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Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

Tuesday - July 26, 2016

Is That Our Daughter in the Mail?

800px-Uniformed_Letter_Carrier_with_Child_in_MailbagSpeak to anyone who has worked for the United States Postal (Mail) Service and they’ll tell you that a lot of strange things have been sent in the mail. Perhaps the strangest were children.

In 1913, the U.S. post office (mail service) announced that it would begin a service called “parcel post” to send items that were too big to fit into an envelope. A “parcel” is a package wrapped in paper or other outer covering ready to be transported or mailed. According to post office policy at the time, the only living things that could be sent were bees and bugs (insects). However, it’s human nature (natural for people) to push the envelope (extend the limits of what is possible or allowed), so people started sending all types of things. In 1914, the first child was sent using parcel post.

This child and all of the others sent during this period were not packed (placed and sealed) in boxes. Instead, most of them had mailing labels (pieces of paper with the address of the person mailing and receiving the item written on it) and stamps sewed (attached using thread) or pinned (attached using a long, thin piece of metal) to the children’s clothing. At that time, the weight limit for mailed packages was 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms), so as long as the children weighed less than that, their parents thought it was worth a try (might be possible).

Why did parents mail their children?

Postage (the amount paid to mail) was much cheaper than buying a train ticket. Some of the mailed children either lived in rural (in the countryside) areas or were sent to relatives (family members) who lived in rural areas. The only people who visited these isolated  (far from other people and cities) places on a daily basis (every day) was the mail carrier (person delivering the mail), so the child could quickly and reliably be “delivered.” In those days, mail carriers were also considered trusted and upstanding (honest and respected) members of the community and could be relied upon to look after (care for) the children being sent. (I’m not maligning (insulting; speak badly of) mail carriers today. It’s just that most people don’t have those same expectation today.)

Many traveled only short distances. The longest trip was taken by a six-year-old girl sent by her mother in Florida to her father’s home in Virginia, about a 800-mile (1290-kilometer) journey (trip). Little Edna was just under 50 pounds and cost 15 cents in postage, about $3.85 in today’s dollars.

Mailing children was not a common practice (didn’t happen a lot), but there were some well-publicized (made so many people knew about it) cases. In 1920, the post office finally officially made it against policy (the rules) to send people in the mail.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever received or have heard of being sent through the mail?

~ Lucy

From Wikipedia, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Tuesday - July 19, 2016

The Mountains Called; He Went

IMG_2634The U.S. has more than 130,000 square miles (about 340,000 square kilometers) of national parks, at least one in every state. They are cared for (operated; maintained) by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), which will soon celebrate its 100th birthday.

Yosemite, one of the most popular, is in the Sierra Nevada, or Snowy Range (group or line of mountains), in California. Ansel Adam‘s photos and John Muir’s books and articles have introduced many to Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada and played an important part in the beginning of the NPS.

Muir, an immigrant from Scotland, once wrote that “The mountains are calling, and I must go….” He lived alone for 15 years, observing, experiencing, and writing about the Sierra Nevada. Today’s blog post is from The Yosemite National Park, an article he wrote for The Atlantic magazine in 1899. I have made some changes to his article to make it easier to read.

Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best. Though extremely high and rugged (rough), it is welcoming and easy to explore. Its beauty invites a visitor on and on, higher and higher, delighted and fascinated. Filled with divine (God-like) light, everything you see glows (shines with light), and every plant, animal, or rock beats (like a drum) with the heartbeats of God.

The Sierra seem to get more light than other mountains. The weather is mostly sunshine, made even more beautiful by occasional magnificent (beautifully impressive) storms. Nearly everything shines, from base (bottom) to summit (top)—the rocks, streams (small rivers), lakes, glaciers (slow-moving sheets of ice), waterfalls, and forests. It could easily be called the Range of Light, not the Snowy Range, because it is white only in the winter, while all the year it is bright with light.

Yosemite National Park – 36 miles (58 km) long and 48 miles (77 km) wide – lies in the center of the Sierra Nevada. The famous Yosemite Valley (land between mountains) lies in the heart of it. The Valley includes the beginnings of the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, two of the most musical streams in the world; uncountable lakes and waterfalls and smooth silky meadows (grassy areas); the noblest (majestic; dignified) forests; the highest granite domes (rounded tops of mountains); the deepest canyons (narrow rocky valleys); snowy mountains rising into the sky twelve and thirteen-thousand feet (3700-4000 m), with avalanches (snow falling down a mountain) roaring down their long white sides; water rushing noisily through narrow canyons; and glaciers working slowly and silently in the shadows to create new lakes.

Nowhere will you see the impressively beautiful work of nature more clearly side by side with the most gentle and peaceful things. Nearly all the park is filled with deep silence. Yet it is full of pleasant company, full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety in the middle of the most impressive beauty and activity, a new song, a place of beginnings, full of lessons about life, mountain-building, never-ending, unchanging, unbreakable; with sermons (messages from God) in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and almost human-like animals.

But to try to put all this into words is a hopeless task. The simplest sketch (drawing, or a description of a thing) of each part would need a whole chapter in a book. No amount of space, however small the writing, would be large enough. I can only begin to strongly encourage good travelers to come to the feast (meal of celebration).

You can read all of Muir’s article here: The Yosemite National Park.

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

Photo of Yosemite Valley by W. Ediger

Tuesday - July 5, 2016

Put Another Nickel In

AMI_Multi-Horn_High_Fidelity_200_Play_Jukebox_-_The_Richard_Hamilton_Exhibition_-_Tate_Modern,_London*Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon
All I want is having you
And music, music, music

That song, Music, Music, Music by Teresa Brewer, became a #1 hit in 1950 and sold more than one million records. I thought of it recently when I walked past a nearby Rocky Cola restaurant, a throwback (something similar to something that existed in the past) to the restaurants of the 1950s, and saw the jukebox inside.

When I was in high school, if you and your friends wanted to listen to popular music you often went to your favorite cafe (small restaurant that served light meals and drinks) and listened to it on a jukebox, a coin-operated machines for playing music. Teenagers spent many hours sitting in cafes, drinking Cokes or milkshakes (a drink made out of milk and ice cream), and listening to their favorite music. Just like in the television program Happy Days.

Jukeboxes were large, brightly decorated music-players (photo 1). Each one held a number of plastic records (circular discs for storing music) and a device for selecting and playing them.

Most records held one song. To play a song, you put a nickel (five-cent coin) into the jukebox, found the song number on a list of song titles, pressed the buttons on the jukebox for the song – a letter and a number, like D3 – and the jukebox found the record with your song and played it.

diner-jukeboxIn some cafes, a special extension of (addition to) the jukebox (photo 2) made it possible for you to choose the music you wanted from your table or at the counter (long flat area for serving food) you sat at to eat.

Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb, also invented the first technology for recording music and other sounds. But it was Louis Glass, a San Francisco bar owner described as a “wild-haired inventor,” who created the first jukebox in 1889. It used Edison’s technology for playing a recording and required a nickel to play one song. Rather than the high-quality speakers of later jukeboxes, Glass’s customers had to use listening tubes, similar to a doctor’s stethoscope (instrument for listening to a patient’s heart or breathing), attached to the jukebox. Only four people could listen at the same time.

The popularity of jukeboxes grew during the early part of the 20th century and was greatest from the 1940s through the mid-1960s. Thousands of them were made by companies like Wurlitzer and Seeburg. In the 1940s, 75% of the records produced in the U.S. went into jukeboxes.

Only two companies – one in the U.S. and the other in the U.K. – make jukeboxes today, mostly for throwback restaurants like Rocky Cola. If you’d like to learn more about jukeboxes, check out How the Jukebox Got Its Groove.

* A nickel is a five-cent coin; a nickelodeon is a coin-operated piano or jukebox, the topic of the blog post.

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

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and Dave’s Computer Tips.


Tuesday - June 28, 2016

Bloodsuckers – And I Don’t Mean Politicians

mosquito-1016254_960_720Who doesn’t like summer in California? Well, me.

That’s not entirely (completely) true. I love the the warm temperatures and the sunshine. But there is one element (part; factor) of summer I dread (don’t look forward to): mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are those little insects that fly around, bite people, and suck (pull into the mouth) their blood. If there is a mosquito within 50 miles of me, it will find me. It will then feast (eat a lot) on me and bring a few friends for the buffet (meal where you can eat as much as you like).

Scientists say that many things attract (are appealing to) mosquitoes. Mosquitoes may be attracted to certain blood types, as one study found. (Your blood type is either O, A, B, or AB. It can be neutral or + (positive) or – (negative).) In the study, people with type O blood were bitten nearly twice as often as people with type A blood. I’m AB+, so I’m not sure where I stand (what my position or status is).

Wearing dark clothing can attract mosquitoes who use sight (the sense that allows you to see) as well as smell to locate victims (people who are harmed).

Mosquitoes can also detect chemicals and gases (substances in the air; not a liquid or a solid) that come off of people’s bodies, such as carbon dioxide (the gas that people breathe out) and lactic acid (a chemical that is released from muscles when we exercise). Even drinking beer can attract mosquitoes to your skin.

Mosquitoes have plagued (bothered) me all my life. To add insult to injury (to make things even worse), I have Skeeter Syndrome, which is an allergic reaction to mosquito bites. (“Skeeter” is a nickname for mosquitoes in some parts of the United States.) Instead of the small itchy (with a strong feeling of wanting to scratch) bump (small, round, raised area) that most people get, I get large welts (red, swollen areas) that itch for a long, long time.

Even better, I discovered a couple of years ago that fleas like me, too, and I’m allergic to their bites as well. Fleas are those very small insects that like dogs.

Finally, I’ve come to terms with it (have accepted a difficult truth): I am delicious. I hope no vampires are reading this blog post.

~ Lucy

Tuesday - June 21, 2016

Los Angeles’ Little Farms

6273What words come to your mind when someone says, “Los Angeles”?

Were “farms” or “farming” on your list? Farms are where farming – growing crops (plants grown for food) or livestock (cows or other animals) – is done.

If not, don’t feel bad. Probably not many people think about farms or farming when they think about Los Angeles today. One hundred years ago it was different. From the early 1900s until the 1950s, farms and farming were an important part of life in Los Angeles County – the city of Los Angeles and the area around it. And Los Angeles County produced more food products than any other county in the U.S.

A new book – From Cows to Concrete (mixture of water, sand, and cement used to build things): The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles – written by Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber tells the not-well-known story of farming in Los Angeles. I think it’s worth sharing (telling about).

The story begins many years ago, when California still belonged to Spain. Spanish settlers (people who moved here to live) discovered that the area around Los Angeles was a good place for growing things and established (started, created) Los Angeles as a food center for southern and central California. Even before that, the people who lived here harvested (gathered) crops that grew here naturally.

In the 1800s Los Angeles was California’s “first wine country,” long before Napa and Sonoma Valleys north of San Francisco became well-known for their vineyards (where grapes are grown) and wineries (where wine is made from grapes).

Citrus fruit – like lemons and oranges – quickly became one of the main crops in the Los Angeles area, and by the early 20th century, much of Southern California was full of citrus and other fruit trees. Farmers also grew vegetables – like cauliflower, celery, and tomatoes – berries, and even flowers. Immigrants from Holland raised milk cows and built dairies (places where milk is collected and milk products made). And keeping bees for honey was popular.

The growth of farming in the early 1900s was stimulated (helped) when people were encouraged to create neighborhoods where “small farm homes” were built on 1-3 acres (.4-1.2 hectares) of land so the homeowners could grow crops to eat and sell. During the Great Depression, the government helped people who moved to California to start some of these small neighborhood farms.

The number of these small farms grew from about 1,300 in the 1920s to 5,000 in the 1930s. In the early 1950s, there were 10,000 of these small farms in Los Angeles County. In 1940 the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (organization that encourages business) claimed that nearly half of the food Los Angeles ate came from farms within 50 miles (~80 km) of the city.

After World War II, many people moved to Los Angeles for jobs in aircraft and other new industries. Soon schools, shopping centers, streets, and freeways replaced most of the neighborhood farms. Most of them are gone today, but you can still find a few if you look in the right places.

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

Photo from UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Tuesday - June 14, 2016

You’re A Grand Old Flag!


Today is Flag Day in the United States. On this day, in 1777, the Second Continental Congress of the United States adopted (decided to officially use) the design of the American flag:

Resolved (It is decided), That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes (long lines), alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field (background), representing a new constellation (group of stars in the sky).

In 1916, 100 years ago this year, President Woodrow Wilson declared (officially announced) that today, June 14th, would be Flag Day, a day Americans should honor (give respect to) their flag. While it is not an official government holiday, there are many cities and towns that remember this day with parades and small celebrations.

I’ll celebrate Flag Day this year by introducing you to a popular song about the American flag, one most Americans still know (even if they don’t remember that today is Flag Day), George M. Cohan‘s “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

Cohan wrote the song as part of his 1906 musical, George Washington, Jr.  The words of the chorus (the main part of the song that repeats) are the most famous part of the song. They are:

You’re a grand (wonderful) old flag,
You’re a high-flying flag,
And forever in peace may you wave (move in the wind).
You’re the emblem (symbol) of the land I love,
The home of the free and the brave (courageous).
Ev’ry (poetic version of “every”) heart beats true
Under the Red, White and Blue,
Where there’s never a boast or brag (being too proud of something).
But should auld acquaintance be forgot*,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

* = This is a line from the popular song sung traditionally on New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne.” In the original song, it was meant as a question, “Should we really forget our old friends?” (The answer, of course, is no.)

Here’s a recording of the entire song by the great American actor, James Cagney, from a movie about the life of Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy, released in 1942. (The chorus begins at around 1:12 on the video.)

If you live outside of the U.S., does your country have a similar day to honor your flag?


Image credit: Wikipedia

Tuesday - June 7, 2016

Playing in the Slots

800px-Lower_antelope_1_mdThe Grand Canyon in the U.S. is what the name says; it’s grand – big and impressive. Anyone who stands at the rim (outside edge) and looks into and across the canyon sees something unlike anything they have ever seen before. If you do a Google search using “Grand Canyon” and “adjectives”, most of the adjectives you find describe reactions to the canyon, but don’t say much about the canyon itself. It is, in many ways, indescribable (impossible to describe).

Like many canyons around the word, the Grand Canyon was created by the action of a river, the Colorado, which for millions of years has been cutting through layers of rock to create a channel (space for water to flow through) that grows deeper and wider every year.

Antelope Canyon, about one hour away from the Grand Canyon, is a very different kind of canyon.

If someone were to take you blindfolded (with a cloth covering your eyes) to Antelope Canyon, place you at the bottom, and then take off the blindfold, you would first be struck by (strongly notice) the tightness (very little room to move) of the space. In many places the canyon walls are so close that you can reach out and touch both of them at the same time.

The canyon walls, decorated with narrow lines of color, move in and out from bottom to top, like waves. And as you look ahead, the canyon walls twist and turn into the distance, and you can often see only a few feet in front of you.

USA_Antelope-CanyonThe movement of light on the canyon walls creates a constantly changing pattern of reds, oranges, yellows – dark one moment, uncomfortably bright the next – and shadows as the sun moves across the sky. When the sun is directly overhead, it often cuts through the narrow space to shine like a spotlight on the canyon floor, as in the photo.

Antelope Canyon, a slot (long narrow opening) canyon, is much deeper than it is wide. A slot canyon may be only 3 feet (1 meter) wide at the top, but more than 100 feet (33 meters) deep. They are created by underground water cutting through soft rock, like sandstone or limestone.

Slot canyons can be found in many parts of the world. Those in the southwestern U.S. – more than 1,000 – are probably the best known, but other other well-known slot canyons can be found in northern Spain, in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, and in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia.

Maligne Canyon, in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, is a particularly interesting slot canyon. Much of the water that runs through the canyon comes in a unusual way from Medicine Lake 8.5 miles (14 km) away. One guide compares the lake to a leaky bathtub – water leaks (runs out through holes or cracks) out of the bottom of the lake and runs underground to the canyon.

For all of their fascinating features (characteristics), slot canyons can be dangerous to visit. Once you are in a slot canyon, it can be difficult and take time to get out. Rainstorms, even if they are some distance away, can cause flash floods (sudden local floods) to rush through the canyons. As a result, many canyons, like Antelope, require visitors to have trained guides to take them through the canyons.

If you are interested in learning more about slot canyons, look at the Los Angeles Times article – A Hiker’s Sampler of the Southwest’s Slot Canyons.

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

Photos of Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon are from Wikipedia Commons.

Monday - May 30, 2016

The Poppies “In Flanders Field”

poppy-50590_960_720Today, we observe (celebrate; recognize) Memorial Day, a federal (national) holiday to remember those who died while serving (working) in the military (a country’s fighting forces). It seems fitting (appropriate) to talk about one of the most famous poems of the 20th century (1900s).

After World War I, poppies (see photo) became associated with the fallen (dead) soldiers of war. This was mainly due to a poem called “In Flander’s Field.”

In 1915, after presiding over (being in charge of and saying words at) the funeral (ceremony to bury the dead) of his friend and fellow soldier, a Canadian doctor named John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Field.” The term “Flander’s Field” was used by the English to refer to the area between East and West Flanders in Belgium where some of the biggest battles (fights within a war) were fought during World War I at Ypres.

The poem was first published in December 1915 in the popular English magazine Punch and uses the imagery (description of things we see) of poppies growing between graves (marked places where the dead are buried) to remind us of the people who sacrificed (gave up; surrendered) their lives in war.

In Flanders Field
by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark (indicate) our place; and in the sky
The larks (small songbirds), still bravely singing, fly
Scarce (seldom; not often) heard amid (among) the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn (when the sun rises), saw sunset (when the sun sets) glow (give off light),
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel (argument; fight) with the foe (enemy):
To you from failing (weakening; dying) hands we throw
The torch* (a stick with fire burning at the end); be yours to hold it high.
If ye (you) break faith (are disloyal; fail to support and give help) with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

* “To pass the torch” means to transfer the duty or responsibility to someone else, so McCrae is talking about passing the responsibility of fighting and defeating the enemy to other soldiers.

The poem became very popular during the war and is still considered one of the most famous poems of that era (period in history). Inspired by the poem, the American Legion, an organization of former soldiers formed in 1919, used the poppy as a symbol to remember those who died in World War I. This was adopted (taken and used) by other military groups in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Today, in the U.S., poppies don’t have a strong association with those who died in war, as it does in the U.K. and other countries. However, this poem is still well known and studied in some schools.

How are the fallen soldiers remembered where you live?

~ Lucy

Tuesday - April 19, 2016

High-tech Panhandler

Man_panhandlingNo one will confuse Abe Hagenston with Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Evan Spiegel (Snapchat), Larry Page (Google), or Jeff Bezos (Amazon). They are all successful high-tech entrepreneurs (someone who starts a business from a new idea). He is a panhandler (someone who asks or begs for money). But they do share a small similarity.

You’ll find panhandlers everywhere you find people. On the street. In subway stations. At the airport. In front of the coffee shop. Most are homeless and don’t have jobs.

Abe Hagenston fits that description. He spends most of his time on a corner in Detroit, Michigan. He and other panhandlers work that corner in shifts (at different times) every day, hoping for handouts (something given to a needy person) from people who drive or walk by.

Most panhandlers use a cup or some other container to collect the handouts they get, but not Hagenston. He accepts credit cards. We might call him a high-tech panhandler.

Hagenston has a simple cellphone he got from the government’s Lifeline Support program for people who can’t pay for regular telephone service. And he uses a Square Reader, a 10-dollar device that plugs into his cellphone and makes it possible for him to read credit cards. He told a Detroit TV station: “I take Visa, MasterCard, American Express. I’m the only homeless guy in America who can take a credit card. It’s all done safely and securely (in a way that protects something from being stolen).”

Hagenston has other high-tech ideas for supporting himself and other homeless people. He has a simple website that he uses to tell his story and ask for money. And he’s using the website to try to find work for himself and his friends. “I’ve got about 20 or 30 friends around here all homeless, all [with] various skills that would love to get some work.” He hopes that people will use the website to find someone – homeless people like himself – to mow their lawns, clean out their garages, and do other odd (simple, usually one-time) jobs.

Hagenston has been homeless for almost seven years. It’s unclear how or why he became homeless. He says it’s not because he doesn’t want to work. He says that its difficult to “pull yourself out of poverty” without friends or family to help.

Homelessness is a serious problem in the U.S. as it is in many other countries. Every January the U.S. government tries to count all the homeless in one day to get a kind of snapshot (quick photo) of homelessness. In 2015 they counted more than 500,000, 25% of them children. The number who suffer homelessness at some time during the year is much higher, perhaps more than 3.5 million. People become homeless for a variety of reasons and often can’t do anything about it without help.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website, where you can find help to improve your English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


Tuesday - April 12, 2016

Fast Talkers, Slow Talkers

africa-713336_960_720If you’re an English learner, you know that not all Americans speak alike. In a country as big and diverse (with many types of people) as the United States, you’ll find people speaking differently, often because of geography (related to location of places).

For instance, if you’re a longtime listener, you may have noticed that Jeff and I have very slight (minor; little) differences in the way we pronounce certain words, such as “open” or “bag,” because Jeff is from Minnesota (in the middle of the country) and I’m from Arizona (in the southwestern part of the U.S.).

A research and consulting (providing work or advice) firm (company) recently released the results of its analysis (detailed examination) of four million customer service calls. These calls were recorded when customers called a company for a wide range of reasons, such as to ask questions, get help, change services, or complain. By law, businesses and organizations must tell a caller that a phone conversation is being recorded, so Americans are accustomed to hearing a recorded message while they’re on hold (waiting), such as “This call is being recorded to ensure quality of service” or “This call is being recorded for training purposes.” This firm analyzed four million of these types of calls between 2013 and 2015.

The firm found that, on average (generally), people in northern states speak faster than those living in southern states, which is what most Americans would expect. The fastest talkers are in Oregon, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. The slowest talkers are in Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

Their analysis also found that people in some states are wordier (use more words) than others, saying more during their calls than people from other states. The states in which people talk the most include New York, California, and New Jersey, states on the east and west coasts (land bordering a sea). People who speak the least amount include Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, states in the north central part of the country.

Are there differences in how fast and how much people speak in different parts of the countries where you’ve lived? Are you talkative (speaking a lot) or taciturn (saying little)? Are you a fast or slow talker?

~ Lucy