New columnists join Pulse section

Two new faces are joining the slate of columnists in the Pulse section.

Starting this week, a Kansas University graduate who recently found her way back to Lawrence and a European transplant in search of a good cup of tea will bring you along as they explore the charms of this singular Kansas town.

The columns will run on alternate Mondays.

First up will be Elizabeth Black, a southwest Kansas native who studied creative writing at KU in the 1960s. She says the intent of her column, “Back to the Center,” is to show Lawrencians their city through the eyes of an outsider – actually more of a returned prodigal daughter.

“Sometimes upbeat, sometimes critical, sometimes nostalgic, always irreverent, ‘Back to the Center’ will be the musings of a writer returning to her roots, rediscovering the goodness of Lawrence and its inhabitants, and sometimes puzzling over their idiosyncrasies,” Black says.

She remembers visiting Lawrence as a child in the mid-1950s and being amazed at how different it was from western Kansas. She also recalls thinking the KU campus was “the most beautiful place on earth” in the late ’60s.

Yet when she left Lawrence in 1968 – happy to distance herself from a state she had decided was boring, futureless and full of narrow-minded people – she didn’t return until 2006. For nearly 40 years, she lived in Chicago and the Washington, D.C., area, where she earned a living as an editor, writer, art director and graphic designer for newspapers and magazines. She published a novel, “Buffalo Spirits,” that’s set on the Kansas prairie.

She’s not sure why she moved back to her home state. She says the columns should begin to answer that question.

“Long-time residents, I hope to show you your city in a new way. You may have become so wound up in the hard work of creating and maintaining this community, you cannot see the bigger picture, the perfectly imperfect masterpiece you have created. I hope to hold up a mirror,” Black says.

“New fellow arrivals, you can chuckle with me as you try to figure this place out along with me. To put it mildly, it has its quirks.”

Eileen Roddy has begrudgingly come to appreciate those quirks. She’s the author of the other column, “My Cup of Tea.”

It has taken her 10 years to even begin adjusting to the idea of living in a landlocked state. Being born in Ireland and working for 30 years in London, she never had been far from the ocean – and she never had experienced such extreme temperatures.

“The summer (and even spring) heat in Kansas is almost unbearable at times,” says Roddy, whose husband’s job brought the couple to Kansas.

She tries to swim most days, “just to get the feel of water.” When she needs a “British fix,” she goes to Brits in downtown Lawrence to pick up some English chocolate and biscuits.

“I have also accepted that I can learn and grow anywhere,” she says. “I suppose it is part of that ‘bloom where you are planted’ mentality.”

In her column, Roddy plans to visit cafes, tea shops and coffee houses in Lawrence and surrounding communities in search of the perfect “cuppa,” which is what the Brits call a cup of tea. She’ll also be seeking great coffee, as well as conversation with the people who congregate and work in these establishments. She will make recommendations to readers based on value, service and ambiance.

Roddy, a former nun, led retreats and conferences for women and was involved in a wide variety of pastoral work while in London. She’s also trained as a holistic therapist.

A graduate of the World Company’s Citizen Journalism Academy, Roddy writes a spirituality column (“Gift Wrapped”) and a blog (“Shift Happens”) for the Web site

She enjoys good conversation, movies at Liberty Hall, live theater, swimming, playing Scrabble and, of course, drinking tea with friends.

Roddy isn’t interested in finding a substitution for “real tea” – prepared with loose leaves in boiling water, usually served with milk – but she says she can get “near enough” tea at a few places in Lawrence.

The first installment of “My Cup of Tea” will run next Monday.