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Good Words: Stress Relief Phrases

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Here are some phrasal verbs/idioms that are often used when we’re talking about relieving (reducing) stress.

  • “I’m going to treat myself to a piece of chocolate.”
  • “Tonight, I’m treating myself to a hot bath and a novel. I haven’t had time to read in two weeks!”
  • To “treat yourself (herself/etc.) to something” is to do something that you don’t usually do. Maybe you don’t usually do it for time, money, or health reasons.

  • “I’m taking a break from the news. I think I’ll go to the gym or take a walk in the park.”
  • “My friend’s coming over so I can take a break from watching my daughter.”
  • “Playing with my dog lets me take a break from worrying about what is happening.”
  • To “take a break from something” or “take a break from doing something” means to stop doing it for a while.

  • “My son decided to play video games for a while to take his mind off the bad news.”
  • “I’m going to bake some cookies to take my mind off things. Do you want to come over and help?”
  • “I got my mind off everything by going to the gym yesterday. It was good.”
  • To “take [your/my/etc.] mind off something” means to make yourself think about something else by doing another activity.

    Get [your/my/etc.] mind off something” is basically the same. Sometimes “of” is used (“take your mind off of something”/”get your mind off of something”).

  • “My boss decided to give everyone a break by letting us work from home We still have to work, but we don’t have to go to the office.”
  • Give yourself a break and don’t worry about what other people think right now.”
  • I’m giving myself a break by cooking easy things for dinner.”
  • There are two patterns here: 1) “give someone a break by doing something” 2) “give someone a break and do something

    Both basically mean the same thing: to make life a little easier by doing something (working from home, not worrying about what other people thing, cooking easy things for dinner).

    “Give yourself a break and” may actually mean “both relax a little and do this thing” or “first relax a little, and then immediately do this thing to continue relaxing.” All three ways of understanding the meaning of this phrase are so close that it doesn’t really matter.

  • “She’s relaxing with a cup of tea and a book now. Don’t bother her!”
  • “I’m so stressed out–I’m going to go relax with some music.”
  • “You’ve been working on that for hours. Why don’t you go relax with a video game for a while?”
  • To relax with something is to relax while you are using/drinking/reading/etc. that thing.

    If you’d like to use a verb, use “relax and” instead: “I’m going to relax and watch a DVD.

If you’re stressed out right now, but not in an emergency situation, I hope you can give yourself a break from the stress.

Any questions about how to use these phrases? Just leave a comment!

More Messages

I’ve gotten more messages from my friends to share with everyone in Japan! If you’re not in Japan, please read the messages for some good vocabulary.

Bouquets
Flowers from my local farmers’ market

Name: Pat & Winston
Location: El Cerrito, California, USA
Message: There are no words in any language that can express our sorrow for what has happened, and is happening in Japan. Our thoughts and hearts are with you.

Name: Erin
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Message: We are thinking about you and hoping for your safety and well-being, and the well-being of your families and friends.

Name: Alex
Location: Fremont, California, USA
Message: We stand with you, and we are so proud of you! We hope you recover soon. We have great faith in you!
頑張れ 日本!!

Name: Kirsten
Location: San Francisco, California, USA
Message: I am cheering for you. You are in my thoughts every day. Please stay safe. I am so sorry and my sorrow is for you and Japan.

Name: Ellen
Location: England
Message: I want to send a message of hope to the people of Japan. The rest of the world supports you.

Name: Ian
Location: New Forest, England
Message: My thoughts are constantly with you all. I salute your strength and fortitude through these difficult times.

Name: Caroline and her mother
Location: Minnesota, USA
Message: The strength and spirit of the people of Japan inspire us. We pray for you in this time of tragedy.

Name: Dion R.
Location: Bay Point, California, USA
Message: Hearing what has happened in Japan caused much pain, but do not lose hope. I pray to God you’ll all make it through. I encourage you all to continue assisting others in need, as well as staying safe. May you be protected and live another day.

You can leave a comment if you want to say something.

» Read more for “More Messages” (including any vocabulary & grammar notes)

Messages of Support

Sunrise
Sunrise at the lake near my house – a peaceful scene few days ago

Some of my friends and family wrote messages of support to everyone in Japan. In the US and other places, there has been a lot of news about the earthquake, tsunamis, and other problems. I think we all know about it and are sending our best wishes.

Here is what they said. If you want to answer them or say anything, please leave a comment at the bottom!

Name: Marty (that’s Clarissa’s mom, by the way!)
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA.
Message: May better days come soon.

Name: Julie F, ESL teacher
Location: Emeryville, California, USA
Message: I am aware of what has happened to you, which is so frightening, and my thoughts and concern are with you. It will be a while before life feels normal again. In this time you must be loving and patient with yourselves and others. I hope your country can safely heal, rebuild and move forward. My deep condolence for any lost friends and family members.

Name: Scott
Location: Denton, Texas, USA — Land of Cowboys, Horses, Tornadoes, and quite a few people from Japan who are here going to school.
Message: Y’all have my best wishes for future recovery. Many, many condolences for those you’ve lost. People at my office could not stop watching the news sites this Friday. We were awed and horrified by what we were seeing. I certainly hope things start getting better as quickly as possible.

Name: Melissa
Location: Sacramento, California, USA
Message: We are very sad about the tragedy that has happened in Japan. We grieve with you. I hope that you all recover and heal quickly, and I hope that the world will come together to help you in this dark time.

Name: Bardi
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Message: May each morning be a flower of greater hope.

Name: Erin
Location: Washington, DC, USA
Message: I would like to send good wishes and hope to the Japanese people during this difficult time.

Name: Stephanie
Location: Washington State, USA
Message: I wish there is more I can do to help. Take care of each other. Japan is in my heart and prayers.

Name: Brent E.
Location: Seattle, Washington State, USA
Message: This time is tough. I hope that all of you stay safe. Japan will recover!

If I get more messages later, I’ll make another post!

Please take care of yourself. Take a break, eat when you can, get some rest, and drink enough (if you can!). Be kind to yourself and others. We’re thinking of you!

» Read more for “Messages of Support” (including any vocabulary & grammar notes)

An Early Spring Walk

A few days ago, I went to a special park in my town. This park is a kind of garden around an old house. (I didn’t get a good photo of the house.) I like walking around in the garden. There are different flowers in every season.

Gazebo

You can see a gazebo behind the flowers. It’s is a nice place to sit and look at the flowers. Many parks and some big yards have gazebos.

Orchard

In the 1800s, there were a lot of farms and orchards (tree/fruit tree farms) in the San Francisco Bay Area. All of the orchards in this county are gone now, because we now mostly have cities with houses and offices. (A county is an official area. It’s smaller than a state. Each state in the US has several counties.) However, in the back of this park, there’s a small area with a few short, old trees. These trees are the last few trees from the last orchard in our county. The photo above is of a few branches on one of the trees. It looks like a cherry tree, but I’m not sure.

Blossom

Here’s a close-up of the blossoms on another tree in the main garden. I think these flowers were past their peak (already beyond their best point), but they’re still pretty. It had rained recently, as you can see. (Because the San Francisco Bay Area has a Mediterranean-style climate, we only have rain between around November and April.)

Neighborhood

This is a neighborhood near the park. You can see green hills in the distance. These hills don’t become green until wintertime here. That was hard for me to get used to when I moved here!

How is the weather where you are?
Is it still too cold to take a walk, or is the weather already nice?

Action Movie Restaurant

My husband was working yesterday, so we didn’t do much for Valentine’s Day. Today, we decided to go out for breakfast. But something really surprising and scary happened!

We went to a pancake restaurant near where we live. It’s my favorite breakfast restaurant. We got a table by the window and sat on the same side of the table. I sat closest to the windows. It’s a big old A-frame building. It has windows along the front and one entire side. To my right, there was a tall window. Outside the window was the sidewalk. Past the sidewalk was a handicapped parking space.

When we were almost done eating, we heard a loud noise. It sounded like tires screeching, when someone goes really fast around a corner or from a stop. How weird! I looked out the window. I didn’t see a sports car in the parking lot or anything like that.

But I did see a white minivan parking in the handicapped space. It was facing directly toward us. (An American-style minivan, so that means it’s a BIG van in most countries!)

And it wasn’t stopping. The minivan was driving right toward our table!

“Don’t be an idiot! Don’t just sit here and stare at it, like people do in TV shows,” I thought, “Get the heck out of the way!

At this point, I don’t really know what happened. I can’t remember the details clearly. I know I got up and moved as fast as I could. The next thing I remember is that I fell down while I was getting away from the window. I was surprised that I was on the floor, and I heard a loud bang. (That was the sound of the minivan hitting the building.) I looked up.

I saw that the big glass window hadn’t broken (and absolutely no one else had moved). The minivan had stopped. It hadn’t broken through the wall or glass. (Actually, it had hit the building really hard and bounced off, but I didn’t know that until later.)

I stood up and people started asking if I was okay. I said I thought so. Several people said “You guys moved fast!” I was a little embarrassed, so I said “I guess we overreacted.” (That is, I thought maybe we had done too much. Actually, I didn’t think so, but I felt self-conscious.)

“I don’t think you overreacted,” said a man from another table. He got up and went to the support beam that touched our table. Since it’s an A-frame building (shaped like an A, not a square), there was a big metal or wood beam that went from the floor to the ceiling, like a / . He said “Look at this.” The A-frame beam was broken at a joint where it connected to something. Wow, scary! One of the staff members quickly came over and moved our things to a table in another part of the restaurant.

My husband and our waiter ran outside to check on the driver and the passenger in the car. They were okay, just shaken up (scared). The driver had accidentally pressed the gas pedal instead of the brake

The owner was calling his insurance and the police and so on when we left. Anyway, I’m glad no one was really hurt, the glass wasn’t damaged, and so on. I hope the repairs aren’t too difficult for the owner (he’s a really nice guy).

My knee is a little bruised from where I hit the floor. I put some ice on it earlier, and I’ll put some more ice on it later.

That was definitely one of the most interesting ways I’ve ever started my day. It was kind of like being in a movie. Actually, it was too interesting. I don’t want to do that again. But we were lucky that it wasn’t worse…

I’m REALLY glad it wasn’t like THIS:


DEFENESTRATION THE MOVIE from Everything Is Terrible! on Vimeo.

Luckily, the restaurant was built much better than the ones in the movies and TV shows above!

(“Defenestration” is a rarely used English word that means “the act of throwing someone or something out of a window,” but this video has scenes of things going into and out of windows. I guess whether it’s “in” or “out” or “through” depends on where you are.)

Meet the World: Part 3

Meet the World is a set of three posts about sites where you can meet visitors to your area and speak English or another language with them. This is the third post.

Finally, you may have heard of Couchsurfing. Their main service is connecting travelers and people who have room in their home for sleeping. (That’s right: You let strangers stay in your home! However, like Hospitality Club, they have some safety features–you can only decide to accept people who have already stayed with other users, etc.)

But Couchsurfing also lets you just meet visitors for lunch, etc. When you register, there’s an option called “Couch Availability.” The question is “Are you able to host anyone now?” This is about whether people can stay overnight at your place. Your choices are “Yes,” “Definitely!” (meaning you really want to), “No,” “Maybe,” “Coffee or a drink,” and “Traveling at the moment.” If you’d just like to meet people, and maybe be their guide, choose “Coffee or a drink.” That’s fine!

When you confirm your account, you can choose to make a small donation to become “verified.” CouchSurfing uses that information to check your information and to send you a postcard. That proves to CouchSurfing and other users that your name and address are real. You don’t have to do this (I didn’t). Just choose “Continue to Edit Your Profile” if you don’t want to. You can also do it later, if you want to. When you use the site, you might feel more comfortable contacting other users who are verified.

If you don’t want your real name to be displayed to other users after you join, go to “privacy settings.” Change “Hide name” to “Yes.” It’s up to you. There are a lot of settings, so look at them all.

Couchsurfing.org is extremely popular, so if you really want to meet international travelers, you can try it without having people actually stay in your home. There’s lots of advice here. You can also change the language in the top right corner. (And here are messages from people who’ve tried it.)

To write this post, I registered for all three of these websites. So if you need help getting started, I can try to help you.

And remember, you don’t need to stress about your language level too much.

If you’ve already tried them, or if you know about a better site, please tell me!

Meet the World: Part 2

Meet the World is a set of three posts about sites where you can meet visitors to your area and speak English or another language with them.

The second site is Hospitality Club. It seems to be much bigger than Hi Everywhere!. People can use it to request guide services or or to ask to be able to stay at someone’s home. For that reason, they have more security features than Hi Everywhere! Here’s how to use it.

  1. You register. You give them information including your country, region (province, etc.), city, name, and address. You may not be comfortable with this, but they request this information so that members know that you are really the person they expected to meet. If they meet you, they are supposed to ask to see your passport to make sure it matches. You can choose to not show this information in your profile in general.
  2. In step 2 of registration, you fill out your profile. One part says “I can offer accommodation: yes, maybe, no” and “I can offer: show around town, have someone over for dinner.” If you’d like to be a guide only, then you choose “no” for accommodation. After that, choose “show around town”. You can also choose “dinner” if you’d like to invite someone to your house for dinner).

Meet the World: Part 1

I know that many English learners would like to meet other people to speak English with. It’s great to talk to other people from your country, Europe, and so on. Having someone to talk to is fun, can help you learn things, can make you want to learn more, and gives you a reason to really speak English. It can also be stressful and scary, but that’s part of learning!

Anyway, for a lot of people it’s hard to find someone to talk to. But there are ways…

shokunin_backpacker_on_a_phone from openclipart.org

As I said on the Improving Your English in Asia page, one way is to find out if your city or province (etc.) has a volunteer guide program, like Goodwill Guides. If you can’t do that, I recently found out about two other sites. (I already posted them to our Facebook page–remember to “like” it if you use Facebook!) I’ll introduce a third site, too, in three posts here. All of these sites are free to use.

The first site is Hi Everywhere! The site says “Hi Everywhere!” is a volunteer local tour guide exchange community.” Here’s how it works:

  1. You register. Your information includes a username (not your real name), your e-mail (not shown), the languages you speak, your city, and whatever you want to say about yourself.
  2. Travelers post information (requests) about where they are going and what they need. For example, a British woman is going to Japan for a month. While she’s there, she would like to go anywhere in the countryside. Even if she can meet someone for an hour, it’s okay.
  3. You look at the requests and decide whether you can help. If you want to be someone’s guide, you can click “Book it!” Or you can leave a comment to discuss it with the person.

After their trips, some users write journals about their good experiences. I don’t know how active the site is, but you can try it!

Don’t worry about your English level too much. If you’re not fluent in English yet, just tell them before you meet them. When international visitors come to your area, they will probably be happy to meet anyone who speaks ANY English. If you need help, you can find information about food, history, and so on in English in advance using Wikipedia, Wikitravel, and so on.

Here are the next two posts:

Hats and Shoes

We’ve been talking about hats on Twitter. I noticed a little confusion about the relationship between “hats” and “caps.” Let’s talk about it here. (This is a pretty advanced vocabulary point, so don’t worry about it if you are a beginner.)

The basic word for something that covers your head is “hat.” It is the top-level category. A “category” is a group of things or people that are the same type.

Other category words include “animal” (cat, dog, mouse, etc.), “vehicle” (car, bus, truck, etc.), “dessert” (cake, chocolate mousse, ice cream, etc.), “cake” (chocolate cake, Black Forest cake, birthday cake, etc.). Most of these category words are generic–they just describe a group; they’re general. They are not specific (animal, vehicle, etc.).

But a few category words are different.
“Hat” can be general or specific. When it’s general, “HAT” is a first-level category word that means most kinds of things you wear on your head, including baseball caps, berets, cowboy hats, knit winter hats, fedoras, pirate hats, and so on. Let’s call that HAT for now to make it easier.

“Hat” is also a specific second-level word inside the main category. We’ll call this “hat.” A hat is a kind of HAT that has a brim (an edge) all the way around the edge. It is different from a cap. Therefore, some people may say they like caps, but they don’t like hats–and what they mean is hats.

Top hat by Black Country Museums - click for original Flickr page Green cap by Black Country Museums - click for original Flickr page
Two hats — or, one hat (left) and one cap (right)

Generally, though, if someone asks “Do you like hats?” you can guess that they mean HAT — it’s probably a top-level category question.

(ADDITION: I think we tend to use “hat” more often, unless we need to use “cap” for a reason. English learners may have been taught that the difference is very important. However, that’s really not how most English speakers that I know use the words. We just say “hat” much more often! Take a look at Flickr: 1, 2. As you can see, many of these are caps, but they’re labeled “hat.”)

“Shoes” is another word that’s the same way. SHOES means all kinds of footwear (boots, sandals, high heels, etc.)–the general category. But it also means basic shoes, specifically (let’s say shoes)–not sandals or boots, which are special kinds of shoes.

My husband and I once had an argument when we were packing for a trip, because I said “Can you give me my shoes?”
He gave me my sandals, because they were close to him.
I said “If I had wanted my sandals, I would have asked for them. I asked for my shoes!” (Regular, closed-toe, not open shoes!)
But he said “Sandals are shoes too!”
Well, I was thinking “shoes” and he was thinking “SHOES” … we were both right. I guess I should have been more specific by saying “My black walking shoes” or something.

But again, if someone asks “Do you have a lot of shoes?” and you own a lot of boots and sandals, you should definitely say “Yes!” Their question is clearly general (SHOES).

Dreams and Goals for 2011

johnny_automatic_mountain_and_stars

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!