Posts Tagged ‘Family’

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.

Of the many charming Lunt Family Holiday traditions, “The Cookie Exchange” is among the best. The cookie room is the cookie exchange’s attendant miracle: it manifests itself and disappears in a matter of minutes, just like Santa!

ImageMy mother is an excellent baker, and she taught all five of her daughters most of her secrets. My mom always liked to be friendly with the neighbors, too, and from that serendipitous combination of baking and friendly-neighborliness emerged the tradition known and the Lunt Family Cookie Exchange.

Lots of families coordinate cookie exchanges. The special ingredient in our exchange is my mom’s attention to detail and unwavering commitment to quality. Mary Ellen treats the cookie exchange with the utmost importance.

Thus, there are rules of the cookie exchange. Each participant (my mom, my four sisters, my sister-in-law, I and etc.) must bring at least two varieties of cookies. There must also be three dozen cookies of each variety (no skimping!). These aren’t the guidelines; these are the rules.

Clearly, we’re talking about a lot of cookies; six bakers contribute no less than six dozen individual cookies, quite often more as someImage of the sisters will make three varieties. The result: approximately 500 homemade cookies that converge inside my mother’s house on one day in December, transforming the family room for a few hours into “The Cookie Room.”

For at least the past 25 years, recipients of the cookie platters have delighted in the signature delights of The Lunt Ladies cookie skill set. My mom makes the difficult varieties because she is by far the best baker, and is the queen of sugar-coated self-sacrifice. Her cookies are the most beautiful, and most delicious. Mary Ellen makes the delicate lady locks, tiny fruit-filled kolatche, and miniature pecan tarts. My oldest sister, Betsy, has perfected the Hershey kiss cookie. They look absolutely flawless. Her other favorite to make (and eat, I believe) is the seven-layer cookie: a variety that includes chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, and four more equally sweet layers. Barbara bakes pecan puffs and oatmeal scotchies and buckeyes. Margo makes snicker doodles and brownies. Theresa contributes candy cane kisses and Oreos dipped in white chocolate and sprinkles. Sherry (a Lunt by marriage) is more adventurous and artistic, and creates new cookies every year, often intricately decorated. Someone makes pocketbooks. I bring my two signature holiday delights: fudge, which is the same recipe I learned to make with Jenny Couch when we were 16, and gingerbread a tradition I borrowed from my friend Ingrid’s family.

Constructing the cookie trays involves guidelines. The required amount of cookie trays is 24 (more precision!). Holiday music ought to be playing in the kitchen, but is not required. The lights and ornaments on the Christmas tree should be shining in the window. Ample plates and platters and clear plastic wrap and colorful bows must be gathered and distributed. Any person present in the Lunt house on cookie exchange day will be handed a platter and instructed to pile cookies on top of it, circling the room clockwise, selecting four cookies of each kind during the initial pass to ensure equal dispersal. Heavier, larger cookies are plated first; the prized lady locks always perch on top. According to my sister-in-law, all this exactitude results in a stressful evening, but I can’t imagine what she means.

Hand delivered to neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family, the spoils of “The Cookie Exchange” are an exquisite array of holiday temptation, lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

It’s kind of awful, but people need to be reminded to enjoy the holidays, and I am here to do just that.

I’ve always had rather mixed feelings about Thanksgiving celebrations. The thing that most people (especially women) realize early on is that Thanksgiving is a lot of work. I used to wonder where the reward was. Eventually, I determined that the true gift on any holiday is the time spent together, and all holidays only happen once. In a few short days, Thanksgiving 2013 will have come and gone, and I intend to try to relax and enjoyeat_drink_enjoy_1 all that.

A Thanksgiving meal requires at minimum three hours of preparation (this doesn’t include any deep cleaning or holiday decoration). The clean-up also requires several hours, sometimes overflowing into the next morning and beyond. This is all fine. Family meals are important rituals, going back millennia. It is not the preparation time that irks me; rather, it is the speed with which some guests gobble a meal and pack-up to head home, or often to the next event.

I sympathize. I understand that many people are expected to visit two or more households on Thanksgiving. I used to do the same thing when I lived in Ohio. We all know in the end, we are fortunate to have so many loved ones inviting us to visit and dine and drink. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded: enjoy your holiday! Perhaps arrive a bit earlier and stay a bit later if only to allow yourself time to have a bit more time to savor.

No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving (or even if you don’t), try hard to be present in each moment. Enjoy the simple act of laying the table. Marvel at the mismatched china and silverware that hold the secret stories of the origins of families and friends. Waiting for guests is something we do on every important event. If one family happens to be late, relish the moments of waiting; there is nothing to be done, just sit down and anticipate their arrival. Someday, they won’t be able to come to dinner at all.

Nice-FranceSome of my favorite Thanksgiving meals have been less traditional. In 1999, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Nice, France, with my cherished friend, Leah. She was living there, teaching English. We went out shopping to get items for the meal, but because we were in France, where turkeys aren’t in abundance and Thanksgiving doesn’t exist, the closest we could get to a turkey was a chicken. We shared that Thanksgiving with her French neighbor and her Moroccan boyfriend. After the meal, we went to the Irish Pub Leah and her friends frequented. Here, I drunkenly explained our mysterious Thanksgiving traditions to the owner.

In my terrible French, I said, “Nous mangeons trop. Nous regardons la tele. Nous regarder le football Américain.”

We enjoyed ourselves immensely. We didn’t stress because we weren’t required to get it right; no one had any expectations. We were free to enjoy where we were and the people with whom we shared the day.

Many times, altering holidays helps alleviate feeling overwhelmed. Our day-to-day calendars might have to remain unchanged, but celebrating doesn’t have to be limited to UFThanksjust one day. Since many of us will be scattering by holiday travel, I hosted a wonderful, imperfect Thanksgiving with my Urban Family this past Sunday at my place. My heavens, they are a gorgeous group. More importantly, they are all smart and funny (or laughable) and unique and quirky and loving, which is the way I prefer my family members to be, and spending time with them is always reason to celebrate (it doesn’t hurt that Kris had the foresight to bring a “signature cocktail”).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the meal isn’t perfect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even want a perfect meal. Laughter is the lasting result of dealing with the beautiful imperfections of life. One of my absolutely favorite memories is when my exacting mother over-cooked the roles. My hysterical brother-in-law Dana determined “these must be the wheat rolls.” Years later, we still reference the “wheat rolls,” so the humor and the moment live on.

When you find yourself rushing or running around or raising your voice to those loved ones for whom you are trying to make the holidays so perfectly special, I invite you to pause, and follow Kurt Vonnegut’s suggestion; “I urge you to notice when you are happy and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

It certainly is.


By James Baltrum, English Faculty.

Since my first year of graduate school, I have kept a daily “to-do” list, ostensibly to keep my life somewhat moving in the right Imagedirection. Many people I’ve known and have come to know keep such lists, and at the time I was earning my Masters degree at DePaul University as a full-time student, working three part-time jobs (one teaching freshman-level classes at Robert Morris’s Chicago campus; another at an independent bookstore in Lincoln Park; yet another at a bagel and coffee shop just up the street from the bookstore), and helping to plan my and my then-fiancée-now-wife’s wedding. I was busily being pushed and pulled in every conceivable direction, and the little yellow-backdropped with blue-lined slip of paper, torn from a small 3.5” x 2” notebook, sitting in my left pocket, though lighter than a feather, served as an anchor, comfortably grounding me with my head always facing any oncoming current.

I have not abandoned this practice, and why would I? My life has really gotten no less frenetic, just frenzied in different ways. The demands of a Masters program have promoted themselves to those of a Ph.D.; the juggling of three part-time jobs has, in Kafka-esque fashion, metamorphosed into that of two terrific kids; part-time teaching at RMU has thankfully graduated into a full-time gig. Add to this the responsibilities associated with home ownership, PTA meetings, flag football coaching, an ever-aging circulatory and nervous system, etc. and the need for an organizational system seems almost doctor prescribed. The items on my daily “to-do” lists, from day to day, of course, vary from the monumental to the admittedly miniscule:

  • Finish and send off 2nd draft of Melville chapter to committee…Image
  • Stain the deck…
  • Return kids’ books to library…
  • Pick up paper towels while out…

But, whether large or small, they add up. Looking back and unquestionably over-generalizing here, I have kept a “to-do” (nearly) every day of my life since that first year at DePaul. That was 1999. 14 years x 365 days a year (give or take) comes out to 5,110 “to-do” lists, and if I conservatively estimate each list averaged some six errands on it, then that’s some 30,660 “to-do’s” that I’ve turned into “done’s.” It’s undeniably odd if not uncomfortable quantifying my semi-adult life in such statistical terms if for no other reason than I feel the overall total should be much higher. How, for example, might I feel if, by some tragic circumstance, I’m struck dead tomorrow and across my tombstone it reads “30,660 items crossed off his ‘to-do’ list”, the occasional errant green blade of grass shooting up here and there, trying unsuccessfully to obstruct the figure from view? Would the random passerby in search of their own family member, a wandering widow perhaps, dressed in muted colors and (what the hell, why not?) pulled down black veil, hands trembling and clutching the tiny paws of her children at each side, see this epitaph and pause to widen her eyes, push out her lower lip and nod as if to say, “impressive, Mr. Baltrum, whoever you were!” or, more than likely, would she shrug a shoulder, turn a cheek, and continue her search for the dearly departed, cerebrally crushing my life’s “to-do” list total underfoot along with those greener-than green blades of grass?

Disappointing perhaps, but I’ve come to realize my “to-do” lists possess an even more troubling disappointment within them. Along with the boost to one’s organizational needs, the concept of a “to-do” list can, I’d often thought, perhaps benefit one’s psychological needs as well. It makes sense to think of one’s self wrapping things up before bedtime, brushing one’s teeth, and emptying out one’s pockets to find the given day’s list and imagine then the swelling of one’s self-esteem as he/she looks over the checked items on the list. It is as if to say to yourself, “No slothfulness here! I’m a productive member of my community!” or, more simply and more likely, “I got something done today!” On the days when the low fuel warning light on my self-esteem tank flashes desperately bright, I have even found myself taking my list out and adding items to it after the fact. I didn’t mean to get that done today, but I got it done, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to bask in the reflective glory of its getting done on a day like today (never mind that the “it” in such circumstances regularly read just “picked up dry Imagecleaning” or “called about my wisdom teeth” or “got a haircut”). The troubling disappointment that I’ve come to recognize does not surface during my nightly routine but with the sunrise of the following morning. I wake up, get dressed, make and deliver breakfast for the kids and then sit down to my own with pen and notepad within arm’s reach. By the time my breakfast is eaten, my day’s list is composed and thus the disappointment creeps spider-like across my cranium. Putting my plate into the sink and thinking to yesterday’s list, or back to the list dedicated to the day before, or the day before that, and looking over the dozen or so items on today’s “to-do” list, I have found myself increasingly disheartened by the almost Sisyphean epiphany underlying the question, “have I really gotten anything done?”

So, what are we to do…?

Increase the daily “to-do” items and, in some sort of video gaming high score fashion, boost the overall total? Not likely… Abandon the keeping of “to-do” lists entirely and run the risk of life entering into an organizationally chaotic tailspin? Probably not… Rather, do we need to re-assess what makes for a fitting item on our lives’ “to-do” lists? If the old mindset views an end-of-the-day’s list and reads accomplishment and concludes that accomplishment = success and success = happiness, then how can we find a new path to that end product? What will make up a better list resulting, therefore, in a better tombstone, wandering widow or no?

  •      Teach my son, regardless of what TV of his classmates might say, humility and strength are NOT opposites and that intelligence is a benefit, NOT to be berated…
  •      Teach my daughter that a head held high is far more beautiful than is the size of one’s waist or the number of sequins on one’s shirt…
  •       Express everyday how lucky I feel to have met my wife…
  •       Call about those damn wisdom teeth!!!

I think I can safely say that I’ll be happy when, at the end of the day, I can empty my pocket, look down, and see most if not all of these items crossed off.

So, what will make up your “to-do” list?

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

“When was your family’s tradition invented?,” I asked my student.  She was dumbfounded by my query.  “What do you mean?” she replied.  It was the first class in my food history course a couple years ago when this conversation took place.  The class had been discussing the meaning of food, and how food is central to our traditions.  When I asked my student about her family’s Thanksgiving tradition, and when it was invented, the question didn’t register.  For her, the tradition went back long before her birth, and was timeless.  There was no beginning; there would not be an end. After reminding her that it must have been created at some point, I could see her mind was just a little bit blown, for better or worse.

The idea that traditions are ‘invented’ does seem odd.  Traditions often feel as though their creation is organic; a natural occurrence.  In his essay titled “The Invention of Tradition”, the late, great British historian Eric Hobsbawm 28005218343illustrated that they are actually social constructions that have a definitive purpose.  His contention was that traditions shared by citizens of a state are a much needed ingredient in the formation of national consciousness, and that since the French Revolution, when our notions of the modern nation took form, the invention of national traditions has taken off. Shared national traditions help transform disparate individuals into a connected community.

Hobsbawm was concerned with the macro view. At the individual, micro level, traditions are just as important. If they didn’t exist, we would need to invent them; and, we do. We, as humans, simply love tradition.  No matter our political stances, we are inherently drawn to our traditions.  We depend upon them.  When traditions fall away in time, we mourn them.  As a parent, I have seen this love of tradition develop.

My girls are now 6 and a half, and almost 5 years old.  Both love tradition, though the older one is definitely more concerned with it.  During the last couple years, she has latched onto traditions that, in her mind, must be upheld.  Now, you may think this is crazy.  How could a girl love tradition if she only has been alive for some six years, and really only remembers about 2 to 3 years of her life?  Perhaps it is my influence; perhaps she is a wistful soul; perhaps it is biological?  I don’t know, but her need for tradition is obvious.

5409238621_bdc3493eb7Last month, my wife took the two girls camping for a couple weeks at her family’s traditional vacation spot in Michigan.  As my wife’s family has been going to this spot to camp for 50 odd years, the two weeks spent there are all about tradition.  My daughter senses this, and eats it up.  She has quickly become one of the enforcers of upholding certain traditions.  The whole family must, and I mean must, go to House of Flavors for food and ice cream a couple times during the vacation.  We must watch the big ships come in from the lake, playing on the large playground as we wait for their arrival.  We must run down the big sand dune outside the ranger station immediately after we enter the park.  Events, foods, and experiences will inevitably be repeated each year, and my girls already realize this.

Traditions form during the special times of our lives.  If my daughters ran down a sand hill every day, it would no longer be tradition; it would be habit, or routine. It is the rarity and repetitiveness that sanctifies the annually  repeated vacation moments. Similarly, this is why holiday traditions are so endearing and necessary. My daughters already have created their own holiday traditions. For instance, my older girl has made it clear that her birthday party must be at grandma and grandpa’s house, since this has been our tradition since she was two years old.  Likewise, since that first party, we have ordered pizza from the same restaurant, so that must continue.  And don’t forget that grandma must make a strawberry birthday cake.  If her mom or I mention having a different type of party for her birthday, she is fine with that….as long as we have her real party at grandma and grandpa’s.

The Sandhill - My Girls are going up.

The Sandhill – My Girls are going up.

As I have mused on my daughters’ love of traditions, I wonder if the eventual death of our traditions is what leads to that odd feeling known as nostalgia.  Nostalgia is bittersweet. It is melancholic and, yet, heartwarming. Nostalgia does not form when we have a memory of the random past events of our lives.  We only feel nostalgia when we look back, and feel a strong reminiscence for something recognizable, repeated and safe. I think my girls are going to feel this most for their inevitably lost traditions.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

My sister Barbara and I have some things in common, but for the most part, we are quite different. She is quiet and shy, which I am only rarely. She is humble and self-effacing, which I generally am not. She is petite, which I definitely am not. Nevertheless, she is my big sister, and she has been kind and loving to me throughout my entire life. Her literary equivalent the angelic Jane Bennet; I recognized Barbara instantly: always loving, always giving, always accepting.  It occurs to me now she and I have never had an argument. This remarkable fact is due entirely to her sweetness. Happily, Barbara and I were uncommonly close during my adolescence. She is, rather unbelievably, 10 years older than me. She was living at home after college, working and eventually enrolling in graduate school while I was in high school. We had breakfast together nearly every morning: raisin bran and orange slices. We worked together, too. She managed a Greek Restaurant where I worked weekends in the kitchen as a “salad girl.” At the restaurant, she met the man who would Imagebecome her husband. Barbara married Dana the same spring that I graduated high school. All of the “Lunt girls” were bridesmaids in the wedding.  She was delighted to be getting married “at last,” at 27 (when we all still thought 27 was old). Possibly the most perfect memory of my sweet sister Barbara is the sight of her dancing at her own wedding. She was in the middle of an enormous circle of friends and family, smiling—beaming—and swirling and swaying in uncharacteristic delight, celebrating her happiness and her beauty while dancing to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.”

We all learned a phrase from our mother: “pretty is, as pretty does,” which impressed to us that it was useless to only be pretty on the outside. We must be pretty inside, too.  And so, my sister Barbara is my prettiest sister—inside and out.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Brothers and Sisters (part 2 of 6)

Both a successful businessman and a Lt. Colonel in the United States Air Force, my eldest brother, Ralph, works hard to cultivate a persona of remote seriousness. Happily, his efforts are not wholly successful, and he remains delightfully silly underneath his various stiff collars. Throughout his youth, Ralph embraced every opportunity for fun; I recall the gusto he brought to the roller rink: circling, grooving, smiling and laughing. Best of all is Ralphie’s fondness for singing, especially since his willingness to sing and capacity to do so are inversely proportional. Only William Shatner’s voice can compare for sheer indescribability, yet how fantastic to see him in action. I realized Ralph was hopeless goofball was when, upon his return from an Air Force mission to England, he introduced the family to the Rick Astely’s one hit. The fact that my brother had captured Astley’s dance moves well became clear when the song finally made it onto MTV’s rotation (where it stayed seemingly endlessly).  Ralph singing“Never Gonna Give You Up”defies description.  The notions of key and tone elude Ralph to this day. And still, he sings! He loudly sings hymns in church, carols at Christmas, and favorite tunes in his house and car. Ralph’s enthusiasm is a wonderful reminder that whether or not we possess much talent, we should all sing and dance because we are alive, and we can.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I am the youngest in my family; I have four older sisters and two older brothers. Not enough is said about the remarkable love and friendship siblings share.lunt

Perhaps this is why I admire Jane Austen. She was a devoted sister, and her characters often display a profound attachment to their favorite siblings. Siblings are our first playmates, teachers, and tormentors. It is one of the great joys of my life that I can still spend the holidays with all six of my exceptional, magnificent siblings. We are all unique, but our shared history created a profound connection that surpasses any differences. Perhaps what I love most of all is the fact that we still love each other so well.

How can I enumerate all of the wonderful attributes my siblings possess? Naturally, the list could never be complete; our relationships constantly change and evolve with time.  The ways I interacted with my siblings (all older) in my youth were primarily dictated by who had time to spend with me. When I was quite young, my older sisters Betsy and Barbara were my affectionate caretakers. My brother Ralph drove me to the places too far away to walk (choir practice every Monday night for years—years!).  My brother Bobby taught me how to ride a bike in the church parking lot up the road. Margo and Theresa seemed perpetually busy with either sports or boyfriends, but I recall a tremendous amount of sharing, borrowing, and out-right stealing of belongings now lost to a refuse pile.

Many of the memories I cherish embody the lovable quirks of each sibling. My eldest sister, Betsy, was burdened in many ways by her role as the oldest of seven children; she was expected to be responsible, in charge. However, she can be wildly spontaneous. A favorite memory is the day Betsy, Theresa, and I “played hooky.”  I was in middle school. Theresa was in high school. Betsy was already out of college, a working woman.

Surprisingly, she decided we all needed a day off from our obligations (the paper-thin excuse was that all the towels were dirty). Skipping school was an enormously rebellious act in my family—the total number of school days I missed from kindergarten through graduate school is less than 20. But, on this strange and extraordinary day, Betsy wanted to rebel, so we did. We took her small car, the “little red Chevette,” which she drove uncommonly fast.  We cranked the radio and sang along. We were aimless; we drove to the park, to the lake. We bought every treat imaginable at a convenient store and sat and ate and talked. The day seemed to stretch out endlessly. We did literally whatever we wanted. It was a day of impossible freedom summoned magically into existence by my “responsible” older sister Betsy. I’ll never forget it.

To be continued. . .next up: Ralph’s sensitive nature and dreadful singing.