Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

My daughter recently asked me about how she could improve her writing skills and I recommended Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Although just 272 mostly short one-syllable words, in direct language, it hit a chord that has rung through history. In fact, Lincoln was not the main speaker on that late autumn day in 1863. The main orator, Edward Everett, a very distinguished figure from Massachusetts, preceded the president at the dais with almost two hours of prose that must have challenged the standing crowd's stamina. Lincoln followed Everett and delivered his remarks with such brevity that a Philadelphia reporter John Young whispered "Is that all?" To which, Lincoln replied. "Yes, that's all." The Chicago Times initially dismissed Lincoln's words as "silly, flat, dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed oput at the President of the United States." But history would exonerate Lincoln. In fact, one of the first to recognize the weight of Lincoln's address was Everett himself who wrote to the president that "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes."Here is the original text.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address  is considered one of the great speeches ever pronounced in the English language. It certainly sounded a chord that has rung through the ages.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Gram's Rag Rugs

From all accounts, my gram Mary (Bourdeau) Shea was a prolific person. She gave birth to four babies, took in and more or less raised two younger sisters after their own mother died up in Quebec and, as my Aunt Gertrude often told me, "your gram ruled the roost!"
She met my grandfather Con Shea when she was working in a Turners Falls bakery. He had a sweet tooth, in the great Shea tradition and young Mary Bourdeau perhaps won his heart with chocolate eclairs. She certainly never abandoned the pastry production. Throughout their man years of marriage, she would rise before dawn and bake two apple pies for her tribe.
She had four children, as I mentioned, Gertrude, Robert, Bernard (my dad) and David, who died before his first birthday from milk that had gone off. Gert remembers the little white coffin that held her brother David sitting in their K Street apartment living room, a terrible sight that almost sunk my gram into the pits of depression.
Raised in French Canada, my gram grew up speaking Quebecois. Because her family was poor, she abandoned her schooling at 14 but never gave up education. She was a ferocious reader and taught herself English in America by reading texts aloud to herself or anyone in sight. In a family of staunch Democrats, much of what she read was political commentary, a custom that my father carried on throughout his life. In fact, I never associated my family with fiction as a child, although we had a lot of novels (all of Dickens' works in a brown leather hardback volumes) my dad's prized books were biographies of Adlai Stevenson and folks of that ilk.
Anyway, apart from being a very loving gram and great cook, my gram used to make rag rugs, great circular works of colorful artistry that dominated our living room floor for as long as I can remember. The process of fashioning a rag rug was of course a mystery to me and my siblings. As the final product seemed so professional and impeccably well made, for all we knew, it could have come off an industrial loom.
But no, it was a painstakingly precise process of hook and material that Gram would put together with whatever scraps she could get ahold of. Ever practical, there was a dark overall color so as not to bear too much testimony to the muddy tromping of five growing kids living across from a very inviting and forested gully.
The new movie Moonrise Kingdom, set in 1960s  New England, features a massive home whose polished wooden floors are adorned with a massive rag rug, nearly as colorful as my gram's creations but green in hue. Upon spotting the rag rug in that darkened cinema, I was transported home to 9 Oakman Street, in Western New England. It was a most agreeable journey in my mind. Sometimes these trips are the best.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Do You Suffer a "Vowel" Problem? Here's Help!

My Spanish-speaking students of the English language used to groan "wait, we don't wanna learn  American English" preferring the British variety (whatever that may be!) but I assure them that just about any variant of English is okay if you can communicate with ease and relative precision. But you do need to sort out the "problem of the vowels" and Toronto folkies Madison Violet  can help you manage those ooooos and ohs. Give them a try! This video clip is taken from their European tour across Germany and points Nordic. Wonderful harmonies!

Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie is one of my all-time guitar heroes although I would like to refer to her as a s/hero because she was a woman in a class by herself!  I hope you enjoy her Me and Chauffer Blues.

For more information on this amazing woman of the blue: click here

(Thanks to my colleague and fearless leader, Diane Boggs, for teaching me how to make these links!)  

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Perfect Heart

(An ancient tale for Mariana Shea, high school graduate and Gertrude Mary (Shea) Bergeron, late, great teacher and a woman with a wonderful heart)

One day a young man stood in the village square and proclaimed that he had the most beautiful perfect heart in all the land. A great crowd gathered from all around. They came to admire and confirm that this heart was indeed perfect. They noted that it did not bear any marks or scratches. It was just perfect.

All agreed it was the most perfect heart they had ever seen. All except for one old man who drew near and said: “ Your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.”

The people were surprised at this statement, as was the young man. They all studied the heart of the old man and observed that, although it did beat regularly and with great strength, it was covered in scars. Worse than that, there were areas of the old man's heart where pieces had been removed and replaced in a slipshod, higglypiggly manner. There were angles and edges that did not seem so perfect.

Worse still, there were actually spaces where chunks had been removed and never replaced. This repelled the crowd which let out a collective shudder. The young man responded with a chuckle.

“You must be joking,” he said. “How could anyone even compare my perfect heart with yours? Why yours is a mess, it's covered with wounds and marked by pain.”

“That is true enough,” acknowledged the old man. “Your heart beams with perfection, but I beg you to look more closely before you compare. Look, every scar of mine tells of a person to whom I have given my love. I pulled off pieces of my heart to give them to everyone I have loved.

“Many have responded in kind, provided a piece of their own heart, which I placed in the space that had been left open. As the pieces were not equal, the edges were irregular, but I revel in those defects, because the edges remind me of the love we shared. There were times when I gave a piece of my heart to someone, but that person did not offer a piece of theirs in exchange. There empty gaps were left.”

The young man and the crowd around him were moved by the old man's words. They listened intently as he continued.

“To give love is to take a risk, but in spite of the pain that these wounds caused me leaving the open scars, they remind me that I keep loving some people and feed hopes that someday they may return and fill the spaces they have left in my heart.”

After a short pause, the old man asked in a measured tone, “Now do you understand what is a truly beautiful heart?”

The young man stood silent as tears coursed his cheeks. He approached the old man, pulled a piece from his beautiful heart and offered it to him. The old man took it and put it in his heart. The old man then pulled an old, tattered chunk of his own heart and with it, he put it in the space that had been left in the young man's heart.

The piece fit quite well, but not perfect for they were not identical. Irregular edges could be seen on the young heart.

The boy studied his own heart which was not so perfect anymore, but he felt a rush of great joy because the old man's love flowed in him.

(with thanks to Rosario Gómez of Chile for sharing a version of this tale with me years ago)

Alabama English with Will Kimborough

Will Kimborough is a stunning guitarist and creative songwriter from Mobile, Alabama in the heart of the Southern USA, commonly referred to as The Deep South. I am a fan and friend of Will. I appreciate his eagerness to share his insights into guitar playing with lesser mortals like me. He puts a weekly mini guitar lesson on YouTube each week, either from his own living room or from wherever he happens to be in his travels. I recommend these segments to those guitarists, of course, but also to students learning English because his lovely Southern drawl is engaging. Enjoy and let me know if you find this useful. Thanks and best wishes for the summer, David Shea

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mariana Shea Graduates from High School!

Mariana Shea was granted her sheepskin from the American School of Las Palmas this week. The ASLP celebrated a graduation ceremony that highlighted many of the features I most appreciate about the school and American education, in general. From the very first strains of Pomp and Circumstance to the jubilant turning of the tassel, I was thrilled as a parent to be a part of this little community. Teachers Athena and Walid's emcee act, Board member Ben Ward's encouragement to the graduating class, Alex's amazing rap, Rosa and Chichi's thoughtful tribute to each and every graduating senior and last, but not least, principal Lina Saab's down-to-earth bilingual speech.
Although Lina apologized for negativity, I found her address compelling, refreshing and realistic. These are hard times economically but each of the graduates can make their mark, as she urged them in your remarks. I have been blessed (do not let me get carried away here!) to have seen Rosie, Robin and Mariana study and, in their own right, flourish at the school. They are, alas, growing up all too quickly into caring, sharing, strongly individual adults and we have the ASLP to thank for much of their development.
Mariana made a most articulate speech at the ceremony, thanking her folks and teachers and most especially, her siblings Rosie and Robin. She plans to study Fine Arts at the U of Birmingham, England, this fall so she will be near her sister who is studying nursing at King's College in central London.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Who is Patricia Kraus?

Patricia Kraus in a publicity shot.
For more information regarding Patricia Kraus, click here.


Let's learn about Wikipedia

Patricia Kraus

My colleague at EOI Santa Brigida, Diane, was raving about Patricia Kraus, the daughter of the late great Alfredo Kraus, so I decided to share a song with you. I hope you enjoy it. 

to rave = hablar maravillas 

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Antje Duvekot is German but has lived in the USA for many years. She writes songs and sings them around the country. This is one of her recent offerings. I hope you like it.

(by Antje Duvekot) 
Once you stood below a mountain
Now you find yourself surprised
This is the sweet spot of your life
‘Cause this new view compares to nothing
Gone the hardship of your climb
This is the sweet spot of your life

And it would seem the ice is melting
It seems you’ve come in from the cold
This is the sweet spot of your life
And all your streams they are now fuller
Than what their riverbanks can hold
This is the sweet spot of your life

So you must hold these days like treasures
In a jewel box in your heart
This is the sweet spot of your life
For you know well they are most precious
Into an old tree you must carve them
This is the sweet spot of your life

May it only sting a moment
When you dive into that blue
This is the sweet spot of your life
‘Cause by the time you hit the surface
It has rearranged you
This is the sweet spot of your life

You always wanted something solid
Just one solid thing
Oh but angels are so fickle
They only love you when you sing
But you don’t need those fickle angels to shine
This is the sweet spot of your life

Once you stood below a mountain
Now you find yourself surprised
This is the sweet spot of your life
‘Cause this new view compares to nothing
Gone the hardships of your climb
This is the sweet spot of your life

May it only sting a moment
When you dive into that blue
This is the sweet spot of your life
‘Cause by the time you hit the surface
It has rearranged you
This is the sweet spot
This is the sweet spot
This is the sweet spot of your life
This is the sweet spot
This is the sweet spot
This is the sweet spot of your life
 here is the link to hear her sing it!

True Wealth

My guru, Rosario Gómez of Santiago, Chile, collected this story “Riqueza” and kindly shared it with me. I have since translated it into English and adapted it to different situations. “Riqueza” was published in Rosario's Cuentos con alma, (Tales with Soul, details included below).

Once upon a time, the father of a well-off family took his son on a trip to the countryside to show the boy how the rural people lived in poverty. He hoped the boy would appreciate the family's station in life if he saw how “the other half” lived. They spent a day and a night at the farm of a peasant family whose circumstances were quite humble.
As they were returning home, the father asked his son: “What did you think about the trip?”
“Very nice, Dad!” was his son's bright reply.
“Did you see how poor people can be?”
“I certainly did!”
“So, tell me, what did you learn?” the father entreated the youngster.
“Well, I saw that we have one dog at home, they have four. We have a pool that takes up half the back garden, they have a babbling brook that has no end. We have an imported lamps in the yard, they have the stars. Our patio reaches to the wall of the house, theirs stretches across a whole horizon. They have time to talk and live as a family, you and Mom have to work all the time. I hardly see you.”
At the end of the story, the father was speechless ... and his son added: “Thanks, Dad, for teaching me just how rich we could become!” 

(Rosario does not identify the author of this tale). Here is the original story in Spanish:

Una vez, un padre de una familia acaudalada llevó a su hijo a un viaje por el campo con el firme propósito de que su hijo conociera cuán pobre eran las gentes del campo. Vivieron un día y una noche en una granja de una familia campesina muy humilde. Al concluir el viaje y de regreso a casa, el padre le pregunta a su hijo: ¿Qué te pareció el viaje?
¡Muy bonito, papá!
¿Viste lo pobre que puede ser la gente?
¿Y qué aprendiste?
Vi que nosotros tenemos un perro en casa, ellos tienen cuatro. Nosotros tenemos una piscina que llega de largo a la mitad del jardín, ellos tienen un arroyo que no tiene fin. Nosotros tenemos una lámparas importadas en el patio, ellos tienen las estrellas. Nuestro patio llega hasta la muralla de la casa, el de ellos tiene todo un horizonte. Ellos tienen tiempo para platicar y convivir en familia, tú y mamá tienen que trabajar todo el tiempo y casi nunca los veo.

Al terminar el relato, el padre se quedó mudo … y su hijo agregó:

 ¡Gracias, papá, enseñarme lo ricos que podemos llegar a ser!

 Relato sacado de la colección, Cuentos con alma, compilado por Rosario Gómez Alfonso, Gaia Ediciones. Madrid, 2006, página 40.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Freedom of Speech

"There is no freedom of speech when people are terrified to be wrong...being wrong is just part of being human." 
-- Garrison Keillor, from his short story Stewardship (MPR 1999) 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Remembering Donald Barthelme

Many years ago, I fell head over heels enraptured with the rambling and absurd writings of  Donald Barthelme. Here is an extract from one of his final short stories. For more information, start here: After that, you are on your own!

 Self-regard is rooted in breakfast. When you have had it, then lunch seems to follow naturally, as if you owned not only the fruits but the means of production in a large, faux-naïf country. This is doubted only by eccentrics, and on the present occasion their views need not be taken into account. That country in which you are loved for yourself is expanding now with the further developement of books, a new kind capable of satisfying the tactile wishes even of old people. Our engineers are at a loss to understand what their engineers have done. Still, insofar as they are trying to sketch future trends, even the most rigid empiricists among them are obliged to make projections, and then plans. Such is the impact of technology upon the fabric of inherited social institutions that breakfast is almost forgotten, in some countries; they paint pictures instead. I read Dampfboot's novel although he had nothing to say. It wasn't rave, that volume; we regretted that. And it was hard to read, dry, breadlike pages that turned, and then fell, like a car burned by rioters and resting, wrong side up, at the edge of the picture plane with its tires smoking. Fragments kept flying off the screen into the audience, fragments of rain and ethics. Hubert wanted to go back to the dog races. But we made him read his part, the outer part where the author is praised and the price quoted. We like books that have a lot of dreck in them, matter which presents itself as not wholly relevant (or indeed, at all relevant) but which, carefully attended to, can supply a kind of "sense" of what is going on. This "sense" is not to be obtained by reading between the lines (for there is nothing there, in those white spaces) but by reading the lines themselves -- looking at them and so arriving at a feeling not of satisfaction exactly, that is too much to expect, but of having read them, of having "completed" them. "Please don't talk," Snow White said. "Say nothing. We can begin now. Take off the pajamas." Snow White took of her pajamas. Henry took off his pajamas. Kevin took off his pajamas. Hubert took off his pajamas. Clem took off his pajamas. Dan took off his pajamas. Edward took off his pajamas. Bill refused to take off his pajamas. "Take off your pajamas Bill," Snow White said. Everyone looked at Bill's pajamas. "No, I won't," Bill said. "I will not take off my pajamas." "Take off your pajamas Bill," everyone said. "No. I will not." Everyone looked again at Bill's pajamas. Bill's pajamas filled the room, in a sense. Those yellow crêpe-paper pajamas. (from the 1970s)

Learning to Swim!

That's me swimming beside my mentor, Flipper! 
(As a student of mine commented, dreams are free!)

More than 50,000 visits to our humble blog

I just found out my blog at the EOI (  has registered more than 50,000 visits. That may not sound like much to you, but it astonishes me. The blog began as a place to post some of my students' work from the college where I teach. I also make announcements and put my own writings (mostly under the guise of Delmar Lemming, Hopkins Clifford or Clifford Hopkins -- depending on my mood!). It is fun and keeps growing.
When someone drew my attention to the stats, I was rather taken aback. How in the world could such a humble page attract such interest. So I researched the page visits further.
It seems most of the visits come from people in the USA and Spain. That's a fairly tame revelation as I was born in Massachusetts, studied till I was 21 in the USA. I have lived in Spain for most of my working life, over 20 years, in fact. As I teach Spanish students about English language and culture, it is fitting that a lot of the visits are from students either at my college (EOI Sta B, Las Palmas de GC, Spain) or former students of mine from the ULPGC where I taught technical  translation for 13 years.
A friend from Madrid said that most of these English teaching blogs were much of a muchness. If you have seen one, you have seen them all, she shrugged. She may be right. But I hope my blog keeps chronicling, in a small, probably insignificant way, what my students are doing, what they are thinking and some of the stuff  I am writing.
It is not a numbers game, by any means, but it is pleasing to find that someone is visiting the blog. I suppose it would be great if more people commented in the "comment" section at the bottom of every article. But I do not generally get much comment on Facebook notes save for the welcome thumbs up, which indicates that someone had a look anyway!

Finding a Partner

We have been talking in class about speeding dating and on-line chat groups aimed at meeting potential partners or making new friends. Lourdes Saavedra from NI2 wrote this great essay on the subject. Thanks to all the students who worked on these thoughtful essays!

Nowadays, most people are quite busy with their jobs and daily routine. Consequently, they have no time to go out and meet new people. However, new techniques to find a date are turning up, for example:
  • Chatting online: More and more people use Facebook or Twitter to take up with friends and new acquaintances.
  • Speed-dating: In this way, you can meet 15-20 people your age in the same day, you have 4 or 5 minutes to chat with each person. Then you decide if you want to see that person again or not.
As you can see, these two new ways are very different from the traditional techniques because in the traditional method, you first meet the person and after you have time to know him or her better while in the case of chatting people, you read about their lives and then you decide if you want to meet with them or in the case of speed dating you have 5 minutes to know if a person is reliable and if you like or dislike him or her.
I will sound out of date or old fashioned, but in my opinion, the most appropriate way to find a partner is the traditional method because I could not have a date with anybody I had not met before. Of course, I prefer having a good chat with an unattractive man in a café than chatting online with the most handsome man in the world.