Tag Archives: holidays

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.

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!

Continue reading Halloween 2010

Watch Out! It’s April Fool’s Day Again

Last year I wrote about April Fool’s Day. A lot of countries around the world enjoy this holiday, even though there is usually no time off for it. Because it is already April 1 in Australia, Japan, etc., you can already read about this year’s April Fool’s Day Jokes at Wikipedia. Which one do you think is funniest? I’m going to wait until I can read all of them.

No one is sure how April Fool’s Day got started. Some people say it’s because the European calendar was changed in the 1500s, and people who didn’t change their calendar to the new way were “April fools.” Other people think it comes from even older holidays or traditions. It’s probably related to the vernal equinox (the first day of spring, in late March). This day was a joyful holiday in many ancient cultures. We’ll probably never know exactly where it comes from, but it will probably be popular for a long time. People love to play jokes on each other.

The main Wikipedia page about April Fool’s Day tells us about some actual events that caused problems on April Fool’s Day. In 1946, there was a big earthquake on April Fool’s Day. It affected Hawaii and Alaska. More than 150 people died. Some say that people didn’t listen to the tsunami warnings because it was April 1.

If you hear anything shocking on April 1, be careful: you can’t be sure if it’s true or not.

(P. S. Did you read the Harry Potter books? The twins, Fred and George Weasley, have their birthdays on April 1.)

Valentine’s Day in the USA: 3 Good Sites

After the last post about Valentine’s Day, maybe you’d like to learn more about how it’s celebrated in the US.

Rose image by johnny_automatic at openclipart.org

Here are three websites that describe Valentine’s Day. Each site is very different, but all of them are interesting.

  1. This ESL Valentine’s Day Lesson is a great place to start. It has three pages, with pictures, and it’s a good introduction to Valentine’s Day. It’s easy to read.

  2. For an interesting look at the business side of the holiday, the big card company American Greetings has posted an article called The Business of Valentine’s Day, which includes statistics and other information. The level of this article is advanced, written in a news-media style.

  3. Finally, the History Channel (an American cable TV channel) has a huge Valentine’s Day site, including history, videos, quizzes, and more. (Watch out! If you click on the Valentine Videos page, it’ll start to play the video–with sound–right away. So don’t try it at work…) This website is also mostly at an advanced level. Some of the content here is written in an academic style, but other parts are casual and full of slang.

I hope you have a great Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day Differences

Valentine’s Day is coming up this Thursday! Are you ready?

two children making valentines, by johnny_automatic at openclipart.org

Valentine’s Day is celebrated differently around the world. What do you know about Valentine’s Day in the US? Check yourself by taking this quiz!

Regarding Valentine’s Day in America …

  1. … do men and boys receive most of the chocolate?
  2. … do people often give presents to their loved ones?
  3. … do couples often go out to dinner together?
  4. … do many elementary school students give cards to all of their classmates?
  5. … do people only give cards to their romantic partners, and not to friends and family?
  6. … do restaurants offer special dinner menus?
  7. … do most people make their own chocolate to give as gifts?
  8. … does your boss expect you to give him or her a present?
  9. … do you get the day off?
  10. … is it the number one day for buying flowers?
  11. … is chocolate the most popular candy?
  12. … is there another holiday in March called White Day, where men give gifts to women?

Okay, ready?

Here are the answers!

  1. NO! Men can both give and receive chocolate, but women get more chocolate than men.
  2. YES! Jewelry is common, but it can be anything–books, plants, video games, art, gift certificates, a bicycle, or anything that your loved one will enjoy.
  3. YES! I’m planning to go to dinner with my husband.
  4. YES! In my school, each student decorated a shoebox or paperback for receiving valentines. Then, on Valentine’s Day, we had to bring a card for each classmate (so that no one would be sad). Some students also give out candy. Stores carry special cheap cards, which come in a box of 20 or more. These cards have images of cartoon characters like Pokemon and Spongebob, pop stars, sports stars, etc. Children sometimes make valentines using colored paper, stickers, etc.
  5. NO! Some people give cards to their partners and to their children, friends, family members, etc. It depends on the person.
  6. YES! These dinners are often very expensive. They are often a set price and include special extras like champagne, roses, and a special dessert.
  7. NO! Some people do, but almost all people just buy their candy. Popular brands include See’s, Joseph Schmidt, and Godiva. M&Ms and other ordinary brands have special colors and flavors, and very expensive chocolate shops make special candies, too.
  8. NO! Your boss will probably be shocked if you give him or her a gift, since this day is mostly for romance.
  9. NO! Almost no one has this day off, because it’s not a national holiday.
  10. YES! It’s considered a romantic gift. Traditionally, men give roses to the women they love, but there are many other choices depending on the people. Of course, it’s okay for women to give flowers to men, and same-sex couples to each other, etc.
  11. YES! A lot of chocolate is sold for Valentine’s Day, and you can buy special chocolates at all kinds of stores (even gas stations).
  12. NO! White Day was invented in Japan, as far as I know. It is not known or celebrated in American culture–there’s no need for it here since Valentine’s Day is for both men and women to give and receive presents.

How did you score? Did you learn anything new, or did you already know everything? Actually, there’s a lot more to know about Valentine’s Day, because it’s a very old holiday in Europe (where it comes from). In a few days, I’ll post some websites where you can learn more about Valentine’s Day.

P. S. Significant other is a way to refer to “wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner,” etc., without making any guesses about the relationship or the gender of the person. (After all, you often can’t tell by looking if someone is married, gay, etc.) For example, let’s imagine that I have two co-workers, Alice and Scott. If Alice works late every day and never takes a vacation, I might ask Scott this question: “Does Alice have a significant other? It seems like she’s always working, and she’s never mentioned anyone.”

Christmas traditions

Christmas is a huge holiday in the United States. For many people, it’s the most important holiday of the year. (It’s much more important than Thanksgiving for most people who celebrate both.)


However, not everyone celebrates Christmas. For many people, Christmas is a Christian religious holiday. People from other religions often have other winter holidays that they celebrate in November and December, including Yule, Diwali, Hanukkah, etc. Some people celebrate more than one holiday. Other people don’t celebrate any holidays. Some people celebrate in a non-religious way–many people follow Christmas traditions (Christmas trees, presents, etc.) but don’t consider themselves Christians. Because the United States is ethnically and religiously diverse, most people have friends, family, and co-workers who celebrate differently from themselves. That’s why many Americans who do celebrate Christmas feel it is more polite to sometimes say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” If you don’t know what holiday someone celebrates, it’s more considerate to say “Happy holidays” instead of assuming that the person celebrates Christmas. For the same reason, a lot of Americans (including me) send holiday cards that say “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or send different cards depending on the recipient.

There are regional differences in how Christmas is celebrated around the world. Different countries have very different traditions. In the USA, different areas sometimes have regional traditions based on where the local people’s ancestors come from. Different Christian groups also celebrate Christmas differently. Some groups, including Catholics, observe a four-week period called Advent, while most other Christian denominations don’t. Many Americans have backgrounds that include a variety of religions and ethnicities, so they may have a variety of different traditions. That’s true in my family. Our Christmas traditions include gelt, Christmas stockings, mistletoe, eggnog, Christmas crackers, holiday cards, and advent calendars. (You can look up all of these topics on Wikipedia, or just explore the many Christmas-related articles there.)

In countries where Christmas arrived more recently, such as Japan, other traditions have become popular. In Japan, it’s considered a good day for a romantic date, whereas in the USA it’s kept as a day for families and children. Fried chicken is popular for Christmas dinner in Japan, whereas Americans often prepare ham or beef at home, and British people often eat turkey, goose, or duck. Americans often have desserts such as pie or fruitcake (a spiced bread with dried fruit), while in Britain you can buy an iced fruitcake called a Christmas cake–but in Japan, a Christmas cake is a sponge cake that is beautifully iced and topped with fruit or Christmas decorations.

Anyway, I really enjoy Christmas because I like picking out presents for my friends and family, decorating the tree, seeing all of the lit-up houses in town, etc. This year, my husband and I flew to Arkansas to visit our families, so we’re doing lots of Christmas things with them. If we had stayed in California, we would have gone to our friend’s Yule party. What do you enjoy doing in December and January?

Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful month and a happy new year! Happy holidays!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh no, I haven’t posted since Halloween! I’m sorry. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. You can read about Thanksgiving in the United States at Wikipedia (and also in Simple English). An interesting note in the main article is that many Americans associate the day after Thanksgiving with shopping. It’s the day sometimes called Black Friday. A lot of people read the newspaper ads on Thanksgiving (or check various websites) and find special discounts that they want to get. Sometimes people line up for hours to get a very cheap TV, videogame system, etc. Some of the stores can get really crazy.

Because of all the emphasis on buying things, some people think this day reflects the negative materialistic parts of our society. Instead, they promote thoughtfulness and lack of wastefulness through Buy Nothing Day, when they don’t buy anything. I don’t know if I’ll buy stuff on Friday or not!

Anyway, we’ll have four guests tomorrow for Thanksgiving, so the eight of us will eat turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, etc. Tomorrow, you should be able to see lots of Thanksgiving dinner photos on Flickr. Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, I’m still waiting for your comments. Please comment! I need to know that you are reading, so that I will be encouraged to keep writing.