Thursday, 18 December 2014

And the Winners Are….

      This year's Christmas card competition was judged on Wednesday, December 17.
      Picking the best cards was a hard decision. The judges, our English professors, considered each design. Sometimes they disagreed. Finally, they voted.
     After all the discussion, debate, and votes, we now know who the winners are!
      1A: Yolanda Girón Aguilar won first, and Cinta Toscano Pérez took second.
      1B: José Manuel Blanco won first, and Andrea Gómez Ruiz took second.
      1C: Nazaret Calado Toscano won first, and Lucia Torres Sánchez took second.
      1D: José Manuel Márquez Carillo won first, and Marta Cartes Camacho took second.
      The winning Christmas cards are shown here, but there were many others that were considered. In the entrance to the high school you can see them: they're posted in the display case next to the Nativity Scene.


      Congratulations to all the contestants, and of course, to the winners. Great job!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

It's Christmas Time Again!

Merry Christmas, Everyone! 
Soon we'll all be off enjoying the holidays. Last year, we published three Christmas items on the bilingual blog: an interactive book with lots of activities about Christmas; a story about Christmas traditions in the U.S.; and a story about U.S. history that tells how Christmas almost didn't come in the early days of the country. If you missed these blog posts, you can go to the archive and find them in December 2013.
For 2014, we have a new post about Christmas stockings (one of my personal favorite holiday traditions). You can find it below this post.
I'm providing some web sites here that might be enjoyable for you:
(1) Traditional Christmas music standards with a great video of winter in city and wilderness:
(2) A summary of the "top 10 Christmas movies" with clips is found at:
(3) It's a Wonderful Life , the film considered by many to be the best Christmas movie ever, can be found at:
(4)  YouTube offers a list of films for free; some of the list look like trailers, but others are full length films.
Remember! Watching films in English is a great way to improve your listening and speaking skills. (And it's also fun.)
The time Santa got stuck in on an
Irish roof
Putting up the San Juan del
Puerto Christmas Tree (2013)

Christmas lights in a Las Palmas park,
Gran Canaria 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

From Odin's Boot to Christmas Tradition

      Christmas Stockings are a popular tradition in the U.S. "Stocking" here means a sock, the covering you wear on your feet. You might ask: "What does THAT have to do with Christmas?"
       Before the stocking, there was a boot, and before Christ was born, there were other gods. In Northern Europe, children often filled boots with carrots and hay for the god Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir.  Odin left the children presents in return for their kindness.
        Later, Christian saints  took the place of the old gods.  Saint Nicholas lived in 4th C. Turkey, and was known for his generosity. Since the time when his legend came to Europe, Dutch children have put shoes beside their fireplaces for St. Nicholas' Day. This tradition began as a way to feed St. Nicholas' horse, but with time, the horse disappeared. Then St. Nicholas, or sinterclaus, put a present into the shoe of a child because the child was good. Dutch immigrants brought the shoes to America in the 17th Century.
         Gradually, the shoe was replaced by a stocking in America. The sock comes from a legend about St. Nicolas. There are many versions, but the basic story is this: There was a poor man with three daughters. He had no money, and so could not pay a dowry (the gift a girl's father had to give to the man who wanted to marry her). If he could not give a dowry, the daughters could not marry. He feared what would happen to them when he died. They would be unprotected, with neither a father nor a husband.
           St. Nicolas heard about this and wanted to help. He quietly went into the father's house in the night and left a gold ball (or a bag of gold) in some stockings that were hanging by the fireplace to dry. The young women and their father were overjoyed to find this gift in the stockings.
          Then again, it's also possible that the custom came from another belief: one Christmas Eve, Santa Clause dropped some gold coins as he came down the chimney. They fell into a stocking that was drying by the fire. After that, children regularly hung stockings by the fire in the hope that Santa would drop something when he traveled through the chimney.
           Fast forward to 1823. That year, Clement Clarke Moore made up a poem for his kids that talked about  Christmas stockings:
               'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
               Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
               The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

               In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
                                             excerpt from "A Visit from Saint Nicholas"
                                             (1823: Clement Clarke Moore)
           The poem was an instant hit. It was republished in many newspapers. Christmas stockings became immensely popular--and remain so to this day.
            Typically, a Christmas stocking is filled with things like oranges (said to represent St. Nicholas' golden ball) and chocolates. Small toys may be put into it, as may decks of cards. Sometimes more important gifts are put into a stocking, small items like a piece of jewelry or a memory card or a pen drive. You can even slip an iPod or an iPhone case into a stocking.
            In our house, my parents had a rule about Christmas morning. It was one of the few days they could sleep late. My brother and I were not to disturb them before 8 a.m. But "Santa Clause" always came on Christmas Eve to leave us stockings: there would be fruit so we wouldn't be too hungry. There were often toys or small books to entertain us. Sometimes, we found tiny games that we could play with each other while we waited. Now, so many years later, on the rare occasions when we can spend Christmas together, my brother and I still make Christmas stockings for each other.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Competing Claim for the First Thanksgiving

Everyone has heard about Thanksgiving, right? Last year we posted a video and some activities about Thanksgiving that you can find if you go to the menu for November 2013 at :

But, according to some, the 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts  wasn't the first American Thanksgiving. There are other claims to the first Thanksgiving in what is today the United States. The strongest is a claim by the descendants of Spanish settlers.

It's based on an expedition led by Don Juan de Oñate that left Santa Barbara, in Nueva Vizcaya, in January 1598. There were 400 men (of whom 130 brought families), eighty-three wagons and carts to carry the baggage and provisions, and more than 7,000 head of stock--cattle, horses, pigs, sheep--assembled. The settlers hoped to find the riches of the Seven Cities of Cibola. Besides mineral wealth, they also hoped to find land for ranching and native labor.

The Medanos of the Chihuahua Desert,
south of Cd. Juarez, Chih.
Oñate took a new route north: he turned away from the Conchos River that those before him had followed, and struck out across the Chihuahua Desert.  A scouting party was aided by natives in finding the Rio Grande. But it was quite another thing for the heavily burdened caravan to follow the trail the scouts made across the desert to the river.

Scrub desert turned to shifting sand dunes. Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, one of the officers, wrote that the group had to eat roots, cactus, berries and weeds as they crossed the desert for they exhausted their food supply. Their clothes and shoes wore out, the hot sand burned their feet, and their tongues swelled up and their throats dried up from thirst. His account relates that "the horses suffered most…they were almost frantic with thirst and their eyes nearly bulged from their sockets."

For four days, there was no water.  Then they reached the Rio Grande del Norte. They stayed for over a week, resting and celebrating their survival. A great feast is said to have taken place there on the banks of the river, with meat supplied by the Spaniards and fish contributed by local natives: the first Thanksgiving, near what is now El Paso, Texas, on April 30, 1598.

The route that Oñate's expedition carved from the desert with such effort became the preferred route for later settlers. Today's highway between Chihuahua City and El Paso follows the same route. Dunes still confront the traveler, from Samalayuca north. They shift constantly, as if trying to bury the highway with their quarts grains, for around 30 kilometers. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to cross them on horseback or on foot. No wonder the expedition rested when they finally reached the river, and gave thanks for its waters and their survival!

Gratitude: The Purpose of Thanksgiving

Do you see a glass of water that is half-empty? Or is it half-full?
People who see a half-empty glass are likely to see their lives in the same way: problems with their classes or jobs, difficulties with money, worries about family, and so on. People who see the glass as half-full are more likely to think about the good parts of their classes or jobs, be happy they have money at all, and view family problems as only one element of being a member of a family.
The half-full glass people, in other words, are grateful for their blessings. Studies show that people who are grateful are generally more positive and better able to deal with trouble than people who don't appreciate the goodness in their lives.
Gratitude can be developed through practice. One exercise that helps develop gratitude is to write down something you are thankful for every day. Another way to practice gratitude is to thank people when they do something kind for you or something that affects you.
         Dr. Michael Craig Miller M.D. of the Harvard Medical School offers a series of strategies for improving gratitude in his article "The Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude." One such strategy is to write thank-you notes. "You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing thank-you notes.... Also write one any time a person has had a positive influence on your life," says Dr. Miller.
Bernardo Romero creates his
fabulous seafood paella
Not long ago, faculty at the Instituto got together for a meal. Prof. Bernardo Romero cooked a delicious seafood paella at the gathering. I can't eat Spain's famous hams, so I really appreciated a seafood dish. I think I should tell him, so I'm going to write him an open [published] thank you note right here!

Dear Bernardo,
Thank you so much for making the wonderful seafood paella for all of    us on November 12.  You know I have to avoid ham, and I appreciate you considering me when you decided on seafood for the dish. The mussels and shrimp were so good, and I'd never eaten razor clams before. The wild asparagus was a special treat!
Thank you for your effort. It was really memorable.
Many regards, Susan                                                               

Maybe you know someone you'd like to thank for something special?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Halloween is coming soon! It is on October 31, a Friday.

You can find out more about Halloween at these web sites:
This site gives a short history and links to  sites about "trick or treat" and "costumes."
This site is an interactive book with information and games about Halloween.

If you want to fool (engañar) evil spirits, you might want to put on a disguise.  Will you be a rock star? A goblin? A super hero? A ghost?  Maybe you want to be a late medieval nobleman?
Nobleman, Palos Discoverer Fair Parade
March 2013
There are many possibilities!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Introductions and classroom English

It is the beginning of our school year. It is very important that you know how to introduce yourself to your partners and teachers. Enjoy this video.

Welcome to school year 2014-15

Hi students and teachers! Welcome to this new school year. All the bilingual teachers wish you have great enthusiasm to start again. Are you motivated to start studying English again? If not, have a look at this short video.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Labor Day: US and Canada

Did you know that Labor Day in the U.S. and in Canada is celebrated in September? Almost everywhere else, labor is celebrated on May 1. This film from TED tells the story of why (and mentions  how May 1 became the international labor day, too).

If you want subtitles, you can turn them on by clicking on the box at the bottom of the video screen.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mid-Term Elections, Part V: As Goes Maine...

Maine Congressional Districts
[U.S. Department of Interior]
         Maine has only two U. S. Congressional House Districts. The First District is small geographically but is the most densely populated part of the state. It includes Portland, Maine's largest city, and the southern half the Maine coast. UNUM Insurance, L.L. Bean and Bath Iron Works (an important shipyard) supply jobs in this part of the state. It is represented by a progressive Democrat, Ms. Chellie Pingree, who is generally popular and expected to win her race.
         The Second District borders Canada. Much of it is forest. Depressed lumber mill towns and large potato and blueberry farming regions characterize it. There are two large metropolitan areas: the city of Bangor, a river port once important to the lumber trade, and Lewiston-Auburn, once a center for shoe and textile production. Coastal development more or less stops north of Acadia National Park, located at the mid-point of the coast. Mr. Michaud represented this district, but because he is running for governor, the seat is now open.
          Maine also has a U.S. Senate race this year: Republican Susan Collins is running for a 4th term. She is one of the few moderate Republicans in the Senate and maintains a strong base of support among Maine voters.
           The Second District is a more uncertain race, but the Democrat is expected to defeat the Republican, who is linked to Governor LePage. The governor is a controversial figure.
  The outcome of the governor's race is uncertain.  The governor was unable to maintain a Republican majority in the state legislature in 2012, which is why the Congressional Districts are  drawn in a reasonably balanced way.
          At first glance, who wins this race might not seem to matter to the national picture. But a governor's policies can impact national policy.
          An example is the struggle over the Affordable Care Act (known as "Obamacare"). The law did not include subsidies for many lower income people because they were expected to get health coverage under another program, Medicaid.  Medicaid is administered by the states. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to tell the states they have to give more health coverage under Medicaid. Gov. LePage refused to expand Medicaid coverage. This means  thousands of people don't have access to health coverage because they don't qualify for subsidies under Obamacare and they don't qualify for Medicaid.
           The governor's refusal also keeps federal money from coming to the state. The federal government promised to pay 100% of any additional cost for more Medicaid the first three years of the program, and 90% each year afterwards until 2022.
   Obamacare is designed as a national system. Each state that fails to join it weakens its ability to lower health insurance costs. The state legislature has voted three times to give Medicaid coverage, but the governor has vetoed it all three times. The legislature has not been able to override the veto.
Stephen King listens to
voter concerns at Michaud
event [photo by S.V. Lowery]
There is a reason the national Republican Governors' Association is spending so much money in Maine: the Republican party can exercise more power at the state level against federal initiatives if it holds the governor's chair. Whenever a federal program needs state cooperation to progress, the governor is crucial.
            The state also decides the rules for voting. It can allow early voting, for example, giving more people opportunity to vote. It can require identification for voting, which may have the effect of making it harder for the elderly to vote. The legislature passes the laws that set these rules, but the Governor's administration enforces them. How these rules are enforced will affect elections beyond the mid-terms--perhaps even help decide who will be the next president.
Incumbents have an advantage in an election. Observers agree that Mr. Cutler will take votes away from Mr. Michaud. But before Governor LePage presumes he will win, he might remember that strange things happen around Stephen King.
For example, there was the case of the Boston Red Sox. The Boston Red Sox lost baseball's world series over and over and over again (86 years of losing it). It was said the team was cursed, that it could never win the series.... then Stephen King and his friend Stuart O'Nan decided to chronicle the 2004 Red Sox season. Even though they were fans of the team, they had no expectation 2004 would be any different than the previous 86 years, but... (You can read about it in Faithful, the book about the Red Sox revival.)
So perhaps Mr. LePage should be a tiny bit concerned.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Mid-Term Elections, Part IV: What Mid-Term Elections Can Mean

       In November, thirty-five of the 50 state governorships besides Maine's are up for election. In addition, all of the 435 U.S. representatives will be elected to the U.S. House, and 36 of the 100 Senators will be elected to the U.S. Senate.  (House members serve for two years, Senators, for 6 years.)
Win? Lose? Draw?
          Going into elections, twenty-nine governors are Republicans and twenty-one are Democrats. Most governors (though not all) have state legislatures controlled by the same party as the governor.
          The U.S. House is controlled by the Republicans; the Senate is controlled by the Democrats. There are two independent Senators. Both of them "caucus"--that is, meet to do Senate business like form committees or decide strategy--with the Democrats.
          The stakes are high this year. For example, in the mid-term election of 2010, the Republicans, helped by the tea party movement, won decisive control of the House.
              In the presidential year, 2012, the Democrats gained two Senate seats. The House stayed in Republican control in part because their gains in 2010 were enough to withstand a higher national popular vote for Democrats. Republicans lost only 8 seats.
               In 2013, the Republicans used their power to refuse approval of any government spending unless programs they didn't like were killed.  Government spending by law has to be approved by Congress. The U.S. government was forced to "shut down" for almost 2 weeks in 2013. Only critical operations could take place. This crisis was resolved in a fairly short time only because Democrats controlled the US Senate. The House had to negotiate and a compromise was found.
How many U.S. Representatives a state has depends on its population. The state is divided into voting districts of approximately the same number of people. The lines that define the district can be manipulated. The states decide where the lines will go. This is one reason why it's important which party controls the state.
          Since Republicans still control a majority of states, it is unlikely that there will be any major change in control of the U.S. House.
If the Democrats lose control of the Senate, it is probable that President Obama's policies and priorities will be extinguished.
That's the national overview. What exactly does Maine have to win (or lose) in the mid-term election?

Mid-Term Elections, Part III: Candidate Image to Candidate Message

        The people who manage campaigns often talk about a candidate's "narrative." Each candidate has a life story. They use the story to create an image. The image is meant to communicate the candidate's message. In the Maine governor's race, the three candidates use their images to explain why they want to be governor. (There is a fourth independent candidate, but he is running for "Governor But Not Really" and that is a different story.)
Rep. Mike Michaud (D)
[photo by S.V. Lowery]
        Author Stephen King's preferred candidate, Democrat Mike Michaud, was a lumber mill worker in northern Maine before he entered politics. His image, despite 34 years in elective office, is that he is a working guy. His first advertisement sends a message is that he understands working people and wants to bring folks together to solve problems. (You can see his first ad at:
Gob. Paul LePage ®
[photo 2011 by MattGagnon
Wikimedia Commons]
         The present governor, Paul LePage, tells how, as a  child, he ran away from an abusive father. He lived on the streets until he found "mentors" (his word). His image is of a self-made man ("a businessman, not a politician"). No one ever gave him anything, he says. He was mayor of a small Maine city before running for governor. His message is that social services prevent people from being independent  and government rules and taxes prevent business from thriving. (You can see his most recent ad at
Eliot Cutler (I)
[photo 2010 by BMRR,
Wikimedia Commons]
         The independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, is a lawyer who tells us that he is the grandchild of immigrants who came to Maine seeking a better life. He emphasizes his work in public service and his business experience, especially on the international stage. His image is of a successful businessman who never really left Maine behind no matter where he lived in the world. His message is that he has the experience to bring jobs to Maine, and because he is an independent, he can offer
new solutions to the state's political and economic problems. (Cutler's promotional ad can be found at:
         Mr. Cutler and Mr. LePage have competed against each other before. Mr. LePage won the 2010 election with only a little over 38% of the vote to become governor. There were five candidates in all, including a Democrat and three independents besides Mr. LePage.  Mr. Cutler won almost as many votes as Mr. LePage, but in a Maine election, "almost" doesn't matter. Maine allows the winning candidate to take office, even if the winner does not have 50% or more of the votes.
        Each campaign may also have a negative message about the other candidates. So far, there have been few "attack ads," but in September and October, political ads will probably include attacks on candidates or their positions.
Variations of these images and messages appear in all of the many campaigns underway this off-year election season. U.S. voters are not awfully interested in mid-term elections. Voter turnout in most states will be low. People often say, "It doesn't matter who wins. Why take the trouble to vote?" Without the excitement of a presidential race, off-year elections generate little interest.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Mid-Term Elections, Intermission: How to Untangle These Posts

        Some of the words I use in these posts are quite high level.  But they are not really difficult. For example, "financial advantage" looks hard--until you look closely at the words. Aren't they a lot like "ventaja financiera"? That's exactly what they mean.
You don't have to get tangled up in
the sentence. Just separate each part.
The sentence structure is harder, especially in Part II. I am sorry, but I had to make a choice: I could keep the post shorter by using more complex grammar, or I could simplify and have very long posts. I chose to try to make the posts shorter. The more complex sentences are not really too complex even though they are long. For example:
    "Winners in a party primary have a financial advantage because once they are selected by the voters as the party candidate, the state party will use its money to support their campaign."
If you break this sentence into pieces, each piece is clear:
       (1) Winners in a party primary have a financial advantage
       (2) because [=the reason they have an advantage is that] once they are selected [upon being selected/after they are selected] by the voters as [=to be] the party candidate,
       (3) the state party will use its money to support their campaign.
Each part of the sentence is called a separate "clause." To say the same thing more simply would take more words:
"Winners in a party primary get an advantage.  The advantage is that there is more money for their campaign. The political party will give them the money they need. Until the voters choose the candidates in the primary election, they cannot get money from the party. The candidates have to raise money from private contributors or supporters."
I hope this explanation helps. You can always ask questions. I check the blog regularly and will be happy to answer. If I don't have an answer, I will find someone who does.
        There are two more parts coming about the mid-term elections: candidate messages, and why it matters. I hope you find them of interest.