Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category
Your favorite band is coming to town. You call, wait in line, or go on the Internet right (immediately) when the tickets go on sale (become available for purchase) hoping to snag (get something difficult to get) some before the event is sold out (without any remaining tickets).
We’re all familiar with this process even if we haven’t tried to get concert (music performance) tickets, but can you imagine going through this to eat at a sought-after (in demand; wanted by many people) restaurant?
Some chefs (professional cooks), tired of people making reservations (appointments to eat) that end up (result) as no-shows (not arriving when planned) or last-minute (close to the planned time) cancellations (announcing that a planned event will not happen), have instituted (put in place; started) a ticket system.
Like going to a concert or show, eating at their restaurants requires a “pre-paid” (paid in advance of the event) ticket. Some chefs say that last-minute cancellations can result in 40% of their tables going empty (without visitors/users). With tickets, they say, that does not happen. Of course, only the most well-known or respected chefs can pull this off (be successful with a plan).
This ticketing system was invented (created) by a Chicago chef named Nick Kokonas in 2011. A ticket to his theme (based on one subject) menu meals costs about $300. The menu changes every four months, so people can buy season tickets (tickets to attend each event during a period of time), just like they would for the symphony (large orchestra of musicians, usually playing classical music) or the ballet (a type of classical dance). Other restaurants charge about $100 for a complete meal and tickets sell out quickly.
Some who criticize this system say that hard-to-get tickets for restaurants have been sold by scalpers (people who resell tickets at a much higher price) similar to concert tickets at exorbitant (unreasonably high) prices.
I don’t have a very sophisticated (knowledgeable) palate (appreciation of flavors), so fine dining (eating at high-quality and fancy restaurants) isn’t usually my cup of tea (not usually what I prefer). I doubt I’ll be buying any of these dinner tickets soon.
Are there top or celebrity chefs where you live, and would you consider buying a ticket to one of their restaurants?
Photo Credit: Jacque Lameloise from Wikipedia
Mr. Ayers (pronounced “airs”) and Mr. Lopez have been friends for almost ten years. Some of you may remember their story from The Musician and The Writer. In it, I described their story as “a story about dreams and broken dreams and triumph (success) over broken dreams.”
Ayers was a promising (showing signs of future success) young musician who dreamed of playing in a professional orchestra. When he was 19, he began to study at the Julliard School, one of the world’s best music schools, in New York.
Ayers’ dream didn’t last long. He had a mental breakdown (became very depressed, anxious) and had to leave school. His condition grew worse and worse, and he ended up in Los Angeles, a street person (without a home) living under a freeway bridge.
Lopez, a newspaper writer, met Ayers while taking a walk in downtown Los Angeles. They became friends and he told Ayers’ story in a series of newspaper articles and a book – The Soloist – that became a movie.
Earlier this year, Lopez continued Ayers’ story and wrote about his battle in the Los Angeles Superior Court against a doctor’s recommendation to take anti-psychotic medication, medicine that would control his mental illness. Ayers argued (strongly gave his opinion) that drugs like these had caused very bad side effects (unexpected results) for him years earlier.
Lopez wrote that it was difficult for him to listen to the arguments. Part of him wanted Ayers to win. But the other part wanted to see if the medication might “bring him relief (freedom from his illness), clarity (clear thinking) and peace.”
The Court decided that Ayers had to take the medication. So he did.
Lopez writes that he began to see positive results from the medication a few weeks later. Ayers became “softer around the edges (easier to be with), more focused (able to pay attention), and more lucid (able to think clearly).” And there were none of the side effects that Ayers had feared (been afraid of).
Lopez and one of Ayers’ friends who used to work for the Los Angeles Philharmonic (orchestra) recently visited Ayers at the rehab center (place to treat mental illnesses) where he lives now. Ayers had prepared a musical concert for them, and when he finished, his friend said, “I’ve never heard him play so well.”
Ayers seems to be doing better. He’s improved enough that he is allowed to leave the center from time to time. One Sunday he went to church with one of his sister’s friends and played his violin for the people who were there. “With all due modesty*,” he told Lopez, “I brought the house down (made the people excited, happy).”
Ayers will always have to live with his illness. “I’ve got my problems, but I wanna (want to) be free,” he told Lopez. “I wanna be back out there, using every moment as if it’s the most precious (valuable) thing in the world. I don’t have any time to waste.”
Mr. Ayers’ dream continues.
* Some people use “with all due modesty” when they want to talk about something they have done but don’t want to sound too proud (satisfied) about it.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site where you will find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.
Photo courtesy of Awesome Stories.
I live in a strange town. Quite often, I’ll drive around and see large yellow signs that Angelenos (people who live in Los Angeles) know is a directional (showing right or left, up or down) sign to a filming location. The signs use code names (not real names), so you’re unlikely to see one that says “X-Men” or “Modern Family.” And if you follow them to the location, you’re just as likely to find a shoot (filming) for a boring commercial as for a TV show or movie.
Driving around town, you can also easily spot (find) filming locations by looking for a concentration (having many in one location) of trailers, the large enclosed trucks used for hauling (moving heavy things) filming equipment and as dressing rooms (rooms for changing clothes) for the stars or actors. Sometimes one of these shoots is in my neighborhood, so I’m seldom (rarely) surprised to see those signs or trailers when I drive or walk by. However, I had a surprise last week.
Last Friday, I was driving past my neighbor’s house a few streets over (past my house) and I saw a large crane (large mechanical arm; see photo) and several large trucks. That wasn’t so surprising, but I slowed down to see what the crane was doing. The crane was moving around the roof of my neighbor’s house spraying a white substance (material). When I looked more closely, that white material covered their lawn (grassy area in front of their house) and their trees. It was snowing in Los Angeles!
I noticed that on one of the trucks was the name of the business responsible for this weather phenomenon (special weather occurrence): Snow Business Hollywood. Apparently, there is an entire company devoted to (for the purpose of; intended for) creating winter snow scenes for TV shows and movies. That’s what I guess was happening to my neighbor’s house.
Anyone who films in Los Angeles is required to get a filming permit (written permission) and the permission of the property owner. Many home and business owners will rent out their properties for a price for a short time for a shoot. I guess my neighbor decided that their house would look good in snow.
Living here, I’m not sure what to expect next — perhaps dinosaurs roaming (walking around over a large area) my street or an alien invasion (creatures from outer space coming to take over or take control)? At least life is never boring.
Photo Credit: by Lucy Tse
Hiking — taking a long, vigorous (using a lot of energy) walk in the mountains or country (away from cities and towns) — is popular in many countries. Every year many people leave their homes for trails, or paths, which will will bring them face-to-face with the beauty of nature (experience it personally).
Some choose day-hikes, shorter hikes that can be finished in a day or less. Others prefer backpacking, multi-day (more than one day) hikes that require hikers to carry everything they need on their backs in a special bag called a backpack.
When people come to California, they often think about Hollywood, Disneyland, or beautiful sandy beaches, but not hiking. That’s unfortunate, because California offers (provides) many good hiking opportunities. Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks are popular for their rugged (rocky, rough) mountains, thundering (very loud) water falls, and towering (very tall) trees. The sequoia are some of the largest trees in the world.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is home to a forest of old-growth redwood trees. It’s one of California’s many state parks and one of my favorites. Old-growth forests have never been disturbed and, as a result, have many features (a part of something that you notice) that you won’t find in other forests. When you hike in an old-growth forest, you often feel like you’re walking backward in history.
You can also find two other, more unusual, kinds of hiking in California. The first, urban hiking, keeps you inside, or very near, the city. Charles Fleming has described almost 40 urban hikes in his LA Walks newspaper column (articles that appear regularly). These are day hikes that you can take without leaving the city of Los Angeles. Many of these hikes have magical-sounding names, like Ballona Lagoon, Tujunga Wash, Arroyo Seco, Fern Dell, and Elysian Park. Hikers who try these trails quickly discover that they can find and enjoy nature even when surrounded (to be on every side) by the city.
Inn-to-inn (inn = small hotel), or hostel-to-hostel (a place you can stay and eat for very little money) walking vacations have been a tradition in Europe for many years, but not in the U.S. Tom Courtney, a retired university professor, wants to change that. His Walkabout California books and web site describe a series (one after another) of multi-day hikes along the Pacific Coast (the land next to the ocean) and other scenic areas in California.
You could use Courtney’s guides to explore California’s rugged coast and fascinating coastal towns all the way from San Francisco to Mexico. Or you could choose shorter hikes, usually two to four days long, and explore a smaller area. Whichever you choose, you won’t need a large backpack, because Courtney promises that almost every day will “end with a comfortable bed, a glass of wine, a good meal, and maybe even a hot tub (spa or jacuzzi).”
~Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.
iPhotos of Half Dome (Yosemite Nat’l Park) and the Arroyo Seco Trail by W. Ediger.
Fundraisers are a part of many schoolchildren’s lives, but a new law that took affect in July puts major restrictions (limitations) on what can be sold.
Fundraisers are efforts to earn money for a specific project or group. In U.S. public schools, many extracurricular activities — such as after-school sports, student clubs, and music programs — aren’t supported by government money, at least not entirely (completely). If students want to buy new uniforms (clothing worn by an entire team, usually for sports), take a field trip (travel somewhere for an educational experience), buy supplies, or have money to support their activities, the students (and their parents) must raise (earn) the money themselves.
Fundraisers come in many shapes and sizes (are varied; there are many types), some of which I wrote about when talking about school music programs. Among the most popular fundraisers are bake sales and candy sales. Bake sales involve students and parents making desserts such as cupcakes (small, round cakes), cookies, and brownies (a small square of heavy chocolate cake; see photo), and selling them at an event where other students, their parents, teachers, and people in the community come to buy them.
Candy sales involve students taking packaged candy that their club or organization purchases in bulk (in large quantities) and selling them at a higher price, with the understanding that the money will go to help the school group. Students sell to other students or go door-to-door (going from one house to the next), but very commonly, parents sell them to their co-workers at work.
In July, the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act went into affect (began to be enforced). This law requires that the federal (national) government set standards (say what is required) for all food and drinks sold during a school day. This includes vending machines (machines in which you put money to buy food or beverages), classroom snacks (food eaten between meals), and daytime fundraisers. The law doesn’t say that all sweets are out (not allowed) in fundraisers, but says that they must meet nutritional standards (what is considered healthy and beneficial for the body). Bake sales are still allowed and each state decides how often they can occur, but they should be “infrequent” (not very often), according to the new law.
Recent news reports say that this new law poses (causes) problems for schools that rely heavily (depend very much) on selling sweets to supports their activities. However, many are moving to selling other items, such as wrapping paper (colorful paper used to wrap (cover) gifts), candles (blocks of wax that can be lit), and other things not related to food.
How are schools funded where you live? Do schoolchildren raise money for some school activities?
Photo Credit: Several Brownies from Wikipedia
There are many laws in the U.S. that are intended to (have the purpose of) protect workers (people with a job). But there are also laws to protect people who are applying for (asking for; trying to get) jobs, including questions that employers (companies) cannot ask you during an interview.
Here are nine topics a U.S. employer cannot ask you about during an interview or on an application (and that you should not answer if they do!):
- Race (the racial group you belong to) or Color (the color of your skin)
- Ethnicity (the ethnic group you belong to)
- Sex (whether you are male or female)
- National origin (the country you are from)
- Birthplace (the place where you were born)
- Age (as long as you are old enough to work legally)
- Disability (a physical or mental condition that limits someone’s activity), as long as you can do the work required
- Marital/family status (whether someone is married or single, or has children)
But one question that most employers can ask is, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?,” meaning “Have you ever been found guilty of breaking the law or doing something not allowed by law?”
Notice this question is not asking if you have been arrested by the police (accused of a crime or suspected of a crime), but rather, if you have been found guilty (a judge and/or jury has said that you did the crime) and punished for a crime.
While this question about having been convicted of a crime is common, some U.S. states have decided recently to outlaw it (make it illegal).
Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have made it illegal to ask applicants this question. Proponents (people in favor) of outlawing this question say that people who get out of prison can’t get a fair chance to go straight (no longer do illegal things) because they can’t get past this first screening (an activity to identify something, often to eliminate it) found on job applications and in interviews.
Many convicts (people who are in prison) get job training while they are incarcerated (held in prison) and plan to go straight when they leave prison, and getting a legitimate (real) job is the first important step. Even in most states that have outlawed this question, employers can often get information on an applicant’s criminal record (official listing of his or her arrests and convictions (crimes they have been found guilty of)) later, before hiring them.
Opponents (people against) say that that’s too late. Small businesses, for example, that only have five or 10 employees, may need someone to start work immediately and can’t afford (do not have the money for) a long hiring process.
How many people are affected by this question? It turns out that’s a difficult question to answer, in part because there are two issues here: (1) the question about criminal convictions, and (2) your criminal record that employers can find information about by doing a criminal background check. These two issues are often confused when people talk about changing the employment laws.
For example, one government official (employee; representative) stated back in 2011 that 92 million Americans have a “criminal record.” That sounds like a lot — nearly a third of Americans!
But it does not mean 92 million people have been convicted of a crime. That’s because if you are arrested, that arrest may show up (appear) on a criminal background check even if you have not been convicted (it can here in California, for example). So while an employer would see your arrest if it runs a criminal background check, you would still answer “no” to the question about being convicted of a crime.
In addition, that 92 million number comes from adding up the number of people with criminal records in each of the 50 states; those with a record in more than one state are counted twice (or three or four times, possibly). Since the U.S. does not have a good federal (national) system of counting the number of criminals we have, we don’t really know the how many Americans are affected even by criminal record checks, although some proponents of changing the laws have given the media an estimate — questionable, in my opinion — of 65 to 70 million. (This information page from a proponent’s website even states that “1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a conviction history (emphasis added),” which is not what the government data say.)
Are there laws where you live restricting (limiting) the types of questions an employer can ask job applicants? Do you think there should be such laws?
The mysterious moving rocks of Racetrack Playa have puzzled (been impossible to understand or explain) scientists for nearly 100 years.
A playa is a dry lake. The water that used to fill Racetrack Playa evaporated (disappeared into the air) many years ago and left a three-mile-long (4.8 km) and two-mile-wide (3.2 km) layer of thick, yellowish-brown mud.
Racetrack Playa lies in between two mountain ranges (a group of mountains in a line) in Death Valley – the hottest, driest, and lowest area in the U.S. Death Valley is in the Mojave Desert in eastern California, about 140 miles (~225 km) west of Las Vegas.
Nearly 100 years ago, visitors noticed that the rocks on the playa – some larger than a man – moved from time to time. One year they would be in one place and the next year in another. And when they moved, they left tracks, or trails, in the soft mud.
The rocks’ movement was rarely the same. Sometimes they moved a few inches (1 inch = 2.54 cm), other times much farther. Sometimes the tracks were straight, other times they curved or even zigzagged (moved like a “Z”) across the playa.
Many scientists have tried to explain why the rocks move the way they do. But no one has succeeded, that is, until recently.
The mystery was solved one day last December by two scientists, Richard and James Norris, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. When they arrived at the playa, Richard said that it was covered with ice. They also noticed new rock trails near piles of broken ice along the shoreline (edge of the lake).
The next day, the two cousins were sitting nearby when they heard loud cracking (breaking) sounds from the playa. “It’s happening,” Richard yelled.
The sun had begun to melt the ice, and when the wind began to blow, the ice began to break into floes (areas of floating ice). The wind blew the floes across the lake and into the rocks. As the Norrises watched, the large, thin floes pushed the rocks so they began to slide across the slippery (wet, smooth) mud of the normally-dry lakebed (bottom of the lake).
So, what happened? What made it possible for the Norrises to see what no one had ever seen before? The answer is that they were there at the right time, when the all the conditions (things that must happen before something else can happen) were just right. What were these conditions?
First, there was water in the playa from one of the infrequent (rare; not happening often) rains or runoff (water from melted snow) from the nearby mountains. The water makes the lakebed soft and slippery. And it was deep enough for ice to float on top of it, but not deep enough to cover the rocks.
Second, the water froze enough to form what they call “windowpane” ice – ice that is thin enough to move freely (easily) on top of the water but thick enough that it doesn’t easily break.
When the ice began to melt, it broke into floes that a light (not strong) wind was able to blow across the shallow lake. When the floes moved, they pushed the rocks in front of them, and the rocks left their telltale (a sign that shows that something has happened) trails in the soft, slippery mud.
Mystery solved (to find the right explanation for something that is difficult to understand)!
~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.
Photo credit: www.onlinefreecomputers.com.
Growing up, I enjoyed playing board games, games you play with other people on a board, usually a hard piece of thick paper or wood with pictures, words, or drawings on it. I liked playing popular games like Monopoly, a board game where you travel from space to space on a square board with the goal of collecting, trading, and accumulating (adding) more and more properties or land. Also popular in our house was a game called Sorry!, a similar board game using dice (small squares you throw with dots on each of the six sides, from one to six).
But my favorite board game was always Chinese Checkers, a game where you move marbles (colored balls of glass or plastic) strategically (with a plan or purpose to win) across the board to your opponent’s (person you are trying to defeat in a game or battle) territory or area. (The game was actually invented (created) in Germany and got its name — Chinese Checkers — from a U.S. game-maker because of the pictures painted on the board.) My brother and sisters and I spent many hours trying to defeat (beat) each other.
But with the advent (invention and arrival) of video games, the popularity of board games waned (went down; decreased). Even in our house, when my mother brought home an early video game console (machine into which individual games can be placed for playing), we spent less time playing board games and more time trying to shoot aliens (beings from outer space). Today, over 60% of people in American homes play some form of video game, and over 50% own a game console, according to one report.
However, I also read an article recently that board games may be getting a second wind (becoming popular again), especially among the generation (people born in approximately the same years) called Millennials, who are now between the ages of 18 and 32.
They’re not playing the old games, but new board games that involve strategy, many using the same skills they may use in video games. Many meet in each other’s homes or at cafes to play. The appeal (what attracts them), they say, is being able to interact with other players and friends in a more relaxed, friendly, and social atmosphere. There’s still competition (efforts to win), but it’s more likely over a cup of coffee than a game console.
In fact, just last Saturday, I was at a cafe relaxing, reading, and drinking tea in the courtyard (enclosed outdoor area with no roof) where three large tables of people were gathered. Each table was had a different board game being played. One was clearly a trivia game (game asking short questions about facts), but I didn’t know what the others were. The players were very animated (showing excitement). Most of the players appeared to be Millenials, with a few older players.
Do you have any favorite board games, especially ones you still play?
Photo Credit: Chinese Checkers board from Wikipedia
There are several paths (ways) to become a citizen of the United States, most of them requiring many years of waiting and, often, a bit of luck.
I think the most difficult path – one I do not recommend – is to become an honorary American citizen.
When you are made an “honorary something,” you are given a title or membership without having to go through the normal process. For example, universities often give celebrities, politicians, and other important people “honorary doctorates,” giving them the title of “Doctor” without actually having to do anything. (Some say I got my Ph.D. without really doing anything, but that’s not completely true.)
It is possible to become an honorary citizen of the United States, when you are made a citizen without having to apply or fill out any paperwork (forms; documents). Sounds like a great idea, right?
The problem with this path to citizenship is that it has only been done by seven people in the past 200+ years. And, according to the U.S. State Department, being named an honorary citizen does not give you a U.S. passport. It’s just, well, an honor to be naturalized (made a citizen), I guess.
Who has become an honorary U.S. citizen? Here’s a list of those who’ve been given this honor either by the a U.S. president or by Congress, and the year they were made citizens. Five of the seven were made citizens posthumously, which is a fancy way of saying they were dead already.
- Sir Winston Churchill (1963) – one of the great British Prime Ministers and 20th century leaders. Churchill was actually the very first person to be named “honorary citizen.” He was still alive when given the honor. The odd thing about Churchill’s citizenship is that his mother was an American, which under our current laws may have made him a citizen anyway.
- Raoul Wallenberg (1981) – a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from being killed by the Nazis during World War II. His date of death is unknown, but he is assumed to have been killed in 1947, possibly by the Soviets in the then-U.S.S.R.
- William Penn (1981) – the founder (person who started) of what later became known as the state (technically, Commonwealth) of Pennsylvania. Born in England, he helped thousands of Quakers immigrate to the then-British colonies during the late 17th century.
- Hannah Callowhill Penn (1984) – William Penn’s second wife, who helped her husband administer (take care of) the government of Pennsylvania after William had a stroke, and then did it by herself for eight years after his death.
- Mother Theresa (1996) – a Catholic nun, born in Albania but later an Indian citizen, who worked with the poorest of the poor in India, and started the Missionaries of Charity. She and Churchill are the only two who were living when made honorary citizens.
- Marquis de La Fayette (Gilbert du Motier) (2002) – a Frenchman who fought for American independence during our Revolutionary War in the late 18th century, serving under George Washington as a general in the army. He is usually known just as “Lafayette” (one word) in American history textbooks.
- Casimir Pulaski (2009) – Like Lafayette, Pulaski fought against the British in the American Revolutionary War. A native of Poland, he is credited (said to have done something) with saving George Washington’s life during the war. (Washington later became our first president.)
Who will be the next person to join these select seven? Some say it will be a Spaniard (someone from Spain), Bernardo de Galvez. Galvez was governor of the then Spanish-controlled territory of Louisiana during the Revolutionary War, and fought (like Lafayette and Pulaski) against the British to help the Americans win the war. The U.S. Congress recently started the process to name him an honorary citizen.
Galvez, of course, is dead, so this should help his cause (the movement to make him a citizen).
A few weeks, a tired bike rider pulled alongside (close by) me and said, “Thanks, man. I’m not sure I could have made it without your help.”
He and I had been riding into a strong wind coming from the ocean. He had been struggling (having great difficulty) in the wind and was riding very slowly. But when I passed (went around) him, he was able to move in close behind me and begin drafting (following close so I could protect him from the wind). For the next two or three miles I pulled (rode in front) and he drafted. Together we made it.
Bike riders draft whenever we can. It saves energy and helps us ride faster and farther than we could by ourselves. And when we draft behind a better rider, we often discover that we can ride faster and farther than we had before or thought we could.
Drafting works in life, too. There are people who “pull” us along – encourage, inspire (make us confident and eager to do something), and help us accomplish things that we had never thought possible.
Jens Voigt has done that for many people. Jens, who comes from Germany, was a professional bicycle rider for 17 years. He spent a lot of time in the U.S. training (preparing) and racing with the team sponsored (supported financially) by Trek, an American bicycle company. To honor (show appreciation to) his many American fans, he made the U.S. Pro Challenge in Colorado two weeks ago the last race of his long career.
Fans love Jens for his aggressive (ready to attack) riding and his friendly and funny way with people. He would tell you that he’s just a common, everyday guy who works hard at what he does. But when you watch him and listen to him, you soon discover the personality (the kind of person he is) and practical way of looking at life that have inspired and encouraged so many people. Let me give you some examples.
Jens is one of the best all-around (having many abilities) riders and a valuable team member. He says “I’m not a sprinter. I’m not a time-trialer. I’m not a climber. But what I can do is pedal for a long time. I’d rather be a sprinter. But it wasn’t given to me. I’ve got to work with what I have.”
You would frequently find Jens in a breakaway – one rider or a small group of riders who breaks away from (suddenly moves ahead of) the peloton, the main group of riders. Riders who break away don’t often win, but Jens says that trying is what’s important. “If you go [with a breakaway], you can win or not win. If you don’t go for it (try), you definitely won’t win.”
Riding alone on a breakaway is one of the most difficult things a rider can do. It demands (requires) extraordinary (more than usual) physical and mental strength. Jens has the determination (mental strength), and when his body begs him to stop, he replies – using his most famous words – “Shut up legs! Shut up body! Do what I tell you!”
If you’d like to get a brief taste of Jens, listen to this short interview before his last race at the U.S. Pro Challenge in Colorado.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.