Episodes

  • What do you do on your lunch break? Some people barely have one; they have to quickly grab a snack, eat for a few minutes, and then continue working. This summer, as my teaching job is over, I have been working as a medical interpreter in a local hospital, in rehab. I love it there. This job is such a contrast to teaching, and, of course, the environment is completely different! The day is divided up into 45 minute blocks of time when different therapists each visit the patients and work with them. Some of these patients only speak Spanish, so that is where I come in. I'm the interpreter in the middle, trying to be as accurate as possible. Most of these patients are recent stroke victims. Our task is to get their mobility and speech back to as normal as possible. The encouraging thing about the rehab department is that we see tremendous recovery every day. But the work is intense, even the interpreting. So a good lunch break is welcome, believe me. Thankfully, I have an hour! The hospital is located not far from the center of town, so in a short walk, you have access to shops and restaurants. However, my favorite place for lunch when I work there is in the hospital gardens. It is a medium patch of grass surrounded by trees, with a well maintained zinnia patch. Yes zinnias! If you have listened to my podcast over the years, you will know that they are one of my favorite flowers. They are hardy, and tolerate these dry, hot conditions. So, I sit in the hospital gardens, eating my food, and watching the bees make their rounds in the flower patch, a bit like the therapists visiting the patients.

  • Since my last podcast, I have started working full-time at a middle school. I am an eighth grade ELA and Social Studies teacher. ELA means English Language Arts, and is basically all about essay writing and critical thinking. Of course I feel very privileged to have this job, especially (1)in this climate of high unemployment! It's not (2)all smooth sailing, however. The hybrid system of teaching in person part of the time and via zoom the rest of the time is still evolving, so the curriculum is something we are having to develop from week to week. This might not sound like a problem, but, believe me it is a real headache. Also, we only have half of the students in school at a time.  I cannot complain, though. (3)I am more than happy to be back in a teaching environment, and am slowly bonding with the students. There is talk now about the whole student body coming back to school full-time. We will find out in a week or two if that will happen. It seems that, as more people are vaccinated, the government wants to get young people back to a normal, learning routine as soon as possible. In order to do that safely, we will have to follow certain protocols, and, of course, be vaccinated. I had the first vaccine by Pfizer about three weeks ago, so I am due to have the next one today. Exciting.... I don't mind vaccines; I certainly believe in them. I see this next one as a gateway to getting back to a normal life, so I certainly don't mind a poke in the arm, even if I get a few cold-like symptoms for a few days afterwards. When I had my first vaccine, it was a drive-through situation where I didn't have to get out of my car. Afterwards, I had to sit in line and wait for 15 minutes before leaving, just so the nurses could see that I didn't have an allergic reaction. I didn't have one. So, it looks like I'm on target for being 'covered' as we say today. I will be less likely to get infected and less likely to infect. That gives me great peace of mind. I am encouraged by the news of the many different types of vaccines for Covid that are now available, and the numbers of people who are receiving them each day globally. 1. In this climate of ..... means in this general atmosphere/ condition of society. It is used figuratively. a. In this climate of political divide, it is refreshing to be able to debate amicably. b. In this climate of apparent accountability, I hope we can all be more transparent. 2. 'Smooth sailing' or 'it's not all smooth sailing' are wonderful idioms to show ease or the lack of it. a. After we organized the wedding and sent out the invitations, everything else was smooth sailing. b. Running your own business is not all smooth sailing. You might have more control and independence, but you have all the responsibility. 3. 'To be more than happy to..' is obvious in meaning, and a great addition to a sentence. a. I am more than happy to help you; just tell me what you need. b. We are more than happy to help that charity because it does so much good for the community.

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  • Winter is a special time. I suppose all of the seasons are. I find winter to be a struggle with disappointment which is relieved by exciting and meaningful moments. The main reason for this is the climate I live in. Wenatchee is a semi-desert region, so it is very dry. However, in the winter we get a lot of snow. The surrounding mountains give us the opportunity to play! Skiing it all its variety is available, and many people take advantage of it. I, at the moment, am really enjoying skate skiing. I plan to do some downhill skiing as well, that is, if I can find the time. So what did I mean when I said that winter is a struggle with disappointment? Well, sometimes there is no snow, and therefore no skiing. At times, we just get the cold, dreary, grey weather, and none of the white, fun stuff. When it does fall from the sky, however, it is magical. It transforms everything that you see outside into another world. The celebrations during winter also create moments that are very special. Diwali, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the Chinese New Year just some of the many holidays that are celebrated in winter around the world. We humans are very connected to the seasons, and see them as representing meaningful parts of our own lives, as well as being part of the natural world. As we approach February, I see small signs of spring here and there. In the shops, a few flowers have appeared. They were grown either in other countries or 'forced' to grow early in greenhouses. Either way, I appreciate seeing them in their rows in the stores. They contrast with the snowy winter conditions; they really seem out of place. But you know me: I love flowers! I'll buy them in any season. So when it is a disappointing, dull, snowless day, I can cheer myself up by looking at the flowerpot on the kitchen windowsill.

  • The frosty days of early winter are here, so most people are staying indoors. Covid, of course, has made that worse. However, everywhere I see people making an effort to get out of doors at some point so they can exercise. Our days are short now: at five o'clock it is dark. So, if you want to exercise in the daylight, you need to go earlier in the day, otherwise you won't get any rays at all! For a few days, I got up and actually went for a run. Now, that sounds impressive. It wasn't. I basically managed about twenty minutes to half an hour around the nearby neighborhoods. I felt great afterwards! As I stretched my hips and thighs I felt very proud of myself for doing something so crazy, especially as the mornings were frosty. There were other benefits that I found from jogging as well. I discovered a couple of lovely streets: Dogwood lane, and Castleview drive. These are very neat, elegant residential areas that have attractive homes, nice front yards, and mature trees. No all streets have those, so it's refreshing when you come across some that do. So, it was on Brandi lane where I discovered a type of maple tree that still has not lost its leaves. That is very unusual for deciduous trees here; they are all bare now because of the cold, but not these. I am aching to find out what their names are, because they stand out and look fabulous. It was a joy to run past them, and under them, with their masses of red and pink leaves hanging overhead, glowing in the sun. Whoever planted these along the road either knew how they would add to the beauty of the neighborhood, or that person simply got lucky. Either way, until all their leaves fall and they become bare, Brandi lane will be a road that I jog through quite happily.

  • Saddle rock is the name of one of the hills that overlooks Wenatchee. It's name comes from the fact that, from a distance, it looks like a horse's saddle. It is a popular hike for locals and visitors, and offers a wonderful view of the town, and the Columbia river flowing down from the North. I hiked up to its rocky crown a week ago, and sat for a while taking in the view. I only saw one other person, a lady hiking down the very steep trail, trying not to fall. The soil is loose and sandy, so it is easy to slip and slide(1), particularly when you are coming downhill. It's quite magical when you have the whole trail to yourself; it's as if it belongs to you. The Saturday that I hiked it was a perfectly still, autumn day at first. As I got to the top, the weather changed, the clouds moved, and I got rained on. By then, I was hot from the uphill (2)walk, so the rain didn't bother me at all; it was quite refreshing. The local authorities maintain the trails each year by fixing any erosion. I noticed that on the way up, there were signs of closure of certain areas. This happens every now and then, so the plant and animal life can be undisturbed for a while and recuperate(3) from the busy hiking season of summer.  The local school district has regular trips for school children up Saddlerock. It's considered a 'field trip', or an excursion. It's a great way to get out of the class, away from books and computer screens, and to exercise out in nature, and learn at the same time. Often the school children will do a unit of study on the local, natural environment, perhaps learning about the type of rock and soil, or a subject like erosion. Then, they will participate in their field trip and see a real life example of what they have just studied. It really validates what they have learned in the classroom. And then there are other groups who will hike up there too. A physical therapy patient I was working with, told me that his boss has been trying to get all of his employees fit, so they can stay healthy and not miss work. He created an incentive for them to hike up Saddle rock 10 times: those who chose to do it would get a $500 bicycle from him. What a clever idea! The hiking gets people in shape, and the cycling maintains their health. Everybody wins! I will certainly keep hiking up Saddle rock until the bad weather gets here, and hopefully I will be able to do it alone and at peace. 1. 'Slip and slide' we tend to put these two similar verbs together to emphasize the sense of losing your footing and your balance. a. I got out of my car and slipped and slid on the thin ice. b. Be cautious coming down the mountain and wear good shoes, otherwise you will slip and slide all the way down. 2. 'Uphill / downhill' these are obvious words to use when talking about hiking. They are often used figuratively. a. Biking downhill is easy, but remember to use the brakes! b. That class was an uphill struggle for me; I had to really focus and study so I wouldn't feel lost. 3. 'Recuperate' is a great verb that means 'to get better', or 'to return to normal health/ strength.' a. If she rests adequately and takes her medicine, she should recuperate from her accident. b. Sleep is a key to help us recuperate from illnesses, exercise, stress, and surgery.  

  • I wasn't sure if I would be able to finish my nurse's assistant training this summer because of Covid. The last part of the course was going to be 40 hours of work in a care center for the elderly in the little town of Cashmere. "How am I going to finish my course?" was really on my mind. A few weeks ago, however, I received an email from our teacher telling us that there was no more Covid in the center, and that we could go there to do our clinicals. We were assigned in pairs to work with one particular patient, to help in any and every way needed.  The first morning, when I arrived at 5:55am, I was nervous and excited. I am not from the medical field, so this was all going to be new for me. Our teacher showed us around, gave us as much advice as we needed, I think, and let us get to work. My partner and I were assigned to a lady I will call 'J'. She had several chronic illnesses and required total care. She could feed herself, but other than that, the rest was up to us. Our duties included: getting her up, toileted, washed, dressed, lifted into her wheelchair, fed, and back to bed. We worked on a tight schedule(1). Another thing that we had to do was reposition her in bed every two hours. This is essential for patients who cannot move themselves because if they don't change position, their circulation will get cut off at certain points of their bodies, which could lead to infection and death. Another thing that we had to think about all of the time was infection control, keeping germs away from our patients and ourselves.  So, needless to say(2), we were busy all day. It was exhausting but really rewarding because J was quite a character. She understood that we were there for her, and appreciated our help, but she was also very upfront, and quick to be sarcastic. I loved that! It's hard to sum up all of the learning experiences that you get in a clinical like ours. We had such close contact and communication with not only our patient, but also with many of the others who were in the longterm care ward. I actually feel privileged to have been there with these wonderful, fragile people. They each had so many stories to tell, but sadly most of them could either no longer speak or remember. So what now? I finished the course, but I still have to take the state exams in order to be registered as a nurse's assistant. Then, who knows? I definitely would like to work for a while in this capacity(3). It could very well lead to nursing, but as yet I'm not sure. Even if it doesn't, it was one of the most valuable courses I have taken, and has opened up a whole new area of human experience to me. 1. 'On a tight schedule' means that you have a lot to do in a given, limited amount of time. a. We need to feed all of the patients between 12 and 1pm; we're on a tight schedule. b. The builders of the cabin are on a tight schedule because it will snow soon. 2. 'Needless to say' is like saying 'this extra comment is obvious because of the context I have already given.' a. The dog got out, and needless to say, it chased the neighbor's cat. b. He was the most punctual and hardworking worker, needless to say, he was awarded 'employee of the month.' 3. 'Capacity' can mean one of three things: the potential for storage, a position/job, or an ability. a. The cinema was filled to capacity. b. He has the capacity to be a great doctor. c. She volunteered in her capacity as an interpreter, and really helped the project.

  • The Goldfinch is the Washington State bird. I learned this from my enthusiastic mother-in-law, who was trying to encourage me to get a specific birdfeeder. She has one that attracts mainly Goldfinches, and has spent many hours sitting and watching these yellow, social animals fly in and out of the area, fighting for a space on the birdfeeder. I didn't buy the bird feeder, but Margo turned up one day with it in hand, as well as a bag of seeds, and a laminated poster about Washington State birds. She was obviously adamant that(1) we have all the equipment. The birdfeeder is just outside of the kitchen window next to some trees. We have another one a few feet away for the general population, and a hummingbird feeder next to the sunnier side of our deck. So we are all set up to birdwatch! Well, you know what happens when you're ready to photograph animals, - nothing. Days went by and I didn't see a bird at all anywhere near the feeder. It wasn't until Margo came by several days later, that birds started to turn up. It was odd; as soon as she walked into the kitchen, three Goldfinches appeared and clung to(2) the feeder. We watched in amazement at their sudden appearance and their brightly colored feathers. Then as soon as she left, they did! She must be the Goldfinch woman.... Since that day, we have had a daily flock of them, mainly juveniles; they are so small! It's very satisfying to watch them. Not only are they beautiful, but they are so energetic and feisty! There is always a pecking order(3) in each crowd; someone always has to be the boss! This little bird only grows to about 5 inches long, with a wingspan of 8. It's unusual in that it molts twice a year, gaining new, bright yellow feathers just before the mating season, and again before Autumn. It only eats seeds, and loves sunflowers and thistles in particular. Thankfully, humans don't bother the birds. In fact, they are quite happy with us. Many eat and live in backyards, and also in cleared forests that have become fields, as they like open spaces. So what we have with the Goldfinch is a lovely, beneficial relationship.  1. 'To be adamant that + subjunctive' means to insist on something. a. They are adamant that their daughter break up with her boyfriend. b. The teacher is adamant that all her students read one book a week. 2. 'Clung' is the past of 'to cling' which means to hang on for dear life! a. I'm right here; you don't have to cling on to me! b. The cat clung on to the top of the curtain while the dogs barked at it underneath. 3. 'A pecking order' means a ranking, someone at the top who is most 'important' and then a descending order of others. a. The lion is the top of the pecking order in a pride. b. He would like to determine who is at the top of the office pecking order, but he doesn't have the authority.

  • I've been busy for a few weeks, as you might have noticed. I didn't mean to abandon you, but I had to for a short while. As you can see from the photo, I have been spending time with a boney friend. He has helped me learn about the body, and understand more about all of the body systems. I was really ignorant about these before I started the Nurse's Assistant course. I went to the local college for about a month, twice a week, to practice serving ill and elderly people. The other days of the week, we had classes via Zoom, to keep a social distance. It all worked very smoothly, and I believe we all passed. However, we were supposed to have two weeks of clinicals in a local retirement center, to get real, practical experience of working with patients. The Coronavirus interrupted that, unfortunately. As many residents suddenly got infected, the clinicals were postponed. Never mind! Washington State government is allowing us to do our clinicals while we work, that is(1), if we manage to get a job. That will be my next goal: to get a job. It's not the easiest job in the world at all; you have to be tough. But as I am a tough Brit, I think it will suit me. There are lots of people in retirement homes in this area who need good, kind care. My parents are elderly now, and I think that if I were(2) not available to help them, I would want them to have the best, efficient, and kind people to look after them. The course was taught by an excellent teacher called Tina. She has been a nurse for over 20 years, and has such insight into the job! I liked many things about the course. Firstly, getting to know the body on a level that I was unfamiliar with was very exciting. I don't have a science background, and I had never taken the time (3)to learn anything about anatomy. So, a new world opened up to me. Then came the practical application of the nursing process: observing patients, diagnosing problems, and forming a plan. Again, very exciting stuff. It's a tremendous responsibility to do these things with weak, ill people. They are so vulnerable. And then, at the end of the course, Tina worked her teaching magic, and made the knowledge we had gained very personal. We had to do a project, imagining ourselves as 87years old, living in a retirement center, and dealing with normal age related body changes. It was the perfect way to end the course, by developing empathy and understanding of patients. I will let you know if I get a job; I'm sure that will be quite an adventure. 1. 'That is..' is a little phrase that shows that we are going to restate something, or add pertinent detail, or a condition. a. I will find out what his plans are, that is, if he ever calls me! b. Economies should open up in a couple of months, that is, if everyone social distances in the mean time. 2. 'If I were not available to help them, I would want them to have the best.' This is subjunctive, right? Let's see some more: a. If they wore masks (if they were to wear masks), they would be safer. b. If he spoke that way to my mother, I would give him a piece of my mind! 3. 'To take the time + infinitive'. This idiomatic phrase is self-explanatory. You have spent some time deliberately doing something: studying, planning, thinking etc. a. Why don't you take the time to read that book; I think you'll find it worthwhile. b. We took the time to get to know our new neighbors. I'm so glad that we did. They are now our best friends!  

  •   Spring is notorious(1) for changeable weather. Over the past month that is certainly what we have been experiencing. We have had hot, still days, rainy, cool ones, and even a huge wind storm. It's the latter(2) that is worth writing about because it caused so much destruction! It happened in the evening when I had gone out with my husband to a friend's house. He and his wife happen to live on a hillside that overlooks the town. It is a great spot to sit and enjoy the view while having a beer or a glass of wine. We all knew that a storm had been forecast, so we decided to remain outside for as long as possible to watch it pass over the valley. Normally, here, storms involve thunder and lightening, so that is what we were expecting. As we talked, the wind picked up. It plummeted(3) down the hill, thrashing the trees around, and pounded against the windows. We could see that no one was outside in the valley; that would have been unsafe. And the storm went on and on. We eventually had to move inside as the rain was falling sideways on us, and we got the impression that debris could easily cause an accident. We needed to get out of the way, and into safety. So, we sat inside, next to a wall of windows, looking out onto the hillside. At one point, the scene looked as if we were underwater, the trees and grass waving and shuddering as if ocean waves were overhead pulling at them. After a couple of hours, the storm finished, it had grown dark, and we left. The next morning we were going to Seattle to pick up our oldest son from university, so we got ready to leave. As is my morning routine, I drank my coffee while looking out of the back window into our large garden. I noticed that there were a lot of green leaves from one of the trees all over the grass. That wasn't normal. And as I looked around I was surprised at how bright it was on our north facing deck. And then I saw it. One of our thirty foot trees was completely missing! I ran outside, and there it was, down on the lawn, snapped at the roots, without having caused any damage at all. I was shocked, and impressed! It was an Aspen, which has masses of round leaves that quiver in the wind. It had been dying back for a couple of years; I think this altitude and climate don't suit them actually. They are native to high, cold, dry mountains. My husband and I walked around the fallen tree, amazed at how perfectly it had fallen. "Well," said Tom, "at least that's one tree that I don't have to cut down," he smiled. Ours wasn't the only tree in town that had been blown over; there were many. And for the next few days, workmen all over Wenatchee were busy, cutting up trunks and branches, and hauling everything away. The hole where the roots had snapped has not been filled in yet. In fact, when I first found the tree down, I reached in the hole to examine the roots, many of which were rotten; they easily broke just like cork. I thought it quite symbolic of events that are taking place in the world at the moment. If something has rotten foundations, it is just a matter of time until it falls. And its when a particularly strong wind comes, that it will happen. 1. 'Notorious' means 'known for', it has a connotation of evil or bad character. a. He was notorious for exaggeration; you could never believe everything he said. b. The park is notorious for night time drug deals and other illegal activity. 2. 'The latter' means 'the last mentioned'. It is often used in a sentence with 'the former' (meaning the first mentioned). a. At the crime scene three people were found: the butler, the cook, and the gardener, the latter being highly suspected of criminal activity. b. She has a cat and a snake, the latter being the easiest to take care of.  3. 'To plummet', 'to pound', 'to thrash'. These three verbs are action verbs which denote violence and speed. 'To plummet' really means to fall extremely quickly, often with implied weight. 'To pound' is to beat repeatedly, and 'to thrash' is to attack or shred.  a. The meteorite plummeted to the earth, making a huge crater in the High School field. b. The artist pounded on the metal sheet consistently until he had created an even pattern. c. The dogs escaped and chased each other through the neighbors lilies which they completely thrashed.    

  •   Mother's Day in the U.S. is May 9th. It's supposed to be a day when people show their appreciation for their mothers in different ways. Some people will take their mothers out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, others will buy them gifts, or perhaps have a special celebration at home. At my home, my family organized a special day for me. My oldest son turned up from university unexpectedly just for the day. We were going to go on a hike, but it would have been a hard one, and I really didn't fancy making a lot of effort. So I said, "Change of plans everyone, let's just go for a walk in the park, and take the dogs to the dog park." Walla Walla park is right next to the river, and has wonderful walkways with some lovely shady areas of mature trees. It was the perfect amount of 'effort' for me for Mother's Day. The walkway goes past new apartment complexes, Pybus Market, and pleasantly landscaped office buildings. Then the terrain changes a bit, and gets drier as you walk past a more industrial area. Here you get a glimpse of what Wenatchee is naturally like without irrigation. The drop-off to the river is steep, sandy, and rocky. And here you can often see ground hogs. These are big rodents that are well known. They form part of the tradition of bringing in the Spring, and predicting when it will start. They are nervous creatures, like most rodents, and certainly don't like dogs, who tend to charge after them. Ironically, these animals live right next to the dog park. Ah, but they have the advantage of a big, metal fence in between them and the dogs. This dog park was made just a few years ago to satisfy the dog lovers of Wenatchee; it's a clever way to use up dry, unusable land. It's a very large enclosure with gravel, trees, and a few benches. It's a dog's heaven, as it's their place to socialize. And, as it is enclosed, no one has to worry about dogs running off after a ground hog, or jumping in the river. I think also that the dog owners enjoy socializing with each other almost as much as the dogs do. So our Rottweiler and Border Terrier had a wonderful time. We even took a back carrier just in case the old lady, the Terrier, got tired and needed to be carried back to the car. She did. So we strapped her onto my son's back, and she rode in style, like a queen, ignoring the ground hogs, and the less fortunate dogs. She's not a mother, but she looked as though the day was all about her. 1. 'To fancy' means to feel like, to want, to be attracted to. a. Gosh, look at that chocolate cake. I fancy a piece of that! b. I didn't fancy going on a hike; it was too hot, and the thought of it made me tired. c. I fancy buying myself those new sandals that are in fashion right now. 2. 'To tend to' is to be in the habit of doing something. a. He tends to interrupt everyone when they are speaking. b. I tend to drive slowly; I just want to be careful. c. My grandma tends to suck her teeth after her meals; I don't think she realizes that she's doing it. 3. 'It's all about + noun' is a general comment (it) meaning that the focus of a situation is either a person (or some other noun). We often use it negatively to tell someone to not be selfish. It also has an existential meaning: the main significance/ what is most important. a. "Thanksgiving is not about you, Johnny, getting what you want; it's all about the family." b. I read the book in 3 days. It's all about health and wellness. c. The exhibition is all about the artist's blue period. d. It's not about just amassing wealth, is it? It's all about enjoying this gift of life, and helping others, right?

  • Online group chats have become so common in the recent few months. And is it any surprise? With so many people staying at home, and travel paralyzed, the only way to do any group work or meetings of any kind is by using online platforms(1). People I know have told me about Zoom, but there are many others: Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, EZ Talks, Gotomeeting, and the grandfather of these platforms, Skype. And of course we can also use Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp on our phones. We have never been so connected. I have a friend who is very 'techy' which means that she is proficient in her use of computers and their software. She happens to be a teacher, and for many years has incorporated online work into her lessons. Now that students are at home, and school is online, she has transitioned effortlessly into teaching from home. Other teachers have not found the change comfortable at all. I suppose it depends on what you teach as well. Imagine being a woodwork and metalwork teacher. How would you convert your very physical classes, to online ones? I suppose, you could supply lots of links to fabulous sites that teach techniques, tools, and perhaps even the history of those art forms. I suspect that if teachers use the internet in their online lessons now, the teaching could become global in its perspective, and they could tap into sites of experts in their fields. My teacher friend, Jody, encouraged me to join one of these groups last week, to chat in French. I was delighted. The platform we used was Google Meet. There were only four of us, but one gentleman joined us from Normandy, in the north of France. I had no idea that he would be part of the group; it was a lovely surprise. Our session didn't have any glitches(2), thankfully. Everyone was able to get the link for the meeting. The cameras and sound were all working well. And after we had finished our introductions, we quickly, and naturally got right into conversation. I loved it. I felt connected in a meaningful way. We hope to continue these meetings once a week, and I hope to take a leaf out of(3) Jody's book, and become comfortable and proficient as a techy. 1. 'Platform' is a word that has multiple meanings. The first that springs to mind is a platform of a train station, which is where you wait and line up for the train. Platform is also used figuratively to describe a place or space that gives you an ability to work or perform. a. Skype is one of the oldest platforms for video chatting. b. Miss World has a great platform (of influence) which she can use to talk about girls' education. c. A large, rectangular platform was raised up to the church ceiling so the painters could repaint it. d. The Conservatives decided on their platform, hoping that it would appeal to the general public. 2. 'Glitch' is a noun that means a technical hitch or problem that stops proper functioning. a. A computer glitch made us lose all the sound. I think it was a software problem. b. The delayed plane was just a glitch in our plans. We eventually did fly. 3. 'To take a leaf out of someone's book' is a wonderful idiom. 'Leaf' here means a leaf of paper, or one of the pages. So, if you take a page from someone's book, you are wanting to use the information that they use, or imitate them in some way. a. I took a leaf out of my violin teacher's book, and started practicing for 30 minutes daily. b. Why don't you take a leaf out of your brother's book and get your homework done as soon as you get it?

  • One of the great distractions of this time of year are the dogwood trees. Like many other kinds of flowering trees, their display is brief but stunning. I have four in my garden that keep me company while I'm working outside. They look like pretty ladies showing off their new dresses. The traditional dogwoods in this part of the world are fairly round, with masses of medium sized white or pink flowers. The Korean dogwood, of which I have one, is upright, and has huge, creamy white flowers that come to a point. The climate here in Wenatchee seems to suit these trees. They put up with the dry climate and the heat, and seem not to suffer because of the cold winters. That's just as well, because I can't imagine my garden, or the town without them. Many people take photos of them; they create a great background for selfies or family photos. As I was driving my daughter to pick up one of her friends, I kept pulling over to video the trees whenever I would come upon a particularly perfect looking one. All you need is some sunlight, and a little breeze that moves the branches, that way the colors of the flowers show themselves well.  Because of the Coronavirus, the spring parade for Wenatchee was cancelled. It's called Apple Blossom, and is a quintessential American parade with Highschool bands, floats, horses, motorbikes, and dancers. It's great business for the town, and brings in a lot of tourism. This is the 100th year anniversary of the festival, so it's really unfortunate that it has to be missed. The apple blossoms have come and gone, and so has the month of April. Fortunately the dogwood blossoms are here, and in every part of the town. So this spring is definitely quieter for Wenatchee: no bands playing, or people lining the streets and clapping while the floats pass by. But, at least we have the gorgeous dogwoods. They cheer everyone up, and are a brief touch of perfection.

  • Here are some of my thoughts on the stay-at-home mandate because of the Coronavirus, and how I have been feeling about it. First of all, I must say that I am really thankful that the virus hasn't impacted my family, apart from a cousin in Madrid who is now recovering. The demographic here is spread out, and small and rural, so the infection rate has not been high. This is unlike many areas around the world where it is densely populated, and people are therefore more at risk. I'm also thankful that we are now in spring. If the virus had hit us as we approached winter, it would have been twice as difficult and depressing. However, we have glorious colors of flowers, trees, the blue sky, and the sun to comfort us. And to be honest, I think we all need comfort right now. Every morning the world seems so different, and we don't really know what to expect. I am very fortunate that my husband still has work. Mine has disappeared completely, and I find myself floating with no routine. Sometimes I will plan a routine of great things to do daily, like pray, exercise, garden, practice French, cook something unusual, work on some art, contact a friend, and perhaps dust off the violin and squeak a piece of music into the atmosphere. That all sounds really good. Honestly, if I could do those things every day, I would become extremely accomplished. The trouble is, the next day I sort of rebel or lose energy. Have you found the same thing happens to you? Perhaps you are more disciplined than me.  I was speaking with a butcher a few days ago in a supermarket who was telling me how thankful he is to have a job, and how he knows so many people who have no income, none. So what about food for their children, and the bills? When I consider the hardship that some people are facing, I certainly can't complain about my lack of routine, or lack of work. One of my Facebook friends posted about how the virus has impacted people so differently: some people have time to watch films, wear comfortable clothes, drink wine, and not worry about much, whereas others either have no money, work for less, or are worried about whether there will  be enough food to feed the family. "We are all in the same storm, but we are definitely not in the same boat," was what she said.  Something else I have felt, as many others have, is the psychological impact of the virus. This sudden change, sudden loss of control, is very destabilizing. It makes me acknowledge my mortality on more of a daily basis. It has me turning to my faith, and rethinking my priorities. These are all good things, excellent things. I have more time to rest, to communicate, and to see life through eyes that are not busy. And I have to deal with emotions that come up from my subconscious which I am usually too busy to deal with. The writer Victor Frankl talks about this in his memoirs of Auschwitz: "When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves." That, for me, has actually been the hardest thing, to dig deep and consider my view of myself, and the path I am on. It's a time of reflection for me, to get myself in alignment with my creator. I am not a health worker, nor am I a food producer or essential service provider, so I am at home, floating, thinking, thankful for the work of others, and reshaping who I think I am.

  • Staying close to home to exercise is one of the mandates that we have to follow to combat Covid-19. I see people biking, jogging, and walking, trying to de-stress, and stay healthy. For the most part, they are sticking to(1) social distancing (staying at least 6ft apart). I have also noticed that everybody who has dogs, seems to be walking them. Those dogs have probably never been walked as much in their lives as they are now! I took Rosie, our 11 year old boarder terrier, for a walk yesterday, up the hill, around the cemetery, and back home. She is old, so I walked slowly, and let her sniff and pee wherever she wanted to. "Well, I don't have to rush home for any reason," I thought to myself. I have practically no work, everyone at home can cook for themselves, and there are obviously no plans to go out anywhere, so I decided to let Rosie dictate the walk: how slow it would be, and every direction or change of direction. Well, that is easier said than done(2)! The first thing she wanted to do was to stand in the middle of the road and sniff the air. That was fine until a car came, and I had to pull her against her will, to the side of the road. Then she found a patch of grass and decided to spend the next 15 minutes eating it. "Oh come on Rosie!" I complained after 10 minutes, "I'm getting cold!" She's deaf, as it happens, so there was no point me saying anything. She just looked up at me and continued to munch on the grass. She was so happy. Finally she started to walk up the road and to head in the direction we usually take: the cemetery. She knows the routine. She stopped, sniffed, and peed on every corner. Finally, we started to walk at a decent pace, and I warmed up. But then, she put the breaks on; her little legs and grey body came to a definite halt. She decided to go in the opposite direction. "Ok," I said. "You lead the way; I'm just along for the ride(3)." So, I adjusted my pace to Rosie's, and everything that she did gave me a chance to observe something I hadn't noticed before: a knot on a tree, a carving of a flower on a gravestone, a blue jay looking down at me from up high in a pine tree. Rosie was relaxed, and finally I was. As we walked home, she still dithered about, but it didn't bother me at all because I had given up control. She walked painfully slowly across a busy road, so a kind woman in a car stopped to let us cross. She smiled and waved; she could tell that I was being lead by an old lady. We continued down the road and turned into our neighborhood. Normally by now Rosie is panting and looking exhausted, but she wasn't. She was definitely ready for a rest, but she hadn't been rushed or pushed, she had done exactly what she had wanted to do. And as it turns out, it was the best experience of walking a dog that I have had; the old, grey, lady had taken me for a walk, a proper one. 1. 'To stick to something' this idiom is often used in the gerund to express the idea that a person is committed to an action, a thought, or a perspective. a. The story I told you is the same one I told the police, and I'm sticking to it. b. They decided on their plan of action, and they're sticking to it. 2. 'That's easier said than done' is another useful phrase that is common, but quite self explanatory.  a. During the stay-at-home mandate I decided to learn how to do a headstand. That's easier said than done! b. We decided to save money by giving our dog a hair cut instead of taking her to the pet boutique. That was easier said than done! She looks terrible now! 3. 'To be along for the ride' is an idiom that means a person is taking part in an activity or event just because it is convenient for him to be there, and he is mainly an observer. This person is passively involved. a. You can order whatever the rest of you are having for me; I'm just along for the ride. b. "What's the name of the next dance troupe in the show?"      "I have no idea. I'm just along for the ride."

  • With all that is going on around the world with the Coronavirus, I have felt overwhelmed recently, probably you are too. If you are following a mandate to stay at home, like I am, then the challenge becomes what to do with one's time, and how to occupy the mind. I am so fortunate to have a large back garden. Normally, during March, I am thinking to myself, "How will I find the time to tidy up this huge garden, and get it ready for the spring?" With plenty of work outside of the home, it is always difficult to get projects at home finished. Well, all of that has changed now. With just a tiny trickle of work left, I now have no excuses but to finish everything I haven't at home. So, at the moment the garden is my focus. Working in it is like a mental health break for me. It's exercise, fresh air, sunshine, birds singing, and seeing progress. All of these things combat anxiety. I don't tend to be anxious normally, but we are living at the moment in a stressful situation globally, and quite honestly, I think we all must be feeling it. So I have raked leaves, pruned blackberry bushes, dug up grass, sown flower seeds, and transplanted some perennials. Wow! It felt good. Part of the benefit of physical labor in a garden is the fact that you are planning for the future, it's a sense of control or at least hope for the coming months. Even if you don't have a garden, perhaps you live in an apartment, a tiny bit of gardening can be done in a container. All you need is a pot, preferably a proper plant pot that has a drainage hole in it. Put it on a plate to catch the excess water, fill it with earth, and put some seeds in it. Grow something you love, perhaps even something you can eat. One of the most satisfying plants to grow from seed is a green bean. Why? The bean seed is big, very visible, and it germinates quickly. And they are not fussy, as far as seeds go. As long as they get some water and some sun, they are guaranteed to grow, and are therefore rewarding. Planting a seed is an exercise in faith, I think, because you trust that germination and growth will happen as it has for millions of years. It's a process we see all around us no matter what, and we can rely on it continuing to be there, and to be normal, even if our lives at the moment are not. That, to me, is a comfort. 

  •   My son was flying home. Thank Goodness! He was coming back from Sevilla, Spain where he had been studying. "I'm really sad to be leaving, mum," he texted. He had had such an amazing time, even though it had been cut short. His flight from Sevilla to London went according to schedule. However, once he got to London, things got chaotic. His flight was cancelled last minute. He ended up staying in a hotel, and I scrambled to get him another flight. Actually, from my end here in the States, it was almost impossible to talk to any airline sales assistants, or even the travel agency. "We are experiencing a higher than normal amount of calls, so if you are not flying in the next 72 hours, please call back," the recorded messages would say, and then they would hang up! A second flight was booked, but during the night that was also cancelled. I was getting stressed! Suddenly, though, I received a text from my son telling me that he had found a ticket and immediately bought it. He was on his way. Phew! So we drove to Seatac airport to pick him up. The airport didn't feel like it usually does. It was very empty, echoey. There is usually tonnes of human activity, noises, conversations, movement, the sound of luggage wheels rolling everywhere, kids making typical noises. There was none of that. It was a new kind of quiet, a new kind of empty. Even baggage claim was sparse, just a few bags here and there. The stress of a typical airport was not apparent either, in fact, the security personnel were standing in a group chatting and laughing. We found our son, got back to the parking area, and left. He was tired from his journey, of course. Unfortunately, we couldn't bring him home. He had to go to a different location to self-quarantine for two weeks, just in case he has the coronavirus. We will know soon enough. I've taken him groceries, of course: steak, chicken, bread, eggs, lots of fruit and vegetables. You know, I'm a mum. And he is quite good at entertaining himself. His university classes are online, so he can do those whenever he wants. He also group video chats with all of his friends. It's such a tremendous advantage to have access to messaging apps, especially videoing ones. I think if you can see the face of a loved one, it really helps when you are far away. So, we carry on with life, and wait another week or ten days to see if he develops symptoms. We're prepared for anything, but hoping for the best.

  •   As I work in the schools in Wenatchee, I see, on a regular basis, all kinds of posters in the classrooms. They are designed to encourage the students to be positive and responsible. They're also attractive. I have been impressed over the years with the choice of posters that teachers make. Some of the sayings quoted are from well-known, historical personalities who have made an impact on society.  For example, I saw one by Benjamin Franklin that said, "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." I like that. It really resonates with me. And what about this quote from Coco Chanel, "Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable."(1) I suspect that only the oldest students in the High School will appreciate such quotes, but I could be wrong(2). I know that the teachers certainly appreciate the encouragement that they see on the walls. It can be a good practice to surround ourselves at work with positive words, so we remember our goals and our potential. I think it is easy to forget those things when we are tired or under stress(3). I suppose they could also serve as teaching points that can be shared with the students, at one point or other. Einstein is a person who is quoted a lot in schools, and not just in the Science departments; his picture is recognized everywhere. Even little children in elementary school know that he was a genius of some sort, even if they don't know everything about his life. One of his many quotes that I enjoy is about acceptance and individuality, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." This is a good one for a school environment. The children are emotionally immature, of course, so they might judge themselves or others far too harshly, instead of embracing differences and uniqueness.  1. 'Inevitable' means that something is definitely going to happen. We also use it in an adverbial form a lot. a. If the builders don't build the house according to code, there will  inevitably be a disaster. b. He is the most qualified and experienced for the job; it's inevitable that he will get it. 2. 'I/you/he/she ... could be wrong' this is a wonderful extra sentence that we add onto a preexisting one. It states something obvious in order to show a little humility, and familiarity. a. Your house will probably sell in the spring, but I could be wrong.  b. We think he will give up his candidacy, but we could be wrong. 3. 'To be under stress' is the same as 'to be stressed'. I think it sounds more native because it is more of an idiomatic phrase. a. I'm sorry I'm so tired; I'm just under a lot of stress recently. b. They must be under a lot of stress because their business is not doing well.

  • As I looked through my photos today of my recent holiday, I came across one of a bar in Sevilla. I hadn't gone inside, but I certainly did look in from the pavement for a long time. It was a gorgeous, very old rock building with wooden beams, hanging lamps, and bulls heads mounted on the walls. It had incredible atmosphere, and was very elegant. It was a restaurant and tapas bar. Tapas, if you don't know, are small portions of various, tasty dishes that are served in Spain to accompany drinks, like beer or wine. It helps to have a little something to eat at lunchtime when you drink alcohol, especially if you are going back to work afterwards; the effects of the alcohol are less. The food is so good, however, that many people have tapas for dinner. They order a variety of dishes, and simply share them. Olives, are a like a staple in Spain. Often you don't even pay anything for them when you have them with a drink. Tapas, however, are quite special, and chefs take pride in making high quality dishes that people will recommend. One of my favorites is 'croquetas'. These are a deep fried, tube shaped mass consisting of either creamy potato or béchamel sauce, with meat or fish of some sort. This is then covered in bread crumbs and deep fried. They are very flavorful and filling. My second favorite is 'ensaladilla rusa' which is like a potato salad with super powers. The ingredients that make it special are: boiled egg, tuna fish, peas, and a garnish of roasted red peppers. It is a meal in itself, and goes down so well with a light beer! It turns out that my son and I were in one of the best places in Spain for tapas: Sevilla. I have come across tapas bars in other countries, but as my Spanish mother always says, "No, the tapas just aren't the same." I would have to agree with her. They're not the same simply because they're not in Spain. You could have one of the best chefs making tapas in London, but they still wouldn't be 'the same' as the tapas in Spain. Atmosphere and location add to the experience of eating, I must insist. Perhaps we expect the tapas to taste better in Spain, and therefore they do. Mind you, I'm sure that it also makes a difference when you are using locally grown red peppers and olives as they do in Sevilla, compared to imports. Freshness of produce and the pride of tradition will always make Spanish tapas a little better than those found elsewhere.

  •   The news is full, these days, of reports about the Coronavirus, now called COVID-19. There is a sense of panic in the reports, as we hear about more and more people getting infected. But what is it, and what are the risks? Well, apparently, there are many coronaviruses which are similar to the cold or flu viruses. Most people in the United States, for example, will have had a coronavirus at one time in their lives. These viruses are spread from person to person by inhaling droplets that someone has coughed or sneezed, or by touching a doorknob or a tap that an infected person has touched. Once the germs have been touched, they can enter the body if that person rubs his eyes, or touches his mouth or nose. The symptoms you get from COVID-19 affect your upper respiratory area: your nose and throat, and usually the infected person will have a fever. As with other viruses, rest, lots of fluids, and anti-viral medications which can shorten the duration of the virus, are all recommended. The best way, of course, to prevent viral symptoms is to get the vaccine if it is available. The flu is a good example of this. However, at the moment, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, there is not yet a vaccine. So what has become an epidemic in China, is beginning to look like a pandemic, which means that it has spread to other countries and other continents. The fatalities have occurred when the virus infects the lungs in particular, causing pneumonia. The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most likely to get the worst symptoms. So, for those of us who are wondering what we should do to stay protected, basic anti-virus hygiene is recommended. This is mainly: 1. Stay away from sick people, or those who have recently travelled to areas of infection. 2. Wash your hands often during the day with soap and plenty of water. 3. If you are around a lot of people, feel free to wear a face mask to cover your nose and mouth, to protect yourself. Of course, if you have a cold or flu virus, stay at home, and that way you will reduce the risk of spreading that particular virus to others. There are some encouraging statistics about COVID-19 believe it or not: out of the more than 60,000 reported cases, 84% are only mild conditions, and of the 7,300 who now no longer have it, 81% made a full recovery and were discharged.  So, let's protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community by being careful, hygienic, and proactive.  

  •   A couple of weeks ago, I took my son to Sevilla in Spain. He is staying there to study Spanish and the culture. What a place! I had been there a long time ago, and it was so marvelous to return. Of course, it was almost the perfect time of year: 70 degrees during the day, and the streets filled with orange trees full of fruit. Before we met my son's host family, we stayed spent the night right in the old center, next to the cathedral. We were offered a free upgrade to our room; another room with a balcony overlooking the cathedral was available, so of course I said yes. It was so special. As I gazed over the magnificent building that was all illuminated, I thought, "I cannot leave Sevilla without seeing inside." So, the next day, after meeting Cass' host mother, we wandered around the center, and went back to the cathedral. One thing I hadn't done was read about it. I had done no research at that point about its history, or the art inside the building. That lack of research lead me to get a really big surprise. Breathtaking is a word that comes to mind when I think of Sevilla's cathedral. I have been in many around Europe, but this one really is quite overwhelming. Cass and I slowly walked around taking photos, and reading information about different statues etc. After a while, I noticed a lot of people near a wall, under a large clock. I had actually never seen a clock in a cathedral before, and so I thought it odd to find one there. I went over to have a look, and as I approached, I saw a dark, but extremely elegant statue. It was of four kings, carrying a coffin. I knew that there was something special and different about this piece of art. It was subtle, powerful, and very regal. "What is it?" I thought to myself as I searched for an information placard. I looked and looked, and finally found a little piece of paper that was stuck to the base of the statue. I took my glasses out and put them on, as the letters were quite small. 'The tomb of Christopher Columbus,' it said. I gasped. I felt a lump in my throat. "Cass!" I called out to my son, "This is the tomb of Christopher Columbus!" "Woah!" he said in astonishment. We were both bowled over. It was quite a moment. Obviously, if I had read about it beforehand, it wouldn't have been such a surprise, so I'm glad that I hadn't. I knew there was something special about the monument. Since then, I have read that there is debate about whether all of his body is in the tomb. Well, as far as I'm concerned, all 206 bones don't need to be inside. Even if only one of his little finger bones is there, that would be enough for me. The piece is stunning, and it was built to commemorate someone whose destiny affected the world, and the royalty who sponsored him. That is enough for me.