By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Travel brings out the best in me; thus, I am deserving of a camera crew, creative editing, fabulous make-up, and wardrobe.

I’m a great traveler, primarily because I am happy one, thanks to my techniques for terrific trips.

rockies

In the Rockies

Be impressed

My destinations vary greatly with respect to broad appeal, but every part of the world possesses treasures. Many places are not glamorous, but every corner of the world has something worth seeing.

Act normal

Find a grocery store, a neighborhood park, an independent book store, a coffee shop, a comfortable bar. Those are the places I spend most of my time in my own city, so why not do the same in Boston or Portland?

Talk to strangers

I travel alone as often as I do with others, so I am comfortable staring conversations with friendly-looking strangers, typically asking for recommendations, or often directions. My experience as a waitress and bartender makes me feel at home perched at the end of the bar near the service well, where I can enter into conversation or listen and learn. One memorable conversation was with a man at a gyro stand in Prague. He didn’t speak English and I don’t know Czech, but we shared horrible French skills and spoke for a while, just impressed we could understand each other at all.

Seek the unique

As globalization builds, the opportunity for experiences that can’t be replicated holds immense appeal. Local charm is why high-priced airfare is still a good buy.

torchklight

Parade for The Aquatennial in Minneapolis

My penchant for parades is just an extension of my desire to get to know a place by celebrating their local identity with them. Drink wine in Sonoma; watch orcas in Puget Sound; stroll the Promenade des Anglais in Nice; groove at The Continental Club in Austin; eat beignets at Café du Monde; drink in a beer garden in Munich.

Visit new places

orcas

Dock in the San Juan Islands, Washington

The world is vast, and as my friend, Tammy, recently pointed out, we can expect at best three new destinations each year, and maybe forty more years of active traveling, which means there are only 100 new places in life I might still get to see (unless I win the lottery). Better get going!

Get around

Navigating a new city via public transit, on foot, and, recently, by bicycle remains a rewarding challenge. There’s no better way to get a sense of a place than to wander, or even get lost. A trusty paper map is a good beginning, but a two-night stay in Vienna taught me to always consider a sense of scale.

Start early

My status as an “early riser” is firmly rooted in my family tree, so I don’t bother fighting it. On vacation, I wake up early and am frequently the first person anywhere. Last year while visiting Seattle, I got to Pike Place Market before many of the vendors. Bonus: shorter lines!

Pack light

I bring what I can carry. I find it easy to abide by the one-bag limit on the seriously going-to-charge-for-everything Spirit airlines. I wear dresses and add layers. I accessorize with scarves (of course!) which can make a similar outfit look different or used as a shirt or skirt. I stick to the two pairs of shoe rule. As my friend, Ivor’s sweet Irish mother used to say with regard to fashion, “Ah, sure, who’ll be looking at ya?”

native am

This gallery of handcrafted Native American art has existed in Santa Fe for 150 years. I will shop here.

Don’t waste time shopping

When I travel, I seek out things that are distinctive to the area; this means no strip malls. No malls whatsoever, if they can be avoided. My recent trip to Minneapolis did not include a stop at the Mall of America. Unique it may be, but I suspect it is just as soulless as any other mall I’ve ever visited. I am not a shopper. Unless it’s a local market with history and style along the lines of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I’ll pass.

Do it on the cheap

I may spend a bit more for special meals or once-in-a-lifetime excursions; however, I won’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on any one thing. A round-trip ferry to the Aran Islands is still only 25 Euro, so I cannot be convinced to get the $75 lamb entrée.

Bring it home

Life-charging travel adds spark to daily life. Anything that’s worth doing on vacation is worth making a part of daily life, too!

My travel-savvy I might stems from my deep and abiding love for this big, beautiful world, and my close friends assure me that my travel photos and planned excursions are all tailor-made for engaging TV.

Someone better tell Rick Steves to watch his back.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I love 21st century political satire. In our 24 hour news cycle world, I feel like John Oliver, Colbert, John Stewart, Larry Wilmore and the satirical news-org The Onion are sometimes the only outlets of political sanity.  Today’s satire onion_fb_placeholdercan capture reality much better than ‘real’ news.

And so, I just about died laughing the other day when The Onion ran a faux-commentary by Donald Trump titled, ‘Admit It: You People Want to See How Far This Goes, Don’t You?’ It was the laughter of recognition.  But, after a couple guffaws, I got to thinking.  As so often happens, The Onion glimpsed an enduring truth in the Trump-capade. Donald Trump is trying to become our first ‘Reality-Show President’.

As a child of the 1980’s, Donald Trump will always be a symbol of Reagan-era decadence to me. He epitomized the ‘Lifestyles of trumpnewsweekthe Rich and Famous’ world of yachts and private jets.  Of course, by the late 2000’s Trump renewed his fame with his reality TV hit, The Apprentice.  He was the perfect candidate for reality TV.  Larger than life, flamboyant and just a bit dangerous.  You never can tell what Trump will say, or who he will destroy. Heck, perhaps he may destroy himself while we all watch. Reality television has always been about this danger, even if it is quasi-scripted. It is like pro-wrestling.  A little real, a little fake, but for so many, addicitively entertaining.

Now Trump the political candidate is using Trump the reality TV star methods on the campaign trail. These methods constantly keep him in the news.  First, he stated that Mexico is sending drug-dealers and ‘rapists’ over the border on purpose. Then he snarked on John McCain’s military record. Most recently, he gave out Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number at a rally, and called Rick Perry and Scott Walker dumb.

After such well publicized, and well criticized gaffes, political candidates usually back down.  They apologize, and hope to move on from a slip of the tongue that caused uproar.  But, not Trump. That is not the way of reality of TV!  Trump has doubled down on all his controversial stances and statements. He will not apologize. Instead, he argues that he is simply telling the truth, and the media is attacking him for doing so.

150616161704-donald-trump-june-16-2015-exlarge-169The media doesn’t know how to respond to this. They point out Trump’s clownishness, and assume he will quickly fall from grace.  But, Trump is proving that he is no clown when it comes to understanding the American public. He understands he is a reality TV star, and reality TV is what people want. They want to see what Trump will do next; who will he insult?  Who will he attack? What ridiculous claim will he make?  Perhaps, he will self-destruct on live TV.  Grab the popcorn.

I don’t think Trump can win the national election with these methods…..at least not yet.  I think there are enough serious Americans out there who think politics must be more than an episode of Survivor.  Then again, more Americans have been known to vote for American Idol than for president. So, you never know.

Words, Words

Posted: July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

words

Librarians love reference books.

The acquisition of words is remarkable to behold. Lately, I have been in the happy company of one incredibly curious and eager new reader and learner. A few days back, he asked what “superstition” meant. I suggested we look it up, because he enjoys looking up words (is this a great kid, or what?) He read the definition aloud, after which I provided relevant examples to help him understand more fully. I taught him how superstitions include “knocking on wood” when hoping for a reprieve, and throwing salt over a left shoulder was thought to stave off evil spirits. His pragmatic father added the insight that “superstition” is nonsense, which is also true, and the word means much more. One word can encompass an awfully long lesson.

Flaubert famously searched for “le mot juste,” a heroic quest. What is at stake is not only what we know and experience but how we might communicate those myriad meanings.

The tension between abstract ideas and concrete specifics permeates the nature of words, communication, meaning, connection. The tremendous complexities of words and diction were a recent topic in NPR’s piece, “The Magic of Words.” The intangible quality of ideas when compared to the tangibility of specific examples I typically associate with the duality of experiences: intellectual (or cerebral) and visceral (or physiological), two facets of being, developed and augmented by and through words.

language-tree

Seems simple enough.

The instability of definition inherent in abstractions practically demands elaboration, clarification, qualification. I start here, encouraging a balance of abstract ideas and concrete example in my writing and writing classes, believing that the best writing creates equilibrium between these impulses. Conveniently, thesis statements and topic sentences tend to be populated by ideas, appropriate space for abstract words and concepts. Then the rest of the paragraph can be “fleshed out” with concrete, specific, tangible examples. I could stay in this territory for weeks, navigating the nuance of implication, the complexities of denotation and connotation. The private, local, regional, national, and global meanings; the notion of words as living things, evolving in content and purpose: awesome!

success

Follow me!

I ask my students to create a list of abstractions in order to practice constructing illustrative examples. Since college students yearn to succeed, the abstract idea “success” is a constant companion, one they attempt to embody with a college degree, a high-paying job, a fancy car, a big house. Success invades their days and nights, but will often remain as ethereal as most undiscovered dreams.

Experiences can resist definition. In such moments, I pause and think. As I struggle to describe, I arrive at these words: intense, overwhelming, amazing, all of which are insufficient.

Art can provide new names to call the matter of life. Poetry and song powerfully express love and longing, see Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence. The multitude universes alive in the eyes of love, only poetry or song can manage to convey.

As a teacher and student of all things literary, I am in the business of grappling with words. I marvel at their power and writhe in frustration at their inefficiencies, and my own.

All our words are as tangible as the light from the stars; still, I am a lover of words.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The British Romantic poet John Keats wasn’t pleased with science.  In his 1819 poem ‘Lamia’, Keats complained:

Do not all charms flyJohn_Keats_by_William_Hilton
At the mere touch of cold philosophy? (Science)
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line…

Yeah, I know.  Science has the bad habit of making the magical seem natural; the sublime seem mundane.  But, let’s not be reactionaries. Keats died 200 years ago. He made a definitive statement about science far too soon. If he had the scientific tools for looking at the natural world that we do today, he might have changed his tune.

Simply looking at the night-sky can be a magical experience.  But, when science let’s you know what is really out there, and how vast it actually is, your eyes can be put to shame.  Just have a look at this incredible 3 minute video. It shows that the heavens are even more sublime than your puny senses let on. (Warning: Even if you are not spiritual, you may feel a spark of the divine watching this.)

All those stars!  Planets around each star!  Those countless worlds!  And, are you ready for the the mind-blowing kicker. That video focuses upon one small segment of one galaxy. It is estimated that our universe holds 100 billion galaxies.

Sorry Keats.  Your words pale in comparison.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

One of the many benefits of a profession in education is time off in the summer. The others include the certainty that everyone needs what I can provide, and the product I deliver will perpetually increase in value.mandela

My school year concludes on July 9th. Now is the time to reflect on my year as an educator. Reflection is a central part of education, and I am happy to model a behavior I frequently urge my students to practice. Intellectual inventory can be conducted in countless ways, but I typically frame the discussion as “what’s working” and “what’s not working.” I try not to get too fancy with the daily stuff of life.

I’ll limit this reflection to the classroom. All the rest of professional life is just meetings and paperwork, both of which are necessary, but neither terribly fun. Side note: I am a proponent of the rare, trendy, and marvelous “walking meeting,” and will push for its further use next year.

I confess I’d have to look up my schedules for fall, winter, spring terms to determine exactly which classes I led in 2014-2015. I know I taught writing classes, and communications classes, and creativity classes, and literature classes, and humanities classes, and I suppose that is specific enough. In each of these courses, I was offered the opportunity to learn for and with and from my students.

As a teacher of a wide range of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, I regularly learn which texts work and which don’t. Students always enjoy reading Martin Luther King, Jr., finding his writing to be even more impressive than expected. The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton was so well received by my Creativity 230 class that I bought the book for my nephew Alexey; he starts college this fall at my alma mater, The Ohio State University. I find my students generally like poetry more than anticipated, this year’s favorites included “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden and “The Facebook Sonnet” by Sherman Alexie. My Dystopian literature classes proved Bradbury and Vonnegut’s appeal is timeless. And we all loved a twenty-first century short story treasure (with a ridiculously long title) that I found by Eugie Foster.

Readings that didn’t work are always a surprise because I believe I’ve chosen spectacular texts. My students could not get excited by Brave New World; too slow, they lamented. The creativity text Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson did little to engage my classes, his examples oftentimes distracting from the abstract ideas represented. I’ve already identified new books to try next year, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Creative Habit by Twlya Tharp.

Besides the texts, things under the heading of “what’s not working,” included a set of assignments that I considered reasonable, but were deemed overwhelming by students. Midstream, I made changes to better serve the intentions of the class. Over a decade of teaching provided prep work for the lesson I only recently accepted: the paramount importance of flexibility; I have learned to bend.

What worked included a student’s desire to know more. When many tired students were asking for a day off, or at least a “movie day,” one student rejected the idea, observing: “She’s not going to cancel class, so we might as well learn instead of just watching a movie.” At least someone was paying attention.

Ultimately, what matters involves groundwork for what happened in the classroom. A class worth being a part of is not an ordinary occurrence. Teachers struggle to concoct a winning mix of preparation, enthusiasm, knowledge, openness, and community. My primary efforts lie in creating circumstances in which all of the above flourish. Establishing a true sense of community among the students is of paramount importance. I forge community slowly, introducing new ways to meaningfully interact. I am sometimes struck by the sense that I am just throwing a perpetual intellectual cocktail party (sans cocktails), and any omission or inclusion can spoil the occasion.

What works is when students are truly present. I remind them that their presence starts with the act of waking up, putting on clothes, and coming to class (ideally with books and other learning materials, too).

group-of-people-walking-and-texting1This effort, I assure them, ought to be respected, rather than negated by texting throughout the class. Many, many of my students would rather text or do whatever it is they do on their “machines” than attend to what is happening in class. Such is the burden of their generation. I do not envy them.

ranger_14_circle_col

Ranger Trish?

What works is when students take ownership of their learning; then, I simply facilitate, answer simple questions, offer suggestions. Analogies illuminate every aspect of my teaching practice. One equates a teacher to a park ranger: both provide necessary information, note potential dangers, and point to a wide range of paths each individual might explore. I never tire of an awesome analogy.

Watching my students work together, talk, learn, grapple with meaning, that’s the stuff of a good day teaching, always and forever “what’s working.”

I am eager to have a term off, to read and write (as I encourage my students to do), to travel and explore, to rest and relax, to reconnect with who I am and who I long to be, to inspire myself so that in the autumn I will have energy to begin again.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

It’s been one week since I experienced what I hope will be the worst bus ride of my life.

Until now, I have only ever retold one bus anecdote: the time I missed the school bus in 6th grade.

My mom would have been livid if she discovered I missed the bus due to my negligence. I had no choice; I had to run for it.

route

The distance between my Mom’s house and the bus stop in Cambridge Village. Walking via the streets: 22 minutes; running through the woods: 11 minutes.

I quickly imagined the bus route in my mind. The bus would continue west on Wallings, and turn north on Skyline Road and then back east down Sprague, ending at the last stop in Cambridge Village, a posh neighborhood by Brady Bunch standards which featured a parking lot and swimming pool, before heading toward Chippewa Elementary. Hoping to meet the bus at that last stop, I high-tailed it through the woods like a frightened fawn, stumbling through the Hasting’s backyard, tramping through tricky territory beyond the back yards of homes and into the borders of the development, running along the curved streets until someone inside the bus spotted me and asked the driver to stop.

Panting for breath, I was welcomed aboard with a thunderous round of applause, and one standing ovation (thanks, Chris Corum).

I have to suspect that most parents do not have so forceful and effective a hold on their children.

Thankfully, my punctuality was never again an issue, and most other bus rides have not been noteworthy.

However, Chicago makes car ownership difficult, the local municipality squeezing every drop out of the unsuspecting legal parker. Street cleaning days pop up overnight like weeds with $150 fines attached.

After a few such incidents, I unloaded my car, donating it to a charitable organization, only to see an eerily similar 3-door silver Saturn in my neighborhood. Ah, well, it was someone else’s problem.

My new problem was getting back and forth to Cleveland for the “required” twice-a-year visits (disappointing my mom remains unwise). I know I have to visit, and I want to visit. I love my family and Cleveland friends, I truly do. I just don’t love the idea of spending $400 (minimum) on airfare to go to Cleveland twice a year. It’s a lovely place, but I’d like to see the rest of the world, too.

Enter the dreamlike solution of the Megabus. Cheap—cheap. I have never paid more than $50 dollars for a round trip journey, and I have frequently paid as little as $20 and occasionally even as little as $8. This is a good price. The tolls alone between Chicago and Cleveland are more than $20, so I ride the Megabus. Happily, the other passengers tend to be broke students, with whom I will always have a lasting bond, both having been one and teaching them for so long.

megabusIn order to fund more far-flung travel, I have endured countless Megabus trips, some worse than others, but never as bad as one week ago today.

The bus arrived late because the day of my departure coincided with the Chicago Blackhawks parade and rally (Go, Hawks!) I anticipated a delay. No worries there. These things happen. The 1.5 hours late departure was corrected by our quick escape from city traffic. The driver was making excellent time. I had a book, friends to text, and a completely prohibited and clandestine flask of whiskey.

At the first rest stop in Howe, Indiana, I bought a bottle of Gatorade and a snack. Resupplied, I returned to the bus at the allotted time of 9:15 pm. With darkness falling, seemingly all the passengers settled in for the next two-hour leg of our shared journey which would culminate with a stop in Toledo.

Except someone didn’t make it back to the bus.

Some total moron hadn’t made it back to the bus after the rest break.

Worse, we had to turn around and go get her.

Everyone was amazed–confounded.

This was not a person who was old, infirm, or sick. This was not a child, or the pregnant woman we’d all noticed while waiting. This was just a person incapable of following the rules.

Under protest, we were forced to turn back. Not right away of course, we had to keep traveling east to Toledo before we could find a turn off. The entire process took two hours. I sent a lot of texts; I posted a lot of Facebook updates. I was entirely out of whiskey.

When she re-boarded the entire bus was silent; I have never been in a vehicle that was so eerily quiet.

I didn’t see the woman when she got back on the bus. She entered on the main floor and stayed there.

I was truly tempted to share with her what I had known since I was twelve years old; if you ever miss a bus, it’s your responsibility to run after it.run2

We arrived at the next stop at 1:10am; I envied the people who were able to exit at Toledo, which was a first.

When we reached our final destination in downtown Cleveland, it was 3:18am, approximately eleven hours from the indicated start time.

I sent a text to my sister’s kind husband, who was still willing to pick me up, “I’m at the corner of 21st and Prospect, wearing a pink polka dot cardigan and an expression of death.”

I hope to forget the frustration and fury I felt by December when I am again faced with a choice of $200 airfare or $20 bus fare.

Even now, it’s hard to know which is worse.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Well, my 21 day challenge is in the books. I am happy to report I did survive, and I was successful.  I am pleased that I did it and I think I have emerged from the experience wiser concerning how to eat.

One thing I noticed during my three weeks is that the sugar cravings never subsided.  I expected to hit a point around Day 8 or 9 when I would stop obsessing over the thought of bread, treats and snacks. That didn’t happen. Up until day 21, the image cd36d89c9b208b75c1d09f17ef38940f of cinnamon rolls and cupcakes danced through my head on an hourly basis. So not surprisingly, one of the first things I did when I completed the challenge was head for The Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park (the best of the best). I ordered a couple big scoops of pralines and cream.  Honestly though, it wasn’t all I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious. But I couldn’t help but notice it was just too sweet.  The sugar was so intense.

This is the biggest thing to take from my challenge.  Sweets still taste good, but I now  tire of them quickly. I no longer crave a hundred cookies, or a big ice cream cone.  It is just too much. One month ago, I wouldn’t have ever written such a thing; so I guess the 21 day challenge did help.

20% This

20% This

But, that will be last challenge/fast/cleanse for a long time.  As my wife points out, there is a much better way to eat. It is the 80/20 method.  80% good, and 20% bad. 80% lean meats, greens, complex carbs, whole grains; 20% sugary treats, baked goods, and simple snacks.

10487579_10204605779486921_8138230371061594046_n

80% This

100% percent bad is obviously not the way to go.  I like having my teeth, and being able to fit into my jeans.  But, 100% good is not realistic either. For me personally, and my wife as well, eating 100% good creates food obsessions.  We constantly think about decadent eats.  Though physically healthy, 100% good is not psychologically healthy.

And so I am shouting from the rooftops: 80/20 from now on!  I am sure some days will be closer to 60/40. Some days 95/5. An even keel over the long haul is the goal, and I think the waters look pretty smooth from here on out.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

write

Students love double-sided handouts!

Field trips transform an ordinary school day into an adventure. I’ve always adored field trips, even more so now that I get to select when and where we’ll go. At this point in my career, I’d be in favor of a field trip every other class, but relying on students to show up to class is a tough enough, let alone asking them to find their way somewhere else. As savvy and self-assured as college students pretend to be, most of them have no idea how to transverse this city, which only makes field trips more necessary. Although I am limited in my (happily flaneur-esque) wanderings with my students to a rather small walkable circumference of the downtown RMU campus, there is plenty to see and do that meaningfully enriches their studies.

I favor a walking tour, accompanied by a demanding handout with question after question to guide their experience. Lest these excursions sound too prescriptive, I do ask students to create their own questions, and occasionally allow students to make the entire assignment. I am not surprised by the enormous differences between my assignment (a double-sided page of probing questions) and that assigned by students: go to the place and take a selfie. The perspectives of an instructor and a young college student are often separated by a wide chasm. Indeed, many 18-to-20 year-olds are just beginning to gain experiences of any sort. They are still invested in the visit, not necessarily concerned about doing something worthwhile once there. Here I am reminded of a friend’s regret that when he visited Ireland after freshman year of college, his 19-year-old self spent the entire trip drinking in the pubs. He had been to Ireland and essentially seen little of the country. I am certainly not one to underestimate the importance of pub culture, but there is a bit more to Ireland than a pint of Guinness, including the one they pour in the scenic bar at top of the terrific Guinness museum!

Field trips are made more necessary by the continual infiltration of technology in the classroom. At least while walking to a new destination, my students must look up to find me in the crowd. Sometimes it seems as though the entire population needs to be encouraged to look up! I walk much more briskly than they do, on purpose. A teacher ought to push students to keep up, in any way possible.

Lurie GardenMy most recent field trip involved visits to gardens along Michigan Avenue as part of a “Parks, Gardens, and Green Spaces” topic for the English 325: “Writing for the Community” course I’m currently teaching. These gorgeous spaces are a living embodiment of Chicago’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden), another new “fun fact” to share with my students.   Stops included The Lurie Garden, created in 2004 by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol design team, The North Garden at the Art Institute, designed by Laurie Olin and opened circa 1980, and the South Garden of the Art Institute, created by Dan Kiley and opened in 1962. These three gardens, all in close proximity of RMU campus, offer unique places to reconnect with nature in the heart of the city. These trips augment the assigned reading “Great Cities, Great Parks,” by Douglas Vaira in which he ranks Chicago’s Millennium Park as one of the country’s “Best Destination Parks,” but just steps away from RMU!

CalderinNorthThe students immediately express a preference to one of the spaces. My favorite moment from yesterday came when one of the students entered the remarkably serene space in the South Garden and said, simply, “Wow.” This place remains my favorite, as it features a bubbling fountain that almost successfully drowns out the sound of the passing traffic on Michigan Avenue. The sunken garden also features a canopy of interlocking tree branches that form a shady ceiling, lighting the garden in dappled green and gold.

After any field trip, students invariably ask where we’ll go next, a mark of resounding success if there ever was one. As higher education continues to espouse the virtues of experience-based education, I’m glad for the opportunity to lead my students out into the wide, wonderful world, encouraging them as they find their way.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Last week, I mentioned to my wife that I was contemplating giving up sugar for a bit.  If you know my wife, you know she grew excited with this passing comment. She pounced!  ‘Yes’! ‘Let’s do it!’.  She wanted to do the same thing, and she was correct to note that she would be more likely to accomplish this difficult goal if we did it together.  I knew the same thing could be said for me.  Backsliding is easy when you make difficult goals, and having a partner both pushing you, and watching over you helps a lot.

So, the goal was set: 21 days with no processed sugars!

Now, let me put this to you straight. This did not mean NO SUGARS at all.  Carbs and sugars are a necessary part of any diet, especially when you want to keep up the energy needed to go to the gym 5 times a week…or, like my wife, 5 hours a day, 7 days a week. So fruit is fine for us and whole grains are a necessity. What is off limits are treats, white bread, crackers, and a litany of other foods that are always cheap and plentiful in our 21st century society.

Oh, how I miss you homemade pretzels!

Oh, how I miss you homemade pretzels!

To be fair, our eating habits were already pretty far along towards our goal. Unlike so many Americans, we never drink soda, rarely drink alcohol, and avoid fast-food like the plague.  But, like so many of our national brethren, we love our pizza with white crust, the occasional ice cream indulgence, and the far too common homemade cookie.  If you remember from a previous post, I like to bake bread. My bakery is temporarily closed. No muffins, cakes, cookies.

But, this has not been the hardest thing. Recently, a different processed food packed with sugar has become a proto-addiction for

Evil. Pure Evil.

Evil. Pure Evil.

Jen and I: Cereal….  ‘Damn you Trader Joe’s and your delicious cereals (I shout shaking my fist)’.  Prior to our pledge, we had been burning through 4-6 boxes a week!  Holy smokes that is a lot of sugar. This weakness was the thing that pushed us to set a goal.

So how are we doing? Well, as I  type we are on day 7 of 21. Here a couple of quick thoughts:

1. Eating sugar has false promise. I want it, but I know it never fulfills my hopes. But, it is obviously addictive. The first couple days were extremely hard to not simply pop a sugary snack in my mouth. Even when I wasn’t hungry, I still had to consciously stop my hand from grabbing some crackers.

2. Processed foods, and the sugars within them, are ubiquitous.  It is amazing how many things have sugar added that you never notice. For instance, last night,

Said Chicken Fajitas

Said Chicken Fajitas

we made chicken fajitas (with stone-ground corn tortillas), and my wife and I both wanted to add hot sauces to our food. But, each of them had sugar added! Errrgghhh!

3. It is satisfying how quickly you can feel physical and mental changes without sugar!  Quite honestly, my mind feels more clear, and a little of the excess fat on the body is shedding.  All those useless, extra calories really do make a difference.

All in all, I am pretty well pleased with our challenge.  So, why write a blog about it?  Well, I am not bragging, and I am not trying to shame you into any new diet.  No, I figure putting this out there for people to read will keep me honest.

Otherwise, I might crack and grab some of that damn TJ’s cereal.

ACTIVATE is an “interactive exhibit of art and culture,” conceptualized and coordinated by the Chicago Loop Alliance. Each event re-imagines an ordinary alley in the Chicago Loop, transforming neglected spaces into destinations for unique cultural experiences.BrittniHessler

ACTIVATE’s opening night for the 2015 schedule, ACTIVATE: NIGHTBLOOM, was held Friday, May 15, 2015, from 5:00-11:00 in the Sullivan Center Alley. I arrived at 7:00pm to a streetscape packed with eager attendees. The evening was an extraordinary success, with a projected 1,500 total visitors throughout the night.

Using the tagline “Linger Longer in the Loop,” ACTIVATE programs ensure that many who work downtown don’t rush home after quitting time.

A festive atmosphere, fueled in part by $4 beer and wine, ensures an evening of energetic encounters with artists and art lovers alike.activate2

The initial night of the season was curated by Johalla Projects, and included art, video, audio design, and a photo booth, all enhancing the sense of creative immersion. The most compelling projects were truly interactive: wooden pyramids lit from within functioned like inspired campfires around which people congregated. In a video projection of elephants, the animals seemed to sway across the surrounding walls, amplifying the mood and music selected by the DJ.

Future ACTIVATE events for the 2015 season are scheduled for June 12, July 30, August 27, September 18, and October 23. Details about ACTIVATE, including location, are announced two weeks prior to each event. Sending an RSVP offers the added incentive of one free drink ticket, and a great night out downtown.

Each ACTIVATE occurs one night only, a compelling call to attend; I’ll be there.