Friday 5: Quarters

The first quarter of 2017 is now behind us. How has it been?

I guess not as awful as it could have been.

How has this past quarter of your life been surprisingly good?

Partner spontaneously decided to clean up (and clean out) the apartment.

When did you last drop quarters into a vending machine?

I think I used coins at a vending machine at some point this year, but I can’t remember when.

How do you feel about your state’s twenty-five-cent coin? If you’re not in the U.S., which of the coins do you think is especially striking?

I’m originally from Pennsylvania, and our state quarter leaves much to be desired.



There’s a Gettysburg quarter that’s slightly better:

Our license plates are uninspiring, too. When I was a kid, we had the gold on blue (or blue on gold) “Keystone State”/”You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” tags. Now there’s no quip or state nickname, just an advertisement for the commonwealth’s official tourism web page. Ugly. You can look at them all here, if you want.

Our state slogan was mediocre for a while, too. I still think we should bring “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania” out of retirement, but I’ll admit that “Pursue your happiness” (current slogan) beats out “State of independence” (previous slogan).

Google’s corporate headquarters is called the Googleplex. What would be a good name for the corporate headquarters of your life?

The Kitchen. Since that’s where I actually do most of my work. Stay humble, never forget your roots, etc.


A few weeks ago, I was going over a textbook unit on housekeeping and chores with an adult student. She picked up on something that went totally unaddressed in an otherwise pretty solid textbook: the many colloquial variations (American) English has of the verb throw. Within just one lesson the following expressions came up:

  • throw away/throw out
  • throw on [the nightstand, the chair, etc.]
  • throw in [the laundry, the microwave, the sink.]

And there was the opportunity for even more! To throw on some pajamas and relax; to throw together a quick dinner when you come home from work. (It’s arguable whether or not throwing a party belongs in a unit on keeping house.)

When the fellow in the listening exercise mentioned “throwing [his] wallet and keys on the nightstand,” she frowned. “‘Throw’? That’s not good. He should be careful.”

We talked for a couple of minutes about how throw can also mean “put somewhere carelessly.” The Online Etymology Dictionary, oddly, does not provide a history of that particular usage. (Throw up for “vomit” is actually older than I was expecting: first recorded in 1732!)

Anyway, here’s an incomplete collection of different ways we use throw in English as part of a phrasal verb, ranked roughly from most common to least, according to my own arbitrary impressions.

Friendly reminder that throw is a little irregular: today I throw, yesterday I threw, I have thrown.

throw out/throw away:* to put something in the garbage or otherwise get rid of something. Can you throw out the packaging? // Don’t throw away those plastic containers! I recycle them. **

throw up: to vomit. I shouldn’t have eaten at that cheap seafood restaurant. I feel like I’m going to throw up.

throw [something] on: to quickly put on a piece of clothing. We’re running late, so just throw something on and let’s go! **

throw [something] in [something]: ** to carelessly put something in a container. Dinner’s mostly ready, just throw it in the microwave to heat it up. 

throw [something] together: to prepare something quickly, often without trying too hard. Jim threw his presentation together at the last minute, so it didn’t go very well.

throw a party: to have a party. Erica’s throwing a party this weekend. Are you coming?

throw in [something]: ** to provide something extra in a sale. The cable company threw in three free months of service when we signed the contract.

throw in [a remark, a comment]: ** to say something careless or thoughtless in a conversation. Out of nowhere, he threw in a nasty remark about Harry’s cooking.

throw one’s self into [something]: to work hard on a project. Anita really threw herself into studying Japanese. She only read Japanese books and watched Japanese TV.

throw off: to mislead or confuse someone (sometimes used as “throw off someone’s game”); to make something incorrect (usually numbers or a calculation). The burglar threw off police by leaving false evidence behind. // Oh, I forgot to include the figures from June. That really threw off my calculations!

throw off [something]: to get rid of something (used similarly to “shake [something]”). I just can’t throw off this cold. (I just can’t shake this cold.) I’ve been sick for a month now.

throw [something] off/from [a/the something]: to physically throw someone or something from a relatively high place, e.g. a building, a cliff, a train. James Bond threw the spy off the bridge. **

throw from: most often used in the passive (to be thrown from) to describe transportation accidents. While the woman was thrown from her vehicle upon impact, she escaped serious injury.

There are also a few idioms related to throw as well.

throw the book at [someone]: ** to punish someone severely. The murderer showed no remorse, so the judge threw the book at him.

throw [someone] a bone: to help someone out, usually by providing something intangible like an idea or an opportunity; similar to “do [someone] a favor.” Can you throw me a bone and show my resume to your boss? I really need a new job.

throw [someone] for a loop: to confuse someone. The last question on the test really threw me for a loop. I don’t think I got it right.

throw [someone] under the bus: to betray someone, or to blame them for something they didn’t do (or only had a small part in), to reduce your own punishment. After Hank and Susan were caught stealing from the company, Hank threw Sue under the bus by saying it was her idea.

*the two are interchangeable except that throw out of means to forcibly remove an unwilling person from a group or venue, but throw away of is meaningless

**”toss” can be used instead of “throw”

Book Review: Home

I use a lot of picture books in my work with younger learners. While it’s good to engage in age-appropriate reading material, I have to admit the simple language and gorgeous art is a nice break for me, too! And that’s exactly what Carson Ellis delivers in Home.

Author: Carson Ellis

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.04 stars

Language scaling: A1+

Recommended audience: Young learners and beginner English students. Fans of The Decemberists might also be interested in it, as Ellis is an artist for the band.

Carson Ellis Home
Image courtesy Carson Ellis and Candlewick Press

Plot summary: A whimsical look at the different places people call home.

In-depth thoughts: This is an adorable picture book that is sure to become a classic. I’ll let the art speak for itself, but I want to make a brief comment here about the lettering.

I’ve found that picture books, perhaps in an attempt to be THE CUTEST, often make font and lettering choices that obscure the text. This might not be an issue for native English speakers, or for English learners accustomed to the Latin alphabet, but it does needlessly complicate things for students who are still learning the English writing system in addition to the language.

Ellis’s lettering, while distinct, is nonetheless clear. This is a great selection for beginners, young learners of all levels, and anyone captured by Ellis’s charming art.

Friday 5: Food Me Once; Food Me Twice

What do you like on your frozen yogurt?

Jimmies and crumbled Oreos, mostly. I don’t actually care for chocolate syrup on frozen yogurt or ice cream. I can’t explain what it is, but I don’t like it.

When patronizing those frozen yogurt establishments with an overwhelming buffet of possible toppings, I have been known to add Fruity Pebbles. I don’t consider that an essential frozen yogurt topping, though.

How do you feel about hot breakfast cereals?

In theory I like them a lot; in practice I can’t be bothered with the extra step of warming them up so I never have them. If I need something warm in the morning, I Just have extra tea.

What did you last put brown sugar in or on?

When was the last time I made chocolate chip cookies? Brown sugar is one of those items that I end up (shamefacedly!) wasting a lot of because I need it infrequently, but you can only buy it in relatively large quantities.

What’s a food item you willingly overpay for?

Pre-chopped frozen vegetables. Sure, I know how to cut a bell pepper, but it’s worth the time saved to just get them in little pieces already.

I also have an obsession with Celestial Seasonings brand tea. In the US this isn’t too much of a problem, but in Stockholm that can get a little ridiculous.

What did you last add vinegar to?

I only use vinegar (balsamic) sparingly on salads. My preferences lean heavily towards the “oil” part of “oil and vinegar.”

Spring 2017: The Return of the Sun


I didn’t realize until I moved to Stockholm just how much my mood is affected by daylight hours. Sure, it’s easy to look at a globe and see where Sweden is and know that the winters will be dark, as an abstract point of fact—it’s not as easy to really understand what that means on a daily basis from around Halloween to around, well, today. It’s been a grim 2017 so far, but not entirely without hope. Hold on to that hope, and let it warm you like the summer sun that we’ll be seeing in no time.

Book Review: Spot It! Find the Hidden Creatures

Spot It!: Find the Hidden Creatures is another gem of a picture book that I found at the library a few weeks ago. It was actually originally a French title (Cherche la petite bête); the English version is put out by Abrams Books.

Author: Delphine Chedru

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.88 stars

Language scaling: A1+

Recommended audience: Young learners and beginner English students.

Image courtesy Delphine Chedru and Aram Books

Plot summary: A series of “find the hidden figure” puzzles.

In-depth thoughts: Some of the puzzles are fairly simple, but others are challenging even for grown-up eyes! Chedru’s technique of building patterns out of simple lines and shapes make Spot It! a great companion book to lessons about shapes and geometry (as well as animals). My students enjoyed trying to stump me with their own puzzles inspired by Chedru.

Friday 5: Picture This

What’s your favorite monster movie?

Oh, goodness. I’ve seen a respectable amount of off-brand monster movies, thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, RiffTrax, and Cinematic Titanic. Can I pick a favorite? If I had to, I’d say The Horror of Party Beach and The Wasp Woman.

What’s your favorite social issues movie?

I’m not sure what would qualify as a social issues movie? It can be hard to tackle complex social issues elegantly in the space of (more or less) two hours. Off the top of my head, I’d say: P. K. (religious dogma and prejudice), Lilies of the Field (race relations in mid-century America), and Ship of Fools (anti-Semitism in the run-up to World War II).

What’s a movie you dislike in a genre you love?

There are too many bad comedies to name.

What’s a movie you like in a genre you dislike?

There aren’t too many film genres I outright dislike. I admit to not liking slasher movies a whole lot, but I didn’t mind the House of Wax reboot? remake? that came out a few years ago. (I still prefer the original Vincent Price version, of course.)

What’s a movie everyone else has seen but you have not seen?

Up until a couple of years ago, my first answer to this question was  Bladerunner (extra shameful because my final project in philosophy was on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). Now, I’m not sure what that would be. The first one that comes to mind is Saving Private Ryan, but I’m sure there are others.

Book Review: The White Giraffe

Since today is White Day in South Korea and Japan, it seems like a good time to put up my review of The White Giraffe.

Author: Lauren St John

My GoodReads rating: 2 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.99 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Recommended audience: Animal lovers

The White Giraffe by Lauren St John review
Image courtesy Dial 

Plot summary: When tragedy strikes, young Martine is sent to her grandmother in South Africa, who runs a game preserve. Her fascination with a mysterious white giraffe leads to the discovery of a fate greater than she could have ever dreamed.

Content warning: The book opens with a house fire scene that might be a bit scary for younger readers. There are also some representation issues when it comes to non-white characters.

In-depth thoughts: It’s clear that St John knows and cares a lot about animals, including the unique wildlife of sub-Saharan Africa. According to her biography, she grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe with a host of exotic pets, and frankly that’s a memoir I would read! It’s also clear that her background was a big influence on The White Giraffe. I just wish that her knowledge, passion, and background had faced a little more scrutiny and gone through a few more revisions before they ended up as The White Giraffe, as it falls a little too close to the White Savior narrative structure for me to be entirely comfortable recommending it for its intended younger readers.

I also admit that as an adult, I’m hardly the middle grade target audience, but a hallmark of good children’s writing is that adult readers can enjoy the book as much as younger readers. But in The White Giraffe, the writing felt a little flat and some elements of the plot seemed rushed or thrown in for the sake of . . . I’m not sure what.

The White Giraffe is the first in a series that includes (as of this blog post) four other books: Dolphin Song, The Last Leopard, The Elephant’s Tale, and Operation Rhino. Hopefully St John has found her stride and ironed out the above issues in The White Giraffe, as I think her passion for conservation and the natural world is one worth sharing and cultivating in young readers.

Greek and Latin Prefixes: E and H

Another prefix post! This installment focuses on Greek and Latin prefixes beginning with “E” and “H.” (There are none beginning with “F” or “G.”)

Prefixes are morphemes that you can attach to word stems to form completely new words. Prefixes in particular tend to change a word’s meaning (rather than a word’s part of speech). If you’d like, you can read more about English root words derived from Greek and Latin. Those are the stems or base words to which these prefixes can (theoretically) be added.

Here are previous entries in this series on prefixes:

Prefix Meaning Example
e, ef, ex out, out of; very emit, effective, exceed
em, en in, on emblem, encircle
epi upon, to, in addition to epidermis
eu, ev good, well eulogy, evangelist
hypo below, under, up from under hypothermia

Friday 5: Count All the Bees in the Hive

Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters do you most relate to?

Rabbit, I suppose? I like to read, I can be bossy, and I find real-life Tiggers to be very trying.


The original Winnie the Pooh toys

Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters has qualities you’d find most attractive in a romantic partner?

My own partner is very much a Piglet, if that’s any indication!


In what way have you “wandered much further” today than you should?

I’m only answering this in the morning, so the day has hardly begun, really. I’ll admit to sleeping in a little, but only a little.
Of Winnie-the-Pooh stories you can remember (from the books, Disney cartoons, or other sources), which is your favorite?

To be honest, I don’t remember much from Winnie-the-Pooh. I know I liked the Disney adaptation of “Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day” when I was younger. I was also quite enamored with the word “blustery” and immediately set about using it in real life.

I also like the Russian animated adaptations. The art is so charming! The crayon backgrounds look just like a child’s drawing, which I think is very appropriate for Winnie-the-Pooh. Plus, this version of Piglet is absolutely adorable.

There are only three, but they’re all freely available on YouTube. Here is the first Винни Пух adaptation: В которой мы знакомимся с Винни-Пухом и несколькими подозрительными пчелами. (In which we meet Winnie the Pooh and a few suspicious bees.)


Which quote from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories would be good for the epigraph in the book about your life?

“I’ve got a sort of idea, but I don’t suppose it’s a very good one.”