Posts Tagged ‘Tricia Lunt’

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Oh, how I love brunch! Starting with Easter this Sunday, high season for brunch will be in full flower until the next snow fall (next November, ideally).

Brunch is the nonconformist of the meal world, shaking off limits with cavalier abandon. Brunch sprawls over the entire chaise lounge of a day. Brunch can begin or end almost any time, and foods served can include fundamentally anything, making brunch a lavish smorgasbord of delight.

Chicago is a restaurant town, with brunch offerings expansive and delicious. Lists of local brunch recommendations abound, but I find Time Out Chicago offers reasonable suggestions across all price points.

Unsurprisingly, the history of brunch from Smithsonian magazine indicates a Chicago connection to the popularization of brunch:

In Brunch: A Plea, British author Guy Beringer suggested an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday meals in favor of lighter fare served late in the morning. ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer says. ”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” [here, here!]

But wherever the initial spark of genius came from, the tradition definitely seems to have caught on in the United States in the 1930s, supposedly because Hollywood stars making transcontinental train trips frequently stopped off in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. It was a meal championed by hotels since most restaurants were closed on Sundays and, with church attendance flagging after World War II, people were looking for a new social outlet that also let them sleep in a bit. Restaurants soon hopped on the bandwagon and began offering the decadent spreads of food and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody Marys, Bellinis and Mimosas. BloodyMary (1)

My favorite brunch spots are in my neighborhood, largely because brunch wants a slower pace, so a meandering walk to a local restaurant seems the most satisfying choice.

As much as I like local hot spots Lula and Longman & Eagle, the lines are just too long for weekend brunch; I visit these uber-trendy places on Monday, when my friends and I can enjoy our meal without enduring the ceaseless glares of contempt from the impatient throng waiting for a table.

Jam delivers a terrific Logan Square brunch. It was here that the whole Urban Family welcomed Clark to Chicago nearly two years ago. At Jam’s previous location, Leah ushered in the indulgent practice of ordering the spectacular French toast “for the table.”

Frenchtoast

French toast from Jam.

Specialty drinks elevate brunch to a celebration. Bloody Mary’s are my go-to brunch beverage, and Dunlay’s on the Square, one of my low-key local spots, serves an outstanding version featuring a mini-meal of garnish with a skewer of mozzarella, prosciutto, cherry tomato, an olive, and a pickle, Oh, and a Miller Lite back. I’ve enjoyed innumerable Bloody Mary’s and brunches with my entire Urban Family and nearly every out-of-town guest. I have brunched at Dunlay’s with Ingrid, Emily, Holly & Ian, Maria & Chris, Stacy, Larry, Jenny & Olivia, Jill, my goddaughter Mary, and my sisters Theresa & Margo. Whoever my next visitor turns out to be will be added to this list, I’m sure.

Azzurra in Wicker Park.

Azzurra in Wicker Park.

Although Azzurra has only been open a few months, I’ve had brunch at this new Wicker Park gem at least four times. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the dazzling Leah Allen, one of my closest friends, runs the place with her characteristic warmth and grace. I’m wild for the Italian sausage, rapini, & fontina frittata while my buddy Paul has driven in twice from the suburbs to order the focaccia benedict.

Brunch can be done well at home, too. Thanks to the new mothers in my friend group, we’ve begun a “Lovely Ladies & Beautiful Babies” brunch tradition that involves more enjoyment than preparation. And once again this Easter, I’ll brunch at McTedros manor, my friends’ cheerful house on the north side of Logan Square, where Hanna and Ryan will surprise their guests with incredibly inventive cooking. Last year it was the Swedish delicacy smorgastata.

Like any grand food tradition, brunch entails sharing a good meal with great people, an experience that is sweet, indeed.

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

To all the do-gooders, past, present, and future, I bid you a Happy National Volunteer week!

Studies show that volunteers lead lives that are measurably more enriched and fulfilled. Here is evidence on the powerful impact of giving from The Globalization for the Common Good Initiative. PBS also has a special segment called “This Emotional Life” which also offers insight on giving and altruism. Happily, volunteerism is trending in The United States, a remarkable reminder that kindness never goes out of style.

volunteer
I’ve been volunteering at 826 Chicago since 2008. What a great place this is—miles and miles of exceptionally sweet, smart, and absurdly generous people. Not only have I had some great experiences promoting literacy and strengthening my community, I’ve met truly incredible people, making fantastic friends along the way. I help school children with creative writing projects andBoringStore homework, or help staff The Boring Store,  a fund-raising storefront that specializes in selling ridiculous wares, such as samurai sword umbrellas and stainless steel fish flasks (I have one, of course), all to benefit Chicago Public School students! Even now, plans are underway for the annual 826 Chicago “Prom” (21 and over) dance and fundraiser. This year’s 826 Chicago Prom themes are fantastically weird.  This year’s Prom 9 From Outer Space promises to be replete with neo-futuristic costumes galore! If you are interested, buy your tickets here.

LPConservatoryRecently I began the training program to become a volunteer docent at The Lincoln Park Conservatory. Expand my volunteering life to the Lincoln Park Conservatory is the best decision I’ve made in 2014. Naturally, the conservatory is sublime, but even more impressive is the team of seasoned volunteers, who work as part of The Lincoln Park Conservancy, devoting their time to teach my trainee class a considerable amount about the Chicago Park district, and I mean a lot: the history of the parks, the origin of the plants, the nature of interpretation, and the importance of green spaces are all part of the training curriculum, and like a true nerd, I’m thrilled to have homework!

Most significantly, I began volunteering thanks to the extraordinary example of the people I know and love. Nearly all of my closest family and friends support the work of amazing non-profit organizations. Below is a (incomplete) list of the fantastic organizations my friends and family have enriched with their time and talents.

The American Red Cross

Autism Speaks

Bike Walk Logan Square

Boy Scouts of America

Chicks Against Hunger

Cleveland International Film Festival

Corner FarmVolunteer2

Donate Life

Girl Scouts of America

Habitat for Humanity

The Humane Society

The Peace Corp

Teach for America

The United Way

Veterans of Foreign Wars

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly involved in volunteer work. Allow me to highly recommend you do the same!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

In high school, my indefatigable math teacher, Mr. Sycz, informed me and the rest of his unsuspecting students that the majority of adult life is spent at work. As such, he wisely advised us to choose our careers carefully. What he failed to mention was that all those hours at work will be spent with other people. Regrettably, there is no way to select our coworkers; the only recourse is to cross your fingers. How fortunate, then, that I love both what I do and the people with whom I work.

I’ve always liked working cooperatively with others, a natural result of growing up with six siblings. At every job I’ve had in my 25 years of RMUILsealwork (Cowgill Printing, McDonald’s, Dimitri’s Restaurant, Mr. Todd’s Cleaners, Royalview Manor, First Community Village, The Courtyard, Country Counter, Dick’s Last Resort, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Grafton Street Pub, Lakeland Community College, Academy at the Lakes, Hillsborough Community College, Harold Washington College, Columbia College, and RMU), I’ve met and worked with fantastic people who’ve helped make any work less tiresome. The same is true here at good ol’ RMU, where I have worked since arriving in Chicago in 2007.

My RMU colleagues are tremendous people, and we know each other incredibly well. Since my coworkers are diligent and dedicated teachers, I am already predisposed to like them and admire their efforts. They are all CLAwonderfully smart, too, of course, each in his or her unique way. Everyone I work with will stop to help a fellow teacher or student. Everyone will devote his or her expertise to our shared purpose: the endlessly worthwhile endeavor of education.

Most importantly, my co-workers at RMU, specifically the CLA members (many of them Turtle writers, too) are generous and thoughtful. What follows is just a small sampling of the everyday—but in no way ordinary—kindnesses my colleagues show to one another.

Paula provides lunch when Fridays involve the dreaded all-day meetings.

If there are cookies next to the coffee pot, they are probably courtesy of Turtle father Michael.

Jenny supplies us all with fresh vegetables from her considerable garden.

Pyle created the “cabinet of wonders,” a repository of free books, Cd’s, and DVD’s to share.

I’d be surprised to find a more sympathetic listener than Ellen.

Cynthia keeps the refrigerator stocked with fancy flavored creams to augment the free coffee.

Pat McNicholas brings homemade fudge every finals week.

Paul jots down the best zingers on his whiteboard to highlight the general goofiness in the CLA suite.

If Peter does anything, you can bet it will be done with “alacrity and aplomb.”

Like any good family, we endure each other’s idiosyncrasies, often turning flaws into perfections of a different kind. Mick tells the same Irish jokes every St. Patrick’s Day, year after year: how excruciatingly wonderful.

When my colleagues aren’t busy conducting research, planning curriculum, teaching classes, grading papers, or attending meetings, we can be found in the CLA office giggling like teenagers. We pretend that we are in a workplace sitcom called “RMU Kiddin’ Me.” We’re all certain the show would be hilarious, of course, which illustrates my good fortune in both terms of my job and my coworkers.

There is nothing quite as delightful as laughing at work, something I enjoy every single day. The funniest line or exchange will be added to Paul’szipper white board. If a joke is too inappropriate, it is designated as “Invisible Whiteboard” material and will remain a joke amongst ourselves.

Today

Paul, “I’ll send you the ZIP file.”

Me, “I can never remember how to unzip things.”

Paul, “Then how do you get dressed in the morning?”

Insert the cutesy sitcom title here.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

This week, I substituted for a colleague, and taught her ENG 211 course for a two-hour class period. Because I know it’s difficult to “embrace” a substitute (even though I’d taught nearly every student in the class before), I planned something fun for the day.

We watched “How Beer Saved the World,”  a one-hour Discovery Channel special available as a 44-minute video available on Netflix. The beerlength of the video is always relevant. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be. The subject matter seemed relevant to my audience of college students, especially as spring break is approaching.

The course is devoted to a study of argument, so the subject matter is irrelevant: the lesson is what matters.

The program is plagued by issues of inconsistent tone, which the students noticed immediately. The intermixture of dreadfully kitschy animation, ultra-serious voice over narration, and a few too many portly experts sipping pints while explaining the merits of beer became worrying. Another issue was the incessant product placement: clearly Miller Brewing and Coors Light offered some (if not all) of the funding dollars for this project. I wanted the students to identify what undermined the effectiveness of the argument back, and they did.

Honestly, it’s easier to teach source material that is flawed, just like it’s easier to write negative reviews. It’s important to note that criticism does serve a vital function, as brilliantly illustrated in Anton Ego’s epiphany in the fabulous film Ratatouille.

A deep understanding of the nature and purposes of critique informs the core of everything I teach and know.

I was impressed by the students’ analysis. They doubted the credibility of the sources. They asked why the negative attributes of beer were not even considered. They were a tough audience. Hurrah!

They also expressed suspicion with regard to the “facts” as presented in the piece. The most interesting definitely required “Googling” for veracity.

Fun Fact #1

The Star-Spangled Banner was based on a melody from a drinking song: Fact.

Fun Fact #2

Louis Pasteur conducted scientific research on beer: Truth, he used milk, beer, and wine in his pasteurization experiments.

Fun Fact #3

Refrigeration was largely the result of efforts by beer makers who wanted to make cold lager year round. Doubtful; my preliminary research suggests that many industries funded research in refrigeration to serve the purposes and needs of the product manufactured.

When beer enthusiasts (or companies, or researchers) want to understand the significance of beer throughout human history, they begin with the supposition that beer had a significant impact on human history, and seek to prove that supposition.

The students wondered asked “why have we never heard this before? Why isn’t in textbooks?”

Despite their willingness to question some facts, they have only just begun (perhaps) to question “fact” as a construct. They still think that all factsalong they’ve been told the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

The lesson represented another step on their path of knowing, the larger realization that all knowledge is more than incomplete. Viewpoint is always skewed. When pictures of the earth taken from space are shown, they are presented as though the spacecraft is “above” the earth, but space isn’t linear. It’s 3-dimensional. The shuttle is off of the earth, away from the earth, at a distance that is neither above, nor below, but outside.

The complexity of knowing is one of its particular beauties. Ultimately, everything we know is limited, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking for answers.

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Parades are wacky, wonderful, and nonsensical—and that is just three of the things I love about them.

Every parade is replete with a peculiar set of activities and traditions both whimsical and weird. Parades have existed since the earliest days of civilization, with roots in military and political endeavors. What is perhaps more intriguing is that parades persist. In the 21st century, parades seem a sweet remnant of simpler times, but I suspect there has always been something nostalgic about parades. Once a parade starts, history, tradition, 29Cparade.jpgand inevitability converge to propel it infinitely forward.

My own history includes innumerable parades. For years in the Memorial Day parade in my hometown with my Girl Scout Troop; all of the girls dressed in scouting uniforms, carrying flowers to put on the graves of soldiers buried in the local cemetery. Always sentimental, I created a private tradition of placing my flowers on the same grave every year. My nieces and nephews, and children of girls I knew long ago, now walk in that parade, or watch from the sidewalk, hoping to catch some of the candy thrown into the crowd.

Gratifyingly, parades cling to a specific place and time. Traditions are decidedly local. I’ve only ever seen candy thrown at parades in Ohio. Other parades involve different rituals, but giving gifts to the crowd is a frequent practice. Whether stickers or bracelets or beads, useless trinkets are transformed into highly sought-after prizes along a parade route.

From August 2006 and June 2007, I lived in Tampa, Florida, home to two true “event” parades which were the highlight of my time there. Guavaween, a rowdy mardi-gras-like guavaweencelebration of Halloween, was held in the nightlife enclave of Tampa known as Ybor City. This parade was decidedly adult, with many risqué costumes and others that were truly frightening.  I’m glad I witnessed the unbridled mayhem while it lasted. Sadly, the event has been tamed in recent years.

gasparillaAnother terrific Tampa tradition is Gasparilla, with pirate-themed celebrations. Gasparilla is held in January, and includes both a parade of boats in Tampa Bay and two separate parades down the street beside the bay, the accurately named Bay-to-Bay Avenue. Events devoted to this celebration are exciting, with an alcohol-free Children’s parade one week before the alcohol-friendly all-ages version. The main street parade lasts more than two hours, and the onlookers are nearly as engaging as the parade itself.

This summer my getaway to the Pacific Northwest includes stays in Portland and Seattle, a week selected in order to attend a parade in both cities. The day I arrive in Portland, July 23rd, The Oregon Brewers Festival kicks off with—you guessed it: a parade dedicated to beer! The following Saturday, July 26th, I will arrive in Seattle just in time for The Torchlight parade.

A Midwest favorite is the “Cheese Parade,” which I discovered with my Urban Family a few years ago at The Monroe County Wisconsin Cheese Days. All about cheese, the parade is ushered in by a pair of cows that walk postcard-front-cheese-days-2010down the street while people watch and applaud. Cheese Days are celebrated every other year, most likely to provide plenty of planning and production time for elaborate cheese-themed floats. 2014’s Cheese Days marks the centennial celebration, and, yes, the Urban Family will be there.

CT st-patricks05.jpgDressing in thematic attire is the playful part of preposterous parade fun. People of all ages wear absurdly ridiculous items to get in the spirit. Temporary tattoos, sparkling headbands, enormous hats, tiny hats, wigs and wings: anything goes at a parade. Dressing pets in costume is also common practice. I’ve seen more than one dog dyed green to match the Chicago River on St. Patty’s Day.

Saturday, March 20, 2014 is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Chicago. The parade is held on the Saturday before the actual holiday because too many kids miss school if the parade is held on a weekday. The St. Patrick’s Day parade is serious business in Chicago.

Rather miraculously, I have been invited by a colleague to walk with him as he plays in a pipe and drum band in this year’s Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Have I mentioned that I adore bagpipes?

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

My first experience with short films was in 2001. My friend Ingrid and I went to see the Oscar Nominated short films at Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland. I vividly remember the short film from Poland we saw that night; it was heartbreaking and terrific. For years I’ve intended to find the title of the film, and this post has urged me to conclude my search at last. Not only did I discover the name of the film that has remained vivid in my mind, A Man Thing (Meska Sprawa), I discovered that the director’s 2006 film Retrieval was also nominated for an Oscar, in the category of best foreign language film. His career and films are absolutely worth watching.

film-reelThe role and importance of short film was part of a conversation I’d had a few weeks before with my colleagues (and Turtle bloggers), Paul and Jenny. We were chatting about how watch-at-will programming is changing the way we experience film and television (due to Netflix and other streaming options). We noted examples of new formats that break the traditional model of North American television and film. In the case of Sherlock, three 1.5 hour episodes per season results not in a television season, but a rapid-fire film trilogy. No waiting for years between films, no extended weekly commitment.

Another appealing attribute of short films is their similarity to short stories: both are intense, character-driven, and conducive to high artistic achievement. Just as there are no “throw-away” lines in short stories, there are no extraneous moments in short films. They exist in the precise space necessary to accommodate the themes explored. The material dictates the length of what is created, form follows function.

Mostly, I watch short films hoping to be exposed to yet another phenomenal emerging filmmaker. I was delighted that the recipients of the Academy Awards for short film this year are both first-time filmmakers. Short films and short stories can offer a critical testing ground for new talent. Few writers have the wherewithal to produce a book-length work early in their careers, and the same is true for most aspiring filmmakers. Artists need practice, exposure, and support to develop their material, and short works enable this crucial experimentation and exploration.

This year, my friend Kris and I went to the Landmark Theater at Clark and Diversey to watch the animated shorts. The films we saw were hysterical, heartfelt, and haunting. The best in the animation category included this year’s winner, Mr. Hublot from Luxembourg.

I was delighted by the entrant from England, Room on the Broom, which features a fantastically put-upon cartoon cat more expressive than most characters in popular film. My favorite is the eerie, evocative Feral, another example of strikingly original artwork at its best.

The day before the Oscars, I squeezed in a viewing of the live action shorts at The Logan Theater. The winning film, Helium, was sad and sweet, innocent, yet knowing. The Voorman Problem illustrated wonderful British wit. I had enormous issues with the film from Spain; the nicest thing I can say about it is to say nothing at all. I have yet to see the short documentaries, but I will try to find a venue to see them. Too often, mainstream films address nothing other than too much of the same. Short films offer new things to see and ways of seeing. I encourage you to explore these innovative films, too.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. ~ C. S. Lewis

Perhaps getting older is like everything else: it gets easier the more you do it.

Ten years ago I stressed more about growing older than I currently do thanks to a cheerful acceptance of the inevitable. Another Imagebirthday is approaching and the only thing that is troubling me this year, at this age, is that I wasn’t able to go on a weekend birthday trip getaway (or, rather, I elected to save for a longer trip in the summer).

There are tremendous benefits to getting older; the two key ones are, in my estimation

Alpha: Understand and accept yourself

Omega: No longer wasting time

ImageSome of the other glorious things about getting older include:

Spending time with children.

Knowing the words to old songs, and unabashedly singing along.

Loving a myriad of magnificent, beautiful people (and counting).

Welcoming the surprises life can bring, and awaiting the next with anticipation.

Thanks to the tiny bits of wisdom I have garnered over the years, I know what to do and what not to do, to some degree, better now than I did before. For instance, beige is not my color (beige clothes make me look naked, truth). A miniskirt was never my best look, so I feel fine relinquishing that costume of youth. I’ve also discovered I look terrific in a wrap dress, and I wear a signature perfume that smells divine only on me.

ImageI have accepted my own personal version of crazy; I practice punctuality and don’t like to stay up late; happily those personal tics correspond well with aging, so eventually, it won’t be odd that I arrive promptly and want to go home at 10:00pm. In fact, if I stay awake past 10:00pm in 30 years, that’ll seem like a real accomplishment, much like it did 30 years ago.

I will continue to develop my relationship with myself in the coming years. Indeed, it has been said that “the most profound relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves.” The fact that this sentiment emanated from the 20th century actress and meditation guru Shirley MacLaine should encourage your acceptance of its veracity, since she’s lived a lot (if you get that reference, you are my age, or older—hello, fellow traveler!)

While I hope to age well, I do have a central regret: I should have started saving money when I was younger, not for retirement, but for the amount I spend on moisturizers. The one aspect of aging I do not want to have to gracefully accept is wrinkles. There is no way to avoid them; they are a key demarcation of age. To wrinkles I say, “yuck, oftentimes with an ‘ef’.”

Nevertheless, I am happy to celebrate my birthday in late February day after day, often lasting a week, or even into March—why not? I Imagecan think of limitless fun things to do, and I know enough people whom I can invite, so I take advantage of that serendipity.

Aging without growing old arises from enjoying life. Years ago, I was a bartender at an Irish pub in Cleveland, Ohio. Opening night was New Year’s Eve. I went to the hair salon before my shift, mostly to make a good impression on my new customers. I was the youngest woman in the beauty parlor by at least two decades when the stylist asked who wanted glitter sprayed into their hair. Thinking it too girlish, I immediately said, “No.”

The much older woman next to me looked up with a grin and said, “I never pass up a chance to sparkle!” In that moment, she was younger than me, and I opted for the glitter after all.

When young, we are all more sensitive to what people think. When older, we care more about what we ourselves think, and therein resides the wonderful freedom to be exactly who we want to be.

Though youth is often associated with impetuous choices, age brings certainty of purpose. Someday becomes right away, the sooner the better. I have wanted to travel to the Pacific Northwest for the past three years. This winter, I bought my ticket for a trip in July.

At my age, I know if I want to make things happen, I have to act fast. After all, Time’s a wasting.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

My grandfather had a flower farm outside St. Louis, Missouri, Sadly, he died before I was born, and I never met him or saw the farm where my mother and her brother, my Uncle George, were raised. I always thought it seemed an exceedingly idyllic setting for childhood—imagine growing up surrounded by flowers! My uncle, who helped in the fields, remembers it differently. Such is the way with memories and illusions.My beautiful picture

My beautiful pictureMy mother taught me a great deal, and her knowledge of flowers seems a most gracious legacy. She knows the names of most every flower in the Midwest—a skill learned from her father and passed on to her children. I adore selecting and arranging flowers, a cheerful activity my mom encouraged in my youth that remains with me. Through her example, I came to know the many ways to understand and appreciate flowers.

Most people do not love the rose better than any other flower. A friend of mine was delighted when her husband sent roses to her office for her birthday when they were dating. Ten years later, he still sends roses. She doesn’t quite know how to tell him she would prefer a change. While roses symbolize love, florists really market roses because they are sturdy and have a long blooming period, making them more profitable. There is a flower shop in my neighborhood, but it is preposterously expensive, roses go for $5 a stem throughout the year, more before Valentine’s Day: outrageous! Also, the store charges for every item. Unlike every other flower shop I’ve ever frequented, this place offers no free greenery or “filler” to augment the blooms, which just seems stingy, undercutting my typical desire to shop local; additionally, consumer reports show that grocery store flowers cost less, last longer and are a better value. Most importantly, if you do plan to buy roses this Valentine’s Day, know that the color of a rose matters.

Rose-Color-MeaningI’m always curious to discover what flowers are favorites among family and friends, as it reveals yet another distinctive aspect of their personal tastes. Leah loves tulips; Holly admires irises, both Stacy and Kris favor gardenias. Here’s where I ought to recommend The Botany of Desire. With regard to State flowers, I’m much happier with Illinois’ violet than Ohio’s red carnation (like Carrie Bradshaw, I’ve never liked carnations).

The flowers I prefer are vibrant and quirky; I appreciate the wide, optimistic face of the stargazer. Hydrangeas’ exceptional response to the soil in which they grow seems a valuable lesson in “nature versus nurture,” proof that environment can color reality. I’m fond of bouquets that include a variety of hue and shape, representing the ideal of diversity at its most lovely. I’m crazy for aromatic blooms; I’d love to buy enough hyacinths and snapdragons to fill my “Tree house” apartment.

I’m best at identifying spring flowers, probably because after a long winter, it is always a thrill to see them bloom, especially so this year. From the appearance of the first irises-1889tiny crocus peeking out from beneath the snow, I delight in welcoming flowers back to life; I eagerly await the forsythia in April as a true marker that spring has arrived. By the time the perfume of lilacs fills the air, winter seems a faint memory.

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and spring is hovering at a tantalizing distance; once again, it is time for flowers.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

“Oh, Wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”  – P. B. Shelley

Regardless of how miserable winter can be, I love the seasons. My short residence in Florida proved that though an endless vacation may seem tempting, there is something of primal importance in the delineation of the seasons as markers of life, growth, death, renewal, and the passage of time.

I was not surprised to discover that Groundhog’s Day is based on the ancient rite of Imbolc, which like all pagan rituals celebrates Imagenatural phenomenon and life cycles of the universe. The Christians co-opted this holiday (among others) and created the mid-winter holy day of Candlemas. Along the way, Groundhog’s Day emerged. At this point I feel compelled to recommend Bill Murray in Groundhog Day since winter is a great time to stay in a watch a movie.

Groundhog’s Day falls between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, the true middle of winter. No matter what holiday we observe, the celebration marks making it halfway through winter. In every other era before this one, surviving until the midpoint of winter was a physical triumph, not just a psychological one. Think about all the real hardships that our forebears experienced specifically extreme cold (without that trusty thermostat) and limited food supplies (no stocking up before a cold snap). Fuel was unreliable and difficult to procure. The food saved for winter was all; when the provisions ran out, there was simply no more. Add to these terrifying realities other issues, particularly with regard to hygiene and illness. Not too much in the way of bathing occurred in the cold months, and sickness spread rapidly, regularly claiming lives. While we have tired of winter at this point, we are fortunate that the season is no longer life-threatening to a vast number of Americans (though the poor and sick and old throughout the world are perpetually at risk).

ImageThe seasons demand a visceral consciousness of the natural world. Weather remains a perpetual topic of polite conversation, even if it consists primarily of complaints. Weather is one of the few shared experiences; we sympathize with each other because we endure together. And, like every struggle humans face, weather can reveal wonderful human traits.

Moreover, without winter cold, there would be no need for knitted scarves, eradicating one type of my favorite accessory. I love wearing scarves, and now that it is regularly below 10 degrees, I wear two at a time. My favorite scarves were made especially for me by my generous (and crafty) friends. I can thank Ruthie, Jackie, Ingrid, and Hanna for the extra warmth they’ve brought to me life, in colorful, portable form.

Too often, contemporary life allows and encourages ignoring the natural world. The seasons bring us back to our senses. With the change of seasons comes the joy of anticipation, too. There is always something new to long for, whether soft spring rain, or warm summer nights, vibrant autumn leaves, or the hush of snowfall.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

21st-century adult life entails entirely too much paperwork. One of my primary aversions is paperwork, which clashes most unpleasantly with my chosen profession. Nurses and doctors encounter paperwork in daily charting. Restaurateurs endure the endless weekly paperwork of inventory and ordering and scheduling. Paperwork comprises a large percentage of the duties and expectations of every profession (whether white color or blue), yet it is rarely mentioned as a path to that profession is undertaken. I’m sure this obfuscation is intentional, as paperwork is as relentless as an avalanche. For teachers, paperwork means grading.

paperwork_overload

Tricia Lunt?

I’ve been trapped under a pile of paperwork all week. I refer to time spent evaluating papers as “going into my grading cave,” since I have little time to focus on anything else. Not counting pages of journals and in-class assignments and online grammar modules, I graded 21 essays on Friday, 18 essays on Monday, 29 essays on Tuesday, and the final set of 21 essays on Wednesday, which is why I’m just now getting to my preferred version of paperwork—my own writing.

I am continually surprised by the amount of time and effort I devote to grading. About 70% of my efforts as a teacher fall under the “grading” heading, which is important work, but difficult and draining on nearly every level. Without even considering the inherent problems of attempting to conduct objective assessment, grading is overwhelming. There are always essays to grade, and a lot of them, and they need to be done immediately, because there are more assignments due next week, and they’ll need to be graded, too.

When I tell my students that grading is challenging, they (kindly) seek to simplify my life by suggesting I just “give them all A’s”. My response includes reading and discussing Roberta Borkat’s satire of higher education, “A Liberating Curriculum.”

Hello, “teachable moment!”

Although grading demands so much, it is an essential part of meaningfully engaging with my students. In order to improve their writing skills, my students must write, and I can only help them develop their writing if I study it closely, considering how their own unique voices might be made stronger, more effective.

Oftentimes, students are shocked by the extent of marks and commentary I make on their essays. I could easily provide even more recommendations, but cannot dally since another stack of essays awaits my attention. Grading offers my students the one-on-one attention they so urgently need, and ultimately deserve. I ask them to pay attention to their language use, to contemplate the validity of their examples, and to develop the logic of their arguments, so I must lead by example and give their work thoughtful consideration as I seek to help them develop useful intellectual skills, writing or otherwise.

grades2Eventually, most students come to respect and value the time and effort professors put in to grading (or evaluating, critiquing, if you like) their work. Even now, I have an email from a former Columbia student expecting my input. Meanwhile, my dance instructor asked me for editing suggestions to improve her studio’s website. I’ve edited countless cover letters and resumes for friends. And when I write anything, I solicit numerous opinions from my trusted colleagues. Just last week, I asked for reaction to the vegetable masala I’d made. Anything good can be made better, and there’s nothing quiet as useful as honest advice.

Grading reveals offers proof of this unassailable truth: criticism is love.