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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Barbara Klein. Millions of Americans are taking a long weekend in honor of Labor Day. The holiday is considered the unofficial end of summer. Many people are traveling. But others are happy to fire up their barbecue and enjoy a restful weekend at home.
Our subject this week is barbecue and the latest in outdoor living.
"Barbecue" can mean three things. It can mean the grill where meats and other foods are cooked over hot coals or an open fire. It can mean the act of cooking the foods. And it can mean the foods themselves. Barbecued meats might be soaked in a tasty mixture for several hours and cooked much slower than other grilling methods.
Barbecue has long been an American tradition, although favorite preparations and meats differ by area. For example, Kansas City, Missouri, prefers cooking pork with a sweet sauce. Texas is known for its beef barbecue with herbs and spices called rubs.
North Carolina favors pork and thin sauces made with tangy vinegar. South Carolina likes a thick sauce made from tomatoes. And in California and other states, many people like to barbecue seafood. Barbecued hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken are popular all across the country.
The Kansas City Barbecue Society holds the American Royal Barbecue Championship every year in October. The organization says it is one of the biggest barbecue competitions in the world. Teams compete for prizes up to ten thousand dollars.
Last year five hundred teams entered the contest. There were nine hundred judges from about thirty states. And, with all that hard work, the American Royal Barbecue Championship also includes a big concert and fireworks show. Last year the group Lonestar performed. Here is Lonestar with "What About Now?"
Many women enjoy barbecuing. But some people call backyards with grills "the man's kitchen." A smoky barbecue is part of a culture shared by many American men.
These social gatherings are about more than just cooking food. They are often ways for men to build greater friendships. They have humorous arguments about how much barbecue sauce to use or the right temperature for grilling. Each claims to be the best cook or to have the biggest and best grill. Also, each claims to have a secret for the best tasting barbecue sauce.
Michael Lampkin is a medical researcher who lives in Bowie, Maryland. Often his work requires him to travel far from home as many as four days a week. Mr. Lampkin says that when he returns home, he is happy to cook on his barbecue grill at least once a week. He says there a few reasons he likes to grill.
MICHAEL LAMPKIN: "Being outdoors and just the taste in general. It's a taste that you can't duplicate inside. I think that's one of the nicer things about grilling. And grilling is something you can do year-round. I've even gone outside in the snow. That's one of the other nice things about grilling -- you can do it any time, all the time."
Many people have just a simple, low-cost barbecue. They light charcoal, either lump coal or hardwood, and wait for it to get hot. But more and more people are choosing grills that operate with gas. Some of these grills can be very costly.
Some people even build a complete outdoor living area around them. These might include a swimming pool and gardens with trees and flowers.
Some outdoor living areas include kitchens, so people do not have to go inside the house for water or to keep food cold. There may be a separate outdoor sitting room with a fireplace and a room for eating.
Complex music and video systems are also a part of some outdoor rooms.
Outdoor living areas can be much less costly yet still be welcoming. In both cases, backyard fountains, with their calming sounds of water, have become more common.
Designers say technology has had a great effect on outdoor living spaces. Furniture made with newer materials can be cleaned easily with water from a garden hose. In the past, tables and chairs made with wood, cloth or metal often required special cleaning or were easily damaged by rain and the sun.
Some people decorate their outdoor living areas to look as nice to them as the inside of their homes. Homeowner Brenda Despanza also lives in Bowie, Maryland. She recently had a patio built in the backyard of her home. A patio is built on a flat, open area. Brenda Despanza's patio is made of colorful stone. There are tables and chairs with umbrellas to block the sun on hot days.
Hanging lights create a pleasant nighttime setting. But Ms. Despanza says she likes her flowers and plants the most.
BRENDA DESPANZA: "I have a lot of different flowers that I planted. So I have juniper, roses, petunias and I also have hibiscus. I work so many long hours that I want a place to come where I can relax. And so my backyard is kind of my haven from the rest of the world."
There are no rules for creating the right environment for an outdoor area. Brenda Despanza says all you have to do is choose the things you like -- then invite friends and family over to talk, eat and have a good time.
BRENDA DESPANZA: "I entertain a lot more since I've gotten it. A lot of people enjoy the space, and so it's kind of nice because it's so inviting that people don't mind when I say 'Hey, come on over -- let's have dinner, just sit outside around the plants.'"
However Americans choose to spend Labor Day and the last days of summer, music is often part of the activities. We leave you with a song that celebrates the season. Here is "Summertime" by Will Smith.
Our program was written and produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Barbara Klein.
And I'm Steve Ember. You can download transcripts and archives of our shows at voaspecialenglish.com. And we hope you can join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.