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Holidays (17)

Tuesday, 09 July 2019 20:16

Congratulations Class of 2019!

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Graduation Day is a happy day to celebrate! It normally comes in May or June. In 2019, we celebrate and honor our graduates!


Ricky Li: Ricky began kindergarten by learning British English in Singapore, then in third grade moved to Taiwan where he attended the International Bilingual School at the Hsinchu Science Park (IBSH), where classes were taught in American English and Chinese. That is the school where I taught from 1992-1997, and where Ricky attended a DreyerCoaching Summer English Camp in 2010.  After that camp, Ricky joined our online English classes and kept attending all through school! After sixth grade Ricky transferred from the bilingual school to the rigorous all-Chinese language National Experimental High School, one of the top schools in Taiwan. However, thanks to Ricky's excellent English foundation and his parents' determination to keep him in weekly DreyerCoaching classes, he kept his English at a superb level. Over the years Ricky has invited his two cousins and several friends to improve their English with DreyerCoaching. Since Ricky joined our classes in 2010 and attended non-stop until his high school graduation in 2019, that makes Ricky the longest-attending student in DreyerCoaching history, to date. That itself is a remarkable achievement! Ricky plans to attend Purdue University.  

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Justin Chen: Justin began attending DreyerCoaching classes during middle school as a student at the International Bilingual School in Hsinchu Science Park (IBSH). He has faithfully attended a weekly writing class for many years where he polished his writing and word choice skills. Justin has a special knack for sports writing, and he would excel at that if he pursues that in the future. You can find many of Justin's writings about sports and other topics are in the "writing" section of our blog. Justin invited his sister and many friends to improve their English skills with us. Once when his family went on vacation to Japan, he took his laptop with him and, after a full day of fun and sight-seeing, joined class in the evenings from his hotel room. That shows dedication. He even attended his last DreyerCoaching class which occurred AFTER his high school graduation. That shows MORE dedication. Justin plans to attend Northeastern University in Boston, where he plans to study business. 
















Deron Geng:  Deron came to us when his mother saw a poster about DreyerCoaching on a bulletin board at her church in Hsinchu, Taiwan. He joined us online as an 8th-grader. Since he was born in the US and attended grades 1-2 in Utah, he already had a strong English foundation. His mother later expressed she wanted him to attend high school in the US, so he and his family visited us here in Roanoke, Virginia and they all decided he would live with the Dreyer family and attend Parkway Christian School here, which he did from grades 9-12. Deron ran cross-country all four years in high school, studied martial arts, was active in youth group, attended weekly Bible study, and got his driver's license. Deron plans to attend Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville. (Community Colleges are a wise choice for many students, because the tuition is about one-third that of other universities, and if a student has a certain GPA after two years, they are guaranteed admission to a four-year university. I highly recommend this option for many students.)


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Graduation Night


Matthew Ma: Matthew is from Nanjing, China, and joined his cousin Deron Geng, first online with DreyerCoaching, then later as a high school student at Parkway Christian Academy in Roanoke, Virginia, where he also lived with the Dreyer family from grades 9-12. Matthew's dream was to live in the US so he could learn to communicate with native speakers of English and also experience first-hand American culture and life, which he did. During his high school years he ran cross-country, played baseball, and attended youth group. My wife and I truly enjoyed the red-carpet treatment Matthew and his family gave us when we visited Nanjing for five days in June 2018. Gifted with computers, Matthew plans to study computer science at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Founded in 1839, Longwood University has a beautiful campus and is the third-oldest public university in Virginia and one of the oldest colleges in the United States. 

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 Graduation Party at Smith Mountain Lake. Deron's father (left) and Matthew' father



Ryan Hsiao: Ryan has attended all-Chinese schools all his life, but has learned English after school and on weekends. Even though he attended the rigorous National Experimental High School (NEHS) in the Hsinchu, Taiwan Science Park and earned a near-perfect score on the local entrance exam, high enough to get him into the coveted Taiwan University, Ryan has chosen to attend college in the US. He and his parents realized he needed extra English help to prepare for college in the US, so he has taken intensive classes with DreyerCoaching for over a year, including the summer after high school graduation, to help him hit the ground running in the US. Ryan, Ricky Li (see above), and eight other school buddies made life-time memories right after graduation, when they traveled around Taiwan by bus and train, taking in Taroko Gorge, Kenting Park, and Ali Mountain. They made their own travel, lodging, and meal arrangements as they circled Taiwan for more than a week. That shows great maturity and initiative. Ryan plans to study Psychology at Purdue University.


















Felicia Li: Felicia and Ricky Li (see above) are cousins. We love serving entire families. Felicia lives in Taipei, Taiwan and has attended DreyerCoaching classes faithfully for many years. Felicia has done so well with us, she has encouraged her younger brother to attend classes with us too. A world traveler, she once did volunteer work in a remote village in Mongolia and right after high school graduation visited Vietnam. She has attended our advanced writing and vocabulary classes, where she has continually built her persuasion and word power skills. Felicia has attended schools all her life where Chinese was the language of instruction, but thanks to her diligence, curiosity, and faithful attendance with DreyerCoaching, she has continually built her English foundation.  She plans to attend Durham University in England. Felicia shows us that DreyerCoaching does not only prepare students for university in the US, but all over the world. 


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The entire teaching team and I at are DELIGHTED to see these students be so successful, and for some of the students who have been with us a long time, we feel like we have watched them grow up and have been a part of their transition from childhood to adulthood. Over the years we have discussed vocabulary, reading passages, grammar, current events, politics, the weather, history, holiday traditions and where they come from, etc. We are THANKFUL and BLESSED to have been able to play this role. We teachers do not feel like we have only been "English teachers." We feel like we have shared each others' lives. Many students start with DreyerCoaching, and even study for many years. However, quite a few stop after grade 11. They tell us they are busy with school work, the college application process, etc. and we get it. But something that makes these six graduates stand out is, not only did they start with, but they stayed with it all through grade 12, right until graduation. We believe, when it comes to handling college-level work and adapting to life in the US later on, this extra year of classes will help them greatly.


To the Class of 2019, Congratulations, Thank You, and Godspeed! Stay in touch and keep us informed as you move upward and onward!


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Thursday, 14 February 2019 18:32

Valentine's Day

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February 14 is Valentine's Day in the US and many other countries.


Like many holidays, Valentine's Day has main colors: these are red, pink, and white.


Starting several weeks before February 14, you will start seeing many candies and chocolates for sale. Many are in heart-shaped boxes. For the holiday, many people also give red roses, cards, or other small gifts. Cards sent on this holiday can also be called "Valentines." Many of the cards will say "Be my Valentine." Many people take their loved-one out to eat at a nice restaurant that night, or the weekend before. 


This holiday is also called St. Valentine's Day. The abbreviation "St." can mean "street" or "saint." A saint is a holy person. No one knows for sure how Valentine's Day began, but the most popular story comes from the Roman Empire. At one time, a roman emperor made it illegal to for his soldiers to get married. The emperor thought that single men made the best soldiers, and if a man were married and had children, then his mind would be more on his family and less on fighting for the king. However, an early Christian leader named Valentine broke the law and performed secret weddings, in order to help people. Finally the police caught him and put him in jail. While in jail, he fell in love with the jailer's daughter and wrote her letters, signed "from your Valentine." According to legend, this is how the tradition of sending Valentine cards began. The legend continues that the authorities killed Valentine on February 14 for breaking the law, so that date became his "holy day" and is now the holiday. After all, the word "holiday" comes from "holy day." 

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This page tells you more about Valentine's Day in simple Englislh.

Learn more about the history of this holiday here. (native-speaker level)

Tuesday, 27 November 2018 00:14

Amazing Thanksgiving Story

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When we think of the word "Thanksgiving," lots of names and words come to mind: turkey. Pilgrims. The Mayflower. pumpkin pies.


But do you know the name Squanto? This Native American changed the course of history-- it is a story we need to know!  


Read and listen here.  (Reading level: native speaker)

Monday, 17 September 2018 18:14

Constitution Day

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The word "holiday" usually makes people think of big days like Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter. However, September 17 is a link between holidays and US history: Constitution Day. Americans celebrate it that day because the US founders signed the Constituion on September 17, 1787--four years after the Treaty of Paris ended the US Revolution (aka War of Independence). (A Constitution is a written plan of government, an explanation of how a government will be set up, run, and what freedoms the people have.)  Constitution Day, which celebrates American liberty as free people, also follows just six days after 9/11, a day inflicted on the US by terrorists who hated American freedom.


September 17, 1987 was a big day in the USA--the bicentennial of the signing.  That was also a big time in my personal life; my first month teaching full time.  As a newly-minted history teacher just out of William and Mary and starting my career teaching in Richmond, Virginia, I thought it was important to teach my 11th grade US history students about that bicentennial event. The US Supreme Court judges, President Reagan and some other government leaders were on TV that day to mark the celebration. Wanting my students to be informed, I let them watch the ceremony during class. I remember a few students being interested, but I also remember many putting their heads on their desks to sleep, as I walked around trying to get them to pay attention. Looking back, I see that as a metaphor for our country. We Americans like to enjoy the freedoms our Constitution gives us, but not enough care to pay attention let alone fight to keep those freedoms. (Many teachers quit in the first three years of teaching, and I can see why. I am thankful I did not let those students' apathy discourage me; I have stuck with teaching ever since and it's been a fabulous career working with many fantastic students and families.)


Brief Overview:


The US Revolutionary War was fought from 1775-1783. On July 4, 1776, the US Congress approved the final language of the Declaration of Independence. That is why July 4th is considered "America's birthday." However, the Declaration just explained that Americans wanted to be free from English rule, and why. It also gave the world the name "The United States of America." It did not include a plan for government. Actually, the plan of government that the Americans used during the Revolutionary War was called the Articles of Confederation.  It was a weak system of government. In order to pass a law or raise taxes, all 13 states had to agree--something almost impossible to do, since each state had a distinct identity, communication was slow, and there was very little direct contact among the states. In those early years, the USA was almost more like 13 little, independent countries, that just worked together when it suited them. 

By the mid-1780's, many founders saw the need for a stronger plan of government. England had been defeated and had granted the US their independence by 1783, but the states had a hard time working together.


However, many other American leaders feared a stronger federal (national) government too. They thought: "we just fought an eight-year war to be free from the tyranny of the English king. A strong Constitution might make the states (and thus the people) enslaved to a NEW tyranny-- a strong federal government!"  Patrick Henry of Virginia was a famous example of such a person. When he heard that there was a meeting to create a new Constitution, which he thought would make the national government too strong and thus make the states too weak, he wrote: "I smell a rat."


1787 Meeting in Philadelphia:


A group of founders met in Philadephia, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1787 to improve or strengthen the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they created an entirely new plan! Interestingly, those men met in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...the same building that the founders met in 11 years earlier -- in 1776 -- to debate and write the Declaration of Independence. This makes Independence Hall one of the most famous buildings in the US and the bell that was in its tower, the Liberty Bell, a treasured icon of freedom. (Many are surprised to know there is a Bible verse carved on the Liberty Bell from Leviticus 25:10: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."  This is one more example of the huge role that the Bible and and the Jewish and Christian religions have played in the founding of the USA. Many do not want you to know this today, but it is true.)


Of those who met in Philadelphia that summer, James Madison of Virginia is considered among the most important. He arrived in the city armed with some specific ideas he wanted to see included in the new document and worked hard to see it accomplished, so he is called "The Father of the Constitution." The framers also voted to make George Washington of Virginia the president of the meeting. As the respected general who had led the American forces to victory over the British, his leadership gave immediate credibility to the convention. The crucial roles of Madison and Washington show how Virginia plays a key position in the birth of American civilization and human liberty. Also, since is based in Virginia, when you study English with us, you also learn more about US history and thinking.


The leaders who met in Independence Hall that long, hot summer had a hard time reaching agreements. They came from states as far north as New Hampshire or as far south as Georgia. Some owned slaves and some did not. Some were from big states like Virginia and some were from tiny states like Delaware. Simply put, they had many different views. Many times it seemed their meeting would end in failure, without their creating a new government plan. One of the biggest conflicts was over the issue of representation. That is, how would they decide which states got how much power? For example, the states with large or small populations has very different ideas about how power should be spread out. For example, large states like Virginia wanted power to be based on population. That is, the more people they had, the more power they would have in the government. This was called the "Virginia Plan." In contrast, small states were afraid of being "gobbled up" by the big states and they wanted each state to have equal power. This was called the "Connecticut Plan." For awhile it seemed the discussion would break down. Finally, the framers created  the "Great Compromise." The solution? Congress would have two houses. The House of Representatives would have seats based on population, which made big states happy. Big states like Virginia and New York would have more seats and thus more votes. In contrast, the Senate would give each state the same number of seats, and thus power, so that made the small states feel safe in the new system, that they could defend their interests. This is a wonderful example of how history influences the present: the Congress still has two houses set up this way, till today!


Another concern of the framers was: how to keep the new government from becoming a dictatorship? They had just fought a long war to be free. They knew from studying history, those in power love power and want to keep it.  So, the founders thought of human nature. They reasoned, since human nature makes people selfish and desire power, then the way to prevent the government from becoming a dictatorship is to spread out the power, so no one person or group has all the authority. So, they created a government based on three branches, where each has some power to "check," or control, the others. These closely-related ideas are called "Checks and Balances" and "Separation of Powers."




The new Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, so that is why this date is now called Constitution Day. However, the Constitution did not go into effect right away. The founders required that nine of the original 13 colonies would have to approve, or ratify, the new document before it went into effect.  This was to guarantee that a majority of states agreed to the new plan. Tiny Delaware, believing they would be safer if included in a strong Union, was the first to ratify the document. This is why today Delaware's licence plates say "The First State." (For dates each state ratified the Constitution click here.)


Many do not know this now, but there were FIERY arguments among Americans who supported or opposed the new Constitution. Those in favor were called "Federalists" while those opposed were called "Anti-Federalists."  In general, wealthy, urban areas were pro-federalist while poorer, rural areas were anti-federalist.


The ninth state to ratify the Constitution was tiny New Hampshire, so the Constitution was technically approved. However, the two biggest states at that time-- Virginia and New York-- had not approved it yet, thus making the new plan's survival unlikely. Plus, not only were Virginia and New York big in population, they were  big in areas--stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Appalachian Mountains. So, while these two "giants" were not yet onboard, the nine states of the United States were not even contiguous; that means, they did not even touch each other, so the nation's long-term chances looked slim. It was not till later that summer when Virginia and New York voted to join, the the Constitution appear to be on a strong foundation. (This is one more example of the important role that Virginia has played in US history. And since is based in Virginia, not only do you learn English here, but you learn about US history, life and culture too!)


(Later, in 1860 and 1861, this ratification process was cited by the leaders of the 11 Southern states who voted to seceed, or leave, the Union. Their reasoning was: "Some eighty years ago, our grandfathers debated and voted to let our state join the USA. Now, we the grandsons are also free to debate and vote to LEAVE the Union. In other words, if our state was free to voluntarily join 80-some years ago, we are free to voluntarily LEAVE now." Newly-elected President Lincoln did not see it that way, and the Civil War began in April 1861.)


The Bill of Rights:


So, some American leaders liked this new Constitution while others did not. Later, to get more Americans to agree to support the new plan of government, there was another compromise: Add a Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights, which became the first ten amendments to the Constitution, guarantee personal freedoms such as freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, etc. (Read the Bill of Rights here.) The Bill of Rights was written after the Constitution, as a separate document. However, since it was the first part added to the Constitution and made it more popular, the Bill of Rights is seen as a critically-important part of the Constitution. (Source)  Many do not know this today, but the 10th Amendment reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This means several things. For one, the Constitution was designed to be LIMITED in nature. In other words, unless it specifically grants a power ot the federal government, all other authority rests with the states and the people. Also, it shows the supremacy of the states. (source)  (Many tell you that slavery was the main cause of the US Civil War in 1861, but that is not true. Lincoln allowed slavery to continue in Union states such as Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri for the whole war. A more accurate explanation for the cause of the Civil War was: who would win the tug of war of power: the states or federal government?) The Union victory over the South at Appomattox, Virginia in 1865 sealed the federal goverment as supreme over the states, and since the New Deal of the 1930's, this trend has accelerated.)


Today, it is crucial that we understand the role of the US Constitution. The USA is not  a perfect country by any means--far from it. However, we should know that the US Constitution, dating to 1787, is the longest-used Constitution of any country in the world today!


The Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and many other crucial documents are on display in the National Archives in Washington D.C. 


Some threats to the Constitution and our liberties today:


  • Twisting the language: Many like to call the Constitution "a living and breathing document." That sounds good, and yes, the Constitution CAN and DOES change to meet changing times. Specifically, amendments can be added to address specific needs. For example, later amendments have banned slavery, given women the right to vote, etc. However, some people twist that phrase into something like: The Constitution can be interpreted into whatever we want it to mean. Some even say, "The Constitution means whatever the judges say it means, or the judges WANT it to say."  (source) In contrast, "Originalists" are those who insist one must read and interepret the Constitution based on what the founders intended, and on the original intent of the document.


  • Out-of-Control Presidency: Also, over the years, the role of the US President has grown very large, probably far larger than the framers intended. If you read the Constituion for yourself, you will see that Article I establishes a legislative branch, with two houses of Congress. Article I is the longest and most-detailed part of the Constitution. Since the text setting up Congress comes first and has the most information, most believe that the founders wanted Congress to be the most powerful of the branches. In contrast, the president is not discussed till Article II, and the judicial branch comes in Article III. As I write this on Constitution Day 2018, the US "trade war" with China and many other countries is in the news. However, the Constitution says that CONGRESS has the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations." It is not President Trump's authority to oversee trade, but Congress' job! (source) A few years President Obama declared his "DREAMERS" act to legalize some people in the US illegally, but that was also not in his jurisdiction. It is the job of Congress to write immigration law, not the president's to just declare it. (source) The other night while driving I was listening to some radio news, and the "talking heads" were lamenting: "Why won't Congress do its Constitutional duty and stand up to President Trump?" I remember thinking: why complain about it now? Congress has been passive and letting presidents have way too much power for most of my  lifetime--why are you waking up to this problem only now?


  • "Hate Speech": A tricky thing about "hate speech" is...what is it? And who decides what "hate speech" is? Beginning in the 1990's and getting stronger and stronger, much "free speech" is being stifled because someone somewhere might label it "hate speech." Nowadays, it seems many think that if you say or write something that might "offend" one person or make one person "feel uncomfortable," then you should not be able to say it. This thinking is especially true on many college campuses, which is ironic, because a university should be a place to argue and debate MORE ideas, not fewer. The group FIRE works hard to defend free speech, especially on campuses.


Want to study more about the US Constitution yourself? Hillsdale College in Michigan offers a FREE online class, "Introduction to the Constitution." Check it out here.


Thanks for reading! Want to know more about English and life in the USA? Join one of our online classes today. Contact me to find out more!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 19:59

9/11 Patriot Day

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America's New Holiday


"Holidays." The word brings happy images to most people.  Holidays include Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year, and so many more.  But in the USA, September 11, also called 9/11, is a sad holiday, now called "Patriot Day."


Older Americans--those born around the mid-1950's and earlier--remember where they were when they heard JFK was shot in 1963


Even older Americans--those born in the early 1930's and earlier--remember where they were when they heard of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Also, most Americans born before the early 1990's remember where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001, when they heard of the news of the terrible terrorist attacks.


I remember that day well.  After a hot Virginia summer, that Tuesday morning was suddenly cool and comfortable, with a beautiful clear, blue sky. I rode my bike that morning like normal to my job teaching 9th grade high school history, and the ride was refreshing and pleasant.

That year my planning period was first period in the morning, so as the 11th grade history teacher was lecturing in the classroom, I went back to our department office so I could do some lesson planning. The phone rang, and it was the wife of the 11th grade teacher.

"Is Dave there?" she asked.

"Yes, but he's teaching next door right now-- can I take a message?" I asked.

She responded: "Yes, tell him I just heard the news that a plane crashed into a building in New York City just now."  As I remember, I think she also suggested we turn on the TV to watch the news ourselves.

I told her I would pass the news on to him and hung up. Hearing that news, I imagined such a crash as being an accident; I could not fathom someone actually flying a plane into a building to kill people!

I went into the classroom and apologized for interrupting, but told the teacher his wife had just called and wanted me to tell him about the plane crash. As I remember, the teacher asked the class for a moment of silence, then we turned on the TV.  The crash had occured at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time, (Virginia, Washington D.C. and New York are in the same time zone), so we all sat in stunned, silent disbelief to see smoke pouring from the side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in downtown New York. At that point, I was still thinking, "this must have been some terrible accident."  I even remember thinking: "The sky is a clear blue up there in New York, just like here in Roanoke. How could a plane fly into a building? The visibility is excellent!"


There are two English idioms, "right out of the blue" or "a bolt from the blue," that both refer to a total shock, the same way a person would never expect to see a bolt of lightning come from a clear, blue sky. That is how we all felt that morning: the attack was truly "right out of the blue," a surprise plane crash on a clear day with excellent visibility.


Then at 9:03, as we all stared at the TV, we saw a second jet crash into the South Tower, setting off a tremendous fireball! The TV news reporters started yammering in shock, as surprised as the rest of us. That was when we all knew this was no "accident" -- we were under a deliberate attack! Even more shocked, we all sat, glued to the TV

Then, the news broke in: a jet had crashed at the Pentagon! Soon we saw a split screen on the TV: one side showed smoke pouring out from both World Trade Center (WTC) towers, and the other side showed smoke billowing from the Pentagon! The terrorists had not only hit the US, they had also hit our state of Virginia!

(In the years since, when discussing the events of 9/11, I often ask my students, "What places were hit on 9/11?"  Everyone knows that New York was a target, but many others also answer "Washington D.C." But that is wrong. The Pentagon is in Virginia. Since it is the main building for the Defense Department, a major part of the US government, most people associate it with Washington. However, the Pentagon is on the south side of the Potomac River, right across from the famous Jefferson Memorial, so it is actually on Virginia soil.)

Later, as we all sat in shocked disbelief, other rumors began to spread. "Planes hit Washington D.C.!" "Planes are falling down in other places too!" By late morning we heard that a jet plane had crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania

At some point during the day, the school superintendent sent out the order: ALL TV's in all the schools must be turned off. All of us, students and teachers alike, were upset, because we wanted to know what was happening, plus we thought we NEEDED to know. Also, we knew history was happening that day. Yet, we needed to obey the orders, so the TV's went off. (It may sound crazy to young people who grew up in a world where wifi is everywhere and cell phones are like "mini-computers," but as recently as 2001, the TV was still a main source of information, so when the TV went off, our main source of news in the classroom was what we could get on the radio--a technology from the 1920's!) Needless to say, all we could think about and talk about the rest of the day were the horrific attacks we had just seen.

(The next day we found out why the superintendent had ordered all TV's off-- it turns out, some teachers of kindergarten and first grade classes -- unbelievably -- had their TV's on too and were letting the small children watch those terrible images. So, to protect the younger children, all TV's were to be shut off.)



President George W. Bush


That morning, President George W. Bush had been in the US state of Florida, reading books to young children. That night on the news we saw images of him when an aide whispered to him about the attacks, and he quickly left the room. then back to his airplane, Air Force One.  Read here to find out more about what President Bush did and where he went on that fateful day.   Even his advisors thought the first attack might have been an accident, and it was only when the second plane hit that they realized it had been terrorism. His advisers' first concern was the president's safety and they thought him returning to Washington could put him at risk.  Still, against his advisers' wishes, Bush insisted he go back to the White House House by that evening.

On the night of 9/11, President Bush spoke to the nation on TV, and in his speech he recited the 23rd Psalm from the Bible. In other words, in the early days of the 21st century, when America was reeling from a brutal shock, President Bush reached back 3,000 years to quote a Psalm from the Jewish King David.  (Recently Chinese students have asked me about the role of God, Christianity and the  Bible in the U.S. government. The role is huge and historic, too much to address here, but Bush quoting from the Bible that night, in America's darkest hour, shows the respected role the Bible holds in American public life.)


One of the first things Bush did after the attacks was demand that ALL non-military planes be grounded, for days. In those early hours, with plane after plane crashing, no one knew how many more hijackers were out there, so to reduce the risk, all planes landed. team teacher Mr. Woodson and his wife were flying from the US to Taipei, Taiwan that day, and got stuck in the US state of Michigan for four days. Even President George Bush Senior, George W. Bush's father, was flying that day and was grounded mid-trip. All across America, as flights were stopped for four days, people were scrambling to rent cars or get on buses or trains to get to their destinations.


Read Mr. Woodson's first-hand account here in his own words. (Note: In history studies, a "secondary source" comes from an author writing about an event that he or she learned about but did not observe personally. For example, books written today about Abraham Lincoln are secondary sources. In contrast, a "primary source" comes from an author writing about an event that he or she saw or experienced first-hand. Examples include diaries, letters, records, and photographs. Mr. Woodson's account below, and my personal observations in this post, are all primary sources, and these are of special value in the study of history.)


Sept. 11th, 2001 was the day we were to leave Virginia for Taiwan  where I planned to work for several years as a university English teacher. My wife, 7 yr. old daughter, and I flew out of Richmond around 8:30 that morning, heading for Detroit where we were to change to our flight from the U.S. to Asia. Thankfully, the one and a half hour flight was uneventful, and we landed safely in Detroit around 10 a.m. When the plane came to a stop at the gate where we were to disembark, the pilot calmly made this short announcement, "There's been some terrorist activity; it's going to be an interesting day." 

Only after we disembarked and entered the terminal did we passengers realize the gravity of his message. The videos playing on every TV monitor showed what had happened a couple of hours earlier. Everyone watched in utter disbelief at the visions of collapsing towers and a burning section of the Pentagon. When we finally regained some composure, we headed to our airline's information desk to find out what to do next. We were informed that all flights were cancelled until further notice, and that we should arrange to leave the airport by ground travel or stay in a local hotel until flights resumed. Our check-on baggage would be held for us, but we would not have access to it. 
We were fortunate enough to get a room in a local hotel, so checked in there with our carry-on baggage. The sky was blue on this lovely September day, but the only things that flew around the Detroit airport for the next 4 days were birds. Finally, our carrier informed us that we would be able to leave on our Asian flight, so we boarded the second international flight out of Detroit International Airport after 9/11. Our extraordinary travel experience wasn't over, however, because we arrived in Taipei airport on the eve of a typhoon that brought the worst flooding Taipei had experienced in 50 years! 
A dear friend who serves with Youth With A Mission picked us up from the airport and transported us to an apartment in Dan Shui where we stayed for a few days until the storm subsided. Thankfully, the university I had interviewed with back in August hired me to teach English in their Language Center, and I spent the next five years doing that and having an enjoyable time living with my family in Taipei. 


Even years later, I still remember the odd but reassuring feeling to be in my home in Roanoke, Virgina, at night, and again hear planes in the sky, after days of silence. It's funny how so many "little things" of life we actually miss, when they are gone.


United Flight 93 


Most of the attention on 9/11 was on the twin towers of the WTC, with somewhat less attention on the Pentagon. After all, most of the dead were in New York. Of all four crashes, the least attention had been placed on the last, mainly because that plane crashed into an empty field. All on board were killed, but at least none on the ground were. Why? In the days and weeks after the attacks, we began to learn more.


On 9/11, there were 19 hijackers-- but the original terrorist plot had called for 20. As it turned out, US intelligence had flagged one hijacker as dangerous and he was not allowed on the plane. (Many have since asked, why were the other 19 allowed to board? How can we make the US more secure against future attacks?)    As it turned out, the one hijacker kept off a flight was kept off of Flight 93. So, of the four planes, that one only had four hijackers on-board, not five. Plus, since Flight 93 was the last one to be hijacked, the passengers had already heard of the previous three crashes. (In all the years before 9/11, the conventional wisdom about hijackers was: Be calm, and do what they say. The idea was, people hijack planes to make some statement or get some political goal, so just be calm and you'll eventually be released. This is why, on the first three hijacked flights, we do not know of anybody trying to fight back.  Plus, with five terrorists aboard armed with knives, box cutters, and pepper spray or mace, the passengers were probably too petrified to move, let alone try to fight back.)  9/11 was the first time the world was introduced to SUICIDAL hijackers who wanted to die!) Imagine the horror those passengers experienced when they got cell phone calls and messages about planes being taken over then flown into the WTC and Pentagon. Then, imagine THEIR horror when THEIR plane was hijacked over Ohio and it started flying back east!


Todd Beamer  was a 32-year-old from Michigan, flying on Flight 93 that day.  When he got the awful news of the other attacks, and the terrorists had taken over his plane, he tried to call his wife and tell her he loved her, but because it was so early, he could not reach her.  (In fact, since the four planes were all flying early in the morning from the East Coast to the West Coast, it was about 6 a.m. on the West Coast, so many passengers tried to call home in their last moments but only got to leave messages on their answering machines!)  When Beamer, a white male, could not reach his wife, he spoke with the phone operator, Lisa Jefferson, a black woman.  Beamer and Jefferson, who did not know each other, prayed the Lord's Prayer together. Both were Christians and Americans, which shows that their belief in Jesus and identity as Americans is greater than gender or skin color. You can read Jefferson's inspirational story here


After they prayed together, Todd Beamer famously said "Let's Roll" as a few other courageous passengers and crew members and he rose up and fought the hijackers. Stewardess Sandy Bradshaw filled pitchers with boiling water to use in the counter-attack. Had there been the full five terrorists on-board, the killers would have had the advantage, but with only four, that gave the passengers a fighting chance. The plane weaved in the sky as both sides fought for control. Sadly, the passengers lost because, unlike the terrorists, they had no weapons. But, by going after the cockpit, the passengers forced the terrorists to ditch the plane over an empty field, thus saving their desired target-- most likely the U.S Capitol building. As AWFUL as 9/11 was-- and it was awful-- it would have been FAR WORSE if the fourth plane had hit the U.S. Capitol, home to the U.S. Congress! That building, with its huge dome on an exposed hill in Washington, D.C, was a sitting duck.  The U.S. Capitol dome, which was half-completed when Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, is one of America's most beloved and iconic structures.


It is interesting and ironic. With all the first responders going in to help and the massive US military response after 9/11, the first counter-attack against terrorism on 9/11 was NOT done by the police, the army, the air force, or any armed force. It was not organized by any general or police chief. The FIRST counter-attack was done by brave, unarmed, "normal" people who happened to be traveling on Flight 93 that day!  An important part of the traditional "American mindset" is "taking action" and "doing what you need to do." Those people on Flight 93 were heroes who gave their lives by fighting back, and saving the U.S. Capitol and hundreds if not thousands of other lives on the ground.   (See the Flight 93 flight map here.)

The terrorists, though they had twisted thinking, had clear symbolism with their targets. The twin towers of the WTC, near Wall Street and the US stock market, represent America's economy and free market. The Pentagon, main office of the Defense Deparement, represents America's military and ability to defend freedom. Lastly, the Capitol, home to the U.S. Congress (the House of Representatives and Senate), represents our free and democratic way of government.   The terrorists were also diabolical in their choice of flights to take over. All four began on the East Coast and were to fly to California; so, all four were full of the maximum amount of jet fuel which would make the biggest and most deadly fireballs possible. 


Today there is a Flight 93 Memorial, a National Park unit, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. President Trump spoke there on 9-11-2018. Watch the full speech here.  President Trump in his speech referred to "radical Islamic terrorism" as being the force behind the attacks, which of course is the case. In contrast, President Obama would never utter those words together. 


Immediate Aftermath


  • In the days and even weeks after 9/11, most Americans just stayed home after work or school, staring at the TV news, hardly able to take it in. The news kept running images from that horrific day and interviewing people who had lived through it. Sunday church attendance nationwide went way up, for awhile.


  • Just three days after the attack, President Bush went to "Ground Zero" in New York, where the twin towers had stood, and gave his now-famous "bullhorn speech," where he thanked the first responders and called for American resolve. It was an iconic scene and moment.


  • Later, with so many people just staying at home, President Bush urged Americans to go out to eat and to go on vacation.  Stimulate the economy!  Trying to support the president and my country, I took my family out to an Italian restaurant for dinner a few days after 9/11.  I remember it was half-empty, but we tried to do our part. That was ironic too: in wars past, such as WW II, it was patriotic to save and NOT buy things, but this time it was patriotic to spend money and buy things! I remember big yellow signs by some motels reading "THANKS FOR TRAVELING."


  • Since the WTC was right next to Wall Street, this area of lower New York City is America's financial capital. Since everyone was in shock that day and to prevent a market collapse, the US Stock Market did not open on 9-11-2001, and in fact remained closed until September 17--the longest closure since 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression! When the stock market reopened, it dropped by 7.1%, the biggest one-day loss in history. When the markets closed that Friday, stocks had dropped over 14% just that week! (source)


  • Furthermore, the entire U.S. tourism industry suffered -- especially Hawaii, because you have to fly to get there. It took months for flights to get back to full-booking again. After all that had happened, many people were afraid to get on a plane, and some still are!


  • Watching the attacks that day--first the billowing smoke and fire, then the horror of seeing both skyscrapers collapse--we were wondering: how many people are trapped inside?! Tragically, many jumped to their deaths rather than burn to death inside. The first death estimates were around 6,000, considering how many people would normally be at work during office hours in those two skyscrapers. The eventual death count for the day was 2,977 killed--the vast majority (2,753) was killed in the WTC, but also 184 were killed inside the Pentagon, and all passengers and crew aboard all four planes perished too. (source). (In contrast, 2,335 US military personnel were killed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.) The terrorists wanted it to be an "attack on America," which it was, but it was also an attack on the WORLD, when you consider that 27 killed were citizens of other countries, and countless others had either dual-citizenship or had been born overseas but had since gotten US citizenship (source).   Sadly, the death toll has gone up since then, because many people later got cancer or other diseases from their exposure to harmful chemicals and smoke that day. Many still suffer from health problems from 9/11.


  • As people discussed the attack, some told stories of people they knew who had been involved. I distinctly remember one day while I was seated in the hallway of our high school building, on hall duty. One woman I worked with--she was involved with gifted eductation in our school system--stopped by to chat. While discussing 9/11, she told me she had lost a niece in the attack on the Pentagon. I was stunned. She told me her niece had been a secretary in the Pentagon, where she prepared reports and made coffee for the generals and staff. Her office had been at the spot where the third plane had crashed, killing her instantly. My friend continued, adding that of course her family was heartbroken, but that "she was ready to go." My friend explained that her niece had been a strong Christian and knew Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, and so her family knew she was in "a better place," and that gave them tremendous comfort.


  • The woman I co-taught with that year (She taught English while I taught history) is married to a firefighter. She told me that although 9/11 had shocked the whole nation, her husband and all firefighters were especially torn up. That was because first responders (police and firefighters) paid a very heavy price that day; many died rescuing others. She explained: "Did you see all the news? While everyone else was running AWAY from the danger, to be safe, all the first responders were running TO the danger, to try to help as many people as they could." Those first responders were among the many heroes of that day.


  • Right after the 9/11 attacks, Americans began to ask: who was behind all this? US intelligence pointed to the terrorist group the Taliban, based in Afghanistan. President Bush demanded Afghanistan turn over Osama bin Laden and close its terrorist bases, but Taliban-controlled Afghanistan refused. So, on October 7, 2001--less than a month after 9/11--US and British forces invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to find bin Laden and stop the terrorist training there. US forces later found and killed bin Laden hiding in Pakistan, but as I write this update in 2018, US forces are still fighting-- and dying-- in Afghanistan, 17 years after 9/11--that is more than FOUR TIMES LONGER than the time period between Pearl Harbor and the end of World War II!



Since 9/11


  • I have been a teacher since 1987, and a major teachers' union, the National Education Association (NEA) often issues lesson plans and ways for teachers to discuss and approach certain issues in classrooms. The NEA has a strong left-wing political bias, and they shocked many people when, in the year after the 9/11 attacks, they told teachers they should not "assign blame" for the attacks. Many thought: that's crazy! Are we supposed to believe the attacks "just happened," they way you might teach about an earthquake or tornado?   The attacks were a deliberate act; here are the 19 hijackers, the faces of hatred.


  • As soon as flights resumed after 9/11, airport security was heightened. Passengers were told to report to airports much earlier, to allow for the longer and more thorough screenings. Most passengers do not like the annoyance but realize it is now necessary. Overall border security went way up too. I remember pre-9/11, a whole carload of people could cross the border between the US and Canada if just the driver only showed a driver's license. That was just one example of the long-standing friendship between our two countries. No more. Now, each person needs an actual passport. As part of heightened security, President Bush and Congress created a new government agency: the Department of Homeland Security  


  • Every year since 2001, there have been annual observances in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 


  • September 11 is now a new holiday: Patriot Day. (Note: do NOT confuse this with Patriots' Day. That is a state holiday in Massachusetts and some other parts of New England, on the third Monday in April, to remember the April 19, 1775 battles between American "minutemen" and the British soldiers going to take away American guns and gunpowder. Those first fights at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, are seen as the beginning of the American Revolution, or War of Independence.)


  • It may seem odd, but within just a few years after 9/11, the news media largely stopped showing images of the massive fireballs from the twin towers. In their annual coverage, they show images of presidents giving speeches or people crying or placing flowers by a monument, but the fireball image--the iconic scene from that day--is noticeably absent. Do not take my word for it. Watch your own 9/11 coverage and decide for yourself. Why do you think that is? I have my ideas, but I invite you to think over it and come to your own conclusion.  (Photograph by Spencer Platt-- source)

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  • On 9/11 now, many people fly US flags, even at their home, and many flags are at half-staff.


  • Because of the attacks, many people chose to move away from New York City because they thought it was going to be too dangerous of a target in the future. In fact, many people left other big cities too, like Chicago, Los Angeles and others, for the same reason. (Of course, far more stayed than moved away.) Small world: just today I was speaking on the phone with a man I had never met before. We were chatting and he mentioned he had moved to Southwest Virginia in 2002 from New York City, and I asked him what had led to that change. He told me, "After 9/11, I decided I wanted to live in a safer area, so we moved to Bedford County and we live on Smith Mountain Lake. We raised our family here." When I asked him how he felt about the move, he said he had made the right choice. "The people here are kind and gracious, and I have been to many places in my life, and this area is by far my favorite." So as we wrap up this post about 9/11, it is a blessing to finish with the story of a man for whom that catastrophe led to a new place of residence and a whole new way of life. 


For another account of that fateful September 11, read this blog


This post is written and dedicated to the 9/11 victims and their families. Reflect and Remember.


Thank you for reading. If you would like to know more about the English language, contact me at to register for an English class and to learn more about life in the USA.


Wednesday, 04 July 2018 01:25

July 4th

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The 4th of July!

It's America's birthday!

The United States of America counts its birth from July 4, 1776.


Why is that a special day?


From the many years from 1607, when the English created their first permanent colony in the New World at Jamestown, Virginia, until 1776, England controlled most of the eastern part of North America. Called the 13 colonies, these colonies, from Georgia in the South to New Hampshire in the North, took their orders from London. The first settlers who came from England to live in America brought their culture, Christian religion, and of course language, with them. That's why the USA is an English-speaking country today, and it explains why you are reading this blog in English right now! (See how history influences the present?) Anyway, those early settlers thought of themselves as Englishmen living in America...but still Englishmen!   At that time, the decision to move from Europe to America was nearly irreversible. Once you got on the ship, you knew you would probably never go back to Europe again. So, eventually those first English settlers married, had children, and died in America. Their children almost never traveled to Europe, but because they had heard their parents talk about English often, they too thought of themselves as in America. But over the years and decades, something happened. It was gradual, not sudden, but with each passing generation, the mindset slowly changed. More and more, many of the people of European descent in America no longer thought of themselves as English, or Germans, French, or Dutch, etc....but rather as something new: Americans. 


So, with the passing of the years, England and the Americans slowly drifted apart. Yes, both spoke English and ships regularly traveled back and forth acros the ocean, but since America was so far from England, and it took months for ships to travel that far, and since Americans had to solve their own urgent problems like Indian attacks, building roads, and running schools, etc., the Americans slowly began to take more responsibility for their own lives and did not look to England for as much protection and guidance.


So, by the 1760s and 1770s, when the English King George III kept putting more controls and taxes on the American colonists, there was more and more American anger!


At first the anger was in the forms of protests, letter-writing, etc., but eventually it became violent, like in the Boston massacre and finally open fighting took place at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775. That was called "The shot heard round the world."  See the video!    War had begun between American citizens and English soldiers.


But even though war had begun, the 13 colonies still belonged to England! For that reason, delegates from the 13 colonies met in what is now called Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to discuss possible independence.  The debates went back and forth for weeks. Finally, the delegates agreet to have a team of five members write a Declaration of Independence, claiming that the United States of America is an independent country, and explaining why we had the right to break away from England. The main author of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. You can read the Declaration of Independence here.  You may notice that the Declaration of Independence has many references to God. 


In fact, the delegates voted for independence on July 2, but since they did not vote to accept the Declaration of Independence until July 4th, that day is now considered the USA national day. This is ironic. The actual vote for independence was on July 2, and Founding Father John Adams thought THAT would become the actual independence day. This is how he described July 2nd in a letter to his wife, Abigail: July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” 

However, since the delegates voted to approve the Declaration of Indepenence on July 4th, that has since become Americans' national day. Read more about it from


Another interesting and ironic story: Founding Fathers John Adams (the second president) and Thomas Jefferson (the third president) worked together in the summer of 1776 to write and approve the Declaration of Independence. However, after the US won its independence and both men became political leaders in the new country, they developed a bitter rivalry.  Many years later as old men, however, they buried the hatchet and became friends again. As old men, they wrote friendly letters to each other. Ironically, not only did they die on the same day, it was July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the birth of the United States of America. Read more about this odd coincidence here


This video explains why we have fireworks on July 4th!


Even though the delegates voted for Independence, King George III of England did not care.  He ordered armies and fleets to America, to crush the rebellion.  This led to about five more years of warfare, called the  American Revolution or the War of Independence.  The main American general of that war was George Washington, of Virginia, and the final main battle was Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.  Do you see the Role of Virginia in USA history?!  So when you study with, based in the US state of Virginia, not only do you learn more about English, but you learn more about American culture, history, and thinking too!


How do Americans celebrate the 4th of July today?


July 4 is a national holiday. This means there is no mail, and all banks, schools and government offices are closed. Many private businesses are closed too. Since many people have the day off from work, they are able to spend the time with their family and friends. Here are some of the many things Americans do to celebrate that day. 

  • Because it's summer, many people go to WATER-- pools, rivers, lakes, or beaches!  (See our family's cook-out by the lake, with steaks on the grill!)


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  • wear red, white and blue clothing or hats


  • be thankful for our freedoms. In English we have a saying, "Freedom is not free." The USA is independent, and has remained so for over 200 years, because of the brave soldiers who first won and later defended those liberties. Sometimes it's easy to focus on the food and fun but forget the meaning, and this cartoon reminds us that LIBERTY is the meaning of the day. 


  • watch fireworks at night. It's usually hot during the day on July 4th in much of the USA, so it feels great to go out at night, after it gets dark and cool, spread out a blanket on the ground with your family and friends, and look up at the sky and watch the great fireworks. Cities,  towns, businesses, and churches across the USA sponsor firework shows at night.  See the fireworks below in Roanoke, Virginia, where is headquartered. 

Here is a video from the July 4th fireworks and music in Washington, DC. 


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Learn more about July 4th:  (intermediate level) (intermediate level--reading, listening, and comprehension exercises)

Voice of America (advanced level)

This day in history (advanced level)


Thanks for reading! I hope this gives you a better understanding of how most Americans celebrate our national day, July 4. Do you want to improve your English or understanding of life in the USA? Contact me today to find out how to join an online English class, right to your home or office, anywhere in the world!  Find out how our classes run by reading this.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018 18:40

Memorial Day

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What is Memorial Day & how did it start?


In the United States, we celebrate Memorial Day. It always falls on the last Monday of May. On Memorial Day, we remember all the soldiers who have died while fighting for our country. The first Memorial Day was held in May 1868, at Arlington National Cemtery, in Virginia, right across the Potomac River from Washington DC. Visitors places flowers on the graves of both Union (North) and Confederate (South) soldiers who had died in the US Civil War that had ended just three years earlier. 


How do Americans observe Memorial Day?


People wave flags and hang them from their porch. Many people hang their flag at half-mast on that day, to honor the fallen. (Below see a flag at half mast at a popular fast food restaurant, Chick-fil-A, to honor the loss of First Lady Barbara Bush.)  We also have Veterans Day, in November. Veterans Day honors everyone who has ever served in the United States military, whether they survived battle or not. However, Memorial Day specifically honors those who have died while serving their country in the US military.

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Because Memorial Day is a national holiday and it falls on Monday, a week day, many businesses and activities are closed. (In the USA, we have about a half-dozen holidays that always fall on a Monday. This is so we Americans can have more beloved "three-day weekends," when we get a break from Friday afternoon till Tuesday.) As with many other holidays, including Christmas and Easter, the initial purpose of the holiday has been lost, or made less important, over the years. For example, Memorial Day is thought of as the unofficial start of the summer. Some schools end their year the Friday before Memorial Day. Outdoor pools  open on Memorial Day, and since the weather is usually warm by late May, many people go to a nearby lake, river, or have a cook-out that weekend. Stores have Memorial Day or Memorial Day Weekend (the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Memorial Day) sales featuring low prices for summer clothes. The city that hosts the headquarters of, Roanoke, Virginia, hosts Festival in the Park on Memorial Day Weekend.


These are all terrific activities and a great way to spend time with family and friends. It can also be great weather, a great reason to spend some time outside. But Memorial Day was enacted to remember the soldiers who paid the ultimate price to protect our freedom and ability to live in the United States. It is because of them that we can have Memorial Day activities. In many towns, there is a parade downtown on Memorial Day with a military band like this one


Learn more about Memorial Day by listening to and reading this short message; it is GREAT way to practice your listening skills.  



These two political cartoons show us how people's thoughts about Memorial Day have become less focused on the soldiers and more focused on the activities. Being able to interpret a political cartoon and identify the symbolism, irony, and overall message is a great intellectual skill. It is a fine way to keep your mind sharp


This cartoon has a man grilling his food, making sure he has everything ready for the Memorial Day picnic. He doesn't want to forget anything, but the picture reminds us he is forgetting about all the soldiers who have died.


This cartoon connects Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. It is because of the soldiers who died, the ones we should celebrate on Memorial Day, that we have anything to be thankful for. 

Wednesday, 09 May 2018 18:23

Mother's Day

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Mother's Day is a major holiday in many countries of the world, on the second Sunday in May. It is a major holiday in both the USA and Canada, but since it is always falls on a Sunday, it does not usually change one's work or school schedule.


Mother's Day is a day to honor and thank one's mother, and in many families, also a grandmother. Since it is always on a Sunday, that usually makes it easier for families to get together.


How we celebrate it in the USA

Like most holidays, different families celebrate in different ways. And of course, there are some people who do not celebrate the holiday. Maybe they have, for whatever reason, painful memories or experiences regarding their mother, or motherhood. However, there are some common ways this day is marked.

  • Church attendance: Since Mother's Day is always on a Sunday, many families go to church together, and the children or grandchildren sit with their mom or grandmother. Many people who do not attend church regularly as a habit, will go on this day, to support mom, so church attendance is usually higher on this day than normal Sundays.


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  • Church activities: Most churches recognize Mother's Day in several ways. In many if not most, the clergyman will deliver a sermon, or message from the Bible, based on the role and importance of mothers. (It is widely recognized, that in many churches, women are more active in attendance and participation than men, so women play a crucial role in church as they do in family.) The Bible teaches that mothers are important. Proverbs 31:28-19 reads:

Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.” (NIV)               


Read it in Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese




 In many churches, the congregation will give each mother a small gift, or maybe the children of the church will enter the sanctuary and give each mom a small gift, like a hand-drawn picture or a flower. In many churches, the pastor will ask questions to honor certain mothers: Who is the youngest mother here today? Who is the most experienced mother? (This is a nice way of saying, "Who is the oldest mother?") Which mother has the most children? Which mother has a child the furthest away? (Once the pastor at the church my parents attend in Virginia asked this question. My mom raised her hand, because I was in Taiwan, but another woman raised hers too, because she had a son in Germany, serving in the US Army. At that point, a discussion erupted: Which is further away, Taiwan or Germany? To which my dad answered, "I think Taiwan is about as far away as you can get, until you start coming back again." That year, mom won that prize.)  A student from Germany recently spent three weeks with us here, and he said, at his church in Germany, all the members have a cook-out for Mother's Day after the Sunday service.


Take a look at this video from a US church service on Mother's Day: and the woman who is speaking and singing knows a lot about Mother's Day--she has 7 kids!


  • Lunch together: It is common for families to eat lunch together on Mother's Day. (Most moms say they do NOT want to cook or wash dishes that day!)  So, most restaurants are packed. After several years' of bad experiences waiting for hours in crowded, noisy restaurants, our family eats our Mother's Day meal at home, but the men and children in the family are responsible for the meal--and the clean up.

I do not pretend to be a gourmet chef, but I did not want my wife or mom to have to cook on Mother's Day. So, we plan to grill hot dogs and hamburgers, and I made this bean salad so we'd have something healthy to go with it.

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Mrs. Dreyer's 3-bean Salad:(healthy, quick, AND easy!)














  • Cards and Gift: Most children and husbands get a nice card and gift for mom. Common gifts include flowers, chocolates, new clothes, gift cards to mom's favorite restaurant or store, etc. When children are on their own and away from home, they might ship a gift to mom, or at least call her on the big day.

Here are some flowers that some of our children gave their mother for Mother's Day: they knew purple is their mom's favorite color! 

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Watch how these two young men answer the question, "What does Mother's Day mean to you?"

This is very funny at Mother's Day or almost any time, because "The Mom's Song" takes many things a mom (or dad) will tell a child in 24 hours, and reduce it to 3 minutes. Take a listen! (And you can read the lyrics too--it's fast!)



Many years ago I heard a story from family expert Dr. James Dobson, that has always been in my mind. This story is from many decades ago, before the age of computers and cell phones, when people made calls from phone booths. He said that a card company, I think Hallmark, wanted to do something good for society so they brought a phone line into a prison for a day, to let each inmate make a free call to his or her mom, for Mother's Day. The outreach was more successful than any company executive had dreamed, because all the prisoners came to the courtyard and stood in line for hours, to call mom. In fact, the event was so successful, the company leadership decided to redo the offer in June, for Father's Day. However, that time, the outreach was a failure. Why? Only a few prisoners came out to call dad; instead, most stayed in their cells. Dr. Dobson said this story illustrates how important a role moms have, in that those prisoners all wanted to call mom on that day. However, the story also shows how important fathers are; in this case, most prisoners either did not have a dad, or did not have a good relationship with their father, so they did not bother to call home. Furthermore, Dobson suggested that it was this poor father-child bond that may have contributed to so many people ending up in prison in the first place. So, moms and dads are both important, though maybe in some different ways. 



Writing Connection: Learn what an Extended Metaphor (aka) Governing Metaphor is, and see two examples of student writing where they wrote an extended metaphor about their mom, for Mother's Day. Take a look. Pretty impressive, especially when you realize they only had about 13 minutes to write it! 


Grammar question: How do you write this holiday? Mothers Day? Mother's Day? or Mothers' Day? This article explains that actually all three are grammatically correct, but each grammar change brings a small change in meaning.  However, the woman who created the idea of Mother's Day wanted it written as a singular noun with the apostrophe BEFORE the "s," so that is how we will use it here: Mother's Day.


THANK YOU for reading! Do you want to know more about English and life in the USA? Join an online class with! Contact Scott today to find out how!


Wednesday, 07 February 2018 19:34

Groundhog Day

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Groundhog Day is on February 2 and it is a minor holiday. The main idea of the holiday is, if February 2 is a sunny day and a groundhog sees his shadow, then there will be six more weeks of winter. However, if he does NOT see his shadow that day, then it means spring will come early this year. Of course this is not science; it is folklore. Still, it makes a fun story and each year news shows report on what the groundhog sees. 


Groundhogs are a very common wild animal in the USA. They can grow to be the size of a big cat or a small dog. You often see them by the side of the road or in people's yards, eating grass or weeds. In fact, many people consider groundhogs a pest. This is because they like to burrow and dig holes in the ground to live in. If a cow or horse steps into one of the holes, it can easily break its leg and there is no way to fix the broken leg. Therefore, many farmers and horse owners do not like groundhogs at all.


Since groundhogs are a common animal, some people are surprised to learn there is actually an "official" groundhog for Groundhog Day! His name is Phil, and he lives in a small town in the US State of Pennsylvania called Punxsutawney. In fact, the club that takes care of Phil even has its own website,! The custom of watching a groundhog in tiny Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania dates back to 1886! (You can learn more about the history here.) Each year on this date, some of the men in this club wear fancy black coats and hats and tell the world if Phil saw his shadow that day or not. 












Since "All things are connected," "Groundhog Day" is not only a small holiday--it has also become a phrase in the English language! This is thanks to a 1993 comedy movie with Bill Murray where he is a weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to do a news report on Phil the Groundhog. At the start of the movie, Murray is a selfish, arrogant person, and he gets stuck in the small town he does not like and with people he does not like, because a snowstorm keeps him from leaving. However, not only is he stuck in the town, he is also stuck in a time warp, and he keeps reliving February 2 over and over, until he learns some important life lessons and "gets it right."


So today, some people say "It's like Groundhog Day" to represent something boring that happens again and again.

For example:

  • Billy hates his job. He does the same boring stuff with the same boring people day after day. He says it's like Groundhog Day.
  • None of us like Mrs. Smith's history class: she just talks Monday through Thursday and gives us a test every Friday. It's like Groundhog Day.


Watch a short video clip about the movie here.


For lots more about Groundhog Day, check out this from


Thank you for reading! Do you want to know more about the English language and life in the USA? Contact Scott today to find out how we can help you!



Monday, 15 January 2018 15:49

Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon

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Presidential Turkey Pardon:


One of the funniest of the Thanksgiving traditions is the annual "presidential Turkey pardon." The US Constitution gives the president great powers, including the power to pardon an accused person of a crime. In a humorous twist, there is a tradition of the US president "pardoning" a turkey at Thanksgiving, saying that that turkey will NOT be eaten. Some claim that tradition began with President Truman in 1947, while others believe it began with President Lincoln during the Civil War. (read more here.) Starting in 1981, under President Reagan, it became the tradition for the spared tukey to live out his life at a children's farm. For many years, the turkeys enjoyed a happy retirement at the ironically-named "Frying Pan Farm" in Northern Virginia, close to Washington D.C.


However, recently the spared turkeys have been sent to Virginia Tech, a famous engineering and research univerity close to the world headquarters of On the Virginia Tech campus, there is a spot called "Gobbler's Rest," where they will live. 


After Thanksgiving 2017, a friend of mine from Taiwan drove to the Tech campus and saw Drumstick and Wishbone, the two turkeys pardoned by President Trump. (Scroll to p. 38 and read the article here, on the top right corner of the page.)


It's another funny USA holiday tradition! 

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