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Thursday - October 2, 2014

Coming to California? Take a Hike!

halfdome

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.

arroyosecoYou 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.


Tuesday - September 30, 2014

Fundraisers that Won’t Make You Fat

1024px-Several_browniesFundraisers 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?

– Lucy

Photo Credit: Several Brownies from Wikipedia


Sunday - September 28, 2014

Podcasts This Week (September 29, 2014)

icon_51812We are grateful to our members and donors, because we are only able to produce this podcast with the generous help of our listeners.

If you enjoy our podcasts, please consider supporting ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member today!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1038 – Types and Characteristics of Apartments

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “lost” and “floor.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Impact of the Book How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York.
How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York is a ‘photojournalism’…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 470

Topics: Famous Americans – James Fenimore Cooper; The Farmer’s Almanac; in favor of versus in (one’s) favor; feat of strength, raw human strength, and to be forced against table’s edge; to multitask

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Farmers’ Alliance.”
“The Farmer’s Alliance was an ‘agrarian’ (relating to farming) movement among…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1039 – Taking a Car for a Test Drive

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to buckle up” and “car lot.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Driver’s Ed.”
“In most states, people can get their ‘learner’s permit’…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide


Tuesday - September 23, 2014

9 Questions You Should NOT Answer on Your Next Job Interview

800px-Unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_opened_in_Chicago_by_Al_Capone,_02-1931_-_NARA_-_541927There 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)
  • Religion
  • 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?

– Jeff

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia

Sunday - September 21, 2014

Podcasts This Week (September 22, 2014)

icon_51812Is your limited English standing in your way? Do you want to improve your English now?

Learn English even faster with the help of the Learning Guide. In it, you’ll get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast today by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1036 – Farming and Agribusiness

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to edge out” and “very.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Types of Subsidies.”
“Businesses can receive many types of subsidies, but they can be divided into…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 469

Topics: American Presidents – Grover Cleveland; to understand versus to grab versus to grasp versus to get (it); the suffix –hood; pronouncing words with the first letter “e”

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “U.S. Bills in Large Denominations.”
Currently, the United States prints its ‘bills’ (paper money) in seven ‘“denominations’…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1037 – Ending a Party

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to call it a night” and “to mean (something).”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Terms Used to Talk About Beer.”
“Beer is a popular drink in the United States, and many special terms are used to …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide


Thursday - September 18, 2014

The Mysterious Moving Rocks Of Racetrack Playa

Moving-rocks-baffle-scientists-11The 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.


Tuesday - September 16, 2014

Board Games are Back

ChineseCheckersboardGrowing 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?

– Lucy

Photo Credit:  Chinese Checkers board  from Wikipedia


Sunday - September 14, 2014

Podcasts This Week (September 15, 2014)

icon_51812Get the full benefits of ESL Podcast by getting the Learning Guide. We designed the Learning Guide to help you learn English better and faster. Get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast today by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1034 – Making Changes to a Hotel Reservation

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “party” and “to stick to.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Historic Hotels of America.”
“The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a ‘nonprofit’…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 468

Topics: The Jonestown Massacre; Square Dancing; perspective versus prospective versus prospect; scheme versus schema; heart condition

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about the term “Hootenanny.”
“‘Hootenanny’ is a word with its ‘origins’ (beginnings) in Scotland, …”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1035 – Using a Self-Checkout Machine

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “scale” and “to bag.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “History of the Use of Barcodes.”
“The earliest barcode was invented in 1948 and ‘patented’…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide


Tuesday - September 9, 2014

Want to Become an American Citizen? Try Dying First.

Sir Winston S. ChurchillThere 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).

~Jeff


Sunday - September 7, 2014

Podcasts This Week (September 8, 2014)

icon_51812Is your limited English standing in your way? Do you want to improve your English now?

Learn English even faster with the help of the Learning Guide. In it, you’ll get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast today by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1032 – Different Management Styles

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “top-down” and “to back a different horse.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Layers of Management.”
“Most American businesses have three ‘layers’…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 467

Topics: Movies – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Famous Americans – Babe Didrikson Zaharias; to deliver versus to distribute versus to ship; describing the loss of hair on a man’s head; to ward off

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Fables Comic Book Series.”
“There are many children stories about talking animals, and ‘mythical’ (belonging to old stories, especially stories about how the world was created) creatures…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1033 – Discussing a Victory or Loss

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “crushing” and “blowout.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Touchdown Celebrations.”
“Football players love to celebrate when they ‘score a touchdown’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide