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Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

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

Tuesday - April 5, 2016

Often Forgotten, But Not Gone

* Fire_Escape_SoHoWhen you walk through the older parts of American cities, if you stop and look up you’ll see fire escapes climbing up the outside of many older buildings, as in the photo.

The need for fire escapes – steel platforms (a place to stand on) and stairs attached to the outside of a building – grew in the mid-1800s in the U.S. Many people were moving to cities to work in factories and other jobs. And many of them moved into apartment or tenement (a building with rooms or apartments for poor people) buildings made of wood.

Most of these buildings had one open stairway in the center of the building. It was the only way to get in and out of the building. If a fire started, the central stairway made it easy for the fire to quickly spread to the upper floors*. And it made it difficult or impossible for the people in the building to escape (get out and away from the fire).

In 1860, a six-story New York tenement, where 24 families lived, burned when a fire started in a bakery on the first floor. Firemen’s ladders weren’t long enough to reach the people at the top of the building, and 10 women and children died in the fire. Soon, laws were passed that required outside fire escapes to be attached to large buildings.

In the 1920s, outside fire escapes began to be replaced by inside stairways that are designed to be safe from fire. New York City outlawed (made them illegal) outside fire escapes in 1968.

In a recent photo essay (group of photos that tell a story), Patrick Sisson describes the history of fire escapes and shows how they became an important part of city life.

For many people, the fire escape became an extension (part added to something to make it larger) of the apartment or room they lived in. On hot days, it became a place for people to escape a hot apartment; on a hot night, a mattress turned it into an outdoor bedroom.

Fire escapes provided quiet places to talk with a close friend or read or think alone. They also provided space to grow flowers or vegetables in pots or other containers.

Fire escapes became a front porch (platform attached to the front of a house) for many apartment dwellers (someone who lives in a particular place). People spent hours outside on their fire escape watching city life walk and drive by.

I encourage you to take time to look at Sisson’s photo essay and, if possible, to watch the short video in it from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 movie Rear Window. It’ll show you a little of what apartment living in New York used to be like, complete with fire escapes.

* “Floor” and “story” both refer to the different levels of a building – for example, the 51st floor or 51st story. In the U.S., the ground floor is the first floor or story; in some countries, the first floor is the one above the ground floor.

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

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - March 22, 2016

A New Job For A Familiar Prefix

02COV1-master675“Co-” is a prefix (a group of letters at the beginning of a word that makes a new word) that adds the idea of “together with” to the words it begins, words like “cooperate” and “coworker.” Recently “co-” has taken on a new job – changing the way we think and talk about working and living.

Two new words – coworking and coliving – are quickly becoming part of the vocabulary used by many millennials (young adults under the age of 30) and others. You’ll hear them most often in cities where there are a lot of startups (new businesses), especially startups that use technology in new ways.

Coworking, the older of the two ideas, describes a workspace that is shared by a group of people who usually work independently (by themselves) or remotely (away from the office). Workers rent and share office and meeting space and equipment and services, such as copiers and copying. For many, community building – getting to know other people, sharing ideas, and working together with them – is an important part of coworking.

Coliving is a newer idea. It extends (adds) the use of “co-” to living arrangements. The Coliving website describes coliving as shared housing and as a kind of life that values (makes something important) openness, sharing, and collaboration (working together). Building personal and business relationships is often an important part of coliving.

One way to think about the housing part of coliving is to imagine renting a hotel room or suite (a larger hotel room that includes a couch or comfortable chairs, a desk or table, and sometimes a small kitchen). In addition to your room, you share living, dining, and meeting rooms, a kitchen, and other rooms with the people who live in the same house or building.

Coliving is often more cost effective (good results without high cost) than renting or buying, especially in large cities like San Francisco, New York, or Boston, where there are a lot of startups. The service OpenDoor charges tenants (people who rent) $1,000 to $1,200 a month, depending on the room and the house. Another coliving company charges $1,500 to $2,200 a month, which includes everything you would find in a hotel room plus a well-supplied kitchen for everyone to use.

OpenDoor operates several coliving locations in California. In a recent interview, one of the owners said that they see themselves as more than landlords (some who owns and rents property). They work hard to maintain a family-like environment in their locations. Applicants (someone who wants to live at one of their locations) are asked what they could contribute to the house, what kind of environment they’re looking for, and other questions to make sure they fit into the group of people who already live there.

What about where you live? Have you seen examples of coworking or coliving?

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

Photo by Brian Harkin for the New York Times.


Tuesday - March 8, 2016

It’s Bumper Sticker Time!

US_Senator_Richard_Burr_car,_rear;_Washington,_DC;_2013-10-06It’s politics time in the U.S. And that usually means cars with bumper stickers (small signs with messages) like those in the photo.

Political bumper stickers first appeared in 1952. That’s when former World War II general Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Republican candidate (someone competing for public office) for president and former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson the Democratic candidate.

Bumper stickers probably don’t convince (make someone believe or do something) people to vote for one candidate or the other. But they help create awareness (knowledge about something). And they allow people to express (show) their support for candidates and ideas.

Most political bumper stickers are simple. Some have only the candidate’s name. Others say “Vote for Obama” or “Romney for President”.

Some bumper stickers – like “Democracy is not a spectator (for watching) sport”, “Ignore (don’t pay attention to) your rights (freedoms) and they’ll go away”, and “If you don’t vote, don’t complain” – remind people that voting is important.

Bumper stickers even appear after elections. Someone whose party (Republicans or Democrats) won may put “I voted Republican” or “I voted for Obama” on their car. If their party or candidate didn’t win, they may put something like “Next time … think before you vote!” or “Don’t blame me. I voted for the other guy.”

Since bumper stickers are so small, it’s difficult to say much about important ideas. Occasionally, however, someone tries. This one – “Taxed Enough Already” – accomplishes two things. First, it complains about too many taxes. Second, it identifies with (shows relationship to) the Tea Party, a group of conservative (usually, someone who doesn’t like change) Republicans who take their name from the time early American patriots (someone who loves their country and is willing to defend it) threw British tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxes. In history books it’s called the “Boston Tea Party.”

Some of the best, in my opinion, are those that mix humor and political talk. “Confuse a conservative. Use logic and facts” does that. So does “I’d vote Republican, but I’m allergic to (get sick if you eat or touch something) nuts (food/crazy people).”

One driver, who may not think much of (like) politicians, had a bumper sticker that used a popular line from American writer and humorist (someone who tells funny stories) Mark Twain – “Politicians, like diapers (soft cloths put on babies to keep them dry and clean), should be changed often. And for the same reason.” Another, apparently from a Republican who doesn’t like the choices he has, says “Republicans for Voldemort.” Voldemort, as you may remember, is known as the Dark Lord in the Harry Potter books and is Harry’s enemy (someone who wants to hurt you).

The number of bumper stickers seems to have declined (gotten smaller), probably because of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. I hope they never disappear; if they did, what would I have to read while waiting for the stoplight to turn green?

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

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - February 23, 2016

100 Years Later

24984166005_8e152632f3_bAlbert Einstein was right. Again. But it took scientists more than 100 years to find the first evidence (facts to show something is true) that a prediction (to say that something will be true) he made in 1915 is correct.

To try to wrap our heads around (understand) what has happened, let’s start with something we know: throwing rocks into a pond (small lake). When you throw a rock into a pond, it creates a circle of small waves in the water. As the circle expands (grows), the waves get smaller and smaller until they seem to disappear.

Waves explain the nature (what something is like) of many of the things we experience every day. Take sound as an example. If a tree falls down in a forest, why do we hear it? We hear it because when it hits the ground, it causes waves to move through the air that our ears hear as the sound of a tree hitting the ground.

Einstein believed that something similar happens in space. Gravity is the invisible (can’t be seen) force that causes an apple to fall from a tree to the ground. There are large invisible places in space, called black holes, where the gravity is so strong that not even light can get out of them. Einstein believed that a large event – like two black holes coming together to make a new, larger black hole – would create a gravitational (adjective for gravity) wave that travels billions of miles across space.

There was one problem. The event Einstein had in mind (was thinking about) was so far away that the waves would be too small to measure – about 1,000 times smaller than the center of an atom – by the time they got to earth. And that is the problem that scientists have solved, 100 years after Einstein made his prediction.

To solve the problem, scientists made a measuring device, called LIGO, shaped like an “L”. Both arms of the “L” were exactly the same length – about 2.5 miles (4 km) – and had mirrors at the ends. The scientists shined a line of light at the two mirrors, half of it at one mirror and half at the other, and measured how long it took the light to return from the mirrors. If Einstein was right, gravitational waves would cause one line of light to return to the starting point a very small time later than the other. And that’s what happened.

There are many things to be impressed with in this story. Einstein, first of all, for his ability to think about and predict something like gravitational waves. The scientists for their ability to think of a way to measure the waves and to design and make the equipment to do it.

I’m also impressed with the patience (ability to keep working on something for a long time) of the scientists who worked on this project. They – helped by many assistants and graduate students – spent 40 years looking for, finding, and creating a way to measure the tiny waves of gravity that told them that Einstein was right. They were young men when they started. Today, one of the lead scientists is in his mid-70s, the second is in his early 80s, and the third is 85. I wonder how many people in today’s world would be willing to work that long and that hard on a project that could have easily failed (not worked).

If you’re interested in this topic, I think you’ll enjoy these videos from MIT and the New York Times.

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

Photo by Charly W. Karl used under Creative Commons license.