Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Twinkle lights make everything look more beautiful. And everyone familiar with the story of Rudolph understands the significance of bright and colorful lights during the holidays.HolidayLights

Christmas lights were invented by Thomas Edison in 1880, largely as a means of marketing his new invention to a reluctant public. 124 years later, this December my neighborhood looks particularly festive. My neighbors have adorned their houses with decorations that are by turns classic, crazy, quaint, or contemporary, making my walk home after the 3:30pm sunset(!) much brighter indeed. Once inside, I plug in my lights to add more shimmer and shine to the cheery display along Spaulding Avenue.

lightsBefore their recent electric history, holiday lights were candles and bonfires, a celebratory response to the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, stemming from the understanding of the human needs for light. As extension of earlier pagan traditions, holiday lights continue to help humans endure this inescapable time of darkness. With the resolve to brave these dark days, we find our way to more light.candleswindow

Light encompasses a variety of symbolic meanings associated with the inventive, optimistic, and life-affirming. A sudden thought transforms into a light bulb above our head. Proud parents beam when they hear that their child is “so bright.” Scientists recall the flash of an idea. The shine, the light, the idea, all glimmer with possibility, warmth, hope.

Light replicates the spark of life in us all. We leave a light in the window to welcome travelers. We fall in love amidst the soft glow of candles.

And beyond the houses, above the city lights, the stars, too, offer to light our way.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Way back in September, perhaps on the 17th or the 21st of that month, I proclaimed that my family had entered “The Autumn of Bread”.  Sounds regal, right?  Well, it is.  For the last 2 and 1/2 months I have been trying to bake a new type of bread each week.  Some weeks I do more than one loaf, and some weeks I just repeat a previous hit.  ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has been wonderful. If

Pretzels!

Pretzels!

you don’t believe me, ask my wife.

Let me give you a little background on why I am doing this.

First off, I need to explain the name.

A couple years ago, my brother and sister-in-law went to Ireland. When they returned, they declared it was going to be the ‘year of the sausage’.  They had eaten so much processed, salted meat on

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

the Emerald Isle, that they decided to bring the practice home with them.  That sodium-filled year was inspiring. Ever since, whenever my wife and I become a bit obsessed with a foodstuff we jokingly name the season after said foodstuff: ‘The year of the Latte'; ‘The Winter of the Brussel Sprout'; ‘The Season of the Waffle'; Etc.

But, ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has beaten all previous comers. For all you bread-bakers, you understand why.

If you have never baked bread, what are you waiting for?

Here are a couple reasons everyone should bake bread, at least at some point in their lives:

  1. Fresh baked bread straight out of the oven may be the best, most satisfying food a human being can eat. No joke.
  2. Baking bread calls for creativity. The methods, the flours, the flavors, the herbs, the designs, the tastes.  Once you have the basic skills down, you can really play around and try new things.
  3. Baking homemade, leavened bread is an amazing science experiment.  If you have kids, you can show them how them the physico-chemical right in your own kitchen.    Actually, why don’t science teachers use bread-making as a teaching tool?  It is microbiology and chemistry lesson in one. Two great tastes that taste great together.
  4. Scientific? Sure, but also mystical. Bread grows seemingly on its own, gaining airiness because of the ancient tiny lifeforms that are working their microscopic butts off. We help them, they help us. So symbiotic.
  5. For me as a historian, I feel tied to the past when I make bread.  It is so central to so many cultures and rituals that bread has some magical humanistic quality that is hard to pin down.
  6. Last, it is a gamble, Thus, when you win, the payoff is so rewarding. Unlike whipping up many foods, bread has the capibility to be a huge disaster and waste of time. This may sound like a negative, but it means that once you have the skill down, you really feel accomplished once you complete it.

As the solstice quickly approaches, and with it, the dregs of winter, I wonder if the Autumn of Bread should become the Winter of Yeast?  Let me ask my wife and kids. I think I know the answer.

 

 

By Gina Marie Disalvo, RMU Student.

This one time, at band camp, my friend hijacked an elevator and had a disco. Seriously. In order to use the elevator, you had to boogie with the best of ‘em. These shenanigans continued for a few hours and even moved into the dorm lobby. Non-stop disco; bands from all over the country joined in and it turned into a regular old Saturday Night Fever. This…this is why marching band; because at the end of the day everyone wants to belong. Everyone spends high school searching for their place; whether it is sports, drama, academics, or music. Some of us find it, some of us don’t. What I can tell you is that marching band changed my life, and I can’t even play an instrument.
guard girl

I spent years in other activities. Cheerleading, girl scouts, pageants; I tried my hand at horses, archery, fishing, and even jousting. Okay, I am just kidding about the jousting. But seriously, singing and dancing were the only things I really enjoyed. Both required no team or group effort. You see, kids are cruel and being a tomboy on a cheerleading team can lead to some nasty name calling and seclusion issues. It doesn’t matter that I had been to nationals more times than most of them could count. They hated me on principle. I’m not the only kid who had this problem; sometimes mean girls and boys decide it’s a great idea to pick on the people who are different. So after eleven years of hard work, and seven national titles, I quit cheerleading. I walked away from the team of fifty people who made being a human being feel like terrible curse.

 

I walked onto a team of eight. Eight girls, all from very different backgrounds, who decided, let’s try something new. I joined my high school’s color guard.

 

Color guard are the people with the flags and the rifles that make the marching band look pretty. We dance, and twirl and do all sorts of cool stuff. I learned a lot 2010in color guard. We competed, and won State. That though, isn’t what I wanted to tell you. What I wanted to say, reader, is that these girls were the most accepting people I had ever met. We all had each other’s backs, even if we weren’t friends, because at the end of the day we were a team. In the group of fifty girls I couldn’t find a single one who cared as much as these eight girls. The best part though was that they didn’t just come with themselves; they came with an entire marching band attached. It was the band family. The director was the parent, the winds/brass were teenagers, the percussion were the children. Seriously though, these people made up a group that made you feel at home. For some of us growing up, it was the closest to home we ever felt. The most accepted and loved, and the bonds made in this one, or four seasons, changed lives, and made life worth living.

 

So, ‘this one time at band camp’, is a big joke right? But seriously, this one time, at band camp, I found the best family I’ve ever known.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

As we start another quarter at RMU, I as a history teacher try once again to inculcate students to the importance of historical understanding.  In each of my courses I usually provide the students on the first day of class with a description of what history is, and why it matters. Simply put, I try to justify taking history courses to non-history majors.

This is old-hat for me. I have been justifying studying history long before teaching at RMU.  Ever since my days as an undergrad  I have been hounded by friends, peers and random acquaintances’ parents regarding the ‘value’ of a history degree.  With a smirk on their collective faces, I would hear the banal, unthinking question, ‘what are you gonna do with a BA in history?’  It was obvious to me long before entering the working world that in American society, the utility of a degree, meaning the amount of money to be made from having it, is the most important thing for a lot of people.

Of course, not everyone is so materialistically utilitarian. Some people simply don’t like history. Since I was a freshman, I i love historyoften gained unsolicited opinions such as, ‘history is my least favorite subject'; or ‘I can’t understand what you would find enjoyable about studying such a boring topic.’

This is a much more difficult challenge to face.  For paycheck-concerned-parents, I can always point to all sorts of studies that show that employers are looking for the skills taught by the liberal arts.  But, how do you answer those people who think your subject is a snoozefest? How do you change their minds?

You do the only thing you can do: Prove to those naysayers, whether they be friends, students, or whoever, that history is amazingly interesting and human. You point to Arlette Farge, the great historian of 18th century French, who beautifully stated that ‘It is a rare and precious feeling to suddenly come upon so many forgotten lives, haphazard and full, juxtaposing and entangling the close with the distant, the departed.’ For me, this statement encapsulates the study of history.

But, there is more. Those lives Farge ‘comes upon’ are often weird. They are often funny. Their lifestyles are often salacious.  Their worlds are often disgusting.  In other words, Farge’s lives illustrate that the past is achingly, tragically, amazingly human. You can discover all sorts of strange surprises in these lives.

teeth02For instance, a couple weeks ago I picked up Professor Colin Jones’ new book on 18th century French culture called The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris.  Jones investigated a seemingly ahistorical subject: human smiles. But, as he fascinatingly points out, emotions, and their physiological manifestations (smiles), have faced different cultural receptions throughout history. According to Jones, in France, open mouth smiling was frowned upon (sorry about the pun) starting in the reign of Louis XIV.  Open mouthed guffawing was considered to be low class. Why was this so?  Well, as Jones points out, this probably had much to do with the fact that people living in the 18th century had horrendous teeth. Here is Jones describing the sad, but common dental experience of the philosophe Abbe Galiani:

“In a gloomy countdown, he recorded that he still had fourteen (teeth) remaining in June 1770, but only eight in August 1771. By then, any untoward movement of his tongue while he was talking led to his teeth springing out of his mouth. His conversation, he complained, had become a mixture of unintelligible mumbling and inadvertent whistling which baffled his friends. He began to have dreams in which his teeth grew back. …By mid 1772 all his teeth were gone; he was in his early forties.”

Can you imagine this? I can. History makes me imagine.

Simply put, learning about such topics in history makes me feel like Bill Murray’s character in the Royal Tenenbaums, when he says:

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

SecretIngred

Baking relaxes me. At this point in my baking life, the things I make are largely those I’ve made so many times that I have a guaranteed system of getting it just right.

Although I make a wide range of baked goods throughout the year, homemade chocolate chip cookies have become my signature treat since I make them nearly every week.

Everyone loves cookies, and I only slightly modify the recipe on the back of the Nestle package, so they are uncomplicated.

I bring these cookies primarily to my local bar, my extended living room, The Whirlaway for potlucks. Much to the delight of the bar patrons, I live close enough that oftentimes the cookies are still warm from the oven when I arrive.

I also bring cookies to work, sharing them with my colleagues and my students when I can. During Fall term I taught two “Creativity” classes, so for the final project (due today), I asked the students to create something, and thought I’d better do the same; I made cookies.

I asked my students to describe their projects in a short essay of four sections addressing the inspiration, theme, execution, and result of their creative intentions. I feel perfectly comfortable abiding by my own rules, so I shall do the same.

Inspiration

My inspiration to bake is always to make people feel appreciated. I make treats to help people feel loved; to do something simple and nice and, thereby, contribute to the event. There must always be an event to celebrate; if there is not, I invent one.

And, I confess that I have inherited my mother’s trait of “baking arrogance,” which drives me to bake regularly. I simply love when people ask whether or not I made something before they decide to partake. If I made it, they’ll eat it.

Themes

Baking comprises many themes, but indulgence seems the most apt. My friend Richard frequently needs to be encouraged to enjoy a few cookies. I told him just yesterday, “Life is full of things that aren’t healthy, but they are still good.”sweet-indulgence-logo

Bakery is not good for you, at least not nutritionally. In every other way, bakery is extraordinarily good. It embodies tradition; it evokes memories; it creates opportunities to savor something sweet.

Execution

Though my mother disagrees, I’m extremely orderly, especially at home. I clean as I cook, and have little mess after. The key to my cookie execution is thorough preparation, and shelving ingredients immediately after use, and my just-a-bit-too-large measuring teaspoon for salt (shaped like a fish and a gift from the always thoughtful Leah Allen). I bake them at a lower temperature than recommended and take them out before they are quite done, allowing them to cook a smidge on the pan before letting them cool. Small deviations from the recipe, and extensive mixing of the ingredients, create a cookie decidedly mine in both appearance and taste.

For added flavor, I sing love songs to the batter (usually The Beatles “All You Need Is Love” among others), ensuring that my cookies grow ever-more delicious; you can taste the love.

Results

Chocolate chip cookies are wonderful. The ones I make are chewy, and a bit salty, both aspects garnering rave reviews and repeated entreaties to make more.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I like my morning news ridiculous, a preference fulfilled in Chicago by WGN Morning News.

I grew up watching Cleveland, Ohio’s local news celebrities, realizing only later that people on the local news aren’t exactly celebrities elsewhere. When I went “away” to Ohio State University, just two hours south of Cleveland, my Dick Goddard jokes fell flat. No one in Columbus had ever heard of Cleveland’s seasoned weatherman, an early lesson in the vagaries of fame.

Everyone in Chicago knows weather expert Tom Skilling. Oftentimes we learn too much from Skilling.

WGN offers an abundance of delights specific to local news—meaningful camaraderie, reckless goofery, and constant complaints about the hours.local_news

While I typically only watch for a short window, from 5:45-6:15 each morning, the unfortunate anchors are on air from 4:00am-10:00am, the early shift 4:00-6:00am is staffed by those with less experience. Much like a high school lunchroom cafeteria, the WGN Seniors rule.

The second shift belongs to the true stars, the A Team, the Dream Team: reporters Robin Baumgarten and Larry Potash, accompanied by Paul Konrad with weather and Pat Tomasulo on the sports desk. When any one of these four players is missing, a bit of the mojo is absent, too.

For everyone up at 6:00am (or before), morning news is the start of a long day. The fast-and-loose nature of local news makes for a good beginning. Low-level hijinks include Robin’s unparalleled and unpracticed curiosity about human interest stories. Regular favorites include Paul Konrad’s surreal Courtesy Desk and the unruly ire underscoring Tomasulo’s Pat-Down. Most often, WGN bubbles over with merriment.

Nothing beats a good audio guy to set the tone. Once, an “Alligator in the sewer” news item was transitioned by the musical bumper “Crocodile Rock,” the talent responsible for that inspired segue is known as “Audio Bob.” I’m amazed by the flair of the audio department, which clearly subscribes to the Fred Norris school of audio journalism. I consider this exceedingly good news.

Naturally, significant news items are covered. In fact, the political and cultural interviews with local professors and scientists from DePaul, Loyola, and University of Chicago are downright hard-hitting, but the gravity is concluded as soon as may be, the mood steadily rising like a hot air balloon.

Local news doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither do I.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

The question, “What are you going to be?” means something different this time of year, which is one of the many reasons why I thoroughly enjoy celebrating Halloween. Selecting a Halloween costume is terrific fun and a rare opportunity to be someone other than ourselves.

meandheather

This year, I was invited to many Halloween events (I always tell my students that I’m extremely popular). The party last Saturday was a “Saturday Morning Cartoons” theme, so I jumped in the way-back machine and dressed as Jem; she’s truly outrageous! My friend, Heather, went as Paddington Bear.

Saturated with shades of pink,  the ensemble I put together was successful enough for people to understand that I was Jem; alas, my costume wasn’t quite as good as that of the other Jem at the party, who had a more rockin’ 80’s wig. It certainly wasn’t surprising that another woman had a latent desire to be a super-cool, pink-wig-wearing rock star.

Tomorrow night, the Urban Family and I are are dancing at Beauty Bar, which is featuring an 80’s Halloween dance party. I’m going as Punky Brewster, ideally bringing her spunk and colorful layers to the dance floor. Jem seems too obvious, somehow, and the weather has turned colder.punky

Imbedded in these choices, linger decisions that adults are rarely asked to make—what else could you be? We are all diligently working on who we are, trying to become a better version of ourselves, the best version of ourselves, ideally.

Velma_Dinkley

Tricia Lunt?

At Halloween, we are enticed to explore different facets within, think of the men who dress as women (and who look fabulous in dresses, I might add). We are permitted–encouraged–to break free from our prescribed self, which is why when my friend suggest I dress as Velma Dinkely from Scooby-Doo, a childhood favorite to be sure, I turned to her and said, “but I’m Velma every day!” The glasses, the turtleneck, the sensible shoes: ask anyone who’s seen me hunt for my glasses.

On Halloween, I want to be someone else entirely.

So we reach beyond what we are to what we might be, or might have been, or might yet become. We revisit childhood and gleefully take up handfuls of sugar-coated goodness.

Halloween offers a trip down the rabbit hole, accompanied by the comforting assurance that when it’s over, we will come back to ourselves again.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Thesis: Ignorance is bliss.

Antithesis: Knowledge is power.

Disturbing Synthesis: A little knowledge and a lot of ignorance is damn frightening.

The first two statements are cliches..  But, as with all cliches, there is a great deal of truth to them. What I am finding is that the third statement, though not as pithy or memorable, is no less true.  It seems like everywhere in America today, this disturbing synthesis is prevalent. The latest example is popular, and popularly misguided reactions to the ebola outbreak.

Those who are completely ignorant of ebola are not necessarily problematic. Approach them on the street and ask about the disease, and you may get blank stares and a shrug of the shoulders.  They have no worries; no concerns; no 291933-ebola-virusknowledge.  Honestly, the vast majority of Americans will never be affected by ebola, and so is it really surprising that our notoriously narcissistic selves may simply say, ‘who cares’?  Many of the ignorant may be callous, a great deal may be apathetic, but they are not dangerous.

The antithesis of this state is knowledge. An understanding of how the disease transmits, what it does to those affected, and how likely it is to spread is necessary. A realization that help should be sent to Africa is nobly knowledgeable.  Those with knowledge appreciate that there are much greater worries in this world than the highly unlikely chance of catching ebola. Knowledge, and its offspring perspective, allows an American to realize the food we put in our mouths poses a much greater threat to our health than any hemorrhagic fever.  Nonetheless, the informed American appreciates the power, and horror of disease, and the necessity of containment.  In our globalized age, a disease affecting Africa may not reach us personally, but the social revolutions, economic catastrophes, and military strife that may come as a result of the disease very well could.  Being an isolationist is not an option when it comes to fighting microbes.  Paradoxically, being self-centered should lead to a concern for the other.

It is the last, the synthesis, that should keep us up at night; it is the synthesis that must be fought against.  The happy medium between knowledge and ignorance is not all that happy, but it is disturbingly easy to come by.  Google, 24 hours news, and social media are the pushers of spin, sensationalism, conspiracies and half-truths.  The American people are the addicts.

Ebola-is-realIn a perfect world, Google allows us to find ‘truth’ in a simple easily structured search format. If you ‘google’ ebola, you will get articles from the WHO, the CDC, and the BBC.  But, accidently put an ‘h’ after ebola, and the logarithm used by the website offers you the opportunity to search ‘Ebola Hoax’.  Search that, and you start to fall down the rabbit hole.

I got a glimpse of this the other day. Riding home on the train, four adults, seemingly sane, began to discuss ebola.  There were the typical concerns and questions.  Some of the claims made were incorrect; the disease has not killed 30,000 in Africa, even though this train rider stated it was fact.  But soon things got out of hand.  One of the men shouted that ebola was actually created by the government; he stated that it was categorically true that ebola has been patented and that the government is controlling the disease.  How did he propose to prove this shocking revelation? He said to his friend, ‘give me your phone, and let me ‘Google’ it. I’ll show you!’

The tools for finding information are there for us to use.  They have the capability to provide anyone and everyone with the power of knowledge. Absolute ignorance is now, more often than not, a choice.  The problem seems to be that most people choose to collect only snippets of knowledge.  A ’30 second’ blurb here; a meme there.  Throw in a facebook status posted by a friend with some strange conspiratorial theories, and the synthesis of ignorance and knowledge is off to the races.  Though sprinting away from ignorance, we’re too often stopping far short of knowledge.

Imagine That

Posted: October 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English FacultyCreate

These last four weeks (coinciding with the beginning of this term), I’ve failed to make space for creativity in my life; my work as a teacher has claimed the bulk of my time and energy. This is problematic in several ways, and ironic in at least one: I am currently teaching two “Creative Expression” classes, yet have found little time to do so.

This is a challenge most people face. Listening to our inner creative voice can be difficult amidst the thunderous din of life’s demands, but we ought to listen, and respond.Cool!

Creativity is essential to productivity, so while I am busy being “industrious,” I would be more so if I took the time to create (as I am doing now, grading be damned). Hence, this blog, and countless others, exists. Yes, to communicate, but also to create something where once nothing was. Hence the fancy cookery flourishing in kitchens of extremely busy people (you gotta eat). Hence the whole expansive world of imaginative Lego landscapes, constructed by young and old.

Though I do not make my living through the creative arts, I practice creative endeavors to connect more fully with life, through writing and dance and art. Countless extraordinary people I love work to make time for creativity in their lives: gardening, baking, crocheting, sewing, designing, painting, crafting, sculpting, acting, playing and singing: a river of dynamic energy overflowing its banks, nourishing us all.

The struggle to create is an essential part of living, of fulfilling the promise of lifelong learning, of evolving and realizing how many vistas remain in the distance, beckoning us to keep moving forward. Undertaking an artistic journey is particularly compelling, especially when it becomes all too clear that life really is what we make it.

Back to School, RMU Fall 2014

Posted: October 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

It’s been quiet ’round the Turtle these days because it’s busy here at RMU. Faculty and students are back to meet the Fall 2014 term with fresh school supplies and eager smiles. Thus, I offer some observations about new scholastic beginnings, touching upon both the profound and preposterous.

1. After a quiet summer, RMU’s halls elevator lobbies and classrooms are overflowing.

2. All the faculty are here, working at peak energy, which means the office is abuzz with laments and laughter, and the ever-present sounds of copier and stapler.

3. The emotional roller coaster has already descended from the first hill of optimism and, as assignment due dates are missed, we are all collectively headed for the initial trough of dejection, with the inevitable good intention to climb the next hill, sisyphean subtext intended.

4. Got meetings? I know we do.

5. Paul’s jokes have re-emerged on his White Board; his humor seems sharper–and more necessary–than ever.

6. My 8:00am classes are earlier than ever this year.

7. Two field trips already, and more planned!

8. Next week is “Spirit Week,” celebrated with dress up days: RMU gear on Monday; favorite team of Tuesday: neon on Wednesday, and Throwback Thursday culminating in Homecoming, which means with some savvy planning, I’ll be able to wear a t-shirt every day: nice work perk.

9. Helping students engage in their own educational journeys is a puzzle I work on every day. Thankfully, I’m a better thinker when I am teaching. Someday, I’ll solve it.

10. Witnessing student enthusiasm, catching them as realize the joy of learning, is why teaching matters, and why I’m still here.

I leave you with this bit of educational ecstasy from Back to School, the 1986 starring Rodney Dangerfield and Sally Kellerman. The scene may be a bit inappropriate, but, then again, so am I.