They're furry, flexible, and playful. They have sharp teeth, and will nip (1) you if you are not careful. They are highly energetic, but will sleep for 16 hours. Like cats, they groom themselves, but they apparently have an 'odor'... Like dogs, they can be trained, but their attention span is short when it comes to 'lessons'.They prefer to be in groups because they are highly social, and love to curl up and snuggle(2) with their owners. Yes, I'm talking about a kind of animal. Can you guess which one I'm thinking about? It's a ferret. We don't have any, yet, but they are potentially our next pets. I'm not really sure why I am even considering more animals; we already have two dogs, a cat, and a snake. It is my daughter who is strong-arming(3) me into considering getting them. She can be very persuasive. However, I have had my experience with house pets, and what I've found is that usually it is me who takes care of them. It is always 'mum' who takes the little creatures to the vet. I buy the food, monitor how much exercise they've had etc etc. But apart from the responsibilities, what would be the benefits of having, let's say, a couple of ferrets? According to my daughter who has researched them for months, they are extremely playful, cute, and cuddly. We have watched videos of them playing in people's houses, running around, jumping, play fighting with each other, even jumping on their owners. So we planned a trip to the Seattle Ferret Shelter to have an opportunity to hold and play with a few. It is the only place in the whole area that takes in unwanted ferrets, and raises money to take care of them. The visit was going to be part of a weekend in Seattle, and it was our first stop. The only trouble was, it was closed because of an unexpected circumstance. Domini was so disappointed. I was too to a certain extent. I was looking forward to holding and playing with them. But, in a way I was relieved; the thought of having more animals at home is something I'm not completely comfortable about. It feels like we're on track to open a farm, and I'm not ready to be a farmer! So, I came to an agreement with Domini: if she does well during her first year in High school, and isn't too busy, then she can get two. She has been very responsible with Beau, her snake. Perhaps this will lead her into a career with animals, hopefully without me needing therapy. 1. 'Nip' is a verb and a noun. It means a little bite, usually a sharp one if we are talking about animals. a. The puppy will nip you if you are not careful; their teeth are always sharp when they are young. b. The cold wind nipped our faces; it was always like this in winter. 2. 'To curl up and snuggle' we use these verbs often when describing animals getting comfortable and close to you or each other when they sleep. We also use them for humans though. a. We snuggled together on the sofa under a blanket. b. The kittens curled up together on the rug in front of the fireplace, and went to sleep. 3. 'To strong-arm' means to force or oblige. a. He strong-armed me into going to the concert with him, what a mistake! b. I don't want to be strong-armed into buying that car! Ferret videos.
Spring sports in our local school district have almost come to an end. This seems to be such a short season! The weather is also now closer to summer than spring. Those windy, mild days have changed into still, hot days. The blossoms on the trees are drying up, and the bees are buzzing. The school kids are buzzing also, with all kinds of activities. Track is a collection of sports that is very popular with kids of all ages. It includes sprinting(1), long distance running, the hurdles, shot put, javelin, discus, long jump, and high jump. My son Robert has been doing the throwing sports: shot put, javelin, and discus. He loves them. It's a complete change for him from his winter basketball. The track team is also a very relaxed and sociable group. There must be about 40 students or more involved, each doing one or two events(2) of choice. They compete with other high schools, which means traveling by bus. These trips are often a couple of hours away, and so by the time they finish all the events, have something to eat, and drive back to school, they get home at about midnight! Being in a sport in high school is quite a commitment. I went to one of the track meets, as they are called, to see Wenatchee High School compete against Moses Lake. It's about an hour and a half's drive, across very flat countryside. The teams got to work, and I hung out(3) with a few parents to watch the kids throw. There was a consistent wind sweeping across the field that lasted the whole four hours that we were there. I was thankful that I had remembered to bring my coat and gloves! Robert and his friends stood around joking and waiting for their turn; they didn't get cold for a couple of hours, those big, strong boys, but they eventually put their hoodies(4) on. I walked around the field quite a few times just so I could warm up. And then with chattering teeth, and watery eyes, I watched Robert throw. He did well; he made a personal best in his javelin, his best throw so far. It's all about the technique, apparently. He showed me in detail how to hold the javelin, and then the dance-like steps you have to take to get maximum performance. Shot put was a bit different. He's one of the skinnier boys. "Mum, you should see those shot put dudes, they're huge," he said later on. Some of the shot put girls were twice the size of my son. They were obviously built for that sport. When the meet was over, the kids filled up the bus and headed home. I drove with Robert, to save him some time. We chatted and listened to music, but I could tell that as the car warmed up he got more and more sleepy. He stretched out his long legs and tired arms, threw a blanket over himself, and let his mother chauffeur him all the way home. 1. 'Sprinting', from 'to sprint' is to run in a fast, short burst. a. When I'm late for the bus, I sprint to catch it. b. She's more of a long distance runner than a sprinter. 2. 'Event/s' in this podcast refers to each sporting activity. The word can be used as a special occasion, or in this case generally what is used in track. a. Wimbledon is one of the greatest tennis events of the year. b. Discus is one of the least popular events in track, probably because it doesn't involve running, and it is difficult. 3. 'To hang out' is used all the time here in the U.S. and it means to spend time together. a. Bats hang out with each other in caves, literally. b. I love hanging out with my friends. 4. 'Hoodie' is a sweater that has a warm hood. Everybody has a hoodie, right? a. He was wearing a large hoodie, so I couldn't see his face. b. I always keep a couple of hoodies in the back of the car, in case it gets cold.
As promised, today I will go over the grammar points from my last podcast, 'Jungle'. As you will remember, I danced the night away to the music of this British band. And all that dancing brought to mind some useful phrases. 1. Winter had been 'extraordinarily' long. We lose the sound of the first 'a'. Extraordinary - adjective Extraordinarily - adverb. a. The little boy was 'extraordinarily' descriptive about his day. b. The cat was extraordinarily brave; it fought the dog and won! 2. It's just as well that we spent the night, as the concert finished at midnight. It is similar in meaning to 'it's a good job that'. a. It is just as well that I checked my calendar. I have a dentist appointment in 10 minutes! b. It's pouring! I'm glad you insisted on bringing umbrellas. It's just as well (that) you did! 3. Their lyrics are clean, which for me 'is a (huge) plus'. a. I like going with you to places because you always bring snacks in your car. That's a huge plus. b. Spending time with loved ones is important, and if you have time to listen to them, it's a huge plus. JUNGLE
About a month ago, a friend and I went to Seattle to do something that we don't normally do. We went to a concert. Winter had been extraordinarily(1) long here, so I decided that I needed to get away and do something fun. Thankfully my friend, Sandra, wanted to do the same thing. As she likes to shop, she suggested that we spend the night after the concert, and then spend money the next day in the shops! It is just as well that(2) we spent the night, actually, as the concert finished at midnight. I didn't fancy driving for three hours and getting home at 3am or later. So, which group did we see? Jungle is their name. They are a British band, and their genre of music is funk/soul/electronic. They have a very American sound when they sing, almost as if they had a motown base. I love their music, and their lyrics. In fact, their lyrics are clean which for me is a huge plus(3). I get so tired of hearing wonderful dance music, only to then realize that the lyrics are smutty or violent. I find that really annoying. Jungle, however, writes intelligent, sensitive lyrics that show a respect for humanity. So if you want to dance to really good rhythms while hearing some quality, clever writing, Jungle thankfully is available. The concert was supposed to start at nine o'clock, so Sandra and I rushed our dinner, and walked as fast as we could through downtown Seattle to get there on time. We found a long line of people talking and waiting for the doors to the concert hall to open. After half an hour, and the security check, we made our way into the Showbox hall which was already quite full with people at the bar, and beginning to fill up the dance floor. Another group was playing, you know, the warm-up group that's not very famous. They were actually quite good. People were swaying a bit, but not really dancing. I had deliberately bought a very comfortable pair of casual shoes, and was wearing just jeans and a t-shirt, so I could dance without feeling restricted. It's been such a long time since I have danced in public, or anywhere other than my kitchen. I wondered if I would be out-of-practice! Finally, the count-down started, the lights flashed until the title of Jungle appeared, and we all started cheering. Then song after song started flowing: 'Heavy California', 'Busy working', 'Time', 'Julia', 'Raindrops' and others. I know all of them. I jumped up and down just like the younger, elegantly dressed people around me, and wondered why Sandra wasn't doing the same thing. I think she was tired from getting up early for work, and also wasn't familiar with the songs. At one point, I even forgot that she was there because I was lost in the music. As the Showbox is a small concert hall, we were able to get really close to the group. That added a special dimension to my experience, a bit more intimacy. I feel that not only do I love Jungle's music, but that now we have a connection; I will always be a fan and wish them the best. The Showbox also is a venue I will keep my eye on for future concerts, and I will keep my extra comfortable shoes ready.
If you haven't heard of the shingles, then today I will teach you something both interesting and important for your health. The shingles is actually a virus. It is one of the herpes viruses. I have had close contact with it recently, as my mother has it. Don't let the pretty sound of the word fool you; shingles sounds like jingles, a happy ringing of bells. Well, its quite the opposite. It is horrendous. I think it should be renamed to something like, 'The dark knife', or 'The burning storm'. It is actually the chicken pox virus. That is an illness that we tend to have as children. Nowadays there are vaccines for chicken pox, so children can at least be protected against a bad dose of the illness. If you have had it, the virus will continue to live in your body. It basically stays dormant in a nerve of its choice. Later in life, when your immune system is weak, it flares up(1), producing a burning rash and a lot of nerve pain. The nerves can actually be permanently damaged and painful in a bad case. Thankfully though, there is a vaccine that we as adults can have when we are about 50. The shingles is also contagious. If you are touched by someone who has scratched their rash, you could catch it. It is rare, but possible. I will certainly get vaccinated, and I hope you do too. My mother told me that it is the most painful thing she has experienced, and it is taking weeks for her to recover. That means: loss of work, no socializing, no energy, and feeling miserable for a long time. The good news is that she is recovering. Her rash has cleared up(2), and she has less pain. She had the worst case scenario; the virus was in her trigeminal nerve which runs along the top and left side of your head, into your left eye, and down to your chest. Her eye was so swollen at one point(3) that the doctor couldn't open it. Thankfully, now I can talk to her and see both of her lovely eyes, not just one. It will still take her weeks to get back to normal, but her very strong medicines are helping her recover. I will continue taking her to regular doctors' appointments and making sure that she has everything she needs. I'm hoping that as Spring comes, she will get her energy back and be able to enjoy the flowers and the nice weather. It has been a real education in health and medical care for me, one which I hope won't be repeated. 1. 'To flare up' means to surface or be activated. It can be used with physical symptoms or emotions. a. My rash flared up because I ate something I am sensitive to. b. His anger flared up when he bumped into his ex boss. 2. 'To clear up' is almost the opposite of 'to flare up'. It means to get better, or get resolved. It also can be used in an emotional context. a. His acne cleared up after the dermatologist gave him some strong medicine. b. We talked about our problem, and finally cleared up the issue. 3. 'At one point' is super useful in just about any context. a. We waited in line for so long that at one point I was ready to fall asleep. b. My back hurt so much that at one point I couldn't even walk. c. The teacher made no sense; at one point I felt like pulling out my hair.
Does your mind ever wander? Mine does, all the time. I find that I am constantly thinking about things. My brain rarely(1) seems to keep quiet. In Tai Chi we call this 'The Jumping Monkey' which is a wonderful image. I suppose our brains are supposed to always be thinking, but sometimes it's really distracting. Shopping, for example, is a time when you want to have a clear plan of action with no distraction. If you don't, you could end up wasting time or money, or both. So many times I've come home from shopping with a car full of groceries, only to realize that I forgot the most needed items, like toilet paper or toothpaste. Or I get into the store and I realize that I left my shopping list at home. Perhaps its a fault in my genes; I can blame it on my parents. You can blame most things on your parents. But that doesn't help; it's the behavior that needs to change. So, I've figured out a solution to the shopping list problem: I either write it on my hand, or I simply remember a number, the number of items I need. If that is my approach, then when I am in the store, it's up to me to remember which items they are. And there's something else: shopping bags. Here in the States, predominantly plastic bags are used for customers. It's a real problem, as they are terrible for the environment. I have felt uncomfortable for years about bringing home so many. My son, Hudson, brought back some reusable bags from Paris as a gift for me last year. They are strong, large, and attractive. But do you think that I could remember to take them with me? So many times I would find myself in the store with a cart already half full of items, and it would dawn on(2) me that I needed the bags, and that they were, oops, at home. It was so frustrating. So I decided to make a change. I put three of the bags in the car, right in front of my nose, on the dashboard. Now whenever I go shopping, I remember to take them. I'm so happy. I know it sounds trivial(3), but I'm relieved to be making a difference to the environment this way - finally! And I'm also relieved to have freed myself from forgetfulness. The jumping monkey of my brain is now a little under control, and that is a good start. 1. 'Rarely' is the same as 'not very often' or 'hardly'. Out of the three expressions, it is the least used. a. We rarely go to my sister-in-law's house as it is three hours away. b. My mother rarely comes to our house as she is allergic to my husband. 2. 'To dawn on someone that ...' is a very imaginative way of saying 'to realize'. Think of what 'dawn' is: new, natural light rising up, just like a clear idea. a. It dawned on me that I was paying for an international phone plan that I wasn't using. b. After he bought the item online, it dawned on him that he had added an extra '0' and bought 100 pillows instead of 10. 3. 'Trivial' means of little importance. a. It seems trivial to you, but it's important to me. b. Our conversation was quite superficial; we talked about trivial things.
We've lucked out this year (1). We're lucky because the winter has not been too hard. Yes we've had snow, and some freezing conditions, but it really hasn't been bad at all. I've been able to walk the dogs without falling on the ice, and my daughter has been able to practice her soccer moves on a more or less snow-free lawn. Everyone is back into a work or school routine, and Christmas seems like it was a long time ago. There are a few traces of decorations left around the house, but I'm not going to put them away for a few months. They keep a little bit of brightness and cheer in the house. Another thing that does, is the very colorful and very unusual present that Domini got this year. It's a snake, a corn snake to be exact(2). It's orange with yellow and white spots, only about 12 inches long, and is quite calm. Corn snakes are native to the U.S, and beneficial to humans as they eat rodents like rats and mice. They are not poisonous (of course I wouldn't buy my child a poisonous animal!), and they only get to a moderate length of 4-5 feet when they are adults. They kill their prey, which also includes frogs, birds, and bats, by constriction. As the snake is just a baby, we have to feed him tiny, newborn, bald mice which come frozen in a packet. Yes, I'm sorry, it sounds horrendous(3). I won't go into any more detail. But, you know, he has to eat something. Like other snakes, he can open his mouth up to a 150 degree angle in order to eat. I'm glad we don't do that! He also does it when he yawns, which is actually really cute. I suppose you can tell that I'm not scared of snakes. In fact, I've held him a couple of times and he felt very smooth, calm, and light. I held him close to my cheek, and I could feel his tiny tongue flickering in and out of his mouth as he smelled me. It wasn't creepy at all. Domini is very exact about looking after him, making sure that his environment is just right. Pets can be a great way to teach responsibility to kids as well. Beau is a very calming influence on Domini who she tends to be a bit hyper, so its good for her to handle a smooth, mesmerizing reptile,- her baby. 1. 'To luck out' is to be lucky or fortunate (an Americanism). a. We lucked out; there were just enough tickets left for us. b. He lucked out. He was late to the airport, but his plane was an hour delayed. 2. 'To be exact' is to be specific. a. We live on Idaho street, the last house on the left to be exact. b. He needs to take antibiotics for a couple of weeks, every day for 10 days to be exact. 3. 'Horrendous' is a great word that means 'awful'. It's used a lot in UK. a. The film was horrendous: the story was weak, the dialogues were unrealistic, and the acting was bad. b. Watching the snake eat is horrendous, unless you like that sort of thing.
Things are changing fast in my household. My third boy, Robert, is now driving. He's only 16, and that to me seems far too young to be 'behind the wheel'. Thankfully, he doesn't drive very far, so the chances of(1) him getting into an accident are not high. As soon as he passed his driver's test, he bought a few things for his vehicle so he could look like and be a proper driver. Tissues, chapstick, hand sanitizer, phone charger, and gum, are of course essentials to have in the car. Then there was the lanyard. When he first mentioned it, I didn't know what he was talking about. It sounded like some boating equipment. So I looked it up.(2) Actually, it is a kind of cord or rope used to secure equipment on ships, and also used in the military. In general, however, it is a cord you put around your neck or shoulder, for your keys or ID. It seems that all high school students have these long, often colorful straps that hang out of a pocket with their car keys attached. It's a sign of being a mature driver, like a symbol of honor. It's certainly a symbol of privilege. "It's so annoying," he said to me the other day. "There are 15yr olds in the Highschool, mom, who have lanyards. Some of them don't even have permits yet." The permit is the driving card you can get when you turn 15 and sign up for a driver's education course. With it you can legally drive with family members over 21, with or without younger siblings.(3) You are not yet allowed to drive by yourself. "Well, perhaps they use them for house keys," I replied. "That's lame," was his response. A lanyard, for him, represents all the hard work and hours of practice that he put into earning his license. And you can't miss his; it's bright red. As he walks around the high school with the lanyard hanging out of his pocket, younger students have no doubt what it all means. It's like his basketball uniform, he belongs to a group; no unqualified people allowed thank you very much. I don't have a lanyard. I'm too old for one, according to my kids. And I wouldn't want one anyway; I don't need to be part of a group. I picked up a keychain from Heathrow airport that has a blue, leather disc with a Union Jack on the inside. I love it. It reminds me, and the few other people who see it, of where this bird comes from. So, like the lanyard, it's a reminder, one that I see each time I turn the key. 1. 'The chances of ..+ gerund'. This is a great addition to conversation: hypothesis, prediction, but quite casual. a. The chances of him winning the race are high. b. The chances a fair election are low. 2. 'To look something up' is to search for information either in a book, or the internet. a. As you are new to the area, I would look up anything you need on the internet. b. I looked up 'local plumbers' on Google; there are only three licensed ones in town. 3. 'With or without' is also a convenient and native sounding phrase to add to conversation. a. He will achieve his goal, with or without anyone's help. b. You can continue to improve in English, with or without a teacher.
Halloween was fairly uneventful this year. It is a huge day of celebration here in the U.S, but as my children are teenagers now, we are less involved in the 'trick or treat' tradition of dressing up and visiting houses. Also, we don't tend to get many visitors in our neighborhood because it is actually quite spooky: no street lamps, no side walks, and a dark orchard with derelict buildings immediately as you turn into the area. It doesn't surprise me that parents don't drop their kids off to let them trick or treat. I wouldn't. The tradition now for my kids, as well as for their friends, is to watch the scariest movie they can find in the cinema. Apparently, its 'the thing' to do. I can't stand scary movies, though decades ago, when I was a teenager, I too would watch them whenever I could. There was just something thrilling about screaming together. It must have been a way to bond. After Halloween, we visited my son Cass in Washington State University. The university's American football team, the Cougars, were playing, so my husband and son went to watch the game, and my daughter and I went to the cinema. You probably can guess what is coming next. Yes, my daughter, after much begging, persuaded me to watch the horror movie 'Halloween.' The film had already started when we went into the auditorium. It was packed, pitch black, and you could hear the rapid, nervous chewing of popcorn. I half shut my eyes in a squint to see if that would make the film less scary. The story started to develop. All the typical horror movie ingredients were included: the dark, the pop-ups, the slowly opening, creaking doors, and the very stupid females who scream at everything and don't fight back. I jumped, and again, then several times in a row, and then "Ahh!" came out of my mouth without me even realizing. "Mum, come on," said Domini, "its not even scary yet. Control yourself!" Then she advised me to plug my ears. She was right; it's not half as scary if you can't hear anything. I must have looked quite silly with my fingers in my ears and my face screwed up into a squint. It wasn't long before the 'baddie' was revealed. He wore a pale mask, and towered above everybody. It was when he appeared in a little boy's closet that I managed by biggest jump, spilling my chocolate covered raisins as I grabbed my daughter's leg. "Mum," hissed Domini, "you're ruining it." She walked out of the auditorium in a bad mood. I gave her a minute to cool off, and then I went and brought her back. "You're so embarrassing! I'm not sitting with you," she said as she went off to find another seat. I didn't mind her rejection; I was actually really focused on the film, and had now managed to get my body under control. I relaxed enough to critique the movie, which is always fun. Horror movies in particular are very two dimensional. "Oh, well that wasn't totally predictable," I thought to myself sarcastically as another weak character did all the wrong things, and therefore was grabbed by the 'psycho'. What was most disappointing to me was that the worst of the stupid, weak females was English. She had a perfect opportunity to bash the baddie with a big piece of metal, but instead she sat down and cried. For goodness sake! She really let my country down. If I had been the one in a public toilet, with a giant, violent 'loco', I would have shown him what English women are really like. When the film was over, Domini and I chatted about it all the way back to the university. We were full of criticisms and funny comments which helped to dissipate some of the scary images from our minds. I think she would have preferred to go with friends. I, however, was very proud of myself for surviving 'Halloween'. I was tired from all the jumping and squinting, but quite thrilled to feel like a teenager again.
There's nothing like(1) being in a crowd of 60,000 people. There's nothing like it, if they are all happy and dancing to the same music. Yes, you guessed it; I went to a concert with 59, 997 temporary friends. We were all happy to be together. I took my daughter and a friend of hers, and I was as excited as they were. Ed Sheeran was the main singer of the evening. I pride myself in(2) being a sort of up-to-date mum, so I was already familiar with some of his songs, and what he looks like. And he's English, so that was a plus for me. He actually chatted a lot in between songs, and came across as a very friendly, intelligent person. As far as his performance goes, he was dynamic, and gave a good rendition of all of his most popular songs. I was impressed with the fact that he was by himself on stage. He used a 'loop' machine to create his music by instantaneous recording of himself. It worked really well. How clever! The girls and I were unfortunately up in what we call 'the nose bleeds' which means that the seats were really high up in the stadium, quite far away from the main guy. Ed Sheeran, luckily, is a redhead, and so we didn't have to strain(3) our eyes too badly to see him. We could see a flash of red jumping and running around the stage; I assume it was him.... Though we had seats, most of the concert we spent dancing on the spot with everyone else around us. The energy in the stadium was electric. From our seats we could also see the sea with ferries coming and going, as the stadium is not enclosed. It was quite a night. 1. 'There's nothing like + gerund/ object' This is a way of saying that something is the best. a. There's nothing like my grandmother's chocolate cake; I've never tasted a better one. b. There's nothing like hiking in the mountains with friends. c. There's nothing like a cool drink of water after a hot day of work outside. d. There's nothing like opening the envelope that has your grades, and seeing all A's. 2. 'To pride yourself in +noun/adjective'. This is quite self-explanatory: a. He prides himself in his work. b. She prides herself in her dedication to her instrument. c. They pride themselves in their charitable organization. 3. 'To strain' is a useful verb which means to over-use and therefore to hurt. a. He strained his back by carrying heavy boxes the wrong way. b. I didn't have my glasses so I had to strain my eyes to read the medicine bottle. c. Stretching before exercise can help reduce strains.