Archive for February, 2013

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Many aspects of my sister Margo’s personality defy consistent characterization. One of her many peculiar choices was the decision to accompany me on an adventurous trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. She is far from a seasoned traveler, vacationing typically with her husband and four children on the beaches of North Carolina. Why she felt compelled to join me on a 12 day trip to Europe, I don’t know.  Still, it was an once-in-a-lifetime trip, as so many are. Margo does not complain, generally, and enjoys things without giving them too much thought, as long as they are different or entertaining. She is easy company, though I did exhaust her tolerance for art museums. We travelled in January. I prefer to travel in the off-season because of the reduction in both cost and number of tourists. For as much as I love people, I dislike crowds. Our trip began in Prague, a wonderfully charming and walkable place.Image

The apartment we rented exceeded our expectations, and the weather, though cold, was bright and sunny. We visited the Old Town and the New, explored Prague Castle, crossed the Charles Bridge, and ate and drank at inviting restaurants and pubs before reluctantly making our way to Vienna.

Vienna was planned as a quick stop, a midway point between Prague and Budapest. Vienna is exquisite, exciting, and enormous. A day and a half in Vienna was the result of my ignorance of the city’s grandeur. Nevertheless, our itinerary included one perfect item: attending a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Vienna Opera House! Our seats were literally numbers 3 and 4 in the first box. Though Margo doesn’t particularly care for opera, she went along happily, enjoying the glamour and the spectacle. The next day, we departed for Budapest, where our good fortune ran out. The first issue arose when the good-natured Margo mistakenly thought that the man who offered to carry her bags to the train would do so for free (Margo somehow still inhabits an enviable world where men do such things). Naturally, the strange man accompanied us onto the train, insisting a high payment for a task we had not requested of him. I was forced to give him the rest of our cash to get rid of him. Thankfully, I had packed some sandwiches and snacks; otherwise we would have had to go hungry, en route to. . .Hungary.

Budapest was not welcoming. The weather had turned colder and the region was swathed in shadowy fog. The view of Buda Castle across the Chain Bridge was nonexistent. The whole city was the color of dishwater.  Our search for a restaurant near our hostel was endless and fruitless. We walked aimlessly until we were forced to stop because Margo had to use the bathroom. We found a bar on a tiny avenue in Pest. Like most conscientious travelers, (especially those who want to avoid being labeled an “ugly American”), I abide by the rule that if you are going to use a bathroom, you must order something. So, while Margo rushed in the direction of the toilets, I ordered two beers at the bar and took them, with the glasses provided, to a nearby table. I waited patiently for Margo, feeling perfectly at ease, though clearly out of place. We were the only women in the bar. We were the only Americans in the bar. Only one other person spoke English, which he made clear when he approached and asked what had brought us there. He was friendly, but wanted to warn us that our presence was perceived as unusual. I planned to tell Margo we should drink our beers quickly. When she returned from the bathroom, her face looked a bit pained.

“The bathroom was gross,” she whispered.

When she saw the beer she asked, “We’re staying?”

I invoked the rule of good travelers, which she knew well by this point in our trip. She sat down and began to pour her beer into the glass provided. Then she looked at the glass. It was as clean as the rest of the place, which was not very.

“I shouldn’t have used the glass,” she said sadly, mostly to herself. 

Moved by her misery, I passed her my beer, which she finished in three desperate gulps, and we left.

As we walked back to our hostel, I asked Margo if, perhaps, she thought we should leave Budapest earlier than planned and go back to Prague.

Instantly transformed back to her animated self, Margo began to chant: “Back to Prague! Back to Prague! Back to Prague!”

One thing I can say for my sister Margo, she brings enthusiasm with her wherever she goes.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The lack of proofreading could have cost me my job….Okay, that is an exaggeration, but I need to pull you in somehow and the topic of proofreading may not sound too enticing. However, this blog about proofreading should be of use to my reader, especially if you are going to write something today for the world to see (hint: That means every one of you on Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

A couple months ago, I was reminded of how one simple word can dramatically (and I mean dramatically) alter meaning.  In October of last year, I wrote a post titled “Literary Freaks” (see here).  I had two goals in mind when I wrote it: First, I wanted to tell the tale of my eldest daughter’s challenges and successes in reading.  Second, I hoped to examine how ‘unnatural’ the ability to read actually is, as compared to, say, the ability to speak. To combine these two stories into one coherent whole, I regaled the reader with how my daughter learned speech quickly and automatically, whereas she utilized months of concentration and energy to sound out a three-letter-word or write a three word sentence. 

While writing this blog, I wanted to illustrate a child’s speech evolution by using a little levity. I wrote that:

Babies immediately cry for food; within the first couple months they make and hold eye contact; within a half a year, most babies coo for their parents, often copying adult sounds.  As babies turn into toddlers, they begin to read the emotions of those around them, they make more recognizable noises, and they will use hand gestures, such as pointing.  Of course, this leads to the most important communication development for humanity; speech.  Kids say ‘mamma’; then ‘mamma uppy’; then ‘momma I want uppy’; then ‘mom please pick me up’; then ‘mom, please do not touch me in front of my friends.’

The last line of the last sentence was where I left out a word.  It was a simple word, but it was a duzzy.  ‘Not’.  That was the word.  So, instead of ‘mom, please do not touch me in front of my friends’, I wrote, ‘mom, please DO touch me in front of my friends.’ 

Luckily I had a second proof-reader; my wife.  (Just to let you know, I proofread her work as well). Unluckily, I published the ‘sans-not’ version before she had a chance to proofread it for mistakes. As I was heading home from RMU, she texted me letting me know what I had done.  Obviously horrified, I provided her with my password to the blog so that she could correct my mistake.  As far as I know, she was the only one to ever see the mishap.

The simple omission of a common word such as ‘not’ transformed my blog from a loving tribute to my daughter, into something that the folks in the Human Resource department might need to ‘meet’ with me about.  The moral of the story is simple: Don’t underestimate what one little word can do. 

Of course, as a teacher, I feel the need to provide some advice to make you, my readers, more proficient proofreaders.  First and foremost, get married to someone smart. That is all. Easy peasy.

Okay, perhaps you want more, so how about this: One of my professors once told me to read my work out loud after I think it is completely proofread and finished.  I can attest that doing this has helped me catch an enormous number of simple mistakes. It seems our minds work faster than our hands when we write/type, and reading out loud slows us down, making sure we inflect as we read.  This tip has been invaluable to me.  I just wish I would have used it for the aforementioned blog post.