people will hoard things like food to have it in an emergency, for example, during a war.

When we hear the word hoard or hoarder today, we often think about something a little different. We think about people who become so attached to things with little or no value that they find it difficult to throw them away.

Elizabeth is a good example. She is a writer. And she worries that she and her partner are hoarders because their small house is full of things they have collected but never use. She writes:

I’m pretty sure my partner and I are hoarders, or least well on our way. We have one entire room in our house that’s too full of clutter (a large number of things that are scattered around) to walk through — a library of junk (old unwanted objects)….

What’s in there? Comic books. Textbooks. A shoe collection. Costumes. Sewing notions (supplies). Slightly used wrapping paper. Old photos. Plastic bugs. Real dead bugs…. Pulp fiction (popular stories). Action figures. Notebooks. Items carelessly chewed by long-dead pets. Wine goblets (glasses)….

The junk room door is always closed. My daughter doesn’t even know we have a third bedroom.

The rest of the house isn’t much better.

For some people, hoarding is not just a bad habit (something you do automatically without thinking). It’s a serious problem. It’s irrational (it doesn’t make sense) and compulsive (they can’t stop). Their houses and apartments become so full of junk that they are no longer safe or healthy to live in. And they do everything they can to make sure that other people don’t find out what they are doing.

Elizabeth worries that they’re hoarders. But her partner thinks they’re just messy. And she says that he’s probably right for now. But she worries that they might become hoarders after her daughter leaves home.

One short note: there is another word – horde – that sounds the same as hoard. Horde refers to a large group of people – for example, “A horde of soccer fans ran onto the field after the soccer game.”

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

Photo of Smaug from is used under Creative Commons license.


Tuesday - July 14, 2015

Let The Kids Do The Cooking!

Food-Ball-AZTVI ran across (found by chance) some interesting advice recently in the On Parenting (about being a parent) section of the Washington Post newspaper:

“Every kid 16 and older should be making the entire dinner once or twice a week as one of their chores (regular responsibilities). And kids 12 and older should be responsible for at least making one dish at every family meal.”

The writer believes that we need to prepare our children to be self-sufficient (able to take care of themselves) when they leave home to go to school or begin their first job. Teaching them to cook – and giving them opportunities to practice cooking – is part of that preparation.

If we prepare our children in this way, the writer believes they will eat better-tasting, less expensive, and healthier food. So she thinks we should teach them to follow a recipe (instructions for preparing food), use basic cooking equipment, and all the other things a good cook needs to do. And she believes that we should give them as many opportunities as possible to practice what they are learning.

This article brings up an interesting question: What should parents do to prepare their children to leave home to go to school or begin a job? What did your parents do? What did you do with your children?

In the same article, another writer argues (says it’s true) that it’s “my job as a parent to give my kids” what she calls “life skills (abilities) that will help children succeed after they leave home.” Her list of skills includes things like cooking, cleaning, laundry (washing and taking care of clothes), being organized, and managing money and time.

My mother was one of those people. She wanted to be sure that we – her two boys and three girls – could take care of ourselves when we left home to go to school. She taught us to cook, wash and dry the dishes (we didn’t have an automatic dishwasher), clean the house, take care of our rooms, do our own laundry, and even sew buttons on our clothes. Then she made sure we got a lot of practice. I’m glad she did.

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

Photo from Raising Arizona Kids.