Tag Archive for: daily language practice

“It’s a Living”  words and music by Aaron Burdett (from his CD Refuge)

I’m back at work, trying to make a living and a little bit more so I can travel to Europe again next summer. Sometimes while I work, I listen to music.* 

Earlier this morning I was listening to Aaron Burdett sing, “It’s a living. . . a funny thing to call it. . . .”

Now that I think about it, I guess it is a funny thing to call it. It’s one of those expressions that I took for granted but now, as a teacher of English as a foreign language, I’m beginning to notice.

We have many expressions about living. “It’s a Living” plays around with two of them. In this song, Aaron is singing about someone who doesn’t like his job but does it anyway in order to pay for things that he does like or need.

“I’m living now” can mean living well. It’s kind of like “living high off the hog” which means to live in comfort, with plenty of money and good food. This is also referred to as “high living” or “living large.”  

“Living on a shoestring” means just the opposite. It means to live on a very tight budget with little money. “Living paycheck to paycheck” is even worse. It’s spending all of one’s money before getting paid again. We don’t know if the person in the song is having a hard time making ends meet, but we get the idea that he is not satisfied with his work life.

Here’s another in my series of lesson guides to help you understand the lyrics of this poet/singer/songwriter. Check out the vocabulary and lyrics below and then listen to Aaron and his band perform the song on Soundcloud.

https://soundcloud.com/aaronburdett/its-a-living   Refuge CD

Vocabulary and expressions

to make a living – to earn enough money/income to pay the bills

a living – the means by which one makes a living; a job or income; “bread and butter” (idiom) Example: Teaching is my “bread and butter.”

for a living – what someone does to pay for basic expenses in life. Example: I teach for a living.

hallowed – sacred, blessed (here it is used sarcastically)

counting down the minutes  to wait for something impatiently

to bide time – to wait for something to happen

take care of – to manage, to deal with, to handle; to take responsibility for

pick up the slack – to do something when someone else cannot or will not do it

standing in the red – not able to pay all of the bills; in debt

see the black – soon have enough money to pay the bills and save or buy something non-essential

burn hours – to spend time

precious – of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly

to get by – to manage

my old man – my father

easy on the back – not manual or physical labor; mental work

Conversation questions:

What do you do for a living? Do you enjoy it or do you count down the minutes until you can go home?

Do you ever have to pick up the slack for people at work? Is it because they are out sick or because they are not doing their job?

Do you ever feel like you’re just biding time (waiting for something to happen or change in your life)?

Do you work enough to just get by or do you put more effort in? If you do more than get by, why do you do it? Are you trying to get promoted? build a business? another reason?

Aaron sings about the trade of spending half of one’s time at disagreeable work to pay for the half of life that one enjoys. Do you ever feel this way? Do you agree that it is half?  How much time do you spend on each?

*In case you were wondering, the kind of work I do when listening to music like Aaron’s is mindless housework. I crank it up high (loud) and sing along while I’m doing dishes or laundry. That way I can really focus on the words.

When I write lesson guides and blog posts, I’m more likely listening to Chopin. : )

“The signs of a well-lived life” is a phrase in another one of Aaron’s songs, Looking for Light. I’ll be writing about this one next. Sign-up to receive notices when I add another post to the blog.


It’s a Living (words and music by Aaron Burdett)

Alarm clock leads to the coffee pot

to the drive through to the parking lot

To the glass doors and these hallowed halls

And I’m counting the minutes down

I do my part and bide my time

Take care of all the work that’s mine

I’ve got plenty to do

without picking up the slack for these other fools

There’s paycheck end of the week

Seems a little smaller every time to me

I’m standing in the red but I can see the black

Just close enough to keep me coming back

It’s a living

Burned so many hours in this building

After all this time if I was gone two weeks

they’d forget I was ever here

It’s good to have the bills paid

But it’s a precious trade

Spending half of my time on something I don’t like

To pay for the half I do

But it’s a living

(funny thing to call it)

(Counting those minutes down)

(can’t do or get by without it)

(I’m living now)

It’ll do for now

When I was a kid, well, my old man

Ran his own business with his own two hands

every day he labored through

But ( I guess) it was what he wanted to do

Looked like too much work for me

weekends were just another day of the week

I determined way back then

I’d only be working when I went in

This office job it’s not so hard

Easy on the back but hard on the heart

But I swear eight hours at this desk

Can suck the brains right out of your head

Day in day out it’s a matter of time

Dig up doubts and push them down

It ain’t all bad and it ain’t all good

I’m doing both better and worse

than I ever thought I could

How often do you recommend a book to your friends? The life-changing magic of tidying up – the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo is one that comes up again and again in conversation.  In America, we seem to acquire way more things than we need. Apparently, it’s becoming a problem in Japan, too.

I listened to this book on a CD while on a long drive. It kept me entertained and inspired to go home and begin the decluttering process all over again.  The last time I did this was after my parents passed away and my sisters and I had to clean out their house.  (As hard as this was, it was also one of the strangest and funniest weeks of my life. If you like my stories, you might ask me about it sometime.) Shortly thereafter, I vowed that I would declutter my own house before I died.

Because I was driving, I didn’t take any notes so I was glad to find a book review that covered the main points after I returned home. I recommend it to you if you don’t have time to read the whole book or if you are just curious.

To assist you in reading it, I have prepared a list of vocabulary words and short definitions, a list of interesting phrases or phrasal verbs, and some conversation questions.  You can download the free guide here.


Here is another opportunity to listen to short audio files and write down what you hear. Then you can compare it to the transcript and discover how American speech is different from the written word.  There are four parts to this series called “The Rescue.”



This morning my cat, Grace, woke me up at exactly 6:25 a.m. just like she did yesterday.  Only today is the first day of Daylight Savings Time in the US, so she woke me up one hour earlier because we “spring forward” and lose an hour to make the adjustment. How did she do this?  I don’t know.  It’s a mystery.

It’s not the first year that this has happened. But it is the first year that it has been snowing on the day that we make this yearly shift into spring.  Last week, I was picking daffodils and enjoying sunny walks up the mountain with only a light jacket. The birds were singing and the March winds were rustling through the woods. 

It’s Sunday, which in English is called the Sabbath, a day to rest. My favorite writer, Wendell Berry, made it a habit of spending the Sabbath outdoors every Sunday unless the weather was really poor. I have adopted the same habit on Sunday afternoons.

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