Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category
180 gallons (681.5 liters) a year. That’s how much The Atlantic says the typical (average) American drinks every year. That’s five small cups (or three large cups) of Starbucks coffee a day. Or it’s five cans of soda, like Coca Cola, or five glasses of milk. Does that sound like a lot? Maybe, but maybe not.
To me, the interesting part of The Atlantic article wasn’t how much Americans drink. It’s what they drink and how that’s been changing. The Atlantic tells us that “American drinking habits have undergone a major shift (change) in the last decade (ten years).” The consumption (to eat or drink something) of soda is down (has decreased) more than 15%. Bottled water is up (has increased) 50%. Energy drinks, like Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy, are up 100%. Cheap light beer is down, but craft beers are up. And wine and spirits – strong alcoholic drinks like brandy, whiskey, bourbon, and gin – are up.
The energy drink statistic (a number that represents a fact) caught my attention (made me stop and think). I’m not surprised that energy drink consumption has doubled in the last ten years. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had tripled (increased three times) or even more. Energy drinks seem to be everywhere, including in the news.
Many people believe that energy drinks give them more energy and help them think better. Or, as the manufacturers say, they “provide consumers (people who use them) with a physical and mental edge (advantage).” However, there may be a problem.
According to a recent government study, reported by The New York Times, more than 20,000 people went to the hospital emergency room (ER) because of problems related to using energy drinks in 2011. The problems included anxiety (the feeling of being very worried), headaches, irregular (not regular) heartbeats, and heart attacks. In 2007, the number of ER visits was only 10,000.
The problem isn’t only with the energy drinks. The study also shows that nearly half of those who went to the ER “for problems related to energy drinks had consumed the drinks along with alcohol or other substances (drugs)….” Many of these are 18-to-25-year-old young men.
The government study says that “consumption of energy drinks is a rising (growing) public health problem because medical and behavioral (how someone acts) problems can result from excessive (too much) caffeine intake (consumption)…particularly for children, adolescents (teenagers), and young adults (18-25-year-olds).” The manufacturers, on the other hand, insist that their products are safe.
Probably the safest thing to say is that we need more research about the benefits and the effects of energy drinks. And probably the wisest thing to do until that research is done is to exercise caution (be careful) with them.
Are energy drinks popular where you live? Do you use them?
~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.
Photo of energy drinks courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
When you think of California, you think of snow, right? Well, maybe not. But California actually has about 30 ski resorts, vacation places that cater to (is built for; is intended for) skiing (see photo).
There is a popular ski resort area only two hours from Los Angeles called Big Bear. I’ve skied there before. Okay, in my over 20 years in Los Angeles, I’ve skied there three times. But other Angelinos (people who live in Los Angeles) frequent (visit) this area a lot during the winter months for skiing, snowboarding (going over snow on one wide board), and other winter sports.
But in some years, the weather does not cooperate. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, the 2011-12 ski season had the lowest national snowfall in 20 years, which caused many of the resorts to open later in the season or close early. During these less-than-perfect (flawed; not good) years, the temperatures don’t get cold enough and there isn’t enough precipitation (wet weather).
So what do you do if you own a ski resort in dry, warm, unpredictable (unreliable) California? Well, if nature won’t provide what you want, make it yourself.
More and more, ski resorts here are investing in (paying money now to earn more money in the future) snow-making systems, and those systems are more sophisticated (fancy and complex) than ever. You can even control your snow-making system using your computer or smartphone these days (now). And while snow making used to be a difficult, labor-intensive (using a lot of workers and time) process, it’s much less work nowadays.
So unless those of you who live in places with surplus (more than you need) snow can transport (move) some of it to California, many Californians will likely ski more and more on artificial (not real) snow. We here in Los Angeles are used to artificial things, so we probably won’t notice.
Are you enjoying snow where you live? Do you ski or participate in other winter sports? What do you think of artificial snow?
Photo Credit: Wilmot-ski-racer-cmsc.jpg from Wikipedia
When Fred (not his real name) turned sixty-five, he retired and did something he had always wanted to do: he returned to school. Fred joined students more than forty years younger than he and began studying for a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, the degree that many pastors and priests earn (complete the requirements for) before they begin their work. Most M.Div. degrees require students to learn Hebrew and Greek – the original (at the beginning) languages used to write the Bible – well enough to read them. Fred did, and he earned his degree.
Last year, Gary Marcus wrote a book called Guitar Zero. In it he described learning how to play the guitar after he was forty years old. He succeeded and has played for audiences in Brooklyn, New York, where he lives. After his book was published, Marcus discovered that other people had had similar experiences. A journalist wrote to tell him about her seventy-six-year-old father. He had learned to play the guitar when he was older and had recently written her to say that he and two friends had formed a band called “The Three Grandfathers.” An engineer in Portland, Oregon, told him how he had returned to the guitar after he had a heart attack when he was in his sixties (60-69 years old).
Should we be surprised by these stories? Some people would be. Some people believe that you have to start when you’re young if you want to do certain things, like learn a new language or how to play a musical instrument. They believe that the connections in our brains have become permanent by the time we are adults and can’t be changed. If that’s true, you’ll never be able to do these things very well.
Marcus, a psychology professor at New York University, says that scientific evidence for this belief, called the critical-period theory, is far weaker (less strong) than widely supposed (believed). James Old, a neuroscience (brain science) professor at George Mason University, agrees. He says that the adult mind is “very plastic.” In other words, it can be changed, even when you’re older; old connections can be broken and new ones made. According to Olds, “The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly (while being used), altering (changing) the way it functions (works or operates).” That’s good news, especially for older adults!
Near the end of his book, Marcus makes another point (states another fact or opinion) that applies to (affects) language learners. He points out (tells us) that the process of developing a new skill can bring as much pleasure as accomplishing the goal. This is especially true for language learners because the key to language development is reading and listening – to ESL Podcast, for example – for your own pleasure. More good news!
~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo of neurons courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
At first glance (when we first look at the situation), Walter Samaszko, Jr. did not appear to be a rich man when he died a few months ago in Carson City, Nevada. He had less than $1,200 in his bank account. He lived alone in the house where he and his mother had lived since the 1970s. He was something of a recluse (someone who doesn’t talk to others, usually living alone and isolated).
After he died, people came to clean up his house. When they did, they found something amazing in his garage: a box full of gold.
More cleaners came in (entered the house to work) and started searching other parts of the house for gold. They found gold coins from Austria, Mexico, and the United States. They found gold money that dated from (from the year) the 1840s. Gold, gold, and more gold.
By the time (When) they finished, the cleaners had found close to $7,400,000 worth of gold.
Samaszko and his mother had collected gold for many, many years, keeping all of it in their house. They had very detailed records (lists) of all the gold they bought.
No one knows what Samaszko did for a living (what his job was). He lived in a small house in an average neighborhood. But most of the gold appears to have been purchased (bought) by his mother many years ago, when gold was relatively cheap. Gold in the early 1970s was only $100 per ounce; today, the price is $1,700 per ounce.
What happened to all the money? Samaszko had a first cousin (the child of one of Samaszko’s aunts or uncles) living in California who works as a teacher. She will inherit (receive from someone who dies) it all.*
* = That’s the part that will probably never happen to you.
Photo credit: Gold Eagle Coin, Wikipedia CC
New York’s subway system – one of the world’s largest and busiest – was part of a grand (big and impressive) plan that would make it possible for anyone living in the greater New York area (in and around New York City) to go wherever they wanted to go.
However, the Great Depression, World War II, higher prices after the war, and other factors (causes) kept the grand plan from being completed. Parts of the subway were never built. Some parts that were built were never used. Many of those parts have been hidden from public view (can’t be seen). And they’ve never been seen by the millions of people who walk, drive, or ride just a short distance away.
One of those, the City Hall station, was supposed to have been the showpiece (something that attracts attention) of the subway system. It was designed by a well-known Spanish architect (someone who designs buildings). It’s beautiful, with curved walls and arched (curved) ceilings. The walls and ceilings are decorated with colored tiles, stained (colored) glass windows and skylights (windows in the ceiling) and brass (bright yellow metal) chandeliers (round frames that hold lights and hang from the ceiling). These photos will show you what I mean. Many people believe that it looks similar to New York’s well-known Grand Central Terminal (railroad station).
City Hall station opened in 1904. But as beautiful as it was (even though it was beautiful), it never was an important station. It was near the end of the #6 line (track that a train travels on) and most riders got off before City Hall to transfer (change) to other subway trains.
City Hall station was closed in 1941. Since then very few people have seen it. The station is in an area where trains turn around, and passengers had to get off. Recently, however, subway administrators (managers) have begun to allow passengers to stay on the train while it turns around. Even though they can’t get off the train to look at the City Hall station, passengers can see most of it while the train slowly moves past.
I haven’t seen City Hall station, but I’d like to. Would you? Do subways where you live have similar hidden wonders (something that makes you feel surprise and admiration)?
~ Warren Ediger – English coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo of City Hall station courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
One of the most well-known symbols (images representative) of Christmas is the Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree in the U.S. that gets the most attention each year is the one at the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Each year in late November or early December, a very large tree between 69 to 100 feet (21 to 30 meters) is erected (put up) at the famous Rockefeller Center. It is decorated (with objects placed on it to make it look nice) with 30,000 lights on wiring (lines that bring electricity) that is about five miles (8 kilometers) long. The star that is placed at the top of tree is nearly 10 feet (3 meters) wide and weighs 550 pounds (250 kg). The tradition of lighting the tree — turning on the lights for the first time — is usually shown on television during a special Christmas show.
For regular folks (normal people) who celebrate Christmas, we simply go out to one of the Christmas tree lots (large outdoor areas) that are in business for a few weeks in late November through December to buy our Christmas trees. Families like to decorate the tree with ornaments (small balls, figurines, stars, and other small items that are hung with a string), tinsel (thin strips of shiny metal material), strings of popcorn (corn kernels popped at high temperature and placed on a long string), and strings of electric lights. In recent years, it has become more and more popular to buy potted (in a container) Christmas trees that still have their roots (the part of a plant that attaches to the ground) and can be planted after the holiday, so the trees aren’t wasted.
I’m thinking of getting a potted tree this year, but I’m having second thoughts (doubts) because I don’t have a green thumb (am not a good gardener), and the chances of a tree surviving (staying alive) under my care are pretty slim (small). All of my other plants in my house are cacti and succulents, and even they aren’t looking too healthy. I guess, for the good of the potted tree, I’ll stick to (remain with) my little plastic Christmas tree again this year.
Photo Credit: Rockefeller Center Tree from Wikipedia
The most popular album (record; collection of songs) of 2011 in the United States was the British singer Adele’s “21.” You’ve probably heard of Adele and her impressive (amazing; awesome) voice.
You probably did not know that the second most popular record of 2011 was not by Justin Bieber or Beyonce or some rapper. No, the second best-selling album of last year was Michael Bublé‘s “Christmas.”
Never heard of Bublé? He’s what we call a crooner, someone who sings songs in the style of the great pop singers of the 1940s and ’50s, singers like Frank Sinatra.
Bublé has discovered what many other singers have learned: Christmas music is almost guaranteed (certain) to sell, and sell big (a lot), every year. Every November and December, Christmas songs sung by pop singers hit the top of the charts. (“The charts” refers to the list of the best-selling songs or albums of a certain period of time. To hit the top of the charts means to sell more songs or albums than anyone else for that week, month, or year.)
In fact, if you are a popular singer and want to make a lot of money, putting out (releasing; making available for sale) a Christmas album is a very smart business decision, no matter (regardless) of what kind of singer you are. Country music stars, old rockers (singer of rock music), crooners like Bublé – almost everyone who records a Christmas album makes money.
Sometimes the songs on the albums are original ones. Sometimes they are traditional carols (Christmas songs that have been around for many hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years). It doesn’t really matter.
I’m thinking of releasing my own Christmas album next year, maybe singing Bruce Springsteen‘s rendition (version; performance) of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or Rod Stewart’s “Merry Christmas, Baby.” Look for it on iTunes in 2013.
Image Credit: Christmas Minstral Playing Pipe and Tabor, Wikipedia PD
Hope. Joy. Peace.
These are significant (important, meaningful) words for those of us who remember, and often retell, the traditional Christmas story.
Admittedly (saying something that is true), hope, joy, and peace can be difficult to find today. Sometimes, however, we can find them in unexpected places. I was happily surprised to find them recently in the story of Lester Potts, a man who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, an illness that affects your brain and memory and makes you slowly lose your ability to think and behave (act) normally.
In the early stages, people with Alzheimer’s begin to have difficulty thinking and remembering, but these difficulties don’t usually interfere with (prevent something from happening) everyday activities. You may have trouble doing more than one task at a time, solving problems, and remembering recent events or conversations; difficult activities may take you longer than they did in the past.
As Alzheimer’s gets worse, the symptoms become more obvious and make it difficult for you to take care of yourself. Eventually Alzheimer’s leads to death.
The mental changes that Alzheimer’s patients experience profoundly (very much, deeply) change the way they see themselves. And the way their families and friends see them. Many of the symptoms can be embarrassing and often cause patients and their families to withdraw from (stop taking part in) social activities. The last several months I’ve watched as one of my good friends and long-time mentor (an experienced person who advises and helps someone less experienced) has gone through this struggle (difficult time) with his wife. It’s very difficult.
Several years ago, Dale Short told Lester Potts’ story in the UAB (University of Alabama/Birmingham) Magazine. He writes that the changes in Potts “hit his family like a cyclone (violent storm).” His condition was soon bad enough that he couldn’t safely stay at home alone. Fortunately, his family were able to find an adult daycare center (a place for someone to stay while their families are at work) for him, a place where he felt comfortable. It became one of the few bright spots in his life.
One day a volunteer art teacher breathed (brought) hope and, eventually (in the end) , joy into Pott’s difficult life when she encouraged him to try painting with watercolors. Soon he began to bring home different kinds of paintings: still lifes (arrangements of objects like fruit or flowers), landscapes (pictures of the countryside or land), flowers, birds, and holiday scenes. They were often painted in bright colors, sometimes brighter than real-life.
Potts’ son Daniel, a doctor, said that “the breakthrough (important discovery) was nothing short of (less than) a miracle. Dad no longer had the ability to communicate through words, but somebody cared enough to unlock (open) a hidden talent. There’s something…about art; it can form connections in the brain even when the mind is fading away (slowly disappearing). He realized what he was achieving (doing, accomplishing). He was proud of the paintings he brought home, and he’d show them to us again and again.”
What a wonderful gift! Little did that volunteer art teacher know (she had no idea) how much joy, hope, and peace she would bring to Lester Potts and his family when she encouraged him to begin painting.
You can find Dale Short’s story here; the story that gave me the idea for this blog post is here. This YouTube video – Painting in the Twilight: An Artist’s Escape from Alzheimer’s – tells the story of Lester Potts and another artist who used art to communicate when they could no longer do so naturally.
~ Warren Ediger – English coach/tutor and creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and helpful suggestions for better English.
Photo used under Creative Commons License.
It probably goes without saying (is not necessary to say) that active people live longer than sedentary (spending a lot of time sitting down, not moving or exercising) people. Thanks to three recent research studies, we now know a little more about what and how much we need to do to live longer.
The first study followed (paid attention to) 7500 people in England for ten years. Every week the people being studied recorded (wrote down) the number of hours of activity and level of intensity (amount of energy required) for each activity – mild (using a small amount of energy), moderate, or strenuous (using a lot of energy).
Researchers found that any kind of activity increases life expectancy (length of time people are expected to live) and that more strenuous activities increase life expectancy the most.
The second study, in Denmark, followed 5100 bicycle riders for 18 years. Every week riders recorded how many hours they rode and how strenuous their rides were. Riders who rode regularly and rode harder (with more energy), lived four or five years longer than casual riders.
Finally, researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the U.S. found that people who followed the government’s recommendation – 150 minutes of moderate activity, such as brisk (full of energy) walking, per week – lived almost three-and-one-half years longer than sedentary people.
The NCI researchers also made two other interesting discoveries: first, overweight people lived longer with moderate exercise, even if they didn’t lose weight; and second, people who exercise at a low level (10 minutes of walking per day) added almost two years of life expectancy. Even a little bit of activity helps!
The government’s recommendation comes from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. They recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days per week to become and remain healthy.
But, you ask, what’s a moderate activity? When you’re doing a moderate activity, you’ll be able to talk while you’re doing the activity. If you’re doing a strenuous activity, you’ll only be able to say a few words before you have to take a breath. If you want to know if the activity you’re doing is moderate or strenuous, try the “talk test.” Stop occasionally during the activity and try to recite (say something you know) a poem or song or talk to a friend. If you can do it easily, the activity is moderate; if you’re breathing too hard to do it easily, the activity is strenuous. The goal: moderate activities that are almost strenuous.
Any activity, or combination of activities, that increases your heart rate (how fast your heart beats) will help. People I know use brisk walking, jogging (to run slowly), bicycle riding, ballroom dancing, swimming, jumping rope, or hiking (a long walk in the mountains or countryside).
Which are you – active or sedentary? I try to be as active as possible. I ride my bicycle several days a week and work in my yard a lot. Both are moderate, and occasionally strenuous, activities.
Note: If you’re interested, the three studies I mention are described in more detail in Can Housework Help You Live Longer?
~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you can find practical suggestions, such as How to read more: A lover’s guide, for better English.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
I don’t remember the boy’s name anymore. It was more than twenty years ago and I’ve had so many students since then, it’s hard to keep track (remember; be aware of something).
He sat in the last row (line of seats), had somewhat unkempt (not combed; not neat) blond hair, and was slightly overweight. That I remember for sure.
I was a student teacher (someone training or preparing to be a teacher) at Humboldt High School, one of St. Paul’s – how shall I say it? – “lowest performing” schools (schools where students did poorly). I was assigned (given the task) to teach a Spanish I class to a group of seventh, eighth, and ninth graders (roughly 13- to 15-year-olds).
I was far from (not even close to) being a very good teacher during the 12 weeks I spent at Humboldt, but no one jumped out the second-story (floor or level) windows of the classroom, so that, I thought, was something (a small accomplishment).
The boy in question (who I’ve been talking about) never seemed to like my class. In fact, he was the kind of student who always has this somewhat (slightly) impatient (not willing to wait for something) or even hostile (angry; mean) look on his face.
Worse still (even worse), he had the habit (would often) of asking questions almost in the form of a challenge (trying to disagree with or defeat someone), as if to say, “Really? I don’t think so.”
Teachers, like mothers, are supposed to love all of their children equally, but we all know this isn’t true. There were students whom I really disliked, and who I am sure disliked me.
Well, I disliked this kid. As a new teacher, I didn’t appreciate (like) the fact that he was always asking questions. I thought he was trying to trip me up (make me make a mistake) or show the rest of the students how dumb I was.
I answered his questions, of course, and tried to smile as I did so (as I answered them). But inside (in my thoughts), I wished (hoped) that he would just stop showing up (coming) to class.
Finally, my 12 weeks at Humboldt drew to a close (ended), and I had my last class with my students. We had a little party, I think, and I said good-bye to the students.
As class ended, everyone slowly left the room except for the boy. When everyone else had gone, he walked up to me and gave me an envelope with a card inside. He just smiled, said “Thanks a lot!” and left.
Standing alone now in the classroom, I opened the envelope and pulled out (removed) the card. It said something along the lines of (something like this, but not exactly):
You are the best teacher I have ever had.
As you can imagine, I was stunned (really surprised). I stood there speechless (without words), amazed at how wrong I was about this boy.
I never saw the student again. My time as a student teacher ended, and the following year I took a job at another school.
Sometimes we just don’t know what is going on in the minds of those around us. We think we know, but we do not. If we are lucky, we are given the chance to discover just how wrong we are before it’s too late.