Category Archives: culture

Dreams and Goals for 2011

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Do you have any dreams or goals for the future? The end of one year and beginning of another year is when many people think about these things.

Are some of your goals related to learning English? Make sure that your goals are clear, easy to describe, realistic, and “finishable.”

“Improve my English” or “Get better at speaking English” are not good goals. Just saying “improve” isn’t clear. How will you know when you are better? Is it possible to finish “getting better”? What is “better”? It’s hard to describe.

Here are some better goals: “Read English 20 minutes per day, at least 3 days per week.” “Go to a restaurant and successfully order what I want to eat in English.” “Read 10 full-length English novels by next year.” “Speak to someone in English once a week, even if I just offer them help.” “Find an international volunteer group or a club that I can go to once a month.”

To help you achieve your goals, it’s good to write them down, look at them regularly, and share them with someone. That will keep them in your mind and keep you focused on them. (That’s true for language-learning and other goals.) If you’d like to do that online, there are several ways to do that. You can put your list on a blog.

There are two popular sites in English for keeping your lists of goals and things you’d like to do. You can write down and share your goals for life and language-learning there, if you want. One is http://www.43things.com/. It’s very easy to use. You can see goals posted by other famous and ordinary users. If you like their goals, you can add them to your list!

The other site is http://www.dayzeroproject.com/, usually known as 101 Things in 1001 Days. The site isn’t working right now, but I hope it will be later (updates at @dayzero). If you search for “101 things in 1001 days,” you can still see a lot of people’s lists. Because you have 2 3/4 years to work on your list, you can include big things like international travel.

Anyway, happy new year! If you try any of these sites or write any resolutions for 2011, I hope you’re able to achieve your goals!

A Friend’s Christmas Day

I thought some of you might like to see my friend’s Christmas Day. She lives in the southern part of the central US. On Christmas Day, there were four generations of her family in one house!

Here’s Christmas morning. They have a very tall tree (it’s taller than mine or my parents’). However, many Americans have trees that are about 6 feet/2 meters tall. One reason is because there are a lot of gifts to put under the tree.

Some families only give one gift to each person. In my family and my husband’s family, everyone gives more than one gift to each other. (I don’t know about my friend’s family.) So when I was old enough (maybe 10 or so?), I gave presents to my parents, too. They also gave presents to each other. This year, I gave presents to my mom, my dad, my husband, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law. (I also gave or mailed presents to several friends.)

Anyway, here’s the gift unwrapping at my friend’s house.

Some gifts are practical things that people have been wanting but can’t or won’t buy. (For example, my parents gave me a nice pair of jeans, a pair of trail shoes for hiking, and an extra iPod Touch cable.) Some gifts are educational or to help the person in their job. (For example, my husband gave me a book on English linguistics. Last year, my in-laws gave my husband a book about math teaching.) And of course, other gifts are just fun or nice. (For example, my parents gave my husband a Doctor Who DVD box set and a video game.)

I really appreciate my friend letting me share these photos with you. :) Thanks, Q!

My Holiday

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m in Arkansas visiting my parents for Christmas. Today is Christmas Eve. During the last day or two, we’ve been shopping and so on.


Mall Santa
Santa Claus is in the middle of this photo, but he’s hard to see! On the right, people are lined up. They want their kids to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him their Christmas wishes. (I usually had no idea what to say.) On the left, a woman is taking photos. You have to pay money for them… Anyway, this is in the local mall. We bought some last-minute gifts there.

Inside the restaurant
Later, we went to a restaurant. It’s very old-fashioned inside. You can see lots of old-style farm and household tools inside.

Dinner
This country restaurant only serves one meal: All-you-can-eat chicken dinner. You get fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy (a kind of sauce for the potatoes), corn, green beans, slaw (cabbage, mayo, etc. salad), and a tiny loaf of hot bread with apple butter (spiced apple jam — there’s no butter in it!). If you want more of something, you can just ask. This meal is not part of our holiday tradition, but it’s a nice place to go with my family when I visit. Today, we had Thai food at lunch and beans with cornbread for dinner. For Christmas Day this year, we’ll go out to a buffet. (Most restaurants are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the US, but a few are open.)

Christmas Tree Cat
This is one of my parents’ cats, Gimli. He’s sitting under their Christmas tree. Gimli usually acts very seriously, but he loves their Christmas tree and spends a lot of time playing with it and sleeping under it. (I took this picture last year, but it’s the same this year!)

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you’re having a good one!

(Sorry, I’ll post the final contest winner later!)

Thanksgiving 2010

Pumpkin pie slice by cgbug_steven_garcia from openclipart.org

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. A few days ago, my brother-in-law flew up from San Diego to join us. On Wednesday, my brother-in-law and I baked two pies and made cranberry sauce. On Thanksgiving, my husband, brother-in-law, and I cooked everything else: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, broccoli, stuffing, and turkey. We bought the rolls (bread) and gravy. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was fun.

Here’s an important Thanksgiving word: leftovers (group noun–the adjective is leftover). After you eat a meal, you may have extra food. If the food can be kept to eat later, then you have leftovers. At Thanksgiving, there’s almost always way too much food. People usually expect (and even hope for) leftovers. We’ll be eating turkey for several days!

Here are some of the recipes that we used:

  • Cranberry Orange Sauce (I doubled the recipe because we wanted leftovers. I added two cinnamon sticks and some ginger. You need to remove the cinnamon sticks before you serve the sauce. Ground cinnamon is OK too. You can use candied ginger or powdered ginger.)
  • Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper (We baked this in the toaster oven because the main oven was full.)
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes (We added two entire heads of garlic, and also fried shallots)
  • Coconut Spiced Sweet Potatoes (I didn’t use coriander because I didn’t think it would taste good. I used a larger amount cardamom instead. This is an unusual recipe and really good!)
  • Mahogany Turkey Breast and Mahogany Roast Turkey (I combined these two recipes; however, it takes much longer than 1 1/2 hours for a whole turkey–even a small one!)

Unfortunately, we’re not very good at the timing of doing so much cooking. So by the time we were done, we were really hungry. I don’t have any photos! Sorry…You can see other people’s photos at Flickr.

Halloween 2010

This year I was really busy during October. I wasn’t able to plan a Halloween party. It’s too bad, because I love having Halloween parties.

Here are some photos from a couple of years ago.


Here are some small lanterns I put outside my place. We usually put decorations outside our homes as well as inside.


In the front is a candle decoration that I made. On the right is a pumpkin that has not been carved yet. On the left is what was inside a pumpkin. That pumpkin has already been carved into a jack-o’lantern.


You can see some of the snacks that we had at our party. (No, we’re not good at making sushi!) You can also see party favors in little bags.

Anyway, I’m not having a party tonight or tomorrow. But tonight we visited a special Halloween event that our city has.

There’s an old building here. It used to be part of a rich person’s house. Now it’s only used once a year for a “haunted house”! I think about 75 people were in line. It costs $3, and the money is given to local charities.


You can see just a few of the booths with carnival games and Halloween items for sale. The games are similar to festival games in other countries.


My favorite part: caramel apples! I always get one that’s covered in chopped peanuts. These are made right there by volunteers. They taste so good! The apples are a little bit tart, and the nuts are nutty, crunchy, and a little salty. So it’s not as sweet as it looks.

Lots of little kids and a few adults go to this event in costume. The volunteers who work there have fun, and my money is given to charity. I really enjoy going there every year.

I hope you have a great Halloween, or a great October 31st if you aren’t interested in Halloween!

P. S. Enter the contest! It’s so easy–just share your ideas with us! Only 2 people have entered so far…your chances are good!

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Wedding Anniversary

Yesterday was my seventh wedding anniversary. My husband and I got married in 2003 in San Francisco.

Wedding Day
Wedding Day

This year, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on an expensive dinner or expensive presents. However, we had a nice time. We packed a picnic and went to a park near the edge of the San Francisco Bay. We went shopping the day before at Trader Joe’s for our picnic. We bought some good cheese, spicy salami, crackers, nectarines, chocolate, and Hansen’s sodas. (Hansen’s sodas are all-natural sodas–they’re really good.)

While we ate, we could see the water, birds, and small planes landing nearby. The scenery was really beautiful. After we ate, we took a walk.

Then we went to a game store called Game Kastle. They sell board games, role-playing games, card games, and so on. (They don’t sell video games.) The games they sell are mostly unusual and interesting ones. Of course, they also sell famous games, like the Pokemon card game. We bought one game, but we haven’t played it yet.

After that, we went to two bookstores that are right next to each other. One bookstore sells new books, and the other one sells used books. The secondhand book shop has a big selection of non-English books, language-learning books, ESL books, etc. I had a coupon, but I only found one book that I wanted! Oh, well. At the other bookstore, I found a book I thought my husband would like. It was on sale! I bought it while my husband wasn’t looking and gave it to him as an anniversary present.

We went to one other bookstore in a nearby town and found one more book to buy. The clerk at that shop was really friendly. The shop also sold these cute hand puppets

Finally, we went to a Japanese restaurant
called Hatcho for dinner. This restaurant is not very expensive and you can order a lot of things individually (ala carte). Their menu is very interesting. We tried several things we had never eaten before. The restaurant was quiet, and the food was really good.

I guess that wasn’t really a typical anniversary celebration. If people imagine an anniversary celebration, they usually imagine something like an expensive restaurant dinner, flowers, dancing, and a gift of jewelry. On the other hand, I think it is normal for people our age to create our own celebrations. We want events and gifts that are meaningful to us. My husband and I are geeky and enjoy food. So a day full of bookstores, games, and eating makes sense for us. It matches our personalities.

It was nice to spend time with my husband, just the two of us. However, for our tenth anniversary, I think I would like to have a party and invite our friends and family.

Here are the places we went yesterday, if you’d like to see them:

Palo Alto Baylands park
Game Kastle
BookBuyers (Photos of BookBuyers)
Books Inc.
Leigh’s Favorite Books
Hatcho

What kinds of celebrations do you enjoy? What do you like to do for your wedding anniversary, your birthday, etc.? Is it different from what your husband, wife, parents, or friends like to do?

Fashion Blogs & Websites

Here are some English-language blogs you might enjoy if you like fashion:

The Fashion Police Files
Advanced Style
Haute Macabre (warning: includes lingerie/underwear)
Ne Plus Ultras
The Sartorialist
The Dandy Project
Mrs.O
The Urban Gent
The Chocolate Fashion Blog
Punky Style
Diary of a Vintage Girl

Can you find one that suits you?

There are also lots of English blogs about Asian fashion…lots and lots! Sushi-Cat.net is one, and there are so many more–even for people who like to wear kimono. You can find them if you use Google.

Two of my favorite places to look at accessories online are Etsy (here are some of my favorite items) and Sock Dreams. Like most of my friends, I don’t really care about famous brands. I just like things that look interesting.

If you have links to fashion blogs or websites, in your language or in English, please comment and share them with us!

TED | Translations

I’m posting twice in one day! Crazy!

Here’s a resource for intermediate to advanced learners:

TED | Translations.

TED talks have become extremely famous for their interesting topics and good presentations. The speeches are from 6-20 minutes long, with still images or videos (NOT traditional Powerpoint). The speakers talk about everything: dance, robots, food, storytelling, DNA, etc. They talk about “big ideas.” (Some of the speakers make me cry.)

However, a lot of the speakers talk really fast because they’re trying to fit big ideas into 18 minutes. And sometimes they use difficult vocabulary words for the same reason. Still, because the ideas are so cool, I think they’re worth a try if you are not a beginning or low-intermediate learner. (If you find some easier TED videos that are good for lower-level learners, please tell me!)

Lots of volunteers have helped make subtitles for TED. You can see these at TED | Translations. I recommend watching your favorite videos several times–with subtitles in your language, then with English subtitles, and then without any subtitles.

TEDx events are not official TED events. (There’s TEDxTokyo, TEDxSeoul, etc.) They’re TED-style events, and the speakers are sometimes not as skilled as the TED speakers. However, sometimes they’re just as good. Some TEDx speakers speak in languages other than English, with English dubbed versions available. You can try those, too.

You can subscribe to TED in iTunes, by the way.

Here’s one very popular video that is available in 21 languages. Click on View Subtitles to see them. The speaker has a light Nigerian( or Nigerian British?) accent, but she speaks more slowly than other speakers, and her presentation is really interesting.

Let me know if you find some good ones! There are so many TED videos–it’s hard to know where to start.

WonderCon

A small part of WonderCon
A small part of WonderCon (click for bigger photos)

On Saturday, my husband, my friend, and I went to San Francisco. We went to a convention called WonderCon. This convention is for fans of comic books, animation, movies, TV shows, and so on. Last year, about 32,000 people went to the convention–women, men, kids, older people, etc. It’s not the biggest convention like this, but it’s pretty big.

More of WonderCon (sorry about the glass)
More of WonderCon (sorry about the glass)

Every year, there are a lot of things to do at the convention. In the Exhibition Hall, you can buy all kinds of comics. Often, you can buy the comics from the artist or writer and talk to him or her. You can buy paintings and drawings from artists. You can buy books about comics, history, and computer graphics. You can talk to publishers and ask them questions. You can meet actors and other famous people from TV shows and movies. (You usually have to pay to get their autographs.)

On the left, a friend who's an artist. On the right, another friend and two more members of Legion Fantastique.
On the left, a friend who's an artist. On the right, another friend and two more members of Legion Fantastique.

Look at the photo above. The three people wearing costumes are looking at the original comic book art that is for sale by an artist. (They are members of a group called Legion Fantastique. If you’re in California, you can see them at the Great Pan-Kinetic Exposition in August.) Lots of people wear costumes and walk around the convention. You can usually take their photos if you ask them.

Some people work hard on their costumes
Some people work hard on their costumes

Another reason that people go to WonderCon is because you can go to presentations and panels (group presentations). At these, people talk about topics like how to make costumes, how to teach reading using comic books, religion in fantasy movies, and so on. Actors, writers, and other people are also on panels. Sometimes new movies or TV shows are shown for the first time.

Who's on the escalator?
Who's on the escalator?

We had a lot of fun, and we’ll probably go next year. There’s “something for everyone!”

Have you ever gone to a convention? What kind of convention would you like to go to? You can answer in the comments!


Notes

“Convention” (n.): A big meeting of people on one topic. It might be for people who work in one kind of business, like web designers. Other conventions are for fans of something, like Japanese animation, trains, growing roses, or comic books. People often travel a long way to go to the convention. Conventions are usually held in convention centers or hotels. “Convention” comes from the verb “convene,” which means “come together.” “Conferences” (n.) are almost the same, except that word is usually used for academic (teaching and researching) conferences–teachers, scientists, historians, etc. “Conference” comes from the verb “confer,” which means “talk” or “discuss.”

A “publisher” (n.) or publishing company is a person or a company that makes books, comic books, etc. A publisher isn’t a printer or a bookstore. A writer sends her book to a publisher and hopes that the publisher will accept it. The publisher agrees to buy it and pays the writer. The publisher pays a printing company to print the book. The publisher sends the book to bookstores. The bookstores sell the books. The publisher, bookstores, and writer share the money from selling the book. (The author doesn’t get very much…)

“Autograph” (n./v.): If a famous person writes his or her name on something, their written name (signature) is an autograph. When you write your name on a check, letter, etc., it’s just a signature (n.). If a famous person signs something, it’s an autograph.

If I didn’t explain something, please ask in the comments!

Wildflowers

On Saturday, I went to a “Wildflower Festival” at a park. It’s a really big park. It’s not a national park like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, and it’s not a state park, but it’s bigger than a city park. It’s called a “regional park.” Spring is the best time for wildflowers, and I wanted to see some. There were a lot of activities at the festival. In the main area, there were some tents where people could learn about nature. Children could play games and make things. From that area, people could go on hikes with park guides.

Wildflowers
Wildflowers

I saw a lot of wildflowers on the hike! The orange one is California’s “state flower,” the California poppy.

Our guide showing us something
Our guide showing us something

A lot of people, including families and older people, went on our hike. I heard a lot of different languages being spoken. It was nice! Our guide was very friendly. She knew a lot about flowers and nature. She showed us a lot of flowers and told us how the flowers worked. It was really interesting. The hike lasted about 90 minutes. I was tired at the end, but happy.

Can you see the birds?
Can you see the birds?

This park is really green and has a lot of hills. (This picture is just a small part of the park.) If you’re in good shape, you can see some wonderful views. I was a little sick last year, so I’m kind of out of shape right now. However, I hiked for about 2.5 hours altogether. (Go me!) After I was done, I went back to the main area and sat down. I watched a band play American, Scottish, and French-Canadian folk music. It was fun! When my feet stopped hurting, I walked to my car and drove home.

Are there any places to go hiking near where you live? Do you like to go hiking?



Notes

“Wildflowers” are flowers that grow naturally. “Wild” means natural and not controlled by humans.

A “region” (n.) is a big area. It might include several places. For example, the Tohoku 東北 region of Japan includes six prefectures. I guess regional parks are called “regional” (adj.) because they include different cities and counties, but they’re not state parks.

“Guide” can be a noun or a verb. When it’s a person noun, it means someone who shows or explains things to other people. For example, a tour guide leads a group of people who are traveling, and tells them about what they are seeing.

“In good shape” is an idiom. It doesn’t mean “a nice body.” It means that you are healthy, so you have enough energy for things like hiking, walking a long way, carrying heavy things, etc. You can also just say “in shape.” (Sometimes we use it to mean that a thing is ready or working properly, too.) The opposite is “out of shape.” People often say “I’m out of shape!” when they get tired too quickly. (We don’t usually use this to say that a thing is not working correctly, though.)

“Go [x]!” To cheer for somebody, you can say “Go [name]!” or even “Go you!” to a friend. This is like “Fighting!” in Korean, and so on. And yes, people sometimes say or write “Today I studied Japanese for four hours! Go me!” or “I got 100% on my quiz! I was so surprised! Go me!” This is very casual and sounds like something a younger person would say. In this case, it’s a combination of encouragement (supporting someone to continue doing something) and praise/congratulations (telling someone they did a good job). When you shout “Go, team!” at a baseball game, then it might be just encouragement if they haven’t done anything yet.

If you have a question about something that I didn’t explain, please comment!