Fri, 2 October 2015
One of the benefits of growing your own flowers is picking them and bringing them into the house. Bouquets, after all(1), are expensive in the shops. They bring color, and light, and cheer to an entryway or a kitchen table, but I hate to pay ten dollars for something that I can grow for just pennies. It's not just the cost, however. My biggest thrill in gardening is growing plants from seeds. There is something magical about seeing a little piece of nothing sprout, and then eventually produce a flower. So, with scissors in my hand, and a vase full of water, I walk around my back yard and snip(2) here and snip there until the vase is full. But now it's October, and the summer blooms are coming to an end(3). However, you can extend the season a little by doing two things: you cut off the dead heads, and you fertilize. It's a little trick that I learned from my mother who is also a gardening fanatic. This way, you can double the amount of flowers that you get in one season. It's really worth the effort. In fact, a couple of years ago, my garden produced so many flowers while I was on holiday, that my relatives came regularly to gather the flowers for bouquets for their own homes.
1. 'After all' is powerful idiom that means many things: nevertheless, considering the evidence, ultimately. It points to the most important part of a sentence.
a. The train was an hour late, but we arrived on time after all (like nevertheless)
b. I painted each room and rearranged the furniture; after all, it's my house!(ultimately)
c. Heathrow is always packed with people, after all it is one of the busiest airports in the world. (considering the evidence)
2. 'Snip' is both a noun and a verb, and mean a quick, small cut of scissors.
a. I will go to the hair dressers, but I only need a few snips.
b. The instructions for cooking the noodles say," Snip one corner of the plastic packet, and cook in the microwave on high for two minutes."
3. 'To come to an end' is a longer way of saying 'to finish'. It implies that the finishing is taking some time.
a. The long summer days are coming to an end. The days are slowly getting shorter and shorter.
b. The days of the museum are finally coming to an end, after being open for 50 years. (it will close in a few weeks/months)
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Fri, 2 October 2015
The hills of Wenatchee are an unusual color for this time of year. They are usually a sandy brown, due to the dry climate. The brief green of the spring quickly changes into tan(1) as the sun gets hotter and hotter, and the rain stops. The hills are a popular place for hikers and bikers. We walked up one of the many trails a few weeks ago, and experienced a very different hike than normal. The whole area, reaching up to the top of the highest hill, was black. The fires that we had this summer completely consumed the grass, and left nothing but ash. And that's not to mention(2) the houses that also burned. It was a disaster. But now, as the cooler weather is here, there is a stream of(3) people walking at the weekends. As we headed up to a summit, we came across a sign that read, "Keep on the trails; give the plants a chance." What that meant was that we should not walk off the path because plants are beginning to grow again. And sure enough, as I looked around, here and there I saw green shoots(4), and even some plants that are ready to flower. There is a purple lupine that normally flowers in the early spring that is emerging again. The fire must have stimulated the deep bulbs, and now, in October, they are ready to bloom! Nature has been tricked. As I looked around, I realized that although the fires had been overpowering, they were only superficial.All the potential under the earth was still there; the unseen was unaffected. Life was coming again from the ashes. And now, in a short time, the hills will be covered again in purple lupines.
1. 'Tan' is both a color and two verbs. 'To tan oneself' means to spend time in the sun to brown your skin, and it also means to treat an animal skin in order to turn it into leather.
a. I try to avoid the sun; however, I do look good with a tan.
b. The people on the beach are all tanning themselves.
2. 'Not to mention' is a phrase we use that introduces extra information into a sentence. The information is usually important or significant. It is similar to saying 'also', but more emphatic.
a. His popularity as a singer has grown, not to mention the sales of his records.
b. He was stressed out by the wedding arrangements, not to mention the expense!
3. 'A stream' or 'a constant stream' is a useful expression that describes a consistent amount of something, often people.
a. There was a stream of people all day at the book signing.
b. I had a stream of phone calls this morning, and I couldn't get anything else done!
4. 'Shoots' are the first signs of a plant growing, the new, upright leaves that come out of the ground, as if they are being shot out of a gun.
a. When I plant mangetout, I cover them with a net because the birds like to eat the shoots.
b. When cows eat grass, it stimulates the growth of new shoots.
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Fri, 4 September 2015
Glass beach is an interesting place that we visited this summer. It is on the coast of California, to the North. The town is not spectacular; it's the beach that draws(1) the tourists. I had never been to a California beach, and I suppose I was expecting it to be hot and sandy. However, it was cool and foggy for the first day. And there were many beaches. They were small, rocky coves(2), that had caves, and sandy cliffs. Seagulls and seals were here and there. It was the perfect place for exploring. My children climbed and jumped around like monkeys that had been let out of the zoo. There were many rock pools where sea water had become trapped; these are the perfect places to look for crabs, fish, and other sea creatures. We spent hours walking around and searching for treasure; not gold and silver, but glass. As its name suggests, Glass beach is full of old glass that has been broken and made smooth by the waves. For years, the tides (3)and the waves have tumbled bottles of different colors. And the result is wonderful. You can literally pick up handfuls of smooth glass pebbles. Interestingly, most of the blue glass has been picked up by tourists, leaving the greens, reds, and yellows still on the beach.
1. 'The beach draws tourists'. 'To draw' can mean 2 things: to create a design with a pencil or pen, or to pull in, to attract. In the podcast, I use the verb with the second sense: to attract.
a. Donald Trump always draws lots of media attention.
b. The honey face mask draws out impurities from the skin.
2. 'A cove' is the same as a bay: a small, rounded area of beach that is sheltered. It is also a sheltered area in a mountain or a narrow pass between woods or hills.
a. We had a picnic in a small, sandy cove.
b. We sheltered from the storm in a cove.
3. 'The tide/s' are the regular coming and going of the sea from the beach. We talk about 'high tide' and 'low tide': when the water is high and low at different times of the day.
a. The tide brought in a lot of sea weed and jelly fish.
b. We can't go onto the beach until low-tide.
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Sun, 9 August 2015
Summer can be such a relaxing time. If you're a teacher, it's your turn for a long vacation. However, if you have kids at home, sometimes that summer can become downright (1)stressful. "Mum, Jenna can't come over, and I'm so bored!" said my daughter to me with a look of pain on her face. Her friends are everything to her, and life is just not as colorful(2)when they're not around. I didn't say it, but I thought of something my mother used to say to me whenever I was bored, "Only boring people get bored," she used to say. Well, I decided not to use that phrase; it wasn't very helpful. "Do you want to use my laptop?" I asked, knowing that it would help her get some ideas. "Ok," she half-protested(3). Later, my son Robert came into the kitchen and also complained about being bored, again as if he was in pain. "How about your bike?" I suggested. He went into the garage and didn't come back. "Oh good," I thought to myself, "he must be riding his bike."
About an hour went by. The house was quiet, so I became curious. Were my kids ok? Were they asleep? What had happened? Just then, Robert came running in, "Mum, tell Domini to come out. I drew a racing track on our driveway with chalk(4). It's perfect for racing her Crazy Cart." And then Domini came running down the stairs, "Hey mum, listen to this piece of music I just made on Garage Band." They had both become creative, and had forgotten about being bored. So now the plan was to video the Crazy Cart race, and put it to her music. What a plan! They took turns racing around the driveway while Domini's music played. It was a burst of creative energy. I was impressed.
1. 'Downright stressful'. Downright is a very emphatic way of saying 'very' or 'completely'. It is usually used when emphasizing something negative, although I have heard it used in sentences like: "She is downright gorgeous."
a. That book was downright boring!
b. The service in that restaurant is downright sloppy!
2. 'Life is just not as colorful..' this expression here is figurative when talking about Domini's friends. The idea of something adding color or light to life is often used in English. The word 'colorful' is used to mean interesting even to an extreme.
a. His language was very colorful (this can mean that he used a lot of rude words).
b. You light up my life, darling.
3. 'Half-protested.' The 'half' here indicates that the action carried out was weak, soft, or not very determined.
a. "Here he comes now," she half-whispered.
b. When he told me that bad news, I half-laughed out of shock.
4. 'I drew a racing track on our driveway with chalk.' This practice is very common here in the U.S, especially in summer. Children will often draw images, tracks, and even gameboards in chalk, and then play on them.
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Thu, 30 July 2015
Those of you who listen regularly to my podcast will know that I am a gardener. However, you might not know that gardening can be a challenge. This year I have come to realise(1) that I need to learn more about bugs because they can make the garden a success or a failure. Some of my most prized(2) vegetables and flowers get infested at times, and I am left scratching my head, wondering(3) what to do. Bugs are everywhere, and they all serve a purpose, but if I choose to have certain plants in my garden, I must understand what their strengths and weaknesses(4) are, and which bugs either attack them or help them. So, what do you do if you need about 3000 beneficial(5) bugs? Well, you order them online. And that's just what I did about a week ago. Before I knew it, the box arrived on my doorstep. It was a strange experience opening a package, and finding a bag full of bugs inside. I had to follow some instructions before putting them in the garden: wait until it was dark, mist the infected plants with water, gently release the ladybirds. It was fascinating to see the colony slowly leave the bag and start to crawl in all different directions. Success! I felt good about using some of Nature's medicine to keep the garden healthy. The next morning, I went outside early to see what had happened to my new friends. Some of them were still where I had left them, but the rest had disappeared. They must have crawled off to explore, and search for food, or a perfect spot to hide. I hope that they will establish a new home here, go to war on the bad bugs in my garden, and decide to stay.
1. 'To come to realise' means that over time, a person has formed a conclusion or opinion, based on experience.
a. After working all summer in the orchard, I came to realise that it is one of the hardest jobs around!
b. After being overcharged by mechanics for years, I came to realise that I should learn how to fix my own car.
2. 'My most prized + noun'. It's just like saying 'something that I really value.'
a. Out of my stamp collection, this old one from Germany is my prized possession.
b. Our new puppy carries a certain bone everywhere; it's his prized possession.
3. 'To be left scratching one's head, wondering' this phrase gives a visual of a person scratching her head. This action is supposed to represent someone wondering, or trying to figure something out. It is figurative most of the time.
a. When the train was canceled, we were left scratching our heads, wondering how on earth we would get to the airport on time.
b. The cat jumps on the dog's back, and then shoots up the tree, leaving the dog wondering what happened.
4. 'Strengths and weaknesses' are often used in the same sentence.
a. The student survey asked about our strengths and weaknesses.
b. The book definitely had more strengths than weaknesses.
5. 'Beneficial' is often used when talking about nutrition, insects, and bacteria.
a. Fish oil is beneficial for the brain; it improves its function.
b. Bacteria can be good and bad for us. We even have beneficial bacteria in our intestines.
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Mon, 20 July 2015
In June, I went to the U.S golf Open with my husband for two days. It was at a place called Chambers Bay in Seattle in a very interesting location that overlooked the beautiful Puget Sound. Let me explain: the Puget Sound is an area on the coast where there are many islands. The golf course was built on an old sand and gravel(1) quarry. It is unusually dry compared to most U.S golf courses, but it has its own unique charm, and what a fabulous view of the ocean and the islands. We traveled to the golf course from Wenatchee with friends, and then split up(2), and walked around from 'hole' to hole. It was a hot day, and quite humid. There were crowds of golfing fans(3) everywhere, and funnily enough, a lot of them looked the same. Most of them were big men, in shorts, wearing baseball hats. I'm not a golfer, but I could certainly appreciate their excitement. It must have been a thrill for many of them to get close to the professionals. At one point, I came close to Ryo Ishikawa of Japan (well, I think it was him). His ball had gone off the green and was on a steep hillside. There was a huge crowd of people, squashed together trying to get as close as possible to him. Just before he took a swing at the ball, everyone went quiet, out of respect, and the ball went flying gently in a perfect arc, over a road and back onto the green. You could see the people around gasp(4) at his skill; shaking their heads they said things like, "That's why he's a professional and I'm not!" I was amazed that the golfers could concentrate with so many fans around. They even had to hear trains going by the 16th and 17th greens: when the sand and gravel quarry was converted into the golf course, the very important train was not diverted. It still needs to go on its route along the coastline, carrying freight(5) and people. We sat down for a while and watched the golfers. Every now and then cheers and applause could be heard; it was quite relaxing, just looking out to sea, and hearing the sounds of the competition. We left the next day after buying some memorabilia, and decided on the way home, to definitely come back and visit the beautiful Puget Sound, with or without the golf.
1. 'Sand and gravel' usually both come from the same quarry, gravel being the very useful small, straight-edged rocks that are used for driveways and roads.
a. The car was speeding along the road, making the gravel fly in all directions.
b. You can always find sand and gravel at construction sites.
2. 'To split up' is used to mean 'to separate' temporarily and also permanently.
a. The couple argued all the time, and finally split up.
b. The hunters split up: two went up the hill to look for bears, and the other two went into the forest to hunt for deer.
3. 'Golfing fans'. In the podcast I said, "There were crowds of golfing fans every where'. However, I could have said, "golf fans". The reason I didn't is that "golf fans" is less clear because the two words become one orally. Similarly, 'to golf', 'golfing', and 'golf' can all be used correctly in sentences.
a. Do you like golf? to golf? golfing?
b. He is such a golf fan/ a fan of golf/ a golfing fan.
4. 'To gasp', 'a gasp'. It's a fabulous word. It's the noise someone makes when they suddenly breathe in out of surprize or shock.
a. She gasped in horror when she realized that she had left her passport in the taxi.
b. I gasped when I opened the door and found a huge bouquet of roses on the kitchen table.
5. 'Freight' is a noun and a verb. It refers to products, like metal, minerals, and even food that need to be transported by train, truck, ship, or plane. It has a similar meaning to 'cargo', 'merchandise', and 'goods', or as a verb, 'the sending of the goods.'
a. That is a freight train; today it is carrying sugar.
b. I ordered a table online, but the freight was so expensive.
Fri, 17 July 2015
A few weeks ago, I had just answered an email from one of my listeners. "When are you going to write another podcast?" was her question. And it was a good question, as I have been absent for some time. My plan was to write one the next day. In the afternoon, however, as I drove my kids to the swimming pool, I looked to my right, across the river and up to the hills, and saw a huge column of dark smoke. "Oh, no!" I said to myself, and my heart sank(1). "Not again!" This dry, windy climate is prone to fires in the summer, and there are often more than one. I swam briefly in the swimming pool, and then sat on a lawn chair and tried to read, but I was preoccupied with the smoke. As I turned the pages of my Harry Potter, I noticed some flakes of ash(2) on my black swimming suit. "Ok kids, we're going home," I announced. I had a bad feeling; the wind was picking up(3), and that only meant one thing: a big fire.
Within a few hours the view from our house was all smoke. Our dogs wouldn't stay outside because of the huge helicopters that thundered(4) overhead. A firefighter rang our doorbell and announced that we were on evacuation level number two: soon we would have to leave. It was the first time that we had been so close to a disaster. My in-laws' houses were right where the fire was blowing. We knew that they had left their homes, but we had no idea what would happen next. We each packed a bag, and waited. The hours ticked by slowly, and one by one we fell asleep in our chairs.
The next morning, I woke up early to the sound of a thunder storm. I walked outside into a warm, smoky rain. The fire had stopped. Our neighborhood was safe. But as I looked up to where my in-laws' houses were, I could see that many were no longer there. The hill was black, and in some places, only chimneys were left. I couldn't believe that it was over. And as I sipped my coffee, I realized that some people no longer had a coffee machine, or a kitchen, or even a house. It was later that I found out just how big(5) the fire had been.
1. 'My heart sank' is a wonderful expression of a feeling of hopelessness or sadness. The verb 'to sink' implies that the heart is heavy like a stone.
a. When I received his letter my heart sank; I knew that the wedding was cancelled.
b. The lost hiker's heart sank as the search helicopter flew over him and disappeared.
2. 'Flakes of ash'. The word 'flake' is used in many contexts. It really means a light mass, or a thin piece. As ash is so soft and powdery, 'a flake' is a good way to describe one thin piece of it.
a. The paint on the door was coming off in flakes.
b. The snow flakes were so light and fluffy.
3. 'The wind was picking up.' In this instance, I could have said, 'the wind was beginning to blow hard'. We use 'picking up' often when talking about the wind. It is short for 'picking up speed', just as a car or a horse will also pick up speed and get faster.
a. The train picked up speed as it went downhill.
b. The runner picked up speed in the last few meters.
4. 'The helicopters thundered overhead.' 'Overhead' is a convenient way of saying 'over our heads', and it is a bit more interesting than saying 'above'. I used the word 'thundered' here to describe the noise of the helicopters. 'Thunder' is of course a noun, but it is also a verb.
a. The children thundered down the stairs like a herd of elephants!
b. When we lived in an apartment next to the motorway, the lorries would thunder right by my window.
5. '...just how big the fire had been.' The word just is quite a powerful word. It can mean 'slight' or 'only', but in this sentence, it is emphatic. Together with the word 'how', it emphasizes the adjective.
a. We had no idea just how beautiful the statue was going to be.
b. They complained about just how rude the employees were.
c. He talked all evening about just how successful he is!
Thu, 26 February 2015
I remember when the internet became available in the 1990's. It was a revolution! It was, as they say, 'the next big thing'(1). Since then, different applications and social media have given us access(2) to huge amounts of information, ideas, and connections with people. One that I discovered recently was Pinterest. My mother had told me about it a year ago, but I didn't pay any attention until a couple of weeks ago. It is a collection of information, projects, photographs, and videos that you can select and collect. Selecting something that you like is called 'pinning' it. You pin what you have found onto what is called a board. It is just like in an office, when you pin a poster onto a notice board(3). You name your board, and you pin more items. My boards are: 'gardening', 'recipes', and 'fun projects'. Every day I add more pins to my boards. Two days ago I used one of the recipes: tender, juicy, barbecued chicken. I followed the instructions, and it turned out wonderfully tender. Later, my husband was shocked when he asked me what I was looking at on my phone, "Oh, I'm on Pinterest," I replied. "I'm looking at how to build a brick wall." "You're looking at 'how to build a brick wall'?" he repeated with a look of horror on his face. He probably imagines that he'll come home, and there'll be a big, brick wall in the middle of the lounge. Well, of course there won't be. It'll be for the garden, and maybe I'll grow some ivy on it. Let me check; there must be some pins about that.
1. 'The next big thing' is a phrase we use when a discovery or invention has taken place. It is one that will have a huge impact on our lives, such as the internet.
a. Probiotics are the new big thing in health.
b. Space exploration is the new big thing in travel.
c. Collaboration is the new big thing in politics.
2. 'Access' is a useful word taken from the verb 'to access'. We use it literally and figuratively. It means to be given a way, a path, an open door.
a. If you go through the gate, you will access the company office.
b. They accessed all of my personal information that was stored on my computer.
c. We accessed the files and found what we needed.
3. 'Board' is usually any rectangular or square piece of wood, cardboard, or similar material. You can put something on it, under it, use it in construction, or in crafts. There are multiple ways to use a board.
a. I stuck the new health pamphlet on the notice board.
b. He put a long, wooden board from one tree to the other and walked along it.
c. Let's use those old boards to fix the play house roof.
Mon, 16 February 2015
Chelan is a town here in Washington State that is famous for its huge lake. Its a forty five minute drive from where we live, and about 500 ft higher. To get to Chelan, we travel right along the Columbia river, and then wind up through some steep hills, before dropping down towards the lake. Many of these hills are wild, and still covered in snow. Last weekend I went up with my husband to one of these places, called Bear Mountain. As my husband is a hunter, he wanted to put out some apples and salt blocks for the deer. So, we loaded up(1) our little four wheeler, and headed up a dirt track. I drove while my husband looked around for deer, but for a while, there was no sign of them. What we did see was lots and lots of snow. It was like a Christmas scene from a chocolate box. We found the group of trees where we needed to dump(2) the apples and salt, and headed back. Well, that was the plan. We tried to head back. What we hadn't realized was that we had parked in deep snow. We were stuck. We tried reversing. That didn't work. We tried going to the left, and we tried going to the right. We pushed, and we pulled. By now, my husband was using some interesting words for the snow.
So, we sat and thought about our situation. I looked around for a solution. The snow was so soft and deep, and underneath, near the ground, it was compact and icy. The wheels just kept on slipping. What were we going to do? "That's it!" I said, "Let's put twigs under the wheels." There were large, dry bushes all around near the trees. So we snapped lots of twigs(3) and stuffed them under the wheels. It worked! The wheels turned without slipping, and we were able to get out of our deep, white trap. We drove back, slipping here and there, and getting sucked into deep patches of snow, but we managed to get back to our truck. As we left, the sun came out, and the snow shone brightly. I remembered hearing that the Eskimos have 50 words for snow. I'm not sure if that's true, but I certainly heard about ten to fifteen unusual words from my husband about it on our trip. As we came down the mountain, we laughed about getting stuck, and both decided that the only word we needed for the snow, at that point, was 'magnificent'.
1. 'To load up' is a verb that we often use, meaning to put or pack items onto a vehicle. It is a general verb that can be used with many different products: food, furniture, rocks, soil, supplies, or anything really. We also use it figuratively, especially to express filling a plate with food. Often you can miss out the 'up'.
a. We loaded up the truck with soil for our back garden project.
b. You can load up your plate with food; we have plenty.
c. We loaded our car with our neighbor's boxes to help him move to his new house.
2. 'To dump' is a verb that means several things: to throw away, to unload, and to finish a relationship.
a. Just dump that old bicycle. Its broken, so get rid of it.
b. We drove the truck full of soil to the back garden and dumped the soil.
c. She dumped her boyfriend after only one week!
3. 'We snapped lots of twigs'. Here 'to snap' means 'to break'; it is a verb that describes the sound of breaking something thin and wooden. So it is perfect to use with 'twig' which is a small branch.
a. I snapped my fingers and my dog stopped running and sat down.
b. I snapped off the extra twigs from the bottom of the tree.
c. He fell off the roof and snapped his wrist!
Sun, 28 December 2014
Parks are a breath of fresh air, especially when they are in cities. I found that when we visited London in the summer, we really needed to escape into the parks at least once a day. Children can only take a certain amount of (1)site seeing, and then they need to run and play, and be around trees and grass. The parks in London are wonderful, my favorite being St. James's which is central, right near Buckingham Palace. It is one of the oldest in the city, and has a lake, and many kinds of birds. These animals are used to being around people; they seemed quite tame. We fed the ducks, geese, and swans with some of the sandwiches from our picnics, and we soon found that we were surrounded by pigeons as well. Deeper into the park, we came across another surprisingly comfortable creature: a squirrel. In fact, there were lots of them all over the place. I spotted a man who was feeding one of them nuts from his hand. "Wow!" we all said, as we watched him. He had the right 'touch'(2) with these animals, and they accepted all of his food. He was kind, and gave us some of his peanuts, showing us how to call the squirrels. And, would you believe it, they came scurrying(3) from the trees over to us and ate out of our hands. It was magical. I had no idea that they were so tame! When I worked in central London, I used to relax in St. James's park on my breaks, so I am quite familiar with it. However, I had never taken the time to be around the animals, so I was surprised how close they got to people. Each day we made a point of(4) visiting the squirrels in St. James's park. We would have an ice cream, play frisbee, and then feed the little creatures. We spent quite a few pounds on peanuts, and not one of them went to waste. They would jump up on the fence, take a peanut from one of us, and then jump down and scamper(3) off. I'd like to think that they appreciated our company, but really they just wanted the nuts. Once our peanuts were all gone, they would disappear in a flash, and look for other friendly people with bags of good things to eat.
1. '...can only take a certain amount of' means that too much of something would be intolerable. In this case, site seeing has to be limited, otherwise it becomes exhausting.
a. I can only take a certain amount of country music, and then I've had enough.
b. The crowd was beginning to leave; they had been waiting in the cold to see the actors, but they could only take waiting for so long.
c. At Christmas time, I can only tolerate a certain amount of shopping. I can take a day or two, but then I've had enough of the crowds.
2. 'To have the right 'touch',' can apply to many situations.
a. The animal trainer has the right touch with the animals; he is very gentle and careful, and seems to understand what they want.
b. Gosh, you have the right touch with plants. You can make anything grow!
3. 'To scamper/ to scurry,' these are two fabulous verbs that describe how small animals (rodents) run. We use these verbs particularly with mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels. 'To scamper' implies a bounciness to its running, while 'to scurry' implies a scratching and grabbing while the animal runs.
a. It was fun to see the rabbits scamper all over the field, jumping around like they had springs on their feet.
b. The rat scurried away from the dog, up the metal pipe and onto the roof.
4. 'To make a point of,' means to deliberately do something; to be intentional.
a. My neighbor is an animal lover, and every day she makes a point of feeding a stray cat.
b. When we visited Amsterdam, we made a point of visiting a historical site each day.