Writing Lesson in Washing the Car

Like so many in Southern California, my lifestyle would be impossible without a car. I love my MX5 Miata convertible. It gives me joy at the end of a difficult day as I speed down the road with the top down and music up. I can park easily amongst giant SUVs who think they are compact cars. With a bigger car, I tend to fill up the space but its tiny trunk forces me to clean it out as I am limited to 7 bags of groceries, 4 sweaters, 2 hats, 1 extra pair of shoes, a bag of blankets for Under the Tree, and a small box of extra Editing Academic Texts to sell. Note that the blankets and box don’t fit at the same time as the groceries!  And perhaps most importantly, I can almost always find it in the parking lot without having to take pictures on my phone for a location reminder. What a great car!

As much as I love my car, I don’t love washing it. You wash it, make it shine, and then boom! Bird boop, or rain or road dust or leaves or whatever so what’s the point? Nonetheless, a new semester is starting, and I like everything to be clean and new, so today, with Mr. C’s help, I set out to wash the car. As I spent 1 and 1 ½ hours scrubbing, vacuuming, wiping, and polishing under Mr. C’s guidelines, I was struck by how much washing a car resembles writing well, and so, without further ado, here are 10 writing lessons that can be had from washing one’s car.



Cars can be washed through the gas station drive through or hand detailed down to the paint. Different situations require different levels of washing. There will not always be tons of time to break out the special tire brush for the rims to shine up the wheels for that special date; sometimes you just want to knock the dirt off on a Wednesday afternoon. You have to know the difference between the kind of washes and choose the appropriate one.

Similarly, there are different kinds of Writing Tasks. When shooting a text to a friend, typos and spelling mistakes are expected. When texting a friend last night about his work schedule, I quickly typed “Working tonigjt?”  Now, that is clearly a typo, right? I mean, tonigjt isn’t a word in English or any other language that I’m aware of. Regardless, he could read it and didn’t correct my grammar! Good thing! So informal writing has its own requirements.

In contrast, in a formal essay for my class, that error would be significant as it shows either speed without care or lack of knowledge. Neither one of these are outcomes are good in a graded assignment, right? When you are completing a formal writing assignment over several weeks, you want to take the time needed to produce an awesome essay, much like the car when I drove it over to 7-11 to get gas and a total stranger whistled and said, “Whoa, nice ride!” Yes, it is and so should your essay be as well!



Did you know that dirt is not only ugly, it actually harms the paint? Do you know what else is ugly and harmful? Water spots. Yep, washing the car and leaving it spotty is not much better than leaving it dirty in the first place. Thus, when you wash matters as that big ole’ sun will bake the water on before you can get it dry. So, you must plan and time your washing carefully as to not simply be wasting time.

In the same way, timing matters with writing. If you plan out your schedule, give yourself time to think, to write, to edit, and even to take a break before it’s due, then you can have a quality product. But, if you slap something together at the last-minute without care or concern… it might just end up to be a spotty mess!



Mr. C is all about the correct tool for the job; as such, there are brushes for tires (3 different kinds!), hand brushes, power washer brushes (yes, we have a power washer), inside towels, outside towels, drying towels, car cleaner, car wax, tire cleaner, tire wax, detailing stuff, window stuff, and that’s just what we used today. Who knows what else lives in his man cave. I only go in when invited.

Though it seems like a ton of tools for one littl’ car, wow, does it make a difference in speed and overall result. A tire brush, for example, has to be rather firm to get all the brake dust off, but if used on the paint, ooooh, that would be really bad as it would take the paint right off. An outside towel has a different composition than an inside glass cleaning towel which leaves no streaks. Who knew?

Likewise, there are so many writing tools that can make one’s job more efficient and quick. A dictionary has different functions than a thesaurus. Editing hard copy can be better than Soft Copy. Spell check and Grammarly can save tons of time. The lesson from this is two-fold.

First, use the best tool for the job. And second, if you don’t know the appropriate tool, then find someone who does and ask. Your instructor, your tutor, blogs online or some other source- all of these people know some good tools, just like Mr. C who truly does know the difference between inside and outside towels that to me look exactly alike (same color, same shape, same feel- but oh sooooooo different!).



Washing a car seems pretty straightforward, right? Wet, soap, rinse, dry off. How tough can that be? Well, apparently, it is so much more than it seems. If you get the whole thing wet and take too long to soap, it dries off. If you soap it carelessly, you can scratch it with your jewelry (a fact I found out the hard way).  If you rinse it the wrong way, then the soap gets the rinsed part soapy again. Apparently, front to back top to bottom is the way to go. If you dry in correctly, you leave spots or worse, make it dirty again! Then you have to wash it all over which is a serious pain in the you- know- where! Whew, washing a car is tough!

Even more difficult than washing a car is writing college level English! However, just like washing a car, some writing techniques may be more productive than others! If you are fortunate to be in a college class, then your Professor will give you some new techniques to try! Don’t be afraid to try them just because they are new or time-consuming. You will find that even though things may take longer in the beginning, by the end, they will save you tons of time.

For example, I have my students brainstorm with a specific technique; they have to create a topic sentence outline for their essay before they begin writing it. Oh, how they resist this technique! Yet, by the end of the essay, or sometimes the semester, they see how much time they saved by starting out organized and finishing well. Not all techniques are the most effective. Find the ones that are!



When start rinsing off the suds, there’s a lot of water. Remember, you are outracing the sun here (#2)! One effective technique to start drying is to take her for a spin around the block. But maybe you are in a hurry( or completely soaked from poor washing technique like me!). So when you take out the special drying towels with the “wax as you go” stuff (#3) and start drying at the top of the car (#4), you may find that there is too much water to wipe off in one pass (#4 again!). The key though is getting most of it off so that again you have no water spots. Then, after the whole car is mostly water free, then you go back and wipe again. That is when you make sure you got all the wax stuff, it has no streaks, and all the water is gone. You could call that a re-wipe if you like.

Like washing a car, the more passes one gives a paper, the better the final product. Revision is taking a re-wipe or revision to the content and structure of the paper. Are the ideas clear, you may ask. Do my examples really prove my points? Are my core sentences (topic sentences) reflective of the main idea (thesis)? Then with a new towel, you have to go again and look at the grammar, the nitty gritty sentence level, and word level issues. Ask yourself about your verbs, your punctuation, your vocabulary. Now, finally, done, right?

Weeeeellll, no, not if you want a fabulous product. The final pass should be checking the details in your format. Is your MLA header correct? Did you spell the Prof’s name correct? Is your title ok? How about the margins? Did you meet the page length? All these passes will lead to a nicer paper!



Still, you aren’t done with the car if you want a truly spectacular result. Now comes the detailing, the precision work that separates this job from the drive through quickie wash and even the drop of someone else watch. Here is where the magic really happens.

Really good detailing occurs on both the outside and the inside (#1).  Of course, you need new tools (#3), and there are special techniques (#4).  For this example, I’m just focusing on the inside detailing. It is time-consuming. Oh, and order matters. Apparently, you vacuum the car before you wash it. Why? I didn’t ask but left it to the mystery of the process. Sometimes, you gotta go with the flow. So, you need another special towel, inside detailing towel and another special bottle of the misty stuff.  And there is absolutely an order - all the leather, but no shiny stuffy or glass. Those need another special towel and misty stuff. If you are a mess living in your car like me, you need yet another towel and misty stuff for all the sticky coffee tea spills in the cup holders. Wipe, polish, polish wipe. Whew. Pretty!


Similar to the process of washing a car, some techniques are better in different aspects of writing.

Focusing and Isolation are particularly good for the detailed look required at sentence level grammar. Reading Aloud is a big gun not used every day, but particularly useful in certain situations. With a quick write or a quick edit, you may have a passing paper, but if you strive for the excellence of an A, then you need to learn all the tricks of polishing your paper to make it shine! More information about the editing strategies and how to employ them are in my book Eating Academic Texts.



Not only does having a clean, shiny polished car, make the owner feel good about life, the car likes it too. If you let dirt and stuff build up on the paint, it does more damage. If you wash it regularly, you can assess the state of the car better. For example, on the driver side door, paint is coming off from the weather stripping, because, uh hmm, maybe I park too close to other cars sometimes and gently, very gently rest my door on their cars when getting out. If we (and by we I mean Mr. C) touch up this paint with again special stuff, we will save money by not having to replace the very expensive entire door seal. Also, I can modify my behavior and try harder to park more carefully. This is just one example of many possible benefits to routine maintenance.

Cars clearly benefit from routine maintenance, but what about one’s own writing skill? How does one have a solid everyday writing skill? By writing of course. By writing on a regular basis, by reading, and by learning vocabulary.

If you do these things, like routine car patience, your basis line writing skill goes up. Just like a car will be less damaged when cleaned more often, your writing will start out at a higher level the more routine practice you give it. If you want to save time and have a better level of writing, practice in small spurts every day rather than marathon sessions when papers are due. Because just like the dirt that continues to build up on the car, you will continue to need to write over and over and over again. Starting from step one will cost you much more time and effort in the long run!


Honestly, I don’t usually wash my own car. Almost never. I think the last time I was involved in this was 2015. I drop it off at the wash place or drive through the car wash or grade papers while Mr. C washes it while he washes mine.  The people I pay to wash it do a good job. It is their job after all. Mr. C does a great job. He takes pride in a clean car, and we drive mine on the weekend because who doesn’t love a convertible in Southern California? But I, I love my car. As I lovingly cleaned up that sticky spot that was deep in the cup holder, as I noticed my poor door opening/parking damage to the weather stripping, as I polished the mirror,and as I glanced at my reflection in the super shiny rims, I remembered the pure pleasure I take in having this car, driving this car, loving this car. At the end of the day, it is mine all mine, and I love it!

Just as you can with your car, you can get help with your writing, but you must own your work. We encourage group work in America; we also provide tons of support services in schools like the Language Acquisition Center where I work or the Tutoring Center. You can also hire private tutors too! You can share ideas with classmates and study together. All of these activities help you.

However, at the end of the day, when the rubber hits the road, the work is yours and no one else will ever care about it as much as you. Students come to me in the LAC and expect me to do a line by line edit on their work. Ha! No one will ever do that for you or for me for that matter! Students want me to talk about every single verb. Yeah, never gonna happen folks. You have to be in charge of your work. Getting help is fine, but who is going to cook an entire yummy dinner for you and then watch you eat it without getting any? No one. Own your work. It is a result of your effort. Be proud of it.



However, I don’t love washing it. I don’t find fun all the rules for good car washing. It’s so complicated. I don’t participate in the process enough to really know the steps. All the towels look alike to me. The brushes are a mystery. And don’t even get me started on the power washer. Seriously, that thing is rather scary. Not. Fun.

But the result, that is fabulous. The car sits in the driveway, happy and clean. I took it to the grocery store (note to self- take out Under the Tree blankets next time- it was a near thing getting the bags in the trunk!), and two different strangers talked to me about the car (going in and going out of the store). The guy picking up the karts in the lot gave me a high-five. Having a clean car gets me a conversation and good feelings. Who wouldn’t want that? Plus, I feel very industrious and responsible for washing my own car. Win-win!

In no area of our lives will fun always be happening 24-7. So many of my students expect writing to be one great party! Entertain us, they exclaim. We don’t like grammar because it’s boring. If you get down to it, so is the mechanics of eating or sleeping or breathing. Every minute of every day or every activity will never be a fun feast unless maybe you are five years old. Adults, however, must slog through the mundane activities to get the results they want.

Is brainstorming and blocking out ideas for writing fun? Sometimes. Was completely restructuring the Editing Academic Texts book 5 times fun? Not so much. Is checking my grammar fun? Sometimes. Is doing a tight edit looking at every single comma in a paper fun? Not so much.

Yet the results of all that effort makes it all worth it! Looking out over a class of students using my new book and learning how to edit better, yes, that is super duper fantastic!

In car washing and writing, fun can happen, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we look for!



I don’t know when I’ll wash the car again. But when I do, I will still need all that stuff from this time. Luckily, Mr. C believes in “a place for everything and everything in its place,” which is kind of a hassle when I’m tired of the sun and wet and just want to be done with the washing but will be fantastic next time we do it. Because the towels all have their own drawer. Now I know, if I remember, where they live. The inside towels and the outside towels are in different piles. Ahh, that’s how one tells. The brushes and bucket are cleaned and stored neatly. The power washer is wiped down and put away. If for some crazy reason, GASP, I wanted to ever do this on my own in the future, it would be possible.

Writing, like washing a car, is not a one-off activity. In all of our classes and in many areas of life, we have to write again and again. In my own writing classes, as well as most instructors, all the assignments build upon another. If students simply pay attention to the end of the work, the beginning of the next is rather easy since it is some kind of continuation. Yet. It seems that for every single assignment in class, the students are starting over from the very beginning! Why?

I think they are just leaving their writing utensils and tools scattered all over the yard rather than putting them away neatly. Their files are a mess. Their binders are unorganized.  They can’t find previous handouts. But, what if?

What if we took the time to organize the completion of our assignments getting ready for the next time whether it is this class or another? What if we started out with clean towels and the misty stuff was back where it belonged in the garage? What if the computer files were named clearly and the handouts were in order in our binders? Wouldn’t that be soooooo much easier next time? And wouldn’t I then need less help to get started, which would build my confidence and help perform even better in my writing and grammar?  I think so!

Writing is hard.  Few, if anyone, would argue this point. But there is hard, and there is crazy-making hard. With some care, by learning some lessons from the real life activity of washing a car, we can all reduce the stress and anxiety of writing and maybe make it just that much easier. Then, we can become better writers! That is my goal for sure! How about you?

Back to School in Idioms

 As I prepare for the beginning of a new semester, I’m excited and a bit overwhelmed. As usual, I am attempting to accomplish more than is humanly possible by one small dedicated teacher. I do this every time despite promising Mr. C, my cat, my friends, and myself that it won’t happen again! That said, I’m going to have to reduce the frequency of the language blogs as I just can’t manage the once a week goal I had set on top of teaching, writing, taking classes, and trying to have some semblance of a balanced life. For the rest of 2017, I will be blogging only every other week. If ideas or inspiration strike, I might add a bonus blog or two.

This week’s blog examines some great idioms for finishing something, the summer, and getting back to school. These are all currently used English idioms, so you can learn them and use them confidently in your own speech. The idioms will be introduced first and then used in context. I hope you learn something and enjoy the language!  

The End Of The Road

This is used to express an ending. It can be a positive ending, but more often used to express the sadness that something is finished. Breakup songs like the one by Boyz II Men often use this phrase as well.

It’s All Over But The Shouting

I love this sports game idiom. It refers to the end of a game when one team is so far ahead of the other that there is no possible way the losing team could win, but they game still has to be played to the end. It can be used for any situation that is “finished” but still goes on until the time is up.

The Sky’s The Limit

This idiom is rather obvious to indicate that there are really no limits. It can be used when discussing most any kind of achievement.

Sowing Seeds

Sow is a great verb not used much in urban environments and has to do with planting. It is pronounced just like so and sew. Don’t you just love English! It can be used to plant anything and watch it grow. Sow seed collocates better to plant seeds.  

 Hit The Books



While sometimes we all may feel frustrated and actually want to slug or physically hit, this idiom is more about hitting with the brain. To hit the books means to open them up and study. It is usually used to express intense, not necessarily fun or easy study.

Get Thinking Cap On

This idiom is fairly straightforward. How does one come up with an idea? Put on a “thinking cap!” It is a fun, positive idiom used to express trying to come up with ideas.

As Easy As 123 or ABC

The first thing English speaking children learn is numbers and letters; thus, 123 and abc are simple basic building blocks for knowledge and relatively easy to learn. There are songs about this too.

Learn The Ropes

I love the ocean and being on boats, so sailing idioms are in my wheel house (another boat idiom that means tool box or things I can do). On a boat, especially a sailboat, ropes are very important for navigation and braking, so to sail successfully, you must know your ropes. This is another positive idiom that can be applied to most any topic.

Smooth Sailing

When the seas are calm, the sun is bright, and there’s just enough wind, then sailing is awesome! However, with a bit of storm, chaos can ensue. This idiom refers to situations that are all going well with no problems and again, can be applied to most all life circumstances.

Summer has come to the end of the road, and basically, it’s all over but the shouting. My summer class finished on a high note. My entire class passed, save the one person who quit coming. Clearly, when students put their minds to it, the sky’s the limit to their success. Despite the difficulty of studying at a college level in another language, by sowing the seeds of diligent effort and deliberate application of ideas, writing and language improvement is possible, even in 10 weeks!

Fall semester starts for me next week, so it’s time for us to hit the books again and get those thinking caps on! ESL 201 at IVC is not as easy as 123 or ABC. It is a difficult intensive class that covers a lot of ground with multiple books and essays and assignments and activities. Nonetheless, I have every confidence that my students will quickly learn the ropes of my class and have smooth sailing before they know it!

Real or Not Real?

 The Freedom of the Press* is one of our foundational linchpins* on which American society is built. We want to make informed decisions, and this hinges* on the reporting of anything and everything that occurs in the country and the world. Even when I don’t like the news and it distresses me, as a concerned citizen, I want to know what is going on; moreover, as an educator, I have an obligation to.

The Freedom of the Press
is a Constitutional Right given in the First Amendment that states," Congress shall make no law ...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." Basically, this means that the United State government shall in no way limit or restrict the freedom of the media to investigate and report on what's happening.
linchpin is a thing, person, ideal, service, value, etc. that holds everything together; something vital to the structure of an organisation.
hinges on is an idiomatic expression used to say that one thing depends on another. For example, successful language learning depends upon or hinges on  not only the knowledge, but also the effort put into it.

This summer my class is reading the  dystopian* novel The Hunger Games. If you’ve been living under a rock* for the past few years, maybe you don’t know the three novels, the three block buster movies, and the countless other references to the topic. If so, the girl on fire is worth an investigation.


How I enjoy helping students analyze the differences between fiction and fact and how the lines blur from a story to the real world. Our essay for this unit is comparing that world to our own and finding the sadly all-to-real similarities between them.

Dystopian - a state in which the world is a terrible place, usually with a totalitarian government and destroyed environment.
Living under a rock is an idiom that means has no idea what's happening in the situation. For example, a student would have to be living under a rock in Mrs. C's class not to know how she feels about people being late to class.



Though my students have not read book 3 of the series, Mockingjay*, and maybe never will, I have and was struck* by the game played throughout the book between Peeta and Katniss as he struggled to decipher what was real and what was not real after a tortuous conditioning* experience by the Capital.

“You love me. Real or not real?,” asks Peeta. And Katniss answers, “Real.”

How can he react to a situation without knowing what is true or fake? How can we?

to be struck by an idea is an idiomatic phrase loosely based on the idea of being struck by lightening. Like a bolt of lightening out of the sky, which is forceful and rather violent, to be struck by an idea has the same kind of feeling where a strong or sudden idea hits your mind. For example, as she read the novel, she was struck by the idea that this was more than fiction because she could similarities in her own modern world.
 Conditioning comes from the phrase to be conditioned which means to be trained by someone through repetitious behavior. Conditioning is both positive and negative and takes place throughout our lives. We are conditioned by our parents for certain response, our culture for others, and our inter-personal relationships with other for even more responses. This is all a normal part of life. Negative conditioning, as used in this blog example, often comes through negative, harmful or even physically painful behavior.

Thus, it is our responsibility, however tedious and frustrating it may be, to validate the news we receive and believe and maybe even act upon.

Like Peeta, the first question we should ask is “Real or not real?”

Sources from Facebook to CNN have asked the same question and offer advice for doing just that.


Here are 3 Quick Questions

that we can all incorporate into our daily news cycle

to help us decide the veracity of information.

Where is the information coming from? Is it a trusted, well-known source?

Established news agencies, biased or not, have confirmation standards and legal requirements that must be followed. If are reading a source you have never heard of before, it just might not be true.


Are there any primary sources cited?

When things happen in today’s world, everyone wants to talk about them. News crews interview anyone even remotely connect to the situation. Companies give statements. If there is no primary source provided in a news report, it just might not be true.


Can it be verified by another established source? Can it be fact checked?

Verifiable facts should be reported by multiple news agencies. There are actually fact checking organizations like FactCheck.org and Snopes. There are actual lists of such agencies readily found with a quick google search. If you can’t confirm it with a quick search, it just might not be true.

In a perfect world, that elusive Utopian* society with “a brotherhood of man” in John Lenon’s Imagine*, we wouldn’t have to worry about fake news reports as people would equally share all the world; however, that’s not yet our world.


The scarily familiar dictatorship of The Hunger Games, where the good of the few demands a yearly sacrifice of the many, thank goodness, is not a reality in the United States as of now though there are certainly places in the world where such situations do exist.


To make sure that doesn’t become our reality, we have a responsibility to know the differences between fantasy and fiction, between propaganda* and truth, and between the real and not real.

Utopia is defined by Merriam Webster's Learner dictionary as, "an imaginary place in which the government, laws, and social conditions are perfect."


Propaganda is misleading or incorrect information  used to promote a particular point of view.


I wholeheartedly advocate* one’s right to make personal life choices. It is not ever my job to tell someone what to think or what to believe.


However, as an educator, I do have the responsibility to encourage thinking, questioning, and analyzing. I believe in using facts to form my opinions.

Advocate means to support or recommend a particular cause. It can also be used with for as in in advocate for a cause. Finally, the noun is spelled the same though pronounced differently. For example, The student advocate advocates for student rights. Don't you just love English?!?


Critical Thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of issues to form judgement.



Personal Beliefs are the convictions one uses to guide his or her life.




Therefore, I encourage everyone, including myself, that before we form our conclusions and make our decisions, we start actively asking the question is this idea, article, picture, and even person

Real or Not Real?

Idioms in “Firework”

It’s 4th of July, our nation’s birthday, a time for celebrations with friends and family and fireworks! I love fireworks. As I thought about this week’s blog, I, of course, went to Katy Perry’s awesome rocky song, “Firework.” I had thought to explore firework idioms, but upon listening to her song, I realized it was full of idioms in itself. So, today’s topic is the examination of the idioms in the song.

This song, as many of Perry’s songs, has a ton of cultural references. Here are two basic categories: negative situations and positive ones. The negative ones are how people might be feeling because of life circumstance, and the positive ones are Perry’s suggestions for overcoming them.

Negative Cultural Idioms

Paper Thin

Think about a sheet of notebook paper. It is easily torn because it is so thin.

This phrase is used to describe feeling inadequate for a task; it can also be used to mean overextended as in

“The ESL 301 summer class has me feeling paper thin!”

House of Cards

When you build something with playing cards, even a breath can cause it to crumble. It is not substantial or secure. Similarly, if you are in a house of cards, this means your situation is precarious. For example,

“Not taking control of your own grammar in writing means your grade is built on a house of cards.”

Cave In

This is another way to express a complete collapse since when the roof of a cave falls down, the entire structure can be destroyed. Hence,

“Being late to Mrs. C’s class over and over is causing our academic relationship to cave in.”

Buried deep (or under) AND 6-feet under

In the USA, one of the ways we take care of the deceased is by burying them in the ground, generally at least 6-feet deep.

There was a very poplular HBO drama in the early 2000’s titled “Six Feet Under” about a mortician family. You can read about it if you're interested.


To be buried 6-feet under is also used to refer to being completely overwhelmed. So, you might say,

“I am being buried six-feet under by all the work in the ESL 301 summer class."

Waste of Space

This is a phrase that comes from space in a room that is too small or inconvenient to be a productive part of the house. However, it is usually applied to people as someone who is “wasting” space on the planet is not contributing in a meaningful way. One could say then that

“Students who don’t participate in class are just a waste of space.”

Closed Door

This is an obvious reference to closing something off. This can be used for “private” or “exclusive” situation like a “closed-door meeting.” It can also be used an in the opportunity or path is no longer accessible, so the “door” has been closed. For example,

“Being a writing instructor takes all my time so being a supermodel is a closed door for me!”

Positive  Idiomatic Overcoming References


This has multiple meanings, but the most applicable here is that a spark is used to start a fire. Similarly, an idea or thought can spark action in a person. Thus, because my goal as a writing instructor is to “spark” critical thinking and life change in my students, I could say

"The lesson that compared the writing process to creating a recipe in the kitchen really sparked a lot of critical thoughts in my ESL 301 class." 


Let Your Light Shine

This is an interesting reference that has both a physical and religious one. If you think of a lighthouse which lights up the safe path on the ocean for ships, similarly, letting your positive spirit shine out can light the way for others. Another meaning is based Matthew 5:16 that states “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” With either reference, the idea is the same: letting your thoughts or deeds come out of you like a “light” so that others can see. Thus,

“Mrs. C’s passion for good writing is a shining light  for her ESL 301 class.”

Own the Night

When you own something, you are technically its master. “To own” is often used to demonstrate mastery of some skill or situation. To own the night means to take full advantage of the situation, to be the boss of it. If you own the night, it could mean that you own the stars, the universe, the whole world!  It could be used in various contexts, but here’s one:

“My ESL 301 students really owned Essay 1 this summer!”


What You’re Worth

A more common usage of this term is “for what It’s worth” which is used to express one’s personal opinion on a topic as opposed to an expert opinion. The usage of “what you’re worth” in the song implies that you are worth a great deal and you need to embrace it! For instance,

“I don’t think my graphic designer understands what he’s worth, but I sure do! I think he’s awesome!”

After the Hurricane

Comes the Rainbow

Another common usage of this idea is that after a storm comes a rainbow. Physically, it is true. Rainbows often occur after there’s been a lot of rain. Idiomatically, what it means is that dark times or storms will come to everyone’s life, but nothing lasts forever. The beauty and majesty of a rainbow, positive aspects of life, will follow darkness. We have lots of idiomatic expressions for this idea; one of my favorites is “it is always darkest before the dawn.”  Another is “there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” So, for my summer writing students,

"We are starting week 5, so we are at the half-way point! See the light at the end of the tunnel!"






Lightning Bolt

While this image has both positive and negative aspects, here I believe it used as the idiomatic expression “be struck by lightning.” Physically, were this phenomenon to occur, a person would receive an electrical shock; similarly, if someone receives an emotional or mental jolt, she could be “struck by lightning.” In fact, great inventors are often said to be struck by the lightning of an idea. This could be used to describe any great idea that occurs. Thus, you might write,

“I got the lightning bolt of the importance of emotional intelligence as I read the article for Essay 2 in my ESL 301 class.”

Perfect Road

There are too many cultural references for this idiomatic idea to even begin to list them all. One of my favorites has to be “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. You can listen and read it below.


The general idea is that life and our choices in life are all on a road and some roads are better than others. Thus, there is a “perfect” road for everyone, but everyone’s roads are different because we are all uniquely individual. So, I might say that

“Teaching at IVC is my perfect road to give me time to both instruct students and write books.”



Now that you’ve looked at the idioms, give the song another listen. One of the things I really like about Perry is she is motivating, and she weaves so many sophisticated ideas throughout her pop music.

This fourth of July as you watch the fireworks in person or on tv and celebrate our nation’s independence, I hope you are motivatedd to be you own firework, to have your own independent, wonderful path and follow it where ever it leads!

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

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!

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!

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?

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



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.