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Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

Tuesday - February 9, 2016

What’s In A Name?

best-sub-sandwichesIn Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, his family and her family hate each other. But Juliet tells Romeo that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In modern English she might have said, “I don’t care what your family name is; it doesn’t change who you are.”

Names may not change what something is, but names often tell us a lot about the thing we’re talking about. That’s true about sandwich names, which often tell us not only what’s in the sandwich, but also something about its history.

The sandwich – two pieces of bread with meat, cheese, or other foods in between, usually eaten by hand – was named after John Montague, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), a nobleman of the historic town of Sandwich in England. Montague loved to gamble (trying to win money by playing games) and once spent 24 hours at the gambling table eating nothing but some pieces of cold beef between two pieces of bread.

In the U.S., the submarine (see photo) is a popular sandwich. Its name comes from the shape of the roll (the bread), which is similar to the shape of a submarine (a ship that travels under water). In a submarine sandwich, the long roll is sliced (cut) the long way and often has a thick crust (skin; outer layer).

Submarine sandwiches probably began among Italian Americans in the northeast part of the country in the early 1900s. The roll was filled with cold cuts (thin pieces of cold meats), cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and a variety of condiments (spices and other things added for flavor). Since 1965, Subway sandwich shops have helped the submarine sandwich, or “sub,” become popular in many other countries.

When you travel around the U.S., you’ll find sandwiches that look like subs but go by (use) different names. In New York and New Jersey, for example, a sub-like sandwich called a “hero” is popular. Heros are similar to the subs described earlier, but you’ll also find them filled with eggplant or chicken with Parmesan cheese or meatballs. It’s uncertain how heros got their name, but some think it’s because they were extra large.

Hoagie” sandwiches come from Philadelphia. Like most sandwich names, we’re not sure how the name hoagie started. It probably comes from the sandwiches eaten by the ship workers on Hog Island near Philadelphia. Their sandwiches, with various meats, cheeses, and lettuce between two slices of bread, became known as Hog Island sandwiches, then hoggies, and finally, since about 1940, hoagies. In 1992, the hoagie was named the official sandwich of Philadelphia.

Subs, heros, and hoagies all have an Italian flavor, but if you go to New Orleans you’ll find a French American sandwich called the “po’ boy” (poor boy). Po’ boys are made on French bread rolls similar to baguettes and can be filled with fried oysters, shrimp, and fish as well as other meats. The sandwiches and the name po’ boy probably appeared sometime around 1930 when the Martin brothers made and sold sandwiches for just a few pennies each at the back door of their restaurant to streetcar workers – called “poor boys” – who had lost their jobs.

These sandwiches are all similar because of their shape. Do you have similarly-shaped sandwiches where you live? What are they called? And what’s in them?

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

Photo from Fast Food Menu Prices.

Tuesday - January 26, 2016

Warning: TOEFL Ahead

Triangle_warning_sign_(red_and_white)“I need to take the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language). Can you help me?”

I get a lot of emails like that every year, often just before TOEFL scores are due (need to be sent to universities). I frequently have to say “No” because the student has waited too long to do what they need most – to improve their English. That’s why I’m writing this early in the year, hoping that students will read it and begin now to prepare for the TOEFL.

To do well on the TOEFL, nothing is more important than good, strong English. Many students spend a lot of time and money on cram (trying to do a lot in a short time) courses and other questionable activities, hoping they will prepare them for the TOEFL. Unfortunately, most of those activities do very little to improve their English.

The TOEFL is a test of how well you can use English in a classroom – to read and listen, to write and speak. The TOEFL score you need to be accepted by a school is the score they think you need to succeed in their classes. Each school is different. One school I know requires a score of only 62. Another says, “Don’t apply (ask to come) unless your score is more than 109.”

If good, strong English is so important, you may ask, “How good is good enough?” Here’s a little experiment you can try. Read part of this article by Sherry Turkle. And listen to some of this lecture from Dr. Paul Bloom’s Introduction to Psychology, a first-year class. Now think how you would answer these questions:

  • If you walked into class the first day and heard Bloom’s lecture or had to read Turkle’s article, how would you feel? Would you understand them well enough to take notes you could use to study later?
  • Would you be able to easily identify what they were talking about – the subject of the lecture or article – and what some of the main points (ideas) were?
  • What if I asked you to answer my questions in writing? Or by speaking? How well would you do?

If you’re comfortable with the questions I’ve asked, you’re probably ready to begin working on the academic skills – like essay writing – and test-taking skills that you’ll need for the TOEFL. If not, you need to forget about them for a while and spend time working on your English.

There’s only one way to strengthen your English, and that’s by doing a large amount of reading and listening. It’s not difficult:

  1. Find something easy enough to read or listen to without stopping. And so interesting that you don’t want to stop. You may not know all the words, but you will know enough to enjoy the story or learn from the article.
  2. Read and listen as much as possible. One hour a day, more if you can. Every day if possible. In other words, make English a part of your life.

As your English grows, you’ll be able to read and listen to increasingly difficult material. After a while you’ll be able to comfortably read and listen to material similar to Turkle and Bloom and feel that you’re ready.

If you’d like to learn more about preparing for the TOEFL, check out Rethinking the TOEFL and Doing your TOEFL homework on my website.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL/EFL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Warning sign image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - December 29, 2015

A Different Look At Life

3550755709_fffc833e1d_oIt’s that week.

The end of one year and the beginning of a new year is the time when many people think about the resolutions (promises to yourself to do something) they made last year. And make new ones for next year.

The practice of looking back at what you have done and looking forward to what you could do is very old.

About 3,500 years ago Moses, one of the earliest leaders of the Israelites (Jewish people), wrote that it was important to think about how short life is and how important it is to live life wisely and well. To live life wisely meant to live life with skill (ability from learning and practice) so that the result is beautiful, like a work of art.

Socrates, a Greek philosopher (thinker; wise man) who lived almost 2,500 years ago, believed that the purpose of life was to grow as persons, to become better as we got older. Shortly before he died, he said that we must always examine (look carefully at) our lives to make sure that we are becoming the best we can be.

Tim Urban is neither Moses nor Socrates. He’s an American blogger (someone who writes a blog on the Internet). But he thinks a lot about life and looks for ways to visualize (make a picture of) our lifetimes (the period of time we are alive) to help us think about them.

I first learned about Urban a couple of years ago when I saw his visualization of The Life of a Typical American. It shows the periods (lengths of time with a beginning and end) of life, like when we go to school, of most Americans and the important events in their lives.

Recently, though, he looked at the end of life and how much time we have left to do different things. Some of his results are fun, some are thought-provoking (make you think). Here are a few of them.

Urban is 34 years old. He says that he eats about one pizza every month. If lives to be 90, he’ll eat almost 700 more pizzas: (90 years – 34 years) x 12 pizzas (1 per month for 12 months) = 672 pizzas.

If you’re 34 years old, there have been 8 U.S. presidential elections during your lifetime. If you live to be 90, you’ll see 14 more: (90 years – 34 years) / 4 (1 election every 4 years) = 14 more elections.

Urban made me think when he wrote about how much time we have left with the important people in our lives – like our parents. If your parents are 60 years old, and you see them 10 days a year, you will spend 300 more days with them if they live until 90, 30 more  years. That’s less than you saw them in one year when you were young and living at home. That’s thought-provoking.

How could you use Urban’s ideas to think about your life? Would it change anything that you do in the new year?

Happy New Year to all of you!

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

Photo by pauarian used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday - December 22, 2015

Giving that Pays You Back

800px-thumbnailIn the same spirit (idea and feeling) as Warren’s great post about random acts of kindness, I’ll talk a little about giving.

Americans often talk about the holiday season, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, as “the season for giving.” It’s the time of year people are most willing to give their money, their time, and other things to help the needy (very poor people). Many charities (organizations to help others) collect the most money and other support during this period.

To encourage people to open their wallets (spend; give money), some cities and organizations are offering forgiveness (removal; dismissal) of fines (money paid as punishment for doing something wrong or against the law) in exchange for a little giving.

For instance, in Lexington, Kentucky, if you get a parking ticket (citation for parking in the wrong place or without paying the proper fee), you can get $15 off (reduction) if you bring in 10 cans of food when you pay your fine. In 2014, the program collected 6,000 cans of food, which were donated (given for free) to the local food bank (organization that collects food to give to the poor).

In the city of Boston, Massachusetts, if you get a parking ticket between certain dates in December, you can have the fine dismissed (removed) if you donate a new and unwrapped (not covered in gift-giving paper) toy of equal or greater value (worth more money) than the amount of the ticket. The toys are given to children who might otherwise (without this) not receive a gift for the holidays.

The public library in Williamsburg, Virginia wants to forgive, too. The library will remove a fine for any single (one) overdue (not returned on time) item in exchange for a donation of a nonperishable (able to be kept for a long time before eating) food item, no matter how large the fine.

The main aims (goals) of these efforts is to encourage people to give and to garner (get; gather) goodwill (friendly feeling). The hope is that people will get accustomed to (used to) giving and give not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year.

The people who have their fines reduced or removed feel good about helping others, and the organizations plant the seed (give the idea; provide a start) for future giving. That’s what I call a win-win (something beneficial for all)!

I hope that you experience lots of kindness and generosity (giving easily to help others) throughout the holiday season. And on behalf of (speaking for) everyone here at ESL Podcast, we hope that your New Year is filled with good health and good cheer (happiness; joy)!

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia

Tuesday - December 15, 2015

Acts of Kindness

6249249013_b84f58654f_b2015 has not been a year that made it easy to think about peace, hope, and joy – words we often use at this time of the year as we celebrate the holidays.

We can’t change what’s happening in the world, but we can do something to introduce peace, hope, and joy to the parts of the world we live in. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot for the last few days. And as I did, three ideas, or thoughts, came to mind.

Thought one: Even in the worst situations, we can choose to be good.

Viktor Frankl and his wife, like many other Jews during World War II, were sent by the Nazis to the Auschwitz concentration camp (prison for many people). Frankl, a psychriatist (doctor who treats mental illness), survived. His wife didn’t. In a book he wrote after the war, Frankl said that his experience taught him that there was one thing the Nazis couldn’t do: they couldn’t take away his freedom to be himself.

Thought two: If enough people do small acts of kindness, they can make a difference and be noticed by others.

George H. W. Bush – the first president Bush – frequently spoke about the need for people and organizations to do good. If they did, he suggested, all their good deeds would “spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”

Thought three: All of us can practice random acts of kindness.

While having lunch one day, Anne Herbert came up with the idea of practicing “random (not planned or organized) acts of kindness….” A random act of kindness is a selfless (caring more about other people than yourself) act you do to help or encourage someone else. Her book Random Acts of Kindness has encouraged thousands of people and organizations to do exactly that.

So, what can we do? Here are some ideas from a variety of sources:

  • Be generous with compliments (praise or congratulations for someone). The next time you see someone doing something well, let them know you saw them.
  • Volunteer to help at a community center program for older or disadvantaged people. If you can’t, occasionally drop in for a few minutes, sit down, and chat with the people who are there.
  • Leave a book you enjoyed where someone will find it and hope they will enjoy it as much as you did.
  • Let the person behind you in line go ahead of you.
  • Find a nice piece of clothing you haven’t worn for a while. Take it to a place that will give it away, free, to someone who needs it.
  • Thank your mail carrier, your barista (person who makes coffee drinks), or the janitor (person who cleans) where you work. If you don’t know their name, introduce yourself; you can thank them by name the next time.
  • The next time you see a mother or father with their children, look them in the eye and smile at them in a way that says, “You’re doing a great job!”
  • The next time you order a snack or drink, leave a ten-dollar tip.
  • Write a simple message, like “You are important” on a pile of cards and leave them in various places, like under the windshield wiper of someone’s car, where people will find them.

There are many easy ways to help make our world a better place. All of us can do something. And we should.

What ideas do you have for random acts of kindness? Use the comments to make a list. Also, if you’ve received or done a random act of kindness, tell us about your experience.

Happy holidays to all of you … and peace, hope, and joy.

~ Warren Ediger – English coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photograph by David used under Creative Commons license.

Wednesday - December 9, 2015

3 Things I Hope To Do Over the Holidays

FiliferabeachI’m looking forward to a little break over the holidays.* Here are three things I hope to do with my extra time, besides the actual celebration of Christmas itself:

1. Visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – My friend Warren told me a few weeks ago that there is an exhibition (an art show) there about Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry. I’m a fan of architecture, so it should be fun to see.

2. Read Back Issues of My Magazines – I subscribe to a lot of magazines, but don’t always have time to read them. So I have a big stack (pile; one set atop the other) of back issues (old editions) that I plan on reading while sitting at a local cafe. I especially like book review magazines, which contain articles and summaries of current (recently published) books. The ones I read regularly are the Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, and Literary Review. But I have a lot of other magazines on my tablet as well – too many to mention!

3. Walk on Venice Beach – I live just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, but I almost never go down to the beach and take a walk. Why? Well, like a lot of Angelenos (people who live in Los Angeles), I like the idea of going to the beach, but not the hassle (problems) of parking and traffic. But one nice thing about living in L.A. is that lots of people leave the city during the holidays, so there are actually fewer people here at the end of December than most other times of the year. Perhaps I’ll take a little New Year’s Day walk near the ocean to begin my 2016.

What are three things you plan to do over the holidays?


* over the holidays – during December and first week of January, when many Americans take a vacation for Christmas and/or Hanukkah and New Year’s Day

Photo image credit: Wikipedia

Tuesday - December 1, 2015

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” Celebrates 50 Years

Charlie_Brown_Xmas_treeFew people expected the Charlie Brown Christmas television special to amount to much (be very successful). When the producers (people responsible for it) watched it for the first time, they worried. Two CBS television executives watched it in what one writer calls “stony (quiet, not moving, like a stone) silence.” At the end, one of them said to the producers, “Well, you gave it a good try.”

That was 1965. This year we celebrate 50 years of success for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The Peanuts comic strip had become so popular by the middle of the 1960s that Coca-Cola hired Lee Mendelson to produce (create, make) an animated (action cartoon) special to be shown on the CBS television network at Christmas. Charles Schulz, Peanuts’ creator, agreed to write the story.

Schulz wanted to tell a simple story that included childhood memories of snow, ice-skating, and school Christmas plays (performances of music and stories). He also wanted to say something about the true meaning of Christmas and insisted on including the Christmas story from the Bible saying, “If we don’t [tell the story], who will?”

The story includes Charlie Brown and his friends from the Peanuts comic strip. In it, it’s Christmas time, and Charlie Brown is unhappy. Lucy suggests that he produce a Christmas play. He tries, but no one cooperates with him. And the only tree he can find to decorate the stage (where actors perform) is small and ugly. The other children, especially the girls, laugh at him.

Charlie gets upset and asks if anybody knows what Christmas is all about. Linus comes to the center of the stage, stands there alone, and recites (tells from memory) the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke in the Bible. When he finishes, he turns and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Near the end of the story, Charlie’s friends change their minds, and help him decorate his little tree.

Several things made A Charlie Brown Christmas unusual in 1965. First, the producers used child actors for the voices. Second, the music was written and performed by a jazz pianist, Vince Guaraldi. Finally, they didn’t use a laugh track – prerecorded laughter that could be added to the program wherever the producers felt it was needed. It felt and sounded very different from other programs of that time.

Those who worried about A Charlie Brown Christmas shouldn’t have. The first year, 45% of the people watching television that night watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. It has become an American Christmas tradition, along with movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. It received an Emmy (award for outstanding TV programs) in 1966, and the music was voted into the Grammy (music award) Hall of Fame in 2007.

Two people were right about the future of A Charlie Brown Christmas at the beginning. When the producers told Schulz about their worries, he told them not to worry, “It’s going to be fine.” And one of the artists who worked on the special told the producers they were crazy to worry about the special. “This is going to run for 100 years!” He may be right.

You can find the music and parts of the special on YouTube and at the iTunes store.

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

Source credit: Los Angeles Times.
 Photo of Charlie and Linus comes from Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - November 24, 2015

Why is President Franklin D. Roosevelt Wearing a Dress?

Franklin-Roosevelt-1884For an American parent, it is difficult to buy any item for their child, no matter how young, without running into (meeting) a clear dichotomy (split into two): boy or girl?

In many stores with children’s items, there are separate boys’ sections and girls’ sections for nearly everything, from clothing to shoes to toys. And in the boys’ sections, you’ll find a predominance of (having more of) the color blue and in the girls’ sections, a preference for the color pink.

But it hasn’t always been this way. The photo you see in this post is of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was two and a half years old. Yes, that is a boy.

It seems strange for us now to see a boy with his hair long and styled (fixed) in this way, wearing a dress, and with a big frilly (with a lot of decoration) hat with feathers. But in 1884 when this photo was taken, it was the norm (usual thing to do).

Historian Jo Paoletti says that before the World Wars, children were dressed in white dresses like these with white diapers (cloth or other material wrapped around a baby’s or young child’s bottom for going to the bathroom) for convenience. It was easier to change children’s diapers when they were wearing a dress, and the color white allowed for bleaching (the use of a chemical to make fabric white if it gets dirty or stained).

Both the wearing of the white dresses and the long hair were typical (normal) until age six or seven, when children had their first haircut. Believe it or not, this outfit (set of clothing and accessories) was considered gender-neutral (not indicating whether a person is male or female).

And the color pink for girls and blue for boys didn’t become the trend until just before World War I. Before that time, many people actually considered pink the masculine (related to men and strength) color and blue the feminine (related to women and delicacy) one. Some of the major department stores (large stores with many departments including clothing, shoes, make-up, and housewares (things used in the kitchen or home)) even published guidelines during this period for dressing children, suggesting blue for girls and pink for boys.

Eventually, in the 1940s, clothing manufacturers began making more pink clothing for girls and blue for boys, reflecting (following) what they believed were customer preferences. Who knows how color conventions (what is considered normal and socially accepted) will be in 100 years?

Are pink and blue the colors associated with boys and girls where you live? What associations are attached to these and other colors?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit:  Franklin Roosevelt-1884 from Wikipedia

Tuesday - November 17, 2015

Shoe Repair On Wheels

shoemakerlopezIf you’re in Los Angeles and need to repair your shoes, head over to (go to) Echo Park, to Lopez Shoe Repair. You won’t be disappointed.

To find Lopez Shoe Repair, first look for Señor Fish, a Mexican restaurant and bar. When you find it, Rafael Lopez’s shoe repair shop – a 1992 Chevrolet Astro van – should be parked not too far away.

Rafael is one of that group of people I introduced last time – people you don’t usually notice but that help make a city like Los Angeles strong.

Steve Lopez (no relation to Rafael) writes that Lopez and his wife owned a small shoe factory in Mexico. But when they came to Los Angeles more than thirty years ago, starting a shoe factory here was too expensive, so they began repairing shoes. They worked on sidewalks and street corners and wandered (moving around without a specific idea of where to) from place to place until they discovered Echo Park.

The Lopezes raised four children on money from repairing shoes. Two of them are in college. Rosario, who is working on her master’s degree, says that her parents “wanted us to do better than them and they wanted us to go to college.” Like many children, she says “she didn’t understand her parents’ sacrifice (not having something so you can get something that’s more important) when she was younger, but she greatly appreciates it now.”

Lopez and his wife separated several years ago. She has her own shoe repair van and parks it in another part of Los Angeles, near MacArthur Park.

Lopez tried sharing a small apartment, but that didn’t work out. So he bought another van – a 20-year-old GMC Safari – and lives in it. He sleeps on a mattress (soft part of a bed that you lie on) in the back of the van and watches a television set he has attached to the van’s ceiling. He uses the restroom at a McDonald’s. And a restaurant owner in the neighborhood lets him park his van in their parking lot every night.

He’s applied for a subsidized (part of the cost is paid by someone else) apartment, but it may take months, even years, before one becomes available.

Steve Lopez writes that Rafael Lopez could complain about a lot of things. He’s 71. He still has to work to survive. He often works 10 hours a day. His health isn’t as good as it used to be. He’s living in a van. But he refuses to complain.

He says that “Los Angeles is a great and beautiful place.” And, because of the work he does, he’s made a lot of friends. Some of them drop by from time to time to spend time with him.

“I’m surviving,” he says. “Work is good for your health.”

You can meet Rafael in this short video produced by Steve Lopez.

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

Adapted from a Los Angeles Times article by Steve Lopez.
Photo: screenshot from YouTube video.



Tuesday - November 3, 2015

The Most Interesting Thing About Los Angeles

5th st dicksWhat’s the most interesting thing about Los Angeles?

Steve Lopez’s answer may surprise you (he’s the Los Angeles Times writer I wrote about in The Musician and The Writer). It surprised me. And it made me stop and think.

Here’s what he wrote a few months ago:

Nothing about Los Angeles is more interesting than how people make it here. For sheer industriousness (working hard and not quitting), creativity (using their imagination) and hard work, it’s the people at the margins, rather than in the mansions (large houses of rich people), who make up the lifeblood of the city.

Making it” means for someone to succeed at living, to earn enough money for themselves and their families, especially when it’s difficult. “People at the margins” refers to the people around us that we often don’t notice or pay attention to, people we often forget about. Finally, “lifeblood” is something that is important and necessary to make something else strong. For example, we often say that communication, or talking to each other, is the lifeblood of a marriage.

Here’s another way to say what Lopez wrote: The most interesting thing about Los Angeles is how the people you don’t usually notice make a living. These hard-working people, not the rich or famous, are what makes the city strong.

Lopez wrote this about Los Angeles, but it’s probably true about many other towns and cities. It may be true about the town or city you live in.

I have met some of those people. And when I think about them, I agree with Lopez.

Richard Fulton is one of them. He started 5th Street Dick’s, a small coffee shop and place for people to listen to jazz. 5th Street Dick’s is what we’d call a hole-in-the-wall business – it’s very small and easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there.

Fulton – that’s him in the photo – had been a homeless person, truly a person at the margins. He not only started 5th Street Dick’s, but helped the area around his coffee shop become a center (a place people come to) for African American music and art, even though the 1992 Los Angeles riots started near there just a short time after he opened his coffee shop. On weekends (Saturday and Sunday) many jazz musicians used to come to 5th Street Dick’s after they finished their regular gigs (music-playing jobs) to relax and play jazz together.

I think Lopez may be right. People like Richard Fulton are more than just interesting. They really do become the lifeblood of our towns and cities.

Who are some of these people where you live? Who are the people you might not notice, but who use their imagination and hard work to make a living and become an important part of your city’s or town’s life? Tell us about them in the comments.

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

Photo of Richard Fulton from