ESL Podcast Home ESL Podcast Store
HOME > BLOG > Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

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

Tuesday - October 27, 2015

Cities of the Dead

20101010-DSC_0087-2When I say “New Orleans,” you might immediately think about 2005’s Hurricane Katrina which killed over 1,200 people and did more than $100 million in damage.

But on the eve of (just before) October 31st, Halloween (see posts by Jeff, Warren, and me), I want to focus attention on one of New Orleans’ most famous and creepy (causing fear; scary) attractions: its cemeteries (areas where dead people are buried or placed).

When you approach (get near) one of New Orleans’ traditional cemeteries, you’ll immediately see the above-ground tombs (structures where the bodies of the dead are placed) (see photo). Many of these structures are large, elaborate (fancy, with many parts), and old.

What gave rise to (was the reason for) these impressive-looking above-ground tombs?

New Orleans is built partially on a swamp (a low area where water naturally collects). Because of the high water table (the level below the ground where water naturally appears), it has traditionally been necessary to build stone tombs and mausoleums (large buildings where more than one tomb can be placed) above ground. If you tried to bury the dead in the traditional way, you’d find that holes dug in the ground fill with water. When the area floods (is temporarily covered in water), coffins (large boxes in which dead bodies are placed) can actually become unearthed (removed from the surrounding dirt) and float (move to the top of the water) to the surface!

While New Orleans is not the only city in the U.S. with a high water table, it is unique in its number of above-ground tombs, with 90% of the dead placed in these structures in some traditional cemeteries. Over the years (during a period of many years), some of the tombs have become quite elaborate, with sculptures (figures of people, animals, and things made of stone or other hard material) and decorations, making the cemeteries look like small villages (towns). In fact, one nickname for the cemeteries is “Cities of the Dead.”

Unfortunately, some of these tombs and mausoleums have fallen apart from the ravages of (damage caused by) weather and neglect (not being cared for). Some of the structures are very old and family members no longer have or want to spend the money to maintain them. Very little city money is allotted (put aside; budgeted) for cemetery maintenance. Volunteer (not paid) organizations like Save Our Cemeteries are trying to keep the structures from crumbling (falling apart into many pieces).

I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans many years ago, before Hurricane Katrina, and was able to see one of these fascinating cemeteries. I hope that with the help of volunteers, this unique feature of New Orleans can be preserved (kept in good condition) for future generations of residents (people who live there) and visitors. You can see more photos of these cemeteries on the Save Our Cemeteries website, including its blog.

~ Lucy

Photo from Wikipedia

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.