Archive for September, 2015

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Sugar+Beet+Exterior+Close+Up

Back in the Winter of 2011/12, my wife and a number of our Oak Park neighborhood friends got together for a night of wine and sewing. During that now mythical evening, my wife Jenny, and her good friend Cheryl Munoz starting having a serious discussion about local foods, healthy eating and co-ops.  One of them said something to the effect of, ‘why don’t we have a

The mythical start

The mythical start

co-op in Oak Park?’, and the other one said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know’? After a couple more glasses of Dionysian bliss, the two decided to rectify the situation. They were going to open a co-op in our town. It would be known as The Sugar Beet.

But, there was one big problem.  How do you open a co-op?  Well, the answer turned out to be multi-faceted.

The first step was to let the community know their plans, and try to get others on board.  Cheryl and Jenny, and many other volunteers did this by showing up each week at our local Farmers’ Market, meeting neighbors, handing out info, talking shop and just as importantly, getting to know the farmers.  The Sugar Beet was a dream of locavores, and local farmers and local businesses would be key to the co-op’s success.

Luckily, the second step was easy. We are lucky enough to have a lot of smart, and influential friends who have expertise in a variety of areas central to starting a business.  Cheryl herself had a background in food service, and event-planning;  Jenny is an English Professor, with great people skills and an infectious optimistic outlook.  But, the Sugar Beet was obviously going to be a project that needed the assistance of many others.  With Cheryl and Jenny at the head, meeting images (1)people and getting others involved, it did not take long for the co-op to go from dream, to possible reality. Cheryl’s husband Anthony is a graphic designer, and right off the bat, he dedicated his prodigious talents to giving the Sugar Beet a stylized image. T-Shirts with his designs began to be sold, and they started to pop-up all over town.  Other friends worked in real estate (helping to find where the co-op may be located), architecture (what it would eventually look like) and city government (assisting in the rocky shoals of licenses, taxes, etc.)  It quickly became obvious that the Sugar Beet was not just a handful of local moms and dads wanting healthy food for their kids.  Thousands of local friends, neighbors and colleagues were pushing for the Sugar Beet to take off.  And, take off it did.

By summer 2013, the process was getting so complex that Jen started to back away. Of course she still supported and helped in whatever way she could, but she began to realize things were getting too specialized from the business side of things; sometimes getting out of the way is the best move to make. Cheryl, on the other hand was still the tireless leader and true heart of the Sugar Beet. She carried on with a million small and large projects to reach co-op completion.

By 2014 the Sugar Beet had a physical space.  It was going to be located in a beautiful store front in the heart of Oak Park. Things were really moving now. During the last twelve months a wonderful staff was hired, and the Sugar Beet team started to set the place up. Every day the co-op was becoming more and more real.

On July 30th, 2015, the Sugar Beet opened it’s doors. To describe it as beautiful doesn’t do it justice. I am not just referring to the physical environment of the shop (though it really is physically stunning: see video).  No, I mean it is beautiful because of the fulfillment of so many dreams. The Sugar Beet was the shared goal of my community members, of my friends and of my family.  As I walked through the sliding doors that opening day, and saw so many friends, so many shoppers buying good, healthy, often local food, I had a huge foolish smile on my face. It was satisfaction mixed with pure joy.

So, come on down to the Sugar Beet Co-op! Buy some great local beer, or some delicious local sausage, or some hilariously named local soap.  My community, my friends and my family will thank you!

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Supermoon

Posted: September 18, 2015 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty
All cultures possess fascinating moon lore, revealing as much about human nature as any tales can.

Perceiving the moon as feminine, Greek Artemis or Roman Diana, seems perfectly appropriate. Compared to the steady, often overwhelming sun, the moon is elegant, mutable, complex: sometimes nearer, sometimes farther. If the sun rides in a chariot across the sky, surely the moon dances through her spheres.

Songs celebrating and lamenting the power of the moon might make a perfect melancholy play list, (oh, look: NASA beat me to it). The moon appears set apart in the night sky, solemn in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, or wistful as in Neko Case’s I Wish I Was the Moon.

936full-a-trip-to-the-moon-posterAmong the first films is 1902’s A Trip to the Moon (French: Le Voyage dans la Lune), Georges Méliès’ 1902 gem of cinematic innovation and storytelling genius. Meanwhile, the 1987 film Moonstruck offered the revelation that “Love don’t make things nice, it ruins everything, it breaks your heart, it makes things a mess,” a truth which, for me, persists.

We look, every morning, to see the state of the sky, the sun, constant—quite fortunately so. But in the enveloping night, the moon, over the course of her phases, wears a variety of faces. The moods of the moon enhance its appeal.

The moon appears to mirror the vagaries of romantic fates. Love changes, too, over days and weeks and months, sometimes, like the moon, love seems so wonderfully full, other times, only a delicate crescent of silver, and love can seem to fade completely, only to renew itself once more.

At the end of the month, September 27, 2015, there will be a supermoon and a lunar eclipse on the same night—encompassing two opposite manifestations of the moon. In hours, we can observe the movement from the brightest the moon can appear to the darkest. Talk about changeable!

moon phases
The moon is no longer unknowable. Space exploration has solved the problem of what the moon is made of (sadly, not cheese). NASA certainly knows everything there can be known about the moon.

Still, art and culture navigate the wide expanse between knowing and understanding; traversing the distance between what we can discern and what we can feel. Thus, in myths and poems, dances and songs, painting and films, the moon remains as mysterious and otherworldly as love.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

I was so sad to hear that Comedy Central’s wonderful skit show Key & Peele will be ending this year.  The two comedians have done some amazing work over the last five years. I really can’t pinpoint their funniest sketch as there are so many good ones, but, as a teacher, I must say the ‘Teachingcenter’ skit from a couple weeks ago needs to be in contention for that honor. Have a look:

Key & Peele’s message is clear. Our society is obsessed with overgrown boys and girls who play games.  We follow their every victory, every defeat and every scandal from the edge of our seats.  So many of these men and women are living a life of decadence, paid millions upon millions of dollars, and we don’t bat an eye. In fact, we cheer them on and defend them if they are part of our ‘team’.  At the same time, large segments of our nation complain incessantly about teachers if they make more than 40,000 dollars a year since they ‘get the summer off’.  Key & Peele are critiquing such social absurdity. They are doing what good comedians do; critiquing societal norms with some dead-on, feel-good humor.

Now, I don’t want this to become too political.  I don’t want to make the argument here that teachers should get paid more (they should), or that athletes should get paid less (they should.) I also don’t want to touch on teacher unions, violence in sports, our nation’s cult of celebrity, or anything else that may lead to some red-faced readers….

No, I just want to copy Key & Peele. I want to give a shout out to teachers. This may seem self-serving since I am a university teacher, but I am not trying to blow my own horn. I really want this post to focus upon a much more difficult position: the K-12 teacher.

I have the utmost respect for these folks. This respect stems from having two elementary aged girls. Of course I love my girls, but I would be lying if I said they were perfect angels. Having them home all day, fighting with elementaryteacher_12529100-655x280each other over the most mundane things can get on my last nerve.  So, I simply can’t imagine how difficult it must be having 20 to 25 such children in an often cramped classroom. How do teachers control such an environment for 8 hours a day, five days a week? I really don’t know. But in happens every day all over this nation. And what is more, teachers so often do this magic trick with a smile. I know my girls’ teachers do. Not surprisingly then, the kids constantly let me and my wife know that they LOVE school. Why do they love school? That one is easy; they LOVE their teachers.  And, their teachers love them.  You can see that at the end of each tiring, trying day when the teachers greet the parents with a laugh and a nod. As a parent, and as a teacher, this 3pm send off repeatedly leaves me in reverential awe.

So, raise your glasses to the K-12 teachers! Key & Peele are right; they are the true superstars!

Theory-Process-Product

Posted: September 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

On the first day teaching any course, I begin with this hand-drawn schematictpp

I approach all learning this way. The rest of life is rather messy, but classroom learning moves at the pace I want it to, in the direction I want it to, for at least the first ten minutes. Thus, in those first ten minutes, I essentially describe the only thing I believe to be absolutely true about learning.

Theory-Process-Product embodies all.

Theory—all we know about a thing, which may not be much: the combination of experience, however flawed, and abstract understanding, the concepts, the ephemeral (and consequently perfect) ideas associated with any discipline or action. Theory remains intangible, and misleadingly simplistic.

albert-einstein-balanceBegin with something easy, like riding a bike: how hard can it be?

No problem, in theory. The complexities do not arise until you have to do it.

Cue Process (practice, if you like). The doing. Entering into the thing itself: excruciating. Freakishly difficult considering that in theory this (whatever it is) shouldn’t be that tough. In actuality, when practice happens, where process occurs, chaotic. We muddle through practice. The process of doing something becomes complicated by a thousand unknown factors, and we just have to do our best. I recently told my sister I was just pretending to get by, something adults feel alarmingly often. In response, she said something truly smart, “Pretending is good because you are practicing something good.” Herein lays reassurance, and a lovely echo of Kurt Vonnegut’s reminder that “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” It might all be a convincing forgery.

Nevertheless, we should endeavor to enjoy the process itself. The joy of doing transforms practice into something else entirely. People in the midst of something they do well, musicians, athletes, thinkers, are marvelous to watch; they are in a state that has been described as “flow.” However, it takes years of practice, totaling 10,000 hours, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, before the gates to flow open. A child pounding away at a piano cannot imagine hours in the future when a beautiful escape will be available through 88 keys. See the historical example of Henry Adams “at past 50 solemnly and painfully learned to ride a bicycle.” In “Plug in to Your Hard-wired Happiness,” speaker Srikumar Rao wisely reminds us to invest in the process. Pursuits we approach with confidence are naturally more enjoyable, but bravely trying something for the first time—rousing ourselves, surprising ourselves with what we can achieve—extraordinary.

Product—the outcome of process. The thing created: the artifact, the result, whether temporary or permanent. This, combined with the extent to which our process succeeded or failed is what we have as tangible evidence of our efforts. I warn my students that quite often product is distressingly bad. I ask them how often they have been “armchair quarterbacks” yelling at the TV screen because of a missed play. Even with advanced theory and rigorous practice, sometimes things just don’t turn as planned, professional quarterbacks are frequently intercepted (ah-hem, Cutler). Just as the earliest definition of essay came from the French “to try,” after having written something imperfect (always), I have at least created something where once there was nothing, and I have learned something new; knowledge I pack up and take back to theory. Knowing only a fraction more than I did before, I return to the start and begin again.

Many things, much more complicated than riding a bicycle still elude me.  It is always helpful to imagine that having done anything at all is a success, as it reveals a new path to follow, according to James Joyce’s definition, “mistakes are our portals of discovery.” We make our feeble attempts. We enter into the fray, we make our way.

Such is the cyclical, unending, reassuring, infuriating nature of how little we can know, and the importance of practice, and the necessity of accepting even our meager results.