A Cup Of English

A Cup Of English

United States

Friendly, everyday English to help the anxious language learner. Texts, grammar notes, and photos on the blog page. Another great podcast by LibSyn.com


A Bowling Party.  

Bowling is, I think, an underestimated sport. It's often just considered entertainment. The nearest bowling alley to us is across the river, and is a place for both serious entertainment and serious sport. Half of the day is devoted to parties, and includes bowling for an hour, pizza, and a huge amount of pepsi or root beer. That all comes as part of a package that you can buy online. If a member of your family, or a friend, has a birthday, for example, you can arrange the party on your computer, invite your friends, bring a cake, and have the party at the bowling alley. The other half of the day is serious bowling: High School groups or semi-professional bowlers. The professional bowlers in this country can earn between 100 and 150 thousand a year. So what might have started out as a hobby, occasionally ends up as a career! I've never met a professional bowler, and if we ever go bowling it's just for fun. My son Robert took a group of his best buddies (1)bowling a few weeks ago. They competed against each other, but for the most part(2) laughed and goofed around(3). I noticed how each player has a very different style of holding and rolling the ball. Sometimes all the pins would explode and fly in all directions with the perfect hit, but most of the time just a few of them would fall over on one end of the line, and the boys would groan or laugh. The goal, as you probably know, is to roll the bowling ball down the wooden lane so it hits the bowling pins in such a way that they all fall down. That is called a 'strike'. You have two chances to knock down one line of pins; these two chances are called 'a frame'. There are ten frames in a game. There are many strange terms for parts of the game, but the two I like most are: 'hambone' and 'turkey'. 'Turkey' is when you make three strikes in a row, and 'Hambone' is when you make four. Well, I don't think I'll ever be using those words about my bowling performance. For a change, it's nice to be able to laugh when you perform badly! 1.'Best buddies'. 'Buddy' is a synonym for 'friend'. It is mainly an American term, but is usable in other English speaking countries. It is sometimes used to imply that two people are involved secret or bad activities, or it can be used in a negative or defensive sense. a. Tom and his baseball buddies ate hot dogs and talked about the game. b. Hey, take your hands off that phone buddy! That's not yours! c. I don't know about him and his buddies; they always seem like they're up to no good. 2. 'For the most part' is very similar to 'mainly' or 'generally.' a. Our business does well, for the most part. b. She is good humored, for the most part, apart from when she's very tired. 3. 'To goof around' is to play about and be silly.  a. Hey, I'm trying to explain something. Quit goofing around! b. The worst thing about being a substitute teacher is how the students goof around. c. The character Goofy in Mickey Mouse films is called that because he is silly.

A Day at the Lake.  

So what do you do when it is too hot outside to garden or play? If you're smart, you will call some friends, jump in the car, and go to the nearest lake. Lucky for me (1), there is a lake 45 minutes away called Lake Chelan. It is huge. It's actually 50 miles long and 1,486 ft deep (at its deepest point). There are lots of little beaches around the edge of the lake, some of which have become camping grounds. As the water comes from the mountains during the spring, it is clean and cold. Some people fish for the salmon and trout that can be found. There are always boats, including speed boats, and skidoos that whizz around. Friday was the day that we went. I invited my friend Natalia, and my daughter and her friend also came. We brought all sorts of equipment so we would be comfortable. As the temperatures here increase dramatically during the summer days, I took a four legged canopy (2) so we could have plenty of shade. Nataliya brought inflatable beds, and both of us brought a picnic. It took a while to set everything up, but once we had, it was time to relax. The beach was full of tourists from Russia, India, and South America. Many of them had come from Seattle. That city, after all, is not as hot as this eastern region. So, if you want a hot day and a cold lake, Chelan is a good place to visit. The kids immediately got in the water and floated around on one of the inflatables. I waited until I was hot and desperate to cool down. Then I walked down to the slightly pebbly beach and put my toes in the water. It was freezing! I'm normally brave, but I knew at that second that I wasn't going swimming! I waded (3) out slowly and carefully, promising myself that I would at least dip myself in the water. "One, two, three!" I said and under I went. I sprang up like hot toast out of a toaster and ran to the shore. What a baby! I warmed myself in the sun, and then I realized how smooth the water had made my skin. The kids got an ice-cream, and Natalia shared her Russian bologna and bread, perfect! Three hours came and went, and before we knew it, it was time to go. I'm so thankful that it doesn't take hours and hours to get there. The next time we go I won't be such a baby; I'll actually go for a proper swim.  1. 'Lucky for me' is a shortened version of 'luckily for me'; both are fine to use. Of course this adverbial phrase can be used with other object pronouns (him, her, you). a. Lucky for him, he drove his car away before the parking officer put a ticket on his windshield. b. Lucky for them, they bought the concert tickets early before it sold out. 2. 'Canopy' is a shade. It is also used figuratively.  a. The houses all have canopies over the front doors as the sun here is unforgiving. b. The trees of the forest create a natural canopy, and everything underneath is shaded. 3. 'To wade' is to walk slowly through the water. It is, as you can see, a very specific verb. However, it is a great verb to use figuratively especially if you want to give the sense of having to move slowly through something thick. a. The fisherman put his rubber waders on his legs and waded out into the fast flowing river. b. My supervisor gave me so many papers to check that I spent all day wading through them.  Click iTalki to improve your English.

Tarantula in the Garage.  

Ok, I've got your attention with the title. Not everybody has a tarantula in their garage. I don't, actually. It is a temporary resident at my mother's place. She, of all people (1), does not appreciate this unwelcome visitor. She doesn't tolerate insects in general, unless of course they are ladybirds that are good for her flowers. I have  memories from my childhood of hearing her yell, and then would come the sound of 'thump, thump' as she would use a shoe to squash some poor, unsuspecting(2) insect that had made the mistake of crawling into the same room as her. Bugs don't bother me that much really, the big ones do though. I once challenged myself in England to pick up a really big, black spider with my bare hands, and to throw it outside. "Look Anna," I said to myself, "it's only a spider. It's probably terrified of you. Look how much bigger you are than it!" I sort of convinced myself, even though my stomach wasn't in agreement. So I picked it off of the wall,    and holding it in both hands, threw it onto the patio. I shut the door quickly and shivered. I was nauseated. What is it about spiders that has this effect on people? Is it all the legs, the hairs, or the unpredictable(3) nature and movement? Tarantulas are a whole other ball of wax(4), as they say here. They are impressive in size, and meaty enough to cast a decent shadow. The one in my mother's garage which I have named Nigel, is actually dead and dry, and was ordered over the internet by my brother, Richard. As a teacher, he likes to stimulate discussion and fascination among his students by using interesting items; Nigel is his latest choice. I should imagine that my brother will point out Nigel's fangs to the children and explain how they work. I'm sure that Richard will be quite a popular teacher! "I don't care how interesting it is" says my mother. "It's not coming in my house, I can tell you that!" Poor Nigel is going to have to stay in his box in the garage until he finds his proper place in the classroom. 1. 'She, he, (a name) of all people' is a common expression which follows a subject, and emphasizes that  in the given context this person has an opinion, experience, qualification, or nature that is significant. a. We should ask Mr. Brown to speak at the book fair. He, of all people, understands the need to read, as he was a literature professor. b. I wouldn't buy Steve a fast car. He has crashed twice, and has many speeding tickets. He, of all people, should not get that kind of present! c. The naughty school children were joking about the principal without knowing that he, of all people, was standing right behind them. 2. 'Unsuspecting' is an adjective describing a person who does not understand the situation, danger, or threat. Un-sus-pec-ting   un-sus-pec-ting  un-sus-pec-ting 3. Another adjective meaning 'not easy to predict' Un-pre-dic-table  un-pre-dic-table  un-pre-dic-table 4. 'A whole other ball of wax' is an American expression. 'A/ the ball of wax' means the whole thing. So 'a whole other ball of wax' means something completely different. a. Many sports are popular, but the Olympics are a whole other ball of wax. b. It's cheap and easy to make instant coffee, but good, fresh espresso is a different ball of wax. c. Traveling to London in autumn is one thing. Being there in the middle of summer is a whole other ball of wax. Improve your pronunciation by clicking iTalki.

A Time For Instruments.  

In the U.S, most school-aged children have a very long summer vacation indeed: two and a half months! Can you imagine? It's actually a huge relief for most of them, and an opportunity to try some activities that they haven't before. I'm a big believer in music and the benefits of playing a musical instrument. I have made a poor attempt(1) myself over the years of playing the violin; however, it is still on my list of things to accomplish. Work takes up so much time that I can't always devote time to practicing. When it comes to my children though, they have more time, and more choices. My second son, Cass, plays the piano beautifully, and simply does it because he loves it. So that leaves the other three. Domini, my daughter, bought a Ukelele yesterday and has already consulted some tutorials on Youtube. I will certainly sign her up for some classes, and hopefully get her into a routine where she can experience some success. And one of the good things about the Ukelele is that even if you play it badly, it still sounds ok. The violin, on the other hand, can sound like a big cat fight, screeching(2) and screaming away(3). My oldest son, Hudson, told me that now feels like the right time for him to take up the violin. I'm thrilled about that! So that is three out of the four kids. So, what about Robert? I have to tread carefully(4) with him; I don't want to force him, so I will have to use some good psychology to make him think that he wants to take up an instrument. Like the rest of my children he is independent and headstrong, a bit like his mother. Hmmm....so what should be my approach? Make him think that it's his idea. The trouble is that he is wise to my tricks; he's fourteen. In fact, he often uses that approach on me to get what he wants. I'll have to think about it and plan my action carefully. In the meantime I will enjoy the sound of three instruments playing in my house, hopefully not all at the same time!                           1. 'To make a poor attempt (at/to)' Poor in this sense doesn't mean a lack of money. It is more like a 'weak' attempt or a 'lack of effort'. a. You made a poor attempt at looking for the milk; it's right in front of your nose! b. My first attempt at painting a rose was poor. My second was much better! 2. 'To screech' means to make a very piercing, sharp sounding scream. We often talk about 'the screech of an owl'. It's the kind of sound that can hurt your ears. a. The rock band's singer screeched all night! b. I was woken up by a terrifying sound. I didn't know what it was, until I opened the window and realized that it was an owl screeching. 3. 'Away' is a word that will polish your English if you learn to use it correctly. After a verb, it denotes a length of time, and a sense of concentration in an activity. a. The pianist played away even when every one had left. b. We danced away into the night until we realized that the sun was coming up. 4. 'To tread' is an old-fashioned verb for 'to step/ walk'. It sounds like 'dread' so it can have a connotation of mystery compared to 'to step'. We often couple it with the word 'carefully'. Together they mean that the next move has to be well thought out, carefully planned.  a. You will have to tread carefully with your neighbor; she is very unfriendly. b. The UK will have to tread carefully in its communications with EU members. Click here to improve your English!

A French Addition.  

I was at Pybus market a few weeks ago. It was a Saturday and the place was packed. I had gone with my mother and friend to a conference that was held in a multi-purpose(1) back room. We broke for lunch, and had an hour to do whatever we wanted to. As Pybus is basically an indoor market with restaurants and cafes, we decided to stay there for lunch and to try out a new restaurant, Pybus Bistro. We sat at the bar and chatted while the chefs prepared our food right in front of us. The place is mainly a large kitchen with a bar, and a few small tables on the periphery(2). It was both fascinating and entertaining watching the cooks fully focus on their individual activities. I love open-plan kitchens, as you can see exactly what is going on, and the cooks know that they're being watched. There was no doubt that(3) these were professionals. They were extremely clean, and worked efficiently and independently. Our food was served to us right from the pot and the chopping board, hot and fresh. As we ate, a choir moved into the main walk way where there is a stage, and started to sing gospel music. "There you are," said one of the chefs, "you have lunch and entertainment!" The food lived up to my expectations: nicoise salad, baguette sandwiches, and fondue. I felt like I was back in Europe! This kind of food is finally catching on here in Wenatchee. I talked to the pastry chef for a while and she mentioned that they are going to open a French bakery somewhere in town this year. Oh yeah! I will be one of the first customers.  1. 'Multi-purpose' is a word that can be used for multiple purposes! Some people write it as one word, and as I have researched, that is also correct.  a. Instead of buying lots of tools, I bought a few multi-purpose tools that do just as many jobs. b. This sofa is multi-purpose. It turns into a bed, and you can also divide it into two chairs! 2. 'Periphery' is similar to 'peripheral' meaning on the outer edges. 'Periphery' is the noun, whereas 'peripheral' is the adjective. a. The periphery of the town has the potential for parks or car dealerships. b. His eyes are incredible. His iris is light blue around the pupil, then dark blue, and then the periphery is light brown.  3. 'There is/ was no doubt that' is great for a sentence! a. There is no doubt that his perseverance will pay off.  b. There was no doubt that he had made the right decision; open doors of opportunity came his way for at least a whole year. Try iTalki to improve your pronunciation and fluency!

Rattle Snake Land.  

If you drive for about two hours South of Wenatchee, you come to a city called Yakima. It is another place that carries the name of the Native American Indian tribe that used to dominate that area. The journey to this city can go two ways: one is a mountain pass that is full of forest; another is a long, dry journey that seems to never end. I used both highways two weeks ago to take my daughter to a soccer tournament. Approaching Yakima, there is a wide stretch of dry land that is covered in sage brush, the bushes that grow in very dry areas. We stopped to use the bathrooms, and as I pulled up in the car, and parked in a spot that overlooked the valley, I realized that there was a sign right in front of the car that said, 'Watch for rattlesnakes.' It was like a scene out of a film, as the sun was going down to the right of the sign, and the shadows on the land were long. "We wouldn't find a sign like that in England!" I said to my daughter. The heat of Spring brings the snakes out from hibernation, and they lay around trying to get warm. They're everywhere. It makes me shiver to consider how many there are in that area.    After the tournament, I chose the other highway to go home. This one goes over nothing but(1) dry land for miles. The land stretches out to the horizon and there is not a tree in sight. Hidden away, however, in one area is the Columbia River, but its water makes no impact on the land, as it is not used for farming there. There is no one. Some huge bridges, a metal statue of wild horses on a hill, and spectacular sunsets are what you find here, and of course the snakes. If you are not used to dry areas, it makes quite an impact on you. It would be easy to think that(2) nothing anywhere nearby could grow. That is actually not true; the Yakima valley is irrigated and very productive with large quantities of hay, grapes, hops, and fruit. I can only imagine, though, how the first farmers who irrigated this area had to battle to take the land from the snakes. 1. 'Nothing but..' is a very useful addition to a sentence.  a. In the Spring, you see nothing but purple and yellow flowers in the hills. b. I tried to have a discussion with him, but I heard nothing but negative,negative from his mouth. c. If you don't look after your health now, you'll have nothing but problems later on. 2. 'It would be easy to think that ...' is another useful phrase to insert into a conversation to show off your fluency. a. It would be easy to think that she doesn't know much, but if you start talking to her, you quickly realize how informed she is. b. It would be easy to think that deserts have no wild life, but when you look closely you understand that some deserts are teeming with life.

Strength and balance.  

Have any of you ever rock climbed? It's not the most common activity, but(1) its popularity is growing, I think. Recently, an indoor rock climbing wall was built in Wenatchee. It is right next to a major park, and has a workout room in it, and a cafe. I went there for a coffee last week with my friend Jody. The coffee drinkers can either sit outside, or they can be at tables that are next to a large window that overlooks the climbing room. The climbing wall was busy that day, and it brought back good memories(2) to watch all the people trying hard to climb up the wall like spiders. The activity requires some strength, of course. But actually, you don't need to be very muscley. In fact, the lighter you are the better. The people who have the best physical advantage for rock climbing are those who are medium height or short, light, thin, but athletic. Flexibility also helps, as you have to reach out with your limbs to find the perfect foot hold or hand hold. The room is very attractive, with windows, and colored holds all the way up to the ceiling. I was happy to see that a lot of mothers had brought their little children to climb. If you start at a young age, you can grow up with no fear of heights(3), and also with an understanding of what it takes to stay safe on the rock. As I looked at the website, I found a video clip that you can check out by clicking here, or by looking at my post on Facebook. 1. 'It's not the most...., but it's....' this is a great structure of a sentence to incorporate into your conversations every now and then. a. It's not the most elegant restaurant, but it's good quality. b. Having innoculations is not the most pleasant experience, but it's absolutely necessary. 2. 'It brought back good memories' is similar to saying 'it reminded me of good times'. a. The film brought back memories of my younger days. b. My conversation with him brought back memories of elementary school. 3. When we talk about the different things that we fear, we simply say 'I have a fear of ...' Here is a list of some of the most common fears: a. A fear of the dark. b. A fear of falling. c. A fear of spiders/ snakes. d. A fear of crowded spaces. e. A fear of heights.  

Fresh Eggs and Goat's Milk.  

Across the river from where we live is a place called 'Annie's Fun Farm'. I have written about it before, as you might remember(1). It is a corn and pumpkin farm that has entertainment, and is open to the public. My two oldest sons have worked there. In fact, a friend of my husband owns the farm. He has had it for a few years, and each year he adds new items of interest to draw in the public. This year he is introducing animals: a family of goats, turkeys, and chickens. This new addition will make the farm into what we call a 'Petting Zoo', which means a place where people can come and feed and pet the animals. My son Cass worked there on Saturday and brought home eggs and goats milk. "Mum, I even got to(2) milk the goat!" He handed me a container of the milk and I  inspected it carefully. It was white, and there were no unidentifiable(3)things floating in it, so I said, "Ok, let's try it!" "Are you sure?" he asked. "Of course, " I replied, "I trust in my healthy immune system and strong stomach acid. So there are some bacteria here and there, big deal." We both drank some, and you know, it didn't even taste like milk; it was very clean and watery, a bit like coconut milk. Cass will continue to work with the animals on the farm, as well as planting and caring for all the vegetables. As he wishes to ultimately be a farmer, the experience is wonderful for him. He comes home dirty and tired, and a bit wind swept from a day of hard labor. It makes a real difference from his school life that is mainly indoors and full of technology. 1. 'As you might remember' is a great phrase to add to a conversation. a. Our cousins are visiting us for a week. They are from Australia, as you might remember. b. As you might remember, it's our parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary soon. 2. 'To get to do something' is a very American phrase meaning 'to be able to', 'to achieve', or 'to have an opportunity to...'. a. I got to meet the lead singer of the band at the concert! b. We got to tour the Microsoft headquarters. 3.  'Unidentifiable' a long word that needs to be practiced!       Un - ident - ifi - able.   Un - ident - ifi - able. Click the logo to view italki for English practice!

People Watching at the Carnival.  

People watching is something that I love to do whenever I can. There are only certain places where it is appropriate to do so, I suppose. Looking at other people could be seen as insensitive; after all who likes to be stared at? The places where you can get away with it without bothering people tend to be very busy, like airports or shopping centers. Carnivals are also perfect for this strange pastime.  I took my daughter and her friend to the Apple Blossom carnival so they could go on the rides. It was packed with people. All the different rides added color and movement, and of course there was lots of noise, mainly screaming. As the big metal machines whizzed(1a) around dangerously, the expressions on people's faces changed from happy to terrified. Hair that normally obeys the laws of gravity stood up vertically as bodies went zooming(1b) towards the ground. Even those who weren't on the rides were very entertaining to watch. They were tall, short, fat, thin, dark, light, well-dressed, and badly-dressed. Some babies slept in their strollers, while others cried in their mothers' arms because they were tired or hungry. I calculated that most people over the age of twenty were wearing jeans and a warm jacket, as the wind was quite cold. However, the young singles or teenagers were all walking around shivering because they insisted on(2) wearing very few clothes, and exposing arms and legs as much as possible in order to look attractive. I was happy in my winter coat. Another interesting thing about watching people at a carnival is the mood watching. Carnivals are, after all, exhausting places. They are fun, yes, but exhausting. You might go to one with lots of energy, but after going on a few rides, sampling the greasy food, and squeezing through the noisy crowds, I guarantee you'll need a nap. Even the tough-looking young men who wished to test their endurance on the 'Wheel of death', or 'Dead man's drop' or whatever, would eventually look pale and fragile. What a wonderful transformation! Children who had initially been rosy-cheeked and excited, were now howling because they were far too over stimulated, and the parents should have known better. Some couples argued. Some parents were annoyed because their children wanted more and more tickets for the rides. Well, of course they did. And the older generation occupied the only seats available, and chewed on popcorn slowly. Looking around, it seemed as if the only people who were not exhausted or emotionally wobbled were the ride attendants who busied themselves(3) with safety precautions, locking people in their rides, and measuring the height of the kids. They looked like they felt quite splendid in their dark blue uniforms, holding their laser-guns. Very important indeed. 1a and 1b. 'Whizz and zoom'. You can't talk about a carnival without using these words. They are onomatopoeic which is a very fancy word that means they sound the same as the sound they are describing.  a. The model airplane whizzed up into the air, and zoomed down right over our heads! b. The kids played with their tiny cars that they would wind up and watch whizz and zoom around the curly, plastic race course that they had set up in the lounge. 2. 'To insist on' means to be determined about something. a. He always insists on paying each time we go to dinner. b. I'm not surprised your feet are wet! You insisted on wearing the wrong shoes for hiking! 3. 'To busy oneself' is the same as saying 'to keep oneself busy' or 'to be occupied with'. a. My grandma is retired, but she busies herself with voluntary work, gardening, and dancing! b. I love watching the birds this time of year. They busy themselves with making nests and caring for their young. Click the logo for English practice with natives!

April, - The Month for Children.  

I learned recently that April here in the States is the national child abuse prevention month. I had no idea that this was the case, until I saw a lady putting hundreds of blue pinwheels on the grass in a local park. The blue pinwheel has come to represent the commitment of legislation and the community to encourage educated and compassionate treatment of children. This is close to my heart(1), as I have four children. As I read through the literature on this movement, I was happy to find that since 1974, the government has passed laws and created funding to protect children. One of the most progressive ways is, of course, educating young people who have newborns. Often, teenagers lack the knowledge of how to look after a baby physically and emotionally. They might not understand the signals or 'cues'(2) that a baby gives that communicate its needs. One solution that offers tremendous support for the young parent is home visitation by parenting professionals. They can observe, encourage, and teach, as well as offer a listening ear(3) to the parent who might be frustrated. As the pinwheel spins in the wind, it has come to represent how we must change and adapt, and focus on prevention. I suppose it is just like keeping a person healthy. With the right food, sleep, exercise, and hygienic practices, a person can avoid a lot of illnesses. In the same way, forethought, education, and social support, can encourage young families, or those experiencing stress, to have a plan of appropriate and caring behavior for their children, no matter what.  1. ...'is close to my heart'. This phrase creates an image of something being very important to someone. a. She thought about her sister often, and kept the memory of her close to her heart. b. Land preservation is something that is close to his heart, as he comes from generations of land owners. 2. A 'cue' is a prompt; it is like an action or sound made to communicate. a. During the play, the director waved a white handkerchief. That was my cue to go on stage. b. A baby will give a cue of being fussy or groaning when he needs to be burped. 3. 'A listening ear' really describes the person who owns that ear. This person is caring and interested enough to listen to a person who needs to talk. a. The nurse was very professional, but also caring. She always offered the patients a listening ear. b. I don't need a bossy person telling me what to do. Right now I need a listening ear. Click here for iTalki to improve your pronunciation and fluency!.

A budding photographer.  

For my podcasts I usually always add a photograph, to show what I am talking about. For years I carried around a cheap little camera with me, on the off-chance(1) of seeing something worth photographing. Now, I use my iPhone. Of course it's very convenient to have a phone and a camera all in one device. Recently, I have realized that my 12 year old daughter is a very good photographer, much better than me. I will often take a photo and then say, "Domini could you take one so I can use it on my blog?" She is proud that I defer(2) to her to get the best result. She seems to have 'the eye' for the job. If I take a photo of a flower, for example, she will improve upon(3) it by taking the same photo but from a different angle. She notices what is in the background, the foreground, and the light. She also very quickly chooses filters on the phone that bring out the best of the subject. And then she finishes off by cropping the photo, to cut out anything that is unnecessary. I suppose she has got to this stage by observation and practice. We all love to take pictures, and so she does also. Just imagine if she becomes a BBC photographer for documentaries like 'Planet Earth'! We talk about the possibilities. I also get her photography magazines from the library, and she pours over them. You never know, if she keeps practicing, this budding 12 year old photographer could become a professional. 1. 'On the-off chance' is an expression that means 'just in case there is an opportunity, though it might be unlikely'. a. When we go hiking, let's take the binoculars, on the off-chance that we can spot a bear. b. When we arrived at the beach in Spain, I looked around on the off-chance of seeing someone I knew. 2. 'To defer (to)' actually means 'to postpone' but it can be used as 'to prefer someone else's action/skill'. a. They deferred payment because the shipment of their new sofa was delayed by several months. b. I didn't know what to do about our broken car. I deferred to my husband's judgment as he has some mechanical experience. 3. 'To improve upon'  a. I wrote the essay, waited a few days, and then improved upon it substantially. b. It would be impossible to improve upon that garden; they have dedicated years to it's design. Click here to improve your pronunciation and fluency!

The Great Bagel.  

While my family and I were spending time in Seattle, we went to a bagel company for brunch. The company is called Blazing Bagels, and they are based in Redmond. We weren't sure what to expect; we were simply hoping for some good food. We pulled the car into a small area of businesses near the circus tent where we had been the night before. The building was very basic, in fact, when I walked in, it reminded me of a warehouse(1), rather than a bakery. Its walls were made of corrugated iron(2), and its seating arrangement was basic and understated. But, as you know, first impressions can easily be wrong; you can't judge a book by its cover(3). The bakers in this place were definitely bagel experts. Not only did the whole building smell like fresh, yummy bread, but there were dozens of different kinds of bagels to choose from, all within reach. They had sesame, egg, pumpernickel, cranberry orange, and even snickerdoodle, which is traditionally a sugar-cinnamon cookie. There were many others as well, a huge variety to suit anyone's tastes. They even had vegan food items for the bagel sandwiches. When I lived in London, I had heard American students talk about bagels and how much they missed them. At that time they weren't common in England. However, times have changed. And now that I live in the U.S, I eat bagels on a regular basis. The best thing about them, as far as I can see, is their texture. They have a thin chewy skin, and are moist and substantial inside. My son Cass, who likes to cook, made some one day. I was surprised to find that before you put them in the oven, they must be boiled for a few minutes. This helps to cook the outside layer, but at the same time keeps a lot of the moisture inside. That must be the Polish secret. So we had our fill at Blazing Bagels, and took a big bag home. I should try and cook them one day, but, on the other hand, I would rather leave the hard work to the experts. 1. 'Warehouse' is a large storage area or depository for manufactured goods or raw materials. a. The warehouse was huge; it had machines in it of all kinds that were going to be shipped to China. b. That abandoned warehouse would be the perfect place to play laser tag. 2. 'Corrugated iron' is a sheet of metal that has an undulated or wavy appearance. It is a good material to use for roofing or for building sheds. a. We built the roof of the chicken coop (house) out of corrugated iron because we get so much snow in the winter. b. The old corrugated iron had rusted and come away from the roof. It was blowing around dangerously in the storm. 3. 'You can't judge a book by its cover' is an English saying which means that you cannot judge only by appearances. a. I gave the homeless man some money, and he talked to me about philosophy and mathematics. You certainly can't judge a book by its cover! b. The restaurant looked elegant and new, but inside it was dirty and had poor quality food. You can't judge a book by its cover. Try iTalki for pronunciation and fluency practice with natives!

Cirque du Soleil  

Last week was vacation for the whole school district. It's a time we call Spring Break. It is a much needed rest for students, teachers, and principals. I had wanted to do something special with the family; I have always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, so I thought perhaps that would be a feasible(1) trip. Unfortunately, I lost track of time and was too late to make any arrangements. Also, my oldest son, Hudson, goes to the local junior college and didn't have the same vacation schedule. So, it looked like the only way we could have a family trip would be to spend the weekend away somewhere. I got online and looked for special events. It just so happened(2) that the Cirque du Soleil was going to be in Redmond which is in the Seattle area. I booked the tickets, and before we knew it we were there, under a big tent that was packed with people. In front of the crowd was a circular stage, above which hung all sorts of equipment. The lights were dimmed, and some characters came out dressed like hummingbirds. The theme of the circus was Mexico. The hummingbirds danced while a man played on a guitar. Next, a man who was suspended from the ceiling pretended to be parachuting. He was a great mime artist. He pretended to pull his parachute cord, and then find that it could not open. The story goes that he opens a small umbrella and floats down into Mexico. Scene after scene had images and symbols of the country, from underwater life, to the desert. At one point the mime artist got the crowd to play a kind of soccer. All of his instructions and comments were made with a whistle, which was very clever and very funny. And then came the turn of the snake. Well, it was a young man dressed like a snake. He was a contortionist who expertly twisted and bent himself into the most unhuman positions. I gasped and had my mouth open for most of his performance. He was very skinny and strong, and moved very smoothly. He finished his act with an incredible position in which he was all folded up, but looking like he could strike at any moment(3). I have never seen anything like it. The whole show was really what you call a 'once in a lifetime experience.' 1. 'Feasible' means possible or 'realistic'. a. I don't know if renovating the school will be feasible. b. It's not feasible to send a letter to every resident in this community; it's just too big. 2. 'It just so happened' is usually followed by 'that', and means that something occurs by chance. a. I talked for a while with a lady on the bus, and it just so happens that our sons are in the same math class. b. I was thinking about my neighbor when it just so happened that I bumped right into him. 3. 'At any moment' is the same as 'any minute'. a. We ran because we knew that the building could fall at any moment / any minute. b. The bus will be here any minute/ at any moment. Try iTalki now for pronunciation and fluency practice!

Amazon Bubbles.  

I was in Seattle last week visiting colleges with my oldest son, Hudson. We happened to be quite near the Space Needle, in an area of the city that is now nicknamed Amazonia because of the amount of buildings there that belong to the company Amazon. I love looking at architecture and analyzing structures, but it's not every day that(1) I get to photograph round, glass buildings. Well, there were three of them contrasting elegantly with the tall dark buildings around them. When they are finished in 2018, they will be 65,000 square feet of biosphere, filled with about 3000 plants, 300 of which are endangered species. This oasis of sorts(2) will not, however, be open to the public. It will be Amazon's gift to its employees. It is well known that plants in any room reduce stress, improve air quality, and increase a person's creativity. Studies in England and Australia have also demonstrated that offices that have plants increase productivity by 15% and creativity by 45%. So these biospheres are both a gift for Amazon employees, and a good idea for the company. A usual perk(3) for employees is free coffee on Friday mornings, or perhaps an extra day of vacation. Well, this is quite different! Other companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook give their employees perks like supplying a gym, free healthy food, and even doing their laundry. Perhaps this is becoming the age of an intelligent approach to workers. Their well-being directly affects the success of the company they work for, so the goal is to treat them well. 1. 'It's not every day that ...' is another way of saying 'it is unusual to...' a. We went to the circus last night. It's not every day that I see elephants and tigers! b. On the way to the Grand Canyon we stopped to see the desert in bloom. It's not every day that you see a desert full of flowers! 2. 'This .... of sorts' refers to something that has already been mentioned, and basically means 'this kind of ......' a. My friends and I have been meeting every Wednesday for years. This support group of sorts has been very beneficial./ This kind of support group has been very beneficial. b. Our office has hot and cold filtered water. This perk of sorts is to keep the employees hydrated. / This kind of perk is to keep the employees hydrated. 3. 'Perk' is a benefit or gift that is freely given by an employer or company to its employees. a. A long lunch is the best perk in our company. b. You get paid holidays? You lucky thing! What a perk! Click here for conversation practice with iTalki!

Bella Bistro  

I have discovered a place where I like to spend time. It's a strange, little cafe called Bella Bistro. I come here as often as I can to write my podcasts, and to work on my other projects. They have food, of course, and some of the best coffee in town. I called it 'a strange' cafe because it is shaped like a triangle, hemmed in(1) my three roads, and still has large metal garage doors, as it used to be a mechanic's workshop. I think those characteristics make it appealing. It buzzes with activity as people of all ages come here to meet their friends or work on their laptops. Usually when I write, I need peace and quiet. I find it hard to concentrate at home when my dogs are playing and people are coming and going(2). However, for some reason I can really focus at Bella Bistro, even with the human activity and background music. The design is simple: rustic with lots of windows. It has a great internet connection, and the ladies who own it and serve the food are fast and energetic. It also has a comfortable international feel with coffee sacks hanging on the walls from Columbia, Guatemala, and Mexico. I find it interesting how some buildings can make you feel comfortable and welcome, and others are repulsive. I find this true of towns and cities as well. Maybe I'm an over sensitive person. Or perhaps it has something to do with(3) the design and textures of places. I know that a lot of people use Feng Shui to create pleasing, peaceful environments. Perhaps Bella Bistro naturally has a good arrangement and good energy. I'm at Bella Bistro right now, actually, enjoying my twelve ounce soy latte, sitting on a high stool facing huge windows. And, ah, it's a sunny day. Thank goodness! So cheers, here's to good coffee, sunshine, and a good Feng Shui. 1. 'Hemmed in' comes from the verb 'to hem' which means to sew into a fold that is at the end of a piece of clothing. So 'to be hemmed in' means 'surrounded' or 'trapped'. a. My trousers were far too long, so I cut the legs and then hemmed them in.  b. The bottom of her dress was frayed, so she got her sewing machine out and hemmed in the material so it was neat and tidy. c. I was uncomfortable at the party as there were too many people. I felt hemmed in! 2. One of the ways to sound natural with your English is to use common expressions like 'coming and going'. Being in present continuous, it gives the impression of a flow of movement. a. There is a constant coming and going of teenagers at our house. It's like indoor traffic! b. The old man sat in his garden watching the coming and going of the little birds that would come to eat the seed that he had thrown on the grass. 3. 'It has something to do with' makes a connection or clarification of a previously mentioned point. a. The Netherlands produces the tallest people in the world. It /this has something to do with their diet. b. English people talk about the weather a lot. This has something to do with the changeable weather in England.    Click here to visit iTalki. It will improve your pronunciation and fluency!

Basic Pronunciation Practice #45 + Interactive English.  

Olma: Liz, a package arrived for you today.  Liz: Oh thanks. Let me see. Oh it's from England, from my friend Steve in York. I think I know what it is. Olma: What is it? I'm dying to know! Liz: Do you remember me talking to you about him studying archeology in York, and all the things he has found? Olma: Oh, Steve, yes! He's so lucky, going on all those archeological digs! Liz: I know. There are so many artifacts in York and the surrounding area that he promised that he would send me something. And here it is. It's small and wrapped up really well. Olma: Oh hurry up! I can't wait to see what it is. Liz: Beads. And his card says that they are Roman beads found at an excavation site. I feel really honored! You've seen a lot of ancient artifacts haven't you Olma. Olma: Yes, Mexico is full of them, as you can imagine. Our ancient peoples, the Maya, the Aztec, and others, were very inventive and left artifacts all over the place, not just in the famous pyramids! Try iTalki for convenient English practice with a native!

Slime sisters.  

I have made multiple trips to the supermarket over the past two months to buy glue, shaving foam, liquid starch, and food coloring. Multiple. It's because of a hobby that my daughter has adopted: she makes slime. Slime, I suppose, is the general term used for a moist, gelatinous paste that is made simply to play with. There are many kinds of slime, which is something that I have learned by watching my daughter while she is mixing the ingredients and chatting to me about their consistencies and names. Slime is used just for fun, to squeeze, mould, or even throw at people. It makes a mess most of the time, unless it is a 'fluffy' slime which though appears wet and gooey, is actually fairly dry to touch. When she first discovered slime on Youtube, her mixing sessions in the kitchen were a disaster and chaotic. I would find slime in various places, open containers, and a sink full of used bowls and pots. However, thankfully she has become more responsible about cleaning up. She also has developed a better sense of careful measurement. So, what is the slime like? My favorite one is the 'fluffy'(1) slime which gets that name because it has a lot of air bubbles in it which don't seem to pop. It feels slightly wet, it wobbles, and it can be squeezed and manipulated all day. You can also add glitter, or tiny styrofoam balls to change the look and texture. Word has got around(2), and it turns out that lots of my daughter's friends are into the same thing. They even make slime for each other as gifts. I told Domini that slime is the perfect Christmas or birthday gift for kids her age. She could even start a small business. I'm quite happy for her to do so, as long as she cleans up (3)after herself. Checkout the pink, fluffy slime on youtube. 1. Some vocabulary to do with textures: 'Fluffy' is light, airy, furry (an animal or soft toy). It can also be moist (as in food, like a mousse). 'Gooey' is usually something that is gelatinous and moist. It can be sticky, but not necessarily. 'Slimey' is something that feels wet, even oily. It slips and runs off of surfaces easily, like a slug or an old peeled banana. 2. 'Word has got around' or 'word will get around' is a set phrase, used a lot in the U.S. It's like saying, 'People are finding out that....' a. Word has got around about the new bakery, and people are lining up for the fresh bread! b. This town is so gossipy; word has got around already about their recent divorce. 3. 'As long as' means 'provided that'. In another context, it can mean 'for the whole duration of'. a. I don't mind you going to the cinema, as long as you come back before 11pm. (provided that/ on the condition) b. I have known that family for as long as I can remember.

The Kennewick Man.  

Two and a half hours drive from where I live is a small city called Kennewick. It is similar to other towns in Washington State that are east of the Cascade mountains; it is dry, flat, and has a climate that is close to that of a desert. In this area, at a park next to the Columbia river, two men came across an intact(1) skull just ten feet from the shore. The whole skeleton was excavated soon afterwards. As scientists studied it, they found that it was the most intact and well preserved skeleton of any ancient tribesman of the Americas. But who was this man, and which tribe had he belonged to? Five Native American tribes claimed that he belonged to one of them, and therefore legally the skeleton needed to be returned to his land of origin and given a proper burial. These tribes are: the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Wanapum. A court case developed because of this. The man had been found on federal land, and so the 'Kennewick man', as he was named, became the property of the U.S Army Corp of Engineers. However, Native Americans have a lot of legal rights, especially when it comes to excavations(2) of bones or artifacts(3) on land that used to be theirs. Years went by, and many studies were carried out on the skeleton. Some scientists believed that the man was one of the early natives who had originally crossed the Bering Straight ice bridge from Russia. Others believed that he had come to the Americas by sea from Asia. So who was right? The case came to an end after the Corp of Engineers had scientists in Copenhagen, Denmark study the skeleton using the latest DNA testing. The results were that he was about 8,500 years old, and genetically closest to Native Americans such as the Colville Indians. This discovery was a victory for the native tribes, and so, with reverence and satisfaction the Kennewick man was reburied in tribal territory.  1. 'Intact' means 'altogether' or 'in one piece'. A verb that we often use with 'intact' is 'to remain'. a. When we bought the old house, we found very old documents in the attic. They were all intact. b. Even after our terrible argument, my dignity remained intact. 2. 'Excavations' from the verb 'to excavate'. This noun and verb are used in contexts of archeology and construction. a.The land must be excavated and leveled before the concrete is poured for the main floor of the house. b. Excavation will continue at Stone Henge because of the recent, extensive discoveries. 3. 'Artifact' is another archeological word meaning an object that was made or used by man. a. In the local museum, you can actually find many artifacts used by Native American Indians. b. York is a place where artifacts are being found all the time because of its rich and ancient history. iTalki for online English practice with a native teacher.

Handymen and Handywomen.  

I consider myself fortunate to have my mother living in the same town. Her home is just five minutes away from mine by car. Every now and then she asks me to help her with something, and as I like to think of myself as a 'handy woman', I will quickly say "yes", grab my tools, and drive over to her house. So she decided that because she likes to read in bed, she wanted to mount(1) two lamps to her bedroom wall, one on either side of the bed. Thankfully there wasn't any complicated electrical work to worry about. The lamps would actually plug into the socket(2/3), and their electrical wires would run neatly down the wall, hidden inside a tube. Simple. So I turned up, full of enthusiasm, ready to figure it all out. As I laid out all the different parts of the lamps on her bed, I realized that the job would take longer than I had expected. The end of each wire had no plug. I would have to attach a very simple, flimsy version that came in a plastic bag, and hope for the best. "Where's the drill Mum?" I asked and she pointed to a tiny appliance in an open box. It was a little drilling tool that is used for crafts. Hmmm. "What about the phillips heads and screw drivers?" Again, she motioned towards two little things that she had used to open paint cans. "Oh no," I thought. I didn't want to drive home to get my tools, so I searched around in her cold, dark garage and found several things that would work. I started putting bits and pieces of the lamp together, each time reading and re-reading the instructions. My mum sat opposite me in an arm chair to observe. It was a bit irritating actually as she questioned and commented on everything I did, adding sweetly, "Can I help you with anything darling?" I would just look at her with slight annoyance, as I needed to concentrate. I did manage to drill into at least one stud to support each lamp, even though the hardware that came in the bag was quite light and thin. I worked away, putting the puzzle together, and finally stood back, proud, with a smile on my face. "There you are Mum. What do you think?" She got out of her armchair and stood with me at the end of the bed, looking at one lamp and then the other. She remained quiet. I looked at her, and she said, "Are they at the same height?" My heart sank. I was annoyed again. I tried to see them at the same height, but I realized that she might have been on to something. I grabbed the tape measure and measured the height of each from the floor. She was right; the one on the right was one inch lower. "Bum!" I said loudly, and started unscrewing the lamp. I re-measured, and remounted it, and then double checked. There, now they were the same height. My old mum had been right, as usual. Another job well done, well almost.  1. 'To mount' is used when putting up a picture or something on a wall or a stand (like a statue). a. When I worked in the art gallery, we would go to people's houses and mount their new pictures. b. The sculptor mounted his latest work on a big stone block in the square. 2. Okay, here is some vocabulary to do with using tools and mounting objects on walls. a. A stud = the large, vertical wooden post inside a wall or ceiling. b. Phillip's head = the tool used to screw in a screw. It's end looks like an X c.  A screw driver = similar to a phillip's head, but it's end looks like  - . d. Socket = the electrical outlet that you plug a plug into.  e. Hardware = all of the screws, nails, and other metal pieces that a piece of furniture needs. f. A drill = the electric tool that makes a whole in the wall or in wood/ metal. It is also the verb. Try iTalki for English practice with a native teacher!

A Salon Rescue.  

I'm recovering. It was a shock, you know. I'm talking about my experience at the hair dresser's. Okay, I'll give you some background. I have naturally very dark brown hair, fine, medium length. So, last year, as I realized that I had a few white hairs announcing themselves quite loudly from amongst the dark hairs, I decided to have some highlights. I happened to be in Seattle at the time, and I had a few hours to kill, so I walked into a salon and walked out two hours later with gorgeous, natural looking highlights. The story is great so far. The trouble with highlights, or any kind of hair coloring, is that it grows out in a few months. Now, a smart person is supposed to realize this, take it into account(1), and therefore make an appointment two or three months ahead to get new coloring. I didn't. I don't know what I was thinking. Perhaps I assumed that an angel would appear in my hour of need and give me some divine highlights, just like that. Well, the angel was late, so I went into a local hair dresser's which is known to be cheap, and I asked the lady there to do my highlights. I gave her some vague instructions like, "I just want them to look natural," and, "I think I like toffee color." I grabbed(2) a couple of magazines and prepared myself for a long sitting session. However, before I had even read through the first one, she was finished. "Oh," I thought to myself, "she does work fast!" "What do you think?" she asked as we both looked in the mirror. The room was actually quite dark, so I couldn't see very well. It did look more light than usual, but I chose to just pay, and go and examine her work at home. Little did I know that(3) I would get a big shock. The lighting in my bathroom is bright, not very flattering. But I needed an honest look, after all, I have to live with my hair. It was bright orange, right where my parting is. The highlights on the rest of my head were in thick, two inch chunks. And, for the crowning glory, I had three leopard spots on the top of my head, yes leopard spots. My dark color had formed circles surrounded by the pumpkin orange that was on the rest of it. I think I stopped breathing for a while. My mind flew into a panic. What was I going to do? Fly to a remote part of Alaska? I jumped in the car and went back to the salon. "You have to fix this," I told the lady. "I wear my hair back for work, but I can't now because the side highlights make me look bald! Plus I have leopard spots. Look!" Couldn't she see how bad it was? "So, you don't like it?" she asked. I just looked at her. This must be the local zombie salon, I thought to myself. Is anybody awake in here? She did her best to 'fix' the problem and remove the look of a partially bald leopard. Then I immediately made an appointment with a colorist in town who is a hair expert. Luckily, I didn't have to wait for months to see her. Her salon is calm, beautiful, and very classy. So is she. "Did you do this?" she asked me. "No," I replied, and I told her the whole, ridiculous story. "I've never seen anything like this," she said with a deep look of curiosity on her face. Well, she worked her magic, and POOF, transformed me from a pumpkin into a princess. I was elated. I was so thankful. I felt like paying her, and then giving her my watch and my car as well. And yes, I made another appointment with her. I'm going to stick with her like glue. No more leopards for me. I have learned my lesson. 1. 'To take into account' is the same as saying 'to bear in mind'. 'To bear' is the old verb meaning 'to carry', so the phrase really means to carry something in your mind, to be aware. a. I know that she is grumpy, but bear in mind that she is awake every night with her sick child. b. The car is a good price, but bear in mind that you will also have to pay tax and insurance. 2. 'To grab' is a very common English verb. We English use it a lot more than Americans. I could have used 'pick up' when referring to the magazines in the salon, but grab sounds more aggressive and basic. It helps to add to the essence of my ridiculous story. This is something that you can bear in mind when you wish to tell a story, word choice. How can I make what I say funny or effective? a. The policeman grabbed the young man by his collar. b. I was in a hurry. The bus was leaving, so I grabbed my bag and keys, and I flew out of the door. 3. 'Little did I/ another person know that' is also used a lot in English. It is the same as saying, ' I (another person) had no clue that ...' or 'I (another person) was about to discover that ....' a. I got in the elevator. Little did I know that I wasn't going to get out for 6 hours!/ I wouldn't get out for 6 hours! b. I talked about how bad the hotel was. Little did I know that the owner was standing right behind me. c. I put my flip-flops on and left the umbrella at home. Little did I know that it was going to rain and hail when I got to the beach.  Try iTalki for pronunciation and fluency practice!

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