A Cycle of Flow

A Cycle of Flow

In my writing summer class, we are beginning the Emotional Intelligence (EI) Unit. I love this subject. So many conflicts among groups could be avoided if we all just had a bit more EI. One of my favorite aspects of this subject (and there are so many awesome ones, it is difficult to choose a favorite!) is flow.

What is flow? My beloved Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary defines flow as “an easy smooth and uninterrupted progress or movement” in thought, ideas, or rhythm. My own personal definition is that flow is happening when everything is going smoothly and effortless. In writing, flow happens when the ideas stream forth, and the words seem to almost form themselves. In the classroom, flow happens when the students are engaged and understand the topic while enjoying the process. I strive to have flow. I absolutely love flow!

Who wouldn’t?

Unfortunately, flow doesn’t happen without extreme effort. Moreover, sometimes, no matter how much time and energy we put into a task, there is just no flow! Those times can be particularly frustrating. Once you know what flow feels like and the productivity and excellence it can generate, it is super difficult to settle for less.

So, how do we create flow and how do we handle it when flow just doesn’t occur?

Like so many other things, there is a formula for flow. Here it is: when a person’s skill level is equal to or slightly below the attempted task, flow can occur.


Easy, right?

No, not so much. Skill level varies from individual to individual and even within one individual performing different tasks.

Take me for example. Since as I teacher I create all kinds of curriculum handouts and such, I am pretty good with MS Word. Moreover, I’m a writer and self-publisher too, so I know quite a few tricks. My skill level is up to most tasks. When I’m writing in word, I’m usually flowing along. But not always. As I progress in my activities, I raise the bar and try new things. Then, my skill level is no longer equal to the task; I am below level. When this happens, I get frustrated and anxious. There’s a formula for that too.

When a person’s skill level is lower than the attempted task, frustration and anxiety can occur. The further the distance between the two, the more frustration that will occur.


Well, then, why push it? Once you find your flow, why not just stay there and merrily flow through all the tasks? Good question. Once you find your flow, you feel great. Everything you are doing goes well. It’s like you are on the top of the world! So, why not just stay there forever?

Boredom is why. Yes, you can actually get bored with the flow. Hard to imagine, I know, but it’s true. When a person’s skill level is higher than the attempted task, boredom occurs.


The more time you spend at a particular level, the more your skill develops through repetition and effort. Your skill level grows and grows, but the task stays the time. Sooner or later, you will outgrow the task and encounter boredom.

Let’s look back to my example. Simply creating resources for my classes and running a website used to be fun! It used to get me in FLOW. But, over time, I got better and better. The tasks got easier and easier; boredom set in. Teaching alone wasn’t fun anymore.

So what did I do? What do you do once you get good at something and start to get bored? Attempt a harder task, which then, of course, results in FRUSTRATION until you reach the FLOW, that will eventually become boredom and then whole circle repeats.

It’s an endless cycle as we search for that amazing feeling, that sweet spot we call FLOW.

Let’s look at the cycle in action.

Here’s a real-life example of the flow cycle.

I’ve been working on my latest book, Editing Academic Texts Verb Form, for about 18 months now. Because I have been teaching grammar, writing, and editing for since 1999, knowing what I wanted to say at first was easy. I was smack dab in the middle of FLOW. Ooooo, how I love to FLOW!

Even when I was blocking out the chapters and deciding how to organize the material while talking students, I was still in FLOW. It was difficult, of course, but manageable.

Eventually, I hit the wall of FRUSTRATION in the nitty-gritty aspects of formatting. I seriously seriously hate formatting page numbers. I make so many mistakes. The stupid numbers give me nightmares. My personal skill level in managing anything to do with numbers is lower than low. So, for the last few weeks, my FRUSTRATION level has been ginormous! But, I knew it would not last. I have techniques to get through that period and slowly move back to FLOW by learning something new and increasing my skill level to meet the task. And then it happened. Wednesday night at 11:32 pm (way past my normal bed-time), it all came together. All the videos I’d watched, the help pages I’d read, the examples from Eric and Joe I’d looked at- it all came together. I got it. My skill level jumped. I did it! Ahhhhhh, once again, the FLOW.

Have I mentioned how much I love FLOW?

Now, all the tiny little details are being resolved, and I’m getting bored. I’m rather sick of this book, this project. It’s been 18 months after all. I’m not quite all the way to BOREDOM, but I can see it up ahead. I’m planning to enjoy my FLOW for a bit longer, get the book out for the fall semester, and then dive into the next book, Editing Academic Texts Verb Form. As I do so, I know I’ll cycle through all three stages again and again, but I will definitely enjoy the FLOW as long as I can.

What tasks are you trying in your life right now? Are you experiencing FRUSTRATION, FLOW, or BOREDOM? Keep in mind that none of the stages last.

If you are in FRUSTRATION because your skill level is not high enough yet, don’t despair.

Keep building it. You’ll reach FLOW eventually if you keep at it. I promise!

If you are in the middle of BOREDOM, you know what you have to do. Push yourself. Try something new. Try something harder.
Yes, it will send you into FRUSTRATION, but how much fun are you having being bored? Not much I’d guess.

If you are in the smallest space of them all, the FLOW, enjoy every minute while it lasts!!

Always Stay Humble and Kind

Always Stay Humble and Kind

Listening to music provides so many benefits, especially for language learners.  Cultural priorities are revealed through songs. Correct and incorrect grammar is used too. Idioms and advice run throughout music. The segments are also short, often less than 3 minutes, so that you can listen over and over again to catch certain phrases or rhythms. You can hear what phrases can be shortened or smashed and what words are emphasized for meaning. Frankly, I think listening to music is overlooked by many students in their pursuit of better language.

There are so many awesome songs to consider when designing lessons, but today I’ve picked a song by Tim McGraw in the country western music genre for its message, ease of understanding, and amount of applicable language.



I suggest you listen to the song. Then read through the explanations of idioms, cultural references, language specifics, American values, and behavioral advice. Then listen to the song again, hopefully with a fuller understanding of the content.

“mountains to climb”

The mountain is a metaphor for any large task be it getting a new job, learning a new language, succeeding in someway or another, or countless others.  The task should be large like a mountain towering over the plain. In climbing the mountain, you in some ways “beat” the mountain. In achieving the task, you have victory in the situation as well.

“free ride”

This can be used in the obvious way as in a ride where you don’t pay, but more commonly in a broader sense to mean not have to pay for an action or experience.It is often used when getting a full scholarship to college as in “he got a free ride to college.”

“pick up line”

This is the idiom used for an insincere or lying phrase used to engage someone in a conversation for the purpose of having a fling or brief relationship, usually sexual.

“sleeping with someone”

This does not refer to actual sleeping but means to engage in sexual intercourse. A similar idiom is “to go to bed with someone” which means the same thing.

“take for granted”

This idiomatic phrase can be used in a multitude of contexts. It means be unappreciative of a positive something, for example, a relationship or gift.

“a light that glows by the front door”

Leaving the porch light on is a common theme in American culture. You’ll find it in songs and even advertisements.  Motel 6, for example, says “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

When you come home late at night, and it’s dark outside, having the light at the door is a welcoming sight. It’s easier to find your keys. You know that someone is expecting you to come home. 


“the key’s under the mat”

It isn’t safe to leave your house unlocked, but you want to allow friends to come in even if you aren’t home. Why do you do? Leave a spare key for special visitors and tell them where it is hidden. In fact, this is so common that you can buy a fake rock to hide a spare key for someone. Having access to this key shows that you are welcome in the home.

rock with a key inside

“eat a root beer popsicle”

Popsicles are frozen treats generally associated with childhood and summertime. In the summer, American children are usually out of school with fewer responsibilities and are running around just having fun. By using this reference, it suggests that we all should relax a bit and have some fun.

“when the work you’ve put in is realized”

Most accomplishments require a great deal of effort or work. You put in work or put work or effort into something. While the verb realize is most often used for coming to an understanding of an idea, it can also be used for getting the result of something, like extreme effort.


“stay humble and kind”

Humble and kind are both adjectives and most often used with linking verbs like be, seem, and become. However, in this case, the normally transitive verb stay is being used with the adjective in a kind of command form. No action is really taking place because the actor is already humble or kind, so he is just staying in the same state.

“cause your momma says to”

Like in most cultures, the American family relationship is significant.  In most families, pleasing one’s parents, especially mom, is very important. There is actually a standard phrase said by American parents “because I said so.” This indicates children should do what their told, even when they don’t understand or agree because the parent told them to.

“visit grandpa every chance you can”

Because most Americans don’t live with their extended families (grandparents, aunts, and uncles, etc.), immigrants often interpret this to mean that we don’t care about our families.  In fact, we do care quite a bit; it is just much more difficult to have those familial relationships so extra effort must be taken and with most things American, it is a choice, not a requirement.


“don’t forget to turn back around and help the next one in line”

While we are absolutely a nation of striving individuals seeking our own goals, we are also a nation of caring individuals who desire to be part of a successful community. Helping others along the way actually advances our own success.

“Hold the door, say ‘please,’ say ‘thank you,’

These actions are essential social courtesies, the actions of ladies and gentlemen, who are considerate of others. Though children used to be automatically taught these behaviors, social graces today are often lacking as we are all so self-absorbed and stressed out.

“don’t steal, don’t cheat and don’t lie”

Unlike social niceties, these actions refer to following the law. While America is certainly a place of great individual freedom, we do have quite a few laws for the good of the many. Obeying the law is usually a good idea.

“shut off the AC and roll the windows down. Let that summer sun shine”

This is another summer reference to getting away from the technology, the house, and the stress of it all and enjoying life for a minute.  Taking time to relax will help you to be more balanced and an overall happier person.

 There are so many fantastic resources available to help you along in your language journey. Study doesn't always have to be an intense experience. Sometimes, you can just have some fun with it! Try using music to have a bit of fun and learn cool stuff too!

A Fresh Start  with idioms

A Fresh Start with idioms

Hello Again.

It’s been a while since I’ve been with you.

I put the blog on the bench for a month or so because I ran out of steam at the end of the semester and hit the wall big time. I was absolutely ready to throw in the towel. I simply had to dial back my work because I was overwhelmed with health issues and stressed with wrapping up the Spring semester. As usual, I overshot the mark of my ability to create because I bit off more than I could chew.

After taking a break for a couple of weeks, changing my diet, and generally recharging my batteries, I am raring to go again and get back on track with the website. Thus, this weekly blog output is back in the game!

Given all I am committed to this summer, teaching, tutoring, finishing the book, eating healthier, exercising more, losing weight, and trying to find general balance in my life, blogging every week will certainly require me to go the extra mile! Nonetheless, I have put my heart into this website, and I want it to succeed. So, every Sunday morning, I will be bright eyed and bushy tailed in my desire to continue to provide you, my wonderful language learners, with interesting vocabulary, culture, and life information!

Each of the underlined idioms above

are defined below.

 On The Bench

To be inactive or uninvolved in the activity or game

Run Out Of Steam

To lose energy to the point of having stop

Hit The Wall
To be forced to stop

Throw in the Towel

To give up or quit.

Dial It Back

To slow down or reduce the effort

Overshot The Mark

To miss or not achieve one’s goal.

Bite Off More Than Can Chew
to try to do the impossible

Recharge my Batteries

To relax and renew one’s energy or spirit

Raring to Go

To be excited and ready to perform

Back on Track

To be ready to work or perform

Back in the Game

To be ready to work or perform effectively

Go The Extra Mile
To put in extra effort to accomplish the goal

Put Heart Into It

To be committed to or engaged in an activity or event

Bright eyed and Bushy Tailed
To be excited or ready to perform

So what is the main idea of today's blog post underneath all the idioms?

I stopped blogging because I was tired and stressed.

However, now I am rested, refreshed, and ready to write again.

Notice all the interesting, idiomatic ways we have in English to express these basic ideas.

Awesome, isn't it?

Please remember, as amazingly fun as idioms are, they are not considered academic in nature. Use them all you wish in conversation! But in college writing, it is better to be direct and to the point rather than using idiomatic language!

So, I'm getting a fresh start with the blog. 

See you next week!

Come back soon now! Ya hear?


At the request of my students, I am starting this blog with the vocabulary. Take a minute and review the definitions and idioms below before reading Chapter 2: Meet Larry. The idioms are indicated with an *.

Take a minute and review the definitions and idioms below before reading Chapter 2: Meet Larry. The idioms are indicated with an *.


Chapter 2:Vocabulary and Quick Definitions

oaf – not working
laid-back – relaxed and calm
devil-may-care – unworried
malinger- avoid work through lying about health
melee- large confusing fight
mull over – think deeply
*meaning of life – reason for existence
unmask – discover truth
high-end – luxurious
pompadour – hair style
tenebrous – obscure; hard to understand
work ethic – valuing hard work
erratic - inconsistent
fidelity – faithfulness

outlandish- extremely unusual
*higgledy-piggledy – messy unordered
jocund – lively, spirited
*weld together – bind together usually used with people
*buddy-buddy – very friendly
altruism – unselfish helpfulness
salutary- beneficial
subvention-financial support
quicken- reinforce
destitute – extremely poor
oneiric - dreamy
*life of leisure – work-free

Read the paragraph below with the new vocabulary that you've learned.

Meet Larry

Lazy Loafing Larry likes a laidback lifestyle. His devil-may-care attitude often causes him to malinger. Rather than entering the competitive modern melee of the working man, Larry prefers to mull over the meaning of life and unmask the secrets to success while styling his high-end pompadour. While his tenebrous work ethic drives some people away from his erratic fidelity to outlandish habits, his higgledy-piggledy jocund personality can weld together the already buddy-buddy crowd. They, with a show of altruism, often give Larry a salutary subvention and further quicken his rather destitute yet oneiric existence. Thus, Larry lives a life of leisure.

How much did you understand?

What kind of person is Larry? What are some of his characteristics? Would you want to be his friend? His boss? Why or why not?

Now would be a good time to rewrite the paragraph using the new vocabulary definitions. In class last week, I had my students do it. Do you want to try yourself?

If not,  here's my revised version.

Lazy Loafing Larry likes a relaxed lifestyle. His unworried attitude often causes him to avoid working. Rather than entering the competitive modern fight of the working man, Larry prefers to think about his reason for existence and discover secrets to success while styling his expensive hair style.  His obscure work ethic drives some people away from his inconsistent faithfulness to unusual habits; his unordered lively personality can bind together the already friendly crowd. They, with a show of helpfulness, often give Larry a beneficial financial support and further reinforce his rather poor yet dreamy existence. Thus, Larry lives a work free life.

Vocab matters! These paragraphs are obviously particularly dense, but the principles we are learning are the same whether i every other word or only one or two words is confusing.

With time and practice, your vocabulary can be improved!

Chapter 1: AAWWWLLL

Chapter 1: AAWWWLLL

The Antithetical Adventures

of Wanda Wonder Worker

and Loafing Lazy Larry

This blog and the subsequent ones for a while will be going through the Wanda and Larry’s story to develop your advanced vocabulary usage. This is the first chapter.

Follow these steps to use this story to improve your English vocabulary.

Don’t panic when you don’t understand the story. If you did, I would be shocked! Just read the Original Story and make a note of the vocabulary you don’t understand. Without looking up any of the words, try and understand as much as you can. 

Then ask yourself these Comprehension Questions about the content:

  1. What kind of person is Wanda? How would you classify her?
  2. Would you want to work with Wanda? Be friends with her? Why or why not?
  3. Explain in your own words Wanda’s personality.

Then look at the vocabulary words I defined for you. I mainly used Merriam Webster’s Learner Dictionary. Look up any other words you don’t understand. Then read the story with the replaced, simplified vocabulary and see how much you understand. The replaced vocabulary is underlined. Better?

Now, try again to answer the Comprehension Questions.

If you still don’t feel like you understand the story, look at the Idioms I explained for you. Then read the story with the replaced, simplified phrases and see how much you understand. The replaced idiomatic phrases are underlined. Better?

Try again to answer the comprehension questions.

Finally, re-read the original story. How much more do you understand now? Hopefully, more of it!

If you want even more knowledge, try the Advanced Grammar Practice at the end.

Original Story: Chapter 1

Some people have an aversion to labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all gung ho about scrupulous effort and gets her jollies by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to sizzle and shine. She can take the ubiquitous hubbub and with a little impetus, add a few odds and ends and a gizmo or two; then presto, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be a nitpicker of someone exhibiting otiose apathy and even want to give him a thwack on the back to get him going, she also delivers a droll knee-jerk reaction to any request with a quip yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to bask in a diet of blithe over-achievement. Wanda is one of a kind.

New Vocabulary Quick Definitions

Scrupulous- carefully correct

Ubiquitous – seen everywhere

Hubbub – noisy situation

Impetus – force to cause action

Gizmo – small gadget

Presto – happen magically

Nitpicker – concerned with small unimportant details

Otiose - futile

Apathy- not interested

Thwack – to strike

Droll – odd and amusing

Quip – clever remark

Bask – relax happily

Blithe – worry free

Revised Chapter 1: Simple Vocabulary

*The underlined words are phrases are the replacement ideas for the more sophisticated vocabulary defined above.*

Some people have a dislike of labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all gung ho about carefully correct effort and gets her jollies by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to sizzle and shine. She can take the noisy situation happening all around and with a little forceful action, add a few odds and ends and a small gadget or two; then like magic, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be concerned with the details for someone exhibiting futile disinterest and even want to give him a thump on the back to get him going, she also delivers an amusing knee-jerk reaction to any request with a clever comment yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to relax in a diet of worry free overachievement. Wanda is one of a kind.

New Idioms Quick Explainations

Gung Ho – extremely excited

Gets her jollies – becomes excited

Sizzle and shine – stand out excellently

Odds and ends- small, unimportant things

Knee-jerk reaction - automatic

One of a kind – unique and original

Revised Chapter 1: No Idioms

*The underlined words are phrases are replacing the idiomatic expressions explained above.*

Some people have a dislike of labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all excited about carefully correct effort and gets excited by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to stand out excellently. She can take the noisy situation happening all around and with a little forceful action, add a few small, unimportant things and a small gadget or two; then like magic, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be concerned with the details for someone exhibiting futile disinterest and even want to give him a thump on the back to get him going, she also delivers an amusing automatic reaction to any request with a clever comment yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to relax in a diet of worry free over achievement. Wanda is unique.

Reread the Original Story

Some people have an aversion to labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all gung ho about scrupulous effort and gets her jollies by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to sizzle and shine. She can take the ubiquitous hubbub and with a little impetus, add a few odds and ends and a gizmo or two; then presto, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be a nitpicker of someone exhibiting otiose apathy and even want to give him a thwack on the back to get him going, she also delivers a droll knee-jerk reaction to any request with a quip yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to bask in a diet of blithe over-achievement. Wanda is one of a kind.

 Advanced Grammar Practice

  1. Find two instances of alliteration
  2. Find one instance of rhyme
  3. Identify all the parts of speech in this sentence:

She can take the ubiquitous hubbub and with a little impetus, add a few odds and ends and a gizmo or two; then presto, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge.

Advanced English is difficult, to say the least. Little by little, word by word, with much effort and time, you can be able to understand the original paragraph!  Let’s see if it gets a bit easier as you work through the story!

Check back next week for Chapter 2 and the answers to the Advanced Grammar Practice for Chapter 1!

No Learning Ever Wasted!

No Learning Ever Wasted!

Sometimes life hands us wonderful experiences to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest and other times we get stuck with disastrous painful situations. From all we live through, the good and the bad, we can learn and grow and become more successful balanced individuals. I believe that no learning is every wasted.

I have taken this idea to heart not only in life but also in my education and writing. Thus, I have kept most everything I’ve ever done. Gosh, do I love the ease of saving digital files! I have every college paper I’ve written since 1999, all conveniently organized on my laptop. I also have every lesson, short story, blog and random idea that I’ve done too, to the chagrin of poor Mr. C.

Recently, we were updating our cloud backup and discovered I have over 50,000 files. Needless to say, he was less than pleased and asked me exactly what I had. Of course, I didn’t know. I mean, that’s a lot of files, no? Thus I set out to investigate my hoard of digital materials.

Just this morning I found a funny, outrageous story I wrote for one of my classes back in 2009. Honestly, I don’t even remember writing it. Looking through it though, I realized I that it is still usable today.

This story incorporates advanced vocabulary and idioms in context to give learners a better chance of understanding the material. I’ve decided to go ahead and use it again, here in this new forum. There are 10 chapters so far, but no ending yet, so we’ll see where it goes. Every story blog will have vocabulary and idioms, grammar and style/ and comprehension questions to consider. For the next several weeks, I’ll be writing about Wanda and Larry and their outrageous exploits.


Here’s a little preview:

Meet Wanda. She’s a wonder-worker with a huge skill set! She is inspiring to say the least!


Meet Larry. He’s a bit of a loafer and tends to laze around a bit.

He is quite the interesting character!



Together we’ll encounter some of their adventures and examine tons of great vocabulary!


Come back next time for

The Antithetical Adventures of Wanda Wonder Worker and Lazy Loafing Larry.

You’re Fired!

You’re Fired!

Workin’ 9 to 5, for service and devotion

You would think I would deserve a fat promotion

Want to move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me

I swear sometimes that man is out to get me!


In our 24-hour 7-day a week world, the days of only working 9-5 are long gone for many people. Today, the song lyrics should be sung “Working 24-7, for service and devotion.” Nonetheless, the frustration and futility of working are expressed quite nicely by Dolly Parton in this song and the movie that followed it.

                Labor, work, job, occupation, profession, and career, all these words have one thing in common: unless you are independently wealthy, they provide a means to earn money to finance your life. Whether you like your job or hate it, for most people having it is essential to a successful life. Thus, when someone is removed or let go from a position, it is obviously financially devastating.  Often not considered though is the emotional toll that being rejected causes.  A great deal of our self-worth is tied up in our professions and our titles, so when we no longer have a position, it hurts more than our pocketbooks; it also hurts our hearts.

                Sadly this week, several of my acquaintances have found themselves in such a position.  As I commiserated with their dilemmas, I was struck by the language we used to discuss the situation. English provides many linguistic ways to soften the blow of getting fired. While I hope you never have to apply these idiomatic phrases to your own circumstances, it is important to have them in your vocabulary repertoire.

                Most of the idioms for losing a job are passive in nature. Even the most famous phrase made popular by the current President of the United States when he was a reality show host on “The Apprentice,”  “You’re Fired!” is grammatically passive as it says you are fired by me.  However, it is rather harsh in tone as well as indicates action on the part of the employer. Here are some of the softer idiomatic phrases to express being dimissed from a job.

Lose a Job

To lose a job means someone, usually a boss, took it away from you. It is probably the commonly used expression for this situation.

Be Laid Off or Let Go

To be laid off or let go are both much more soothing phrases to use when you have lost your job. Idiomatically, both mean that you have been fired or removed from a position.  Usually, both are used in the passive voice with the “be” verb. So, you might say “My wife was let go from her job this week” or “my husband has been laid off from his job, and we don’t know what we are going to do.”

However, both verbs have other more general meanings as well.

Lay off means to stop an action. Thus you could say “if I don’t lay off drinking coffee, I will never get to sleep tonight.”

Let go of means to release something, often negative, from your life. Thus you could say, “If I don’t let go of this anger, I will never move on with my life.”

There are various other terms used with the verb “get” that mean to be fired from a job. Here are a few of the most idiomatic and possibly confusing.  All three mean exactly the same thing: to be dismissed from a job.

     Get a Pink Slip

Get the Sack     


Get the Ax     

You would say, I got the sack or the ax at my job. I got a pink slip from my job. Note that the preposition changes from “at my job” with the sack and ax to “from my job”  with a pink slip. Don’t you just love English! 

I myself have lost jobs from time to time throughout my life. It is a painful experience for sure. At least now, if you find yourself in the adverse situation of being jobless, you will at least have some language to talk about it!

Who’s Holding Your Safety Net?

Who’s Holding Your Safety Net?

My colleague, who teaches at a private ESL school with small classes and close connections to her students, recently shared a story with me.  A group of students were playing in the park and had a minor injury. Afraid to go to the ER, they called her. She drove to meet them, assessed the situation, helped them resolve the issue, and even fed them all lunch. She spent several hours doing this. I was stunned.  Why, I asked her, would you get that involved? The asked me, she said. They told her they had no one else to call. She didn’t volunteer, but what could she do once they asked for help?

I myself had the opportunity for out-of-class conversations for non-academic help with several of my own students this week, 7 to be exact. It apparently was a tough week in the student world.  While I didn’t drive across town and feed anyone, I did give extra time and energy. I invested a bit more into their lives than I usually do.  Why did I do that I ask myself? They asked me. Honestly, I was glad to provide assistance. In fact, it is those kinds of exchanges that make the tediousness of grading endless grammar errors worth it.  Nonetheless, I certainly couldn’t give so much to every single student who crosses my path.

What then is the answer?

At College, there are a plethora of student resources. There are student services, which provide a multitude of resources, student clubs, which offer common interest and companionship, and even full-time faculty, who have paid office hours. Nonetheless, so many ESL students seem to be floundering in school.

One reason I believe this to be so it that they don’t know how, in the USA, to develop solid support systems.  They don't have a safety net.

This week's blog offers a bit of advice for creating one’s own safety net.

Use Campus Resources




Investigate the available resources before a crisis. If you are attending an American college, there are resources on your campus for you. Every school has different availability. Some have Women’s centers; others centers for Veterans. Every school has a health center with physical and mental health resources. Most have academic support. Find out what your school has.

Go to your college web page. There will be a tab for students or current students. Go to that page. There will be a list of student services. Some colleges call it Campus Life or Student Life while others use the phrase Student Services or Student Resources.  

Look up the ones that apply to you. Find out what the requirements, if any, are. Find out where it is located on campus. Put the phone number or email address in your phone. Stop by next time you are on campus, so you know where it is. Do this BEFORE you have a problem. Take advantage of all the things your campus provides.

Know Your Faculty







If there are no office hours, you can still discover their availability.

  • Find out if they like to communicate by email. Do they elicit or encourage questions through email? Even more importantly, do they answer the emails you send? How can you find out? Check the syllabus or send a test email and see what happens. If they do encourage email, then communicate with them that way.
  • Find out if they are willing to talk before or after class. Some are, and some aren’t. How do you know? Come early and try to talk to them. Do they seem open or irritated? I’m always willing to talk before class, but I prefer if students want a real conversation as opposed to a quick question, that they let me know in advance, so I’m not trying to do last minute prep when they want to talk. How would my students know this? I tell them explicitly, but most instructors do not. How can you find out? Talk to them and see what happens.
  • Find out if they are willing to talk during a break. Some instructors use break time to touch base with students. I don’t. I need a few minutes of my own during class. How do my students know this? I tell them explicitly. Most instructors don’t. How can you find out then? Either watch to see what the Prof does during a break or give the conversation a try. If the Prof doesn’t seem to want to be disturbed, now you know.

Every instructor is different. While you can have the confidence that every instructor at your college has the academic wherewithal to teach the subject, that does not guarantee that each instructor will feel the same about your or you about them. Before you go to ask an instructor for extra advice or time, it helps to have established some kind of relationship with them. As a college student myself, I never had any problem getting advice from my Profs. Why? Was it because I was a great student? Not really. I mean, yeah, I did well in school, but lots of people did that. So why? Why were some instructors willing to share their experiences and expertise with me?

First and foremost, I spent time with them during office hours. When I was a student, unlike today, most of my faculty were full-time and so had office hours. I was there whether it was a convenient time for me or not.  If I liked a Prof or thought he or she was one I wanted to learn from, I would go to their office hours. I would ask questions about the material. I would talk about the class.  If they were busy, I'd come back another time. I was a regular in their world. They got to know me not just as a student in their classes, but as a person as well. At the end of the semester, I would write a thank- you card.

Then, when I did have the invariable problem in that class or another, I could confidently go back and approach the Prof. They knew me. I knew them. I knew that Dr. Wallach would talk to me about my teaching goals and Dr. Wheeler would recommend good reads. I knew Dr. Hertz would offer out-of-the-box solutions, and Dr. Finney would listen to endless complicated grammar questions. No one Professor, no matter how dedicated, can be all things to all people. Find out who they are and what they can be for you. Let them get to know you too. 

Today it is different, especially at Community College but at University as well. 85% of college faculty today is adjunct part-time faculty. This means it is harder for you the student to spend time with faculty outside of class, especially if there are no office hours.

How then can you make those connections with your faculty?

First, you must know if they are full or part-time and you must know if they have office hours. If they do, go. If they don’t, it’s harder but doable. 







  • Find out if they are willing to talk after class. Some are, and some aren’t. How do you know? Initiate a conversation. If they talk to you, great; if they say they have to leave, then you know. I am always available for my students after class. How do they know? I tell them explicitly. Most instructors don’t.
  • Find out if they are willing to make an appointment with you at some other time. How do you know? Ask. If you take this route, you are the one who has to be flexible. My schedule on campus is very limited, so while I am absolutely willing to talk with students, they have to work with my schedule. Part-time faculty members are usually teaching at multiple schools, so if you want to connect, you have to be flexible.

While true friendship between students and faculty is rare, communication, sharing, and compassion is quite common. The student is the one that has to reach out to Instructors though. They are available for all, but not all want or need the same things from every Instructor.

Cast a Wide Support Net






Many students from other cultures struggle with making friends in America.  “American are shallow and selfish,” they tell me. Maybe. But it is more likely that they are busy. We are all so busy today. Going to school, working, spending hours in traffic, taking care of kids, protesting bad government decisions, trying to get enough sleep—there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. Friendships do not function the same way here in the USA as they do in other countries. This is a fact. That doesn’t mean, however, that friendship support is not a vital, integral part of American culture. It just may be different from what you are familiar with.

For most people here, friendship is based on accessibility and connection. People in your class, your club, your church, your job, these are the ones that become friends. Thus, if you want more friends, you have to have more points of interaction with people.

Rarely here can you expect one person to meet all your emotional and companionship needs unless it’s your husband, wife, or partner, and then there’s still no guarantee.

What I have personally found effective for my own busy stressed out life is to have a wide-base of friends. I have friends with whom  I only talk about teaching, others with whom I only talk about writing, and others with whom I only talk about family. When I was a student, I had friends from my Honors Society, friends from my International Friends Club, friends from Beach Clean-up, and so on.  Now, as a busy professional, I have various problems, as do we all. I can’t expect any one of my friends to help me with every problem. Different friends in my life fulfill different needs. That’s how I manage.

If you are lucky to have a one-person BFF that can be there you for everything you need, great for you!

Most of us need a wide net.

Appreciate Your Family

Even if your family is not here with you, they care about you like no one else. Keep in communication with them. I’ve lost so many of my beloved family members that I appreciate all the more the ones I still have. I am lucky to have two Dads, the Hunter and the Pirate and I call each of them every week. The Pirate’s call is Tuesday, Hunter’s call Thursday. We talk as I drive home an hour and a half from work. They listen to all my teaching angst and book problems and whatever else I want to share.  I am also fortunate to have a wonderful husband. Now, he does not want to hear about every minute of my teaching day nor does he want to hear about all my student problems’ I obsess over.  Nonetheless, he is there for me if I need him.

You have a family. Call them. Text them. Facebook them. Stay in touch in whatever manner you can. Even if they don’t have any answers, they do have love to share.

Life isn’t easy; I’m not sure it is supposed to be. Maintaining connections isn’t easy either.  Yet with some planning and effort, you can create a safety net to catch you when you fall. The more people to hold that net, the more secure it will be. Develop a support system to share and cheer you on.


You are not alone, but you have to work to make connections.

So do we all.

Make some new ones this week !!!

Expand your Safety Net!!!

Be Kind to Others

Be Kind to Others



In Oklahoma, we have a saying, and you may have a similar one in your language as well.

Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.

Although we never really know what someone else is going through, empathy can certainly help us to practice kindness with others.  I’ve been struggling a bit lately. The reasons, big or small, aren’t really relevant here. It happens to all of us from time to time.

Recently, in two completely unrelated situations, I received a touching gift.

Both came from out of the blue as an unexpected expression of thanks. These were specific acts of kindness, which made me more aware of all the random acts of kindness I am fortunate to experience every day in my life. Moreover, I realized that I myself need to be kinder to others in the world. This week’s blog, late post though it is, suggests 5 specific ways we can offer random acts of kindness toward others to show some empathy, to show some humanity, and to make a positive impact on another’s life.


Smile At Strangers

Smiling is so easy to do. It costs so little, just the movement of a few muscles. Nonetheless, a smile can make some one’s day. A smile says I see you. You exist. You matter to the world.

Personally, I have to make a concentrated effort to smile at others as I go through my day. I’m generally stressed by deadlines both of others’ and my own making. I’m often analyzing, planning, or writing in my head as I move through the world, so focused on the upcoming that I ignore the now.

Thus from time to time, I check myself, noticing my concentrated leave-me-alone face. As I walk by others, I meet their eyes. I smile. They smile back. Positive energy has transferred from one to another.  Just like that, an act of kindness has occurred.

Try smiling at strangers. You’ll feel good. They’ll feel good. The world will be a better place for your smiles.


Offer Compliments

It is actually quite easy, with a bit of practice, to give compliments to others. This is something I am quite good at since I have practiced it extensively for teaching purposes.  Now, I can give compliments as easily as I breathe. You could too with a bit of practical advice and practice.

The complimenting guidelines are easy to understand. When complimenting strangers, you should make sure to stay in the safe zones so that your kindness isn’t confused for sexual interest.  The further away from the core of the body, the better the kind word will be. The safest complement begins with “I like your…” or “That is a great…”

Some people go through their entire day feeling alone and ignored, feeling like they are not part of the world. A simple kind “I like your bag” or “that is a great hat!” is an easy way to practice random acts of kindness and change the world.

Try it. Say something nice to a stranger today. You could very well find, like I did, that the flash of joy you provide to another is quite addicting.



Open Doors

I grew up in a small Midwest town where polite behavior was the norm, not the exception.  Opening doors for others, holding elevators, saying hello—this was just the way it was.  Fast forward to 2017 in a major metropolis with everyone self-absorbed in their own cell phones and their own problems, the social niceties are few and far between.

At IVC, where I am currently fortunate to be teaching, people hold doors open for others. I have bags and bags of stuff at school in addition to my drink, my hat, my glasses, and the list goes on and on. My hands are always full. Without fail, people open doors for me. They hold the door when they see I am behind them. Now, this is a tiny minor act of kindness. Yet I am touched every time. Someone holds a door for me, and I feel like the queen of the world. Every. Single. Time.   These strangers don’t know that they are shining a bright ray of kindness on my day. Of course, I say thank you, but I doubt they hear me. They don’t know that such a small act of kindness can make a positive difference in a difficult day.

If you too want to practice easy yet wonderful acts of kindness for others, try opening and holding doors. Little by little, we can change the word one act at a time.




Let Someone Go Ahead

You’re busy, I know. I get it. I am too. I haven’t been to the grocery store in two weeks. We are out of soda and fruit. My lettuce looks like someone ran over it with a bus. I’m trying to find time in my schedule today to get to the store or I won’t be able to go until Sunday, and that’s a holiday. Ugh! I’m busy. You’re busy. I know.

Regardless, if I let someone go ahead of me in line at the grocery store, at Target or in the coffee shop, how much time am I really losing?  5 minutes? 10? How much will those lost minutes really matter to my day over the course of my very busy life?? How much could the kind act of matter in the life of another?  I think those minutes are worth it for the reward they provide.

I let people go ahead of me in line often. In fact, doing so is one of the random acts of kindness that I try to make part of my routine. When I’m in line, I keep my eyes open. If someone comes up behind me with less merchandise (which is easy to do since I shop like I’m feeding a horde of teenagers rather than two people and a cat), 90% of the time I offer to let them go ahead of me.  Here’s what I do. I meet their eyes, smile and say “You can ahead of me if you’d like. I’m in no hurry.” The flash of surprise and joy I see on their faces is sublime. “Really?!” they exclaim more times than not. “Are you sure?” And when I respond with my smiling absolutely, I feel like I have single-handedly brought about world peace.  Seriously, it feels that great to make a difference in someone’s life. Try it. You’ll like it.





Let Cars Go Ahead

This random act of kindness is actually one of the hardest for me. Living in Southern California, we don’t talk about distance in getting somewhere. We talk about time and time is based on traffic. Ah, traffic—the bane of existence in California. No matter where or when you go, everyone else is going there too.  Angry, busy, stressed out individuals all going the same direction at the same time can create a seriously selfish, ugly car culture. What a better time to practice random acts of kindness.

I actively try to let in one driver every time I go somewhere. I feel so lucky to have my beloved M-5 convertible, a car I had wanted the whole of my life. So, to pass on my gratitude, I let others go ahead of me.

The difficulty is getting them to go without running me over or without letting in a stream of cars. You let one go, then another pushes its way past, and before you know it, people behind you are honking and cursing and ahhhhh, the kindness seems wasted somehow in the crazy competition for space that is So. Ca. driving. Nevertheless, I persist.  Every time I drive on surface streets or merge in traffic, I try to let a car or two go ahead.

I’m not sure, honestly, how my little random act of kindness is taken by the drivers. I know I am always pleased and grateful when someone lets me in, but I don’t see the gratitude, if there is any, on their faces the same way I might in a store. I go on faith that my random act of kindness is making a difference, however slight, in a big difficult world.

Random acts of kindness are never wasted. Web sites abound online offering suggestions for being kind to others. There’s even a new idiomatic phrase “pay it forward” based on the time-honored principle of doing to others what you would like them to do for you. Honestly, I have yet to pay it forward – to pay for someone’s dinner or coffee anonymously—I’m not opposed to the idea; I just have not had the opportunity nor the means. For me, though, I can give something just as precious as money -- , my time, my energy, my actions--  I can pay that forward. I am also fortunate to receive such kindness back most days.

How about you? Can you find some ways to practice doing random acts of kindness for others?

Let’s all try to be kinder to one another.

Imagine the world we could create that way.

Black or White… or Grey?

Black or White… or Grey?

In teaching this week, two different phrases came up that required explanation for my students: mixed blessing and false dichotomy. Additionally, I used the phrase double-edged sword in a mini-lecture and had to explain that as well. These phrases and the explanations got me thinking about absolutes and how we like things to be one or the other, yet often situations, experiences, classes, and overall life is rarely that cut and dried. Hence, this week’s blog examines the language of absolutes, advantages, and disadvantages.

Beware Absolutes!

False Dichotomy / False Dilemma


For example, a situation is either black or white. For example, students who earn high grades care a lot, and those who earn low grades don’t care.  This choice eliminates all other possibilities. However, gray may also be a choice, so students may earn low grades because of sickness in the family or working many hours, not because of care or lack of care about the class. These are other possibilities than the either-or scenario presented as black or white; these are gray. Sometimes there are two choices; however, more times than not there are alternatives rather than a dichotomous choice.

This logical fallacy, which is an error in logical argument, means that only two choices are possible and if one is correct, the other must be false.  It is also called either-or reasoning.

Often false dilemma choices are presented as black or white, right or wrong, yes or no, day or night,  one side or the other.

Advantages and Disadvantages Co-exist

Sometimes situations have both positive and negative aspects occurring simultaneously. We have some idioms for these situations.

Double-edged sword – because a sword has two sharp edges, it cuts on both sides. An example might be my ESL 201 class is a double-edged sword. One the one hand, students learn a lot, but on the other hand, they have to work extra hard to do well. Thus, it is both positive and negative experience.

A mixed blessing is used when something has both positive and negative facets. If you get a high-paying, competitive job so that you earn lots of money for fun, but you don’t have any time to spend the money because you are working so much, that job would be a mixed blessing.

Two sides of a coin – a coin usually has two different aspects often called heads and tails, but it remains one whole unit.  An example of this usage might be taking Mrs. C’s ESL 201 course will be a great learning experience, but the class starts at 7 am, so you’ll have to get up super early! Thus, it has both positive and negative aspects.


Bittersweet is used when something is pleasurable and painful at the same time. For example, Lucas is my co-author of the book Get Into Medical School.  When he got accepted to the Carver College of Medicine in Iowa, it was a bittersweet for me. I was thrilled that he began his education to become a doctor but was also saddened that he would be far away for years and years.

Remember, life and language are rarely either or.

You can be happy and sad, energized and tired, or thrilled and saddened, all at the same time.

Advantages Created by Disadvantages

Other times difficult situations create the very circumstances that lead to a positive outcome. English provides some optimistic phrases for these situations as well.





There is a silver lining in the dark cloud, it is darkest before the dawn, and to get the rainbow, you’ve got to have the rain are all phrases that mean the same thing: there is good in a bad situation. Some examples of the usage could be:

The silver lining in the dark cloud of no longer teaching at UCI is that I now have the time and energy to develop my own business.

It is darkest before the dawn so during the worst situations, I can look forward to the light of morning and an improvement of the difficulty.  Thus, I believe that all the time I spend giving feedback on papers will pay off in students’ writing improvement.

Since to get the rainbow, I’ve got to have the rain this means I have to work hard and suffer through vocabulary development in order to become a better writer.

Here are two more phrases that are so common, that people modify them to have fun.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – this means that one can take a bad situation and turn it into a good one.

Modifications of this phrase that you may see online are:





When one door closes, another opens. Or a window. This is a phrase used to express that there is always more than one way to achieve a goal.

So if your door closes and you don’t get into the school you wanted when you applied, another door will open to another school with a different opportunity.

My favorite modification of this phrase is to open the door since that's how doors work. Love that!

Whether you are in the middle of a good experience or hoping to resolve a bad one or whether you are faced with a difficult choice, English has a way to express it! Take some time and learn these idioms so you can understand when people offer you encouragement and talk about your own situations as well!