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Life in America

Life in America (13)

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 00:29

Only in Virginia

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The USA has 50 states, and is headquartered in the state of Virginia, on the East Coast. Virginia is the state just below the USA capital, Washington, D.C.


Virginia is also the site of Jamestown, founded in 1607, the first permanent English colony in the New World. So, you can see that Virginia is the birthplace of English-speaking America! The fact that you are reading this post in English shows that you have a connection with the English language that has spread around the world!


Many thanks to team teacher Mr. Woodson who found this link. It gives an A to Z list of cool things to see and visit in Virginia.  Note that "A" is "Appomattox," the small town where the US Civil War ended in 1865. This town is only a 90-minute drive east of our home office, and is also the subject of a blog post that I wrote.


Check out this cool link for yourself here!

Title photo source:

Wednesday, 23 September 2015 22:46

Our view from the mountainside: First Day of Autumn

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At the very end of last year, right between Christmas and New Year's, our family was blessed to buy and move into a new house (well, new for us). For many years, my wife Deborah had hoped and prayed for an English-style Tudor house, because she finds them charming. (And since provides English tutoring, that fits.) Meanwhile, I was hoping and praying for a house way up high, with a commanding view of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia. But you know, you have to actually start looking at houses to realize how difficult it is to find a Tudor house on a mountainside. There just aren't that many. But I digress.

 Upon moving in, we began to explore and enjoy our new area. Our home is on the side of a small mountain, with a view extending some 25 miles (40 km) all the way to Smith Mountain, home of the dam that created beautiful Smith Mountain Lake. From our front yard (at least in the winter when the leaves are off), we can see areas of Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Bedford County, Franklin County, and Pittsylvania County, Virginia.The neighborhood provides many quiet streets and trails suitable for walking, running, or biking. Especially fun is walking on a nearby greenway that intersects a small farm with a Civil War-era (1864) house.

An avid walker, I began enjoying the walks right away, and as a dog owner, I usually took Daisy on my daily saunters. Last February was rugged, because it was one of the coldest Februaries on record--many places here in Virginia broke all-time low records, but I still got out when I could. (I also called the local office of US Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) asking why, if the world is getting hotter and hotter, was that the coldest February on record for many places? For some odd reason, I never got an answer, but again I digress.)  Being winter, the trees (except for the evergreens) were bare, and snow lay on the ground for weeks at a time.

As the year wore on, winter grudgingly gave way to spring, and spring almost imperceptibly became summer. Somewhere along the line, while enjoying the farm animals, wildflowers, and general beauty of the region, I thought, "maybe semi-occasional blog posts about life on the mountain, and the changing seasons, might interest people, especially folks in other countries who want to learn about life in America."

So, this being the official first day of autumn ("fall" as most Americans say), I'd like to commence.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015

One of the greatest compliments I was ever given was, "Scott, you have a real appreciation for irony." So, it's ironic and also fitting that, as I began this blog post about the arrival, I saw just feet away a fine specimen of summer: a female ruby-throated hummingbird at our hummingbird feeder. A gift from Deborah for my birthday, the feeder has attracted "hummers" all summer, and I know I will miss them when they leave, which will be soon. In fact, I was thinking of taking down the feeder so as not to tempt them to stay too long here "up North," but my concern was unnecessary--I can leave the feeder up, they will know when to leave, regardless of what I do. Still, it is fitting, that on the first day of autumn, that little hummingbird reminded me of summer--that seasons generally change more gradually and imperceptibly, unlike most of us humans, who often like the drastic change. "Throw the switch" and be done with it.

There are still many signs of summer around. A number of flowers are still blooming; just now I saw an Easter Tiger Swallowtail butterfly grabbing a snack from a flower in our yard. The mountain behind our home, other than a few tree forerunners tending to reddish, is still overwhelmingly green. Plus, it's still quite warm- 77° F, (25° C), yet it was cool this morning, 60° F (16° C). That is normal this time of year: hot days, cold nights. The two Chinese boys living with us go to school wearing hooded sweatshirts to keep warm in the morning, but have shed them by afternoon.

Still, signs of autumn sneaking in abound. Many neighbors have pumpkins and fall flowers (chrysanthemums) in their yards for decorations. The brutal heat of summer is past. And some trees, especially the Virginia state tree, the dogwood, have begun to change colors. And some day soon, the hummingbirds will least for this year.

Thank you for joining me for this reflection: the first day of autumn on the side of the mountain.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015 22:37

Two young people making a difference

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Yesterday's Roanoke Times had an uplifting article about two siblings, Kinley (age 12) and Camden, 10, who have set up a "Little Free Library" in their front yard in Northeast Roanoke (Virginia USA). The Little Free Library movement seeks to foster literacy by encouraging people to create their own, well, "little free libraries" in their front yard or such.

The children gathered a collection of books, which people can then borrow at will (no due date!). Likewise, patrons and neighbors can also donate books to beef up the selection. What a clever idea!


The article says the parents always take care to be sure a Bible is among the "holdings." This brought to my mind a point that is vast but I only have time to scratch the surface of, but it is the link between the Bible and literacy. It is a key part of both Judaism and Christianity that they are based on scripture, on the written word, and the belief that the written word is God's main way to communicate with people. When the first settlers came to North America, one of their chief goals was to establish schools so that the pastors could train new pastors, who in turn could teach the Bible (and thus literacy) to their congregations. Many are surprised to learn that this was the reason Harvard University was founded:

The founders of Harvard recorded their reasons for establishing this center of learning:

After God had carried us safe to New England and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God's worship, and settled the civil government: One of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.

What wonderful young leaders. And to quote financial guru Dave Ramsey, "leaders are readers."

Tuesday, 21 July 2015 12:34

Life in the USA: Summer Camping

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Call of the wild: Kids get hooked on camping in classes for families



Tessa, 8, and Isaac, 6, didn't want to leave Missouri's Weston Bend State Park. The Minters were barely out of the park when the kids began begging for a return trip. They'd spent the day catching bugs and on scavenger hunts as part of Missouri State Parks Learn2 Camp program. It wasn't enough, though, for nature's newest fans. They wanted another night to roast marshmallows and sing "I've Been Workin' On The Railroad" around a campfire - and soon. That's exactly what Missouri State Parks wants to hear. Camping permit sales in Missouri's parks dropped 13 percent between 2000 and 2013, the most recent year for which camping numbers were available. National parks have been dealing with a decline in overnight stays since the 1980s. Nowadays, visitors seem to prefer the comfort of nearby motels.

Missouri in US
US State of Missouri


Weston Bend State Park official website

missouri campfire


Tents, Campfires and Animal Tracks

The Learn2 Camp program works to ease families who haven't camped before into the outdoors. The program brings them out to a park for a weekend and provides equipment and organized activities, said Stephanie Deidrick. She is a spokeswoman for Missouri State Parks. They were shown things like how to pitch a tent or how to cook over a campfire. Deidrick said she hopes it will make it so that "families will be more likely to camp on their own in the future." Deidrick said that getting kids into camping early can increase the chances they'll camp as adults. The program was exactly what Kelly Minter had hoped for when she applied. She and her husband Ron already had agreed to their kids' longtime pleas for a camping trip. They had set one up to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park for the end of June. Kelly Minter had camped with her family as a child. However, she said she preferred taking her own kids to Oceans of Fun, a theme park in Kansas City. It was less work than preparing a campsite. After the camping trip was planned, she was worried. What if her ideas and her husband's various "theories" about how to start a fire or set up a tent wouldn't match real life? This year's Learn2 Camp at Weston Bend was the perfect test run. With the help of park employees, Ron Minter figured out how to put up a large six-person tent. Isaac and Tessa learned how to identify various trees, insects and animal tracks. Ron Minter got instructions on using sticks to start a campfire. No more lighter fluid and starter logs for him, his wife hopes. "I think we might be camping more," Kelly Minter said.

Johnsons Shut ins 20090815 1

Johnson's Shut Ins State Park, Missouri

Drop In Overnight Camping Trips

According to the Outdoor Foundation's most recent "American Camper Report," 40.1 million Americans went camping in 2013 - a drop of about 424,000 from 2012 and a decline of 6.1 million from 2009. National parks hosted nearly 11.9 million overnight visits in 1981, according to the National Park Service. That number had shrunk to 8.8 million by 2000, a 26 percent difference. National Park Service spokesman, Jeffrey Olson, said the way Americans experience parks changed in the last 30 years. Attendance numbers reached an all-time high last year, but people are not spending the night as often. Visitors now have more overnight options, including staying in nearby towns. "They have a lot more in the way of services for visitors, like motel rooms and seats in restaurants. Some people love to spend the night near national parks and then get up and go after breakfast in the morning," Olson said. Famous parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite are still full every weekend and require making reservations well in advance, Olson said. Camping numbers, however, may never get back to the highs of the 1980s. The decline in camping may be more tied to Americans spending less time away from work than any lack of equipment and training. In the 2014 "American Camper" survey, 71 percent of people gave "more free time or vacation time" as a reason that they would continue camping.

roasting marshmellows

Roasting marshmallows

Creating "A Legacy" of Camping

But the Learn2 Camp program does try to take advantage of one promising fact. Among campers asked in the 2013 survey, 85 percent took their first trip before they turned 16. After that key age, any chance of a person going camping decreases quite a bit. Missouri State Parks knows this well. Exposing families with children to camping when they're younger can start an outdoor tradition for them that may continue for generations, Deidrick said. Chi Kim, who came to Weston Bend with her husband and three children, agreed. She grew up camping in Colorado. "I think you are passing on a legacy by coming out here and getting them into camping and the outdoors. Just like anything else, you've got to expose them to it and teach them about it," she said.

Personal note: After my family moved from the US state of Indiana to Virginia, our parents wanted to get out into the "great outdoors" and explore their beautiful new home, Virginia, and with a large family, they decided camping would be an affordable way to see the area. So, our family took our first camping trip when I was a baby, and I grew up with that tradition. My mom tells the story about one night, when we were at camp and had had a campfire, I told her, "Don't you feel sorry for all those people who have to stay in motels?" Camping is truly wonderful for young people, and it teaches  invaluable lessons. --Scott Dreyer

Questions: please answer these questions about the article in complete sentences.
1. Why had the Minter family spent the day outdoors in Weston Bend State Park?
2. According to the article, why are fewer people camping in Missouri State Parks now?
3. What is the purpose of the Learn2 Camp program?

4. What lessons does Learn2 Camp teach families?

5. Why is getting involved in camping early a good idea?

6. According to the American Camper survey, how many Americans went camping in 2013? How many went camping in 2009? 

7. Why does Missouri State Parks want to introduce children to camping when they are younger? 


We have recently used this material in several online English classes taught with Our classes not only help you learn more English, but also more about life in the USA. Join a class today!


Sources: compiled by Mr. Dennis Woodson, with content from newsela,com, Grade level 5 article and Grade level 7 article. Note how the same story is told differently, at two different grade levels.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017 00:51

"Fat man rides bike across America"

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Lots of news is about the "big items": war, the economy, politics, etc. But some news stories are called "human interest." They might be the kids who were selling lemonade but had to stop, because they did not have a business license, or the kid who grew the biggest pumpkin for the county fair. This story is one of those "human interest" stories.

Language note: The word "fat" is considered rude, and is not favorably used to describe people. More commonly-accepted words are "heavy-set, overweight, large, obese." But in this case, the man in the article uses the word "fat" to describe himself.

Eric Hites from the US State of Indiana weighed 565 pounds (about 257 kg).


Indiana Map

US State of Indiana

His wife had been a widow, and did not want the mental anguish of having another husband die. So, they were separated. In his desire to save his marriage, Hites took the drastic step to change himself by riding his bike across the US to lose weight!

Notice what Hites did NOT do:

- blame his wife
- blame or sue McDonald's or other fast food restaurants for "making him fat." (Don't laugh: some people have done this!)
- blame his parents for how they raised him
- ask the government to create some new program to help him


He took personal responsibility to solve the problem!


Hites said his weight caused him job and emotional problems, and his life had been going downhill. However, not long after he started his ride, he did accomplish one goal: his wife took him back! She saw he was willing to pay the price to improve himself and their marriage relationship.


He kicked off his bike trip in the wealthy resort of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and he plans to ride all the way across the US to the Pacific Ocean.


While riding in Connecticut, he had to stop because he broke a wheel rim, but a bike shop gave him a newer, stronger rim, for free, to help him on his way.

Source: "Fat Guy" cycling across US

His blog:

Do you want to improve your English and knowledge of the US? Join one of our online classes today!

Monday, 17 August 2015 00:36

The Meteor Shower

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Every year in early August, we are treated to a special "nature show," called a "meteor shower." No, this has nothing to do with using water or staying clean. It has to do with science, so we will need to know some terms first.

A comet is basically a big ball of ice and rock that travels around the sun on an orbit. These comets circle around the earth with a set orbit, so we know in advance when they will pass near the earth. When comets pass by earth, they drop off smaller rock-like pieces and fragments. The Swift-Tuttle Comet is the "parent" of the chunks of rock that create the August meteor shower.

A meteor is a large "stone-like" object that falls off the comet and then enters the earth's atmosphere.

As these fragments enter the earth's atmosphere, they burn up. This burning action lets of light, which appears as streaks of light. This happens day and night, but we cannot see it during the day, because the sun is out. Just one of these streaks of light is called a shooting star. Normally these are rare to see. When we see lots of them in a short time, it is called a meteor shower. Two of the biggest meteor showers of the year occur every January and August. The meteor shower in August is caused by the Swift-Tuttle Comet, which drops off lots of chunks of "junk" as is passes by Earth.

Most of the "flying rocks" burn up before they hit earth. However, sometimes the meteor actually hits the earth, like the big one that hit Russia on Feb. 15, 2013. A meteor that hits the earth (which is rare), is called a meteorite. Watch this video to find out more. Meteor hits Russia.

The August meteor shower is called the Perseid meteor shower. This is a popular one to watch in the USA, because summer nights feel cool, and it is comfortable to set a blanket or chair outside to watch them. Plus, most kids are on vacation from school, so they can stay out late at night looking for shooting stars without worrying about waking up early for school the next day. In contrast, the January meteor shower is not popular to watch; in most of the US, it is too cold to lie outside in January, especially in the middle of the night! The peak viewing time for the August 2015 shower was Aug. 12-13, about 3:00-4:00 am. One aspect that made the 2015 meteor shower special was the fact that there was a new moon at the time of the shower. In other words, a full moon creates much light in the night sky, so it is hard to see the shooting stars. But a new moon means the moon is not visible, so the night sky is very dark, making it easier to see the stars.

To watch the meteor shower, spread out a blanket on the ground to look up at the night sky. You might want to bring a jacket, because it can get cool at night. Maybe you can bring popcorn or another snack. Be away from lights as much as possible, so look for a place out in the country away from city lights. One of my relatives, who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, said watching the August meteor shower was always a favorite activity from her childhood. August 12, 2015 was the day when our two Chinese students, Deron and Matthew, arrived in Virginia in order to attend a US high school. Their first day was busy: flying into Roanoke, VA, setting up a bank account, moving into their new room, going to church youth group to meet new friends, etc. But despite their busy first day and jet lag, they were game and willing to go out at 10:45 that night to see the meteor shower at its peak. With our dog, Daisy, in the car, I drove them on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and we stopped at an overlook away from city lights. The absence of any moonlight or clouds made the night sky easy to see. We spread a blanket on the ground so we could get comfortable and look up at the sky. After a few minutes, our eyes adjusted to the darkness. We were there from about 11:00-11:45, and saw about ten shooting stars. Some had a short path and were brief, while a few had a long trail across the sky and lasted for a couple of seconds.

Deron and Matthew enjoying meteor shower

Deron and Matthew, watching the meteor shower.


If you have a chance, try to watch the August meteor shower. It's also something we offer our Summer Campers who come to the USA for the Summer Camps. It's fun!

Friday, 04 March 2016 21:56

Snow Day!

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These words usually put joy into the hearts of children...but often anguish or fear into the hearts of adults!




For kids, it's a day...or from school.


Here are some questions people have asked me about Snow Days in the USA.


How much warning do you get that snow is coming?


Sometimes the forecasts start about one week in advance. However, that early, the forecasts cannot be too sure. As time goes on, though, an accurate forecast is more and more likely. Usually, we are pretty sure about one or two days in advance that snow is coming.


How do you know when school is closed?


There are several ways. The "traditional" way is to see them scrolled across the TV screens. However, nowadays they also post on school and news websites, as well as send texts to phones. Public (government) schools usually close as a system, as in "Roanoke County--Closed." This is because public school systems are big, covering an entire city or county, so one decision applies to each school in that district. However, private (independent) schools announce individually, as in "Parkway Christian Academy--Closed."


(This is one of the many advantages of learning English with Even when the local schools within walking distance of our office are closed due to snow, our online classes to students across the globe are still open and on schedule!)


What if there is a little snow, but it's not too bad?


If the weather is "iffy," that is, it may be a little slick or cold in the morning, and a few hours of sun are needed to melt snow on the roads, then some schools have a "Two-hour delay." In those cases, though, the schools still close at the regular time at the end of the day. This is why kids (and teachers) usually love snow days.


Do you have to make up Snow Days?


The answer is: it depends. Most school systems have a number of "Snow Days" built into their calendar, maybe five or six, so as long as the school is not closed more than that, the days do not need to be made up. However, some years there are many heavy snowfalls, and the kids have to make up the missed days. Usually those are taken from Teacher Workdays or even Spring (Easter) Break. As a kid I even remember some SATURDAY make-up school days. My parents made me go, but I remember attendance was low, and we watched movies in most of the classes. I guess the teachers were as excited to be there as we were.



English is a crazy language #1: "Make up" can mean

1. the cosmetics women put on their face (We got mom some make-up for Christmas),

2. to work extra time for time missed (We need to make up three snow days.),

3. to become friends again (They decided to make up after arguing for a week.),

4. to comprise something (We will study the make-up of plants.),

5. to invent a story or excuse (We have to make up a story for English class.)


English is a crazy language #2: "Missed" can mean

1. to fail to hit or attend something (We missed three days for snow. She missed her flight.), or

2. to feel the absence of something (He missed his family after he went away to college.)



What do kids do on snow days?


There are lots of things to do.


- One of the most popular is, sleep in. With no school, there is usually no need to wake up early.

- Watch TV or go online. One friend of mine posted on Facebook that, on a recent snow day, his children stayed inside and watched a movie...Frozen. He thought it was ironic.

- Go outside and play. Sledding is lots of fun for kids (and adults too). You just have to find a hill that is steep enough to sled on. This is one of the beauties of living in Roanoke, Virginia. We are in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, so there are hills everywhere. If a person lives near the coast or in much of the central part of the USA, much of the land is flat and so it is hard to find hills. Other popular things to do are have snowball fights, make snow angels, or, if there is heavy snow, build an igloo. (See the video at the bottom of the page.) (Language note: English borrows LOTS of words from other languages, and "igloo" comes from the Inuit word "iglu," which means "house," regardless of what it is made of.)

- Stay inside and drink hot chocolate (cocoa) and generally relax. It's also fun to sit by the fire, if your family has a fireplace or wood stove.

- When the snow is pretty deep and roads are still dangerous, schools announce their closings or delays the night before, so parents can make arrangements for childcare. In those cases, the kids can stay up late at night too.



car in snow


Common sight after snow days


snow in front yard


snow scene in our front yard--notice the small colored lights and gold garland: Christmas decorations still up!


Why do many adults not like snow days?


- Fear of running out of food. It is almost a joke that, when snow is in the forecast, the grocery stores are very crowded, especially with older people who seem to scare easily and want to "stock up" on groceries. Sometimes, by the day before a major snow event, staples like bread, milk and eggs are sold out.


- Since a lot of little kids especially "go nuts" when there is snow and no school, some parents find that very frustrating. However, it's a good chance for the parents to show patience and understanding toward their excitable children.


- Even though schools are closed, most businesses are still open, so it can be difficult or downright dangerous to drive to work in snow or ice. This is one of the many advantages of being a teacher: when schools are closed for snow, you get a day off too. I know some people who, if they cannot drive to work, lose a day of pay or vacation.


- The work. Most people want to shovel their driveway and sidewalk, and that can be very difficult. Many folks hire a local teenager to do it, but that can get expensive. Sadly, every year some older men die from heart attacks on snow days: they are out shoveling snow, do not realize how out of shape they are, and their heart just stops. On another note, when the snow melts, the roads get slushy, and cars get filthy. You either need to wash your car yourself or go to a car wash. But, after big snows, the lines at car washes are often crazy long.


- For heavy snows, one's mail or newspaper service may be interrupted.


- Many people, especially older folks, are afraid of falling on the snow or ice and breaking a bone.


- For most adults, their view is: "Snow is beautiful if you can just sit at home and look at it, as long as you don't have to go out in it."



taking a nap

Good idea on a snow day: take a nap


How long does the snow stay around?


This depends. Here in Virginia, which is in the South, the snows often melt after just a day or two. In the North, however, snow can easily stay on the ground for weeks. Plus, that depends on how much snow fell and how how cold it stays for the next days and weeks. February 2015 was unusually cold and snowy in much of the US, and we had snow on the ground here in Virginia for weeks.


 parking lot snow

Snow piled up in parking lot to clear--Piles of snow take up lots of room


When do you usually get snow?


This too depends on where in the US you live. In Alaska, it can start snowing in October, but here in Virginia, the first snows usually come in December, and are most likely in January and February. However, we sometimes have snows in March, and occasionally, even in early April.


Watch this man make an igloo. Notice how many days he works on it!


Practice your listening! Listen to this two-minute podcast, "I always loved a snow day," from Gretchen Rubin


Wednesday, 01 June 2016 21:39

Reading Passage: Have you had your 2016 Moment?

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April 21, 2016 7:37 p.m. ET

Peggy Noonan is an American author of several books on culture, politics, and religion. She was a key speechwriter for US President Reagan and now writes weekly for the Wall Street Journal, where this opinion piece appeared.

Have you had your 2016 Moment? I think you probably have, or will.


The Moment is that sliver of time in which you fully realize something epochal is happening in politics, that there has never been a presidential year like 2016, and suddenly you are aware of it in a new, true and personal way. It tends to involve a poignant sense of dislocation, a knowledge that our politics have changed and won't be going back.

We've had a lot to absorb ”the breaking of a party, the rise of an outlandish outsider; a lurch to the left in the other party, the popular rise of a socialist. Alongside that, the enduring power of a candidate even her most ardent supporters accept as corrupt. Add the lowering of standards, the feeling of no options, the coarsening, and all the new estrangements.

The Moment is when it got to you, or when it fully came through.

My friend Lloyd, a Manhattan lawyer and GOP campaign veteran, had two Moments. The first came when he took his 12-year-old on a father-son trip to New Hampshire to see the primary. They saw Ted Cruz speak at a restaurant, and Bernie Sanders in a boisterous rally. "It was great and wonderful," Lloyd said.

Then it happened. "The Monday night before the voting we were at a Donald Trump rally. A woman in the audience screamed out the P-word to refer to a rival candidate. Trump repeated it from the podium, and my kid heard it and looked at me. "Lloyd was mortified. Welcome to the splendor of democracy, son." I thought, "So we have come to this."

It didn't end there. Lloyd's second Moment came a month later, the morning after the raucous GOP debate that featured references to hand size. Lloyd was in the car with his son, listening to the original Broadway cast recording of "Hamilton." I blurted out, "How exactly has America managed to travel from that to this?" American history is fiercely imperfect and made by humans. "Yet in the rearview mirror it appears ennobling and grand. And now it feels jagged, and the fabric is worn."

A friend I'll call Bill, a political veteran from the 1980s and '90s, also had his Moment with his child, a 14-year-old daughter who is a budding history buff. He had never taken her to the Reagan Library, so last month they went. As she stood watching a video of Reagan speaking, he thought of Reagan and FDR, of JFK and Martin Luther King. His daughter, he realized, would probably never see political leaders of such stature and grace, though she deserved to. Her first, indelible political memories were of lower, grubbier folk. Leaders with Reaganesque potential no longer go into politics and why would they, with all the posturing and plasticity that it requires?

He added: "I felt a wave of sadness."

Another political veteran, my friend John, also had his Moment during the New Hampshire primary. "Out door-knocking for Jeb Bush, I was struck as I walked along a neighborhood using the app that described the voters in each house. So many multigenerational families of odd collections of ages in houses with missing roof shingles or shutters askew or paint peeling. Cars needing repair."

What was the story inside those houses? Unemployment, he thought, elder care, divorce, custody battles. "It was easy to see a collective loss of hope in a once-thriving town." He sensed years of neglect and sadness. Something is brewing.

My Moment came a month ago. I'd recently told a friend my emotions felt too close to the surface ”for months history had been going through me and I felt like a vibrating fork. I had not been laughing at the splintering of a great political party but mourning it. Something of me had gone into it. Party elites seemed to have no idea why it was shattering, which meant they wouldn't be able to repair it, whatever happens with Mr. Trump.

I was offended that those curiously quick to write essays about who broke the party were usually those who'd backed the policies that broke it. Lately conservative thinkers and journalists had taken to making clear their disdain for the white working class. I had actually not known they looked down on them. I deeply resented it and it pained me. If you're a writer lucky enough to have thoughts and be paid to express them and there are Americans on the ground struggling, suffering ”some of them making mistakes, some unlucky”you don't owe them your airy, well-put contempt, you owe them your loyalty. They too have given a portion of their love to this great project, and they are in trouble.

A few nights earlier, I'd moderated a panel in New York, on, yes, the ironic soundtrack of election year 2016, "Hamilton." At one point I quoted a line. It is when Eliza sings, just as war has come and things are bleak: "How lucky we are to be alive right now." As I quoted it my voice caught. I asked a friend later if he'd noticed. "Yes," he said, quizzically, comfortingly, we did.

The following day I spoke at a school in Florida, awoke the next morning spent, got coffee, fired up the iPad, put on cable news. I read an email thread from a group of conservative women very bright, all ages, all decorous and dignified. But tempers were high, and they were courteously tearing each other apart over Mr. Trump and the GOP.

Then to my own email, full of notes from people pro- and anti- Trump, but all seemed marked by some kind of grieving. I looked up and saw Hillary Clinton yelling on TV and switched channels. Breaking news, said the crawl. A caravan of Trump supporters driving to an outdoor rally in Fountain Hills, Ariz., had been blocked by demonstrators. The helicopter shot showed a highway backed up for miles. No one seemed to be in charge, as is often the case in America. It was like an unmovable force against an unmovable object.

I watched dumbly, tiredly. Then for no reason this is true, it just doesn't sound it. I thought of an old Paul Simon song that had been crossing my mind, "The Boy in the Bubble." I muted the TV, found the song on YouTube, and listened as I stared at the soundless mile of cars and the soundless demonstrators. As the lyrics came "The way we look to a distant constellation / That's dying in a corner of the sky / . . . Don't cry baby / Don't cry." my eyes filled with tears. And a sob welled up and I literally put my hands to my face and sobbed, silently, for I suppose a minute.

Because my country is in trouble.

Because I felt anguish at all the estrangements.

Because some things that shouldn't have changed have changed.

Because too much is being lost. Because the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man versus Criminal.

And yes, I know this is all personal, and not column-ish.

But that was my Moment.

You'll feel better the next day, I promise, but you won't be able to tell yourself that this is history as usual anymore. This is big, what we're living through.



The newly-revised SAT is all reading passage-based in its language and reading sections, and many of the reading passages deal with issues of history and culture. At, not only do we teach English, but we teach about life in the USA, including current events and politics. Join a class today! 

Monday, 26 September 2016 20:29

Lake Day 2016!

Written by


On September 3, 2016, we enjoyed our third annual "Lake Fun Day" at beautiful Smith Mountain Lake, the largest lake in the US state of Virginia. Each of the three times we have had our "fun day," we have been blessed with GREAT weather. We have several goals for these fun days:

- let our Chinese summer campers have fun on the lake and in nature, and have one last big special time before they go back home,

- let our Chinese students here in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia for the school year have a fun time as they start their new classes, and

- let the teachers and their families get together with each other and some of our Asian students.

This year we met on the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend, a three-day holiday weekend that always comes in early September in the US. That date was late enough to allow our Chinese students to be back here from their summers at home, but early enough for the water to still be warm enough to swim and play in.

Here are some photos from the day, showing what we did for fun.


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Ice cream always brings out the smiles

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Mom and Mrs. McKinney greeting


big lunch

Enjoying the big lunch Mrs. Dreyer prepared--on the deck overlooking the lake!


the ice cream

The ice cream!


relax on deck


Great day to sit on the deck and relax


deck relax


Enjoying ice cream and a good laugh


Mr. and Mrs. McKinney

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Lunch on the deck


boat ride with Lee

Boat rides are fun--especially when Lee the dog comes along

inner tube

Mr. Woodson gave everyone boat rides and rides on the inner tube


getting ready


Getting ready to ride the inner tube

dreyer coaching team


Part of the Teacher Team




pontoon boat shade

Enjoying a shady spot on the pontoon boat

1 or 2 people on tube

The inner tube can carry 1 or 2 people

Nature note: While Mr. Woodson was piloting his boat that day, he noticed two other boats stopped, and the passengers were looking up into a tree. He looked too, and saw a bald eagle--the USA national bird! For the past decades, bald eagles were rare and one never saw them at Smith Mountain Lake--or hardly anywhere else. However, thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers are increasing and several eagles now live at the lake and raise their young there. A conservation success story!


bald eagle

bald eagle

Come to the USA with and you can have this fun too! Frankly, most agents do not offer or promise this kind of lake fun, and when students go to a big city like New York or Los Angeles, it is hard to find spots of natural beauty like Smith Mountain Lake close-by. But for us here in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, Smith Mountain Lake is just a 30-minute drive away!

Special thanks to:

- my family, for sharing their house that day
- my wife, for arranging most of the meal
- Mr. Dennis Woodson, for bringing his powerboat and pulling all the innertube riders
- Mr. Kevin Spencer, for "spotting" the innertube riders
- everyone who joined us that day, because all the guests made it fun and memorable.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017 22:26

How often do you see or hear THIS?!

Written by

I could hardly believe my eyes.

So a few days ago we got our monthly "share" letter from the healthcare-sharing ministry group we have belonged to since 2010, Samaritan Ministries.

The letter told us how much money to send to a woman in Oklahoma who is fighting cancer, and to also pray for her.

Then below that, it had this nugget:

"There was more available share money than needs again this month, so we have reduced the assigned share amount by 5.00 percent. (...) Praise God for His provision!"

So, sure enough, our normal family share of US$405 was reduced by $20.25 (5%). So, that means we have $20 more this month to save, spend, or give away.

Also this week, I have gotten two bills from the government for this year's car tax. Funny, those did not say:

"We received more than enough money last month, so we are reducing your car tax by 5%."

As we have gone to local stores and restaurants lately, I never saw, "We received more than enough money last month, so we are lowering all our prices 5%."

Overall, our experience with Samaritan Ministries has been great. Once Deborah even had some healthcare done in Taiwan, so when we came back to the US, we just turned in all her Taiwan doctor bills (in Chinese), which they let us translate and calculate the Taiwan Dollar =US Dollar rate, and other members sent us the entire amount.

Our family is blessed with great health, and we thank God for it. Still, we had some "this and that" medical expenses over the past eight months, US$3.651.85 to be exact. A few days ago I sat down and calculated all the bills since last October, sent the paperwork into Samaritan's Ministries, and have been told this is how much we can expect to get back by July: US$3,651.85. Yes, that's 100%!
With all the angst, consternation, and high prices we hear about surrounding "Obamacare," (aka "Affordable Care Act") it is so refreshing to have such a convenient, voluntary, user-friendly, and affordable healthcare alternative that is in harmony with our belief system. As our nation grappled with healthcare reform and so many other challenges, we need this reminder that small-scale, voluntary, patient-based, faith-based programs that let individuals use their creativity and resourcefulness can work so much better than massive, centrally-planned, bureaucratically-created and -enforced government programs enforced on us by Washington.

Hear others' stories here.


UPDATE 6-22-2015:

1. In April I had a follow-up visit with a doctor; the fee was US$140. Earlier this month, I got a letter from a Baptist Church in Southwest Virginia that more than paid for that visit. Simply put, an eye procedure that cost me north of US$5,000 has been PAID IN FULL by other members of Samaritan Ministries. Case Closed.

2. Last fall and winter a member of my family needed some physical therapy, and the price from the doctor, ultrasound, therapy, and massage (GREAT service from Crystal's Healing Hands in Roanoke, Virginia) came in over US$1,700. So, what a pleasure to go to the mailbox the past few days and find checks from good people like:
Lauri in Houston, Texas; Joan in Georgia; John in Kansas City, Missouri; David in St. Paul, Minnesota; Andrew in Westland, Michigan; JoAnn in Newark, Delaware; a family in Lucedale, Mississippi; and some other nice folks too numerous to mention. (Grammar lesson: note how I put a comma after each city, and a semi-colon after each state. That is how you list things in series that have commas.) If you know your US geography, you know these letters and gifts represent the North, South, East, and West! And as of today, 100% of that family member's bills from that matter have been paid off by other members of Samaritan Ministries. And not only did people send enough money to pay off all the bills, they also enclosed encouraging notes, like JoAnn from Delaware who wrote:


"Praise be to the Lord, for He showed me the wonders of his love." --Psalm 31:21, from the Bible.
Case Closed.


UPDATE 1-4-2018:

My family continues to belong to Samaritan's Ministries; now that it's 2018, this means we have been members for over seven full years! And both our December 2017 newsletter, and January 2018 newsletter, which we opened today, contained this nugget right at the top:


There are (fewer) Needs for this month than Shares available, so the assigned Share amounts have been reduced by 5 percent. Praise God for His provision! Shares have been reduced in 8 out of the past 17 months since members voted to increase the Shares."  


What this means is, in layman's terms, the organization Samaritan's Ministries took in more revenue, from its normal monthly membership contributions, than it had to pay out in medical bills. So, instead of parking that extra money in a savings account somewhere or counting it as profit, they instead turned around and let the members keep more of their money, by charging them 5% less than usual!   So, our January Share Newsletter has this line:

"Reduced by 5 percent:  - $24.75"


Simply put, that's an extra $24.75 we can keep for ourselves, either to spend, save, or give away. It's up to us! I don't know about you, but that helps keep the "HAPPY" in HAPPY NEW YEAR! Could YOU use an extra $25.75 this month? This is just one more reason why we are so THANKFUL to be members of Samaritan's Ministries for our healthcare needs! 



Want to learn more? Want to see if this could be for you? Feel free to contact me directly, or Samaritan Ministries. Learn more at their Facebook page. Tell them Scott Dreyer in Virginia sent you!



(Note: as a member of Samaritan Ministries, when I encourage a friend to enroll, the group gives my family a discount on an upcoming share to pay. So, if you enroll, Deborah and I would be GRATEFUL for you to list us as your references. Likewise, when you enroll and encourage friends to join, you too can enjoy such a discount. Lastly, the more families that join these groups, they more stable they will all be, from a business and economic point of view, helping us all.)