McHenry County College Goes Dutch

The Dutch are here!

Last week I wrote about the visiting Dutch scholar I’m hosting for the rest of the month. Through our exchange program, I’ll be visiting the Netherlands in May, but for now, my guest, Noemi, and the other six visitors are here, and they’ve been having a lot of fun so far.

They all arrived on Saturday morning, and four of us hosts went to O’Hare to pick them up. They got through customs easily, with the exception of Jacqueline, who declared the dog biscuits she’d brought as a gift for her host’s dog.


From Left: Anja, Noëmi, Rianne, Esther, and my fellow host, Lori–Rianne holds Jacqueline’s sign as we wait for her to get through customs

Once we got the whole group, the four above, Jacqueline, Patrick, and Frank, we headed back to Crystal Lake and our respective homes so our guests could relax for a bit and get over their jet-lag. Noëmi and I spent our evening eating pizza and talking about our respective colleges while Roo showed Noëmi every single toy she had, and Noëmi politely told her that she wasn’t interested in Roo’s sharpened bones. No, dank je.

On Sunday a group of us walked around Crystal Lake for a bit of fresh air and exercise…


Lori explains that Crystal Lake was almost the site of the Olympic rowing competition

…and then that evening, Noëmi and I headed to her house for a potluck party at Lori’s with everyone. But, before we left for the potluck — like, minutes before — as I picked up the casserole dish that was housing my homemade macaroni and cheese that I was bringing to the potluck, this happened:

Oh, sad, sad macaroni and cheese.

Oh, sad, sad macaroni and cheese.

Yes, as the hot dish hit my fingers through the dish cloth I was using as a hot-mitt, I shifted my fingers quickly and dropped the casserole. The dish shattered, and macaroni and cheese was ruined on the floor, and Roo was very anxious to help me clean up.

So, we brought beer to the potluck instead, which was appreciated in a different way, and everyone had a great time.

Monday, Noëmi got to observe her first English class here at the college, and Anja joined her. It was my friend Robert’s class, and he was starting a new topic for a research paper, so Noëmi and Anja got to see how he introduced new materials and explained an assignment.

Anja, Robert, and Noëmi

Anja, Robert, and Noëmi

The visitors all got to take a tour of the campus, and had lunch with our president, Dr. Clint Gabbard, as well, but they wanted to do a bit of exploring in downtown Crystal Lake, so Lori and I took them for a coffee and a walk-around to some of the shops.

Rianne, Noëmi, Anja, and Lori at the cupcake shop

Rianne, Noëmi, Anja, and Lori at the cupcake shop



Even more books!

Even more books!




Chocolate frogs at Riverside Candy Shop


They appreciated the candy shop, but were tired by this time they were a bit worn down, so Noëmi and I headed home to rest. She is a fan of The Walking Dead, and since Season 6 was only just released this past weekend on the Netherlands’ Netflix, she hasn’t had a chance to watch it. So she told her boyfriend, Dave, to watch it back home without her and she and I would watch it this week to catch us up before the Season 7 premiere this Sunday. Needless to say, Monday evening was spent watching a bunch of The Walking Dead. Since I am kind of a fan of the show, and a good host, I felt obligated to watch them with her.

Tuesday, the group went on a neighborhood tour of Chicago led by my colleague and Instructor of Sociology, Mark. Noëmi took a lot of pictures, but I headed to the city myself for my Tuesday afternoon class. No pictures of my class were taken, but check out Noëmi’s blog for some of her Chicago pics.

The group before they left for the city

The group before they left for the city. Roo tried to sneak on the bus, but she was discovered and kicked off. 

On Wednesday, Noëmi got to observe two more classes…

Noëmi in Anne's class

Noëmi in Anne’s class on Wednesday


Noëmi chats with Anja and Robert on Monday; Noëmi visits Ted’s class

…and then, yesterday afternoon, the college hosted an open house to meet all of the visitors. And there was ice cream.



Ron, Anja, and Mike


Frank has got Timothy, Amy, and Tim on the edges of their seats!


Noëmi and Juletta


Lindsay and Patrick, exchanging pictures


Lisa and Eli welcome Jacqueline to the U.S.A.!

Last night after a full day, Noëmi and I went home to cook some chili for dinner, and then watched the presidential debate with Trevor.

Today, I’m bringing her into the city with me for my Thursday night graduate class, and first we’ll stop by Millennium Park to see the Bean. We’ll have more pictures, so check in later on this week to get updates!

Goede nacht, Dutch readers!

Coming Soon:

An explanation of why this macaroni and cheese is on the floor:


and other great information about what Noëmi and the other Dutch visitors have been doing this week–come back tomorrow!


The Dutch Are Coming!

For years, my college has been a member of the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs (ICISP), which is the organization we partner with for our study abroad programs (for our students to study overseas) and scholar exchange programs (for our faculty to visit colleges and universities in Europe, the U.K., and China for professional development).

Usually, our college has the budget to fund one or two faculty in a two-way exchange — where one McHenry County College faculty member hosts an international faculty member for two weeks, and then the MCC faculty member travels to the host’s country to stay with her for two weeks. A couple of our faculty members had applied for the program last autumn, had been accepted, and they were all set.

But, as many of you know, the Illinois budget crisis forced a lot of colleges to cut programming, cut jobs, and to enact their own internal budget freezes, which affected travel. A number of colleges in Illinois that had planned to participate in this year’s scholar exchange with the Netherlands had to pull out of the program, leaving about thirty Dutch professors in need of places to stay. Our Chair of International Studies and ICISP liaison got approval for an unlimited number of our college employees to be hosts in a one-way capacity — to host a Dutch professor but not to travel to Holland — and one additional two-way participant.

And guess who applied and was accepted to host and to travel?

Yep! This weirdo is going to Holland!

Yep! This weirdo is going to Holland!

Yahoo! So this month I’m hosting a professor of English from the Netherlands named Noëmi, and in May, just after my spring semester ends, I’ll go to stay with her for a couple of weeks!


Noëmi (pronounced no-Amy) teaches English at Summa College in Eindhoven. She has two cats, she ran a 10K last weekend, she and her partner are buying their first house and moving next month, and she is smart and super cool.

This is Noemi!

This is Noëmi!

There are seven Dutch professors visiting my college, and others coming and staying with hosts from other Chicagoland colleges. Our liaison put together a schedule for everyone to show them off to the community, and I’ve worked on getting Noëmi into as many of my English department colleague’s classrooms as possible. She’s also going to come with me to classes at UIC, Trevor and I are taking her to see a David Sedaris reading here in Crystal Lake, we’re bringing her with us on our annual Power Family Sonny Acres trip, and I’m going to get us tickets for a play in the city. I have about one million other things I want her to do but I’m worried I’ll overwhelm her, so the rest of the trip we might play by ear. I guess she’ll have to sleep at some point, right?

I’ve been trying to prep everything in the house so we’re all ready for her arrival tomorrow (tomorrow! OMG!), though Roo has been zero help and instead of straightening or going grocery shopping for me, she’s been staring out the window, yawning, and scratching. Useless.

Hi, I'm Roo. Do you need me to do NOTHING AT ALL? Okay.

Hi, I’m Roo. Do you need me to do NOTHING AT ALL? Okay.

A few of us are going to pick up the visitors at O’Hare tomorrow, and they will be greeted with signs and probably some donuts. Trevor is out of town until Sunday for a photo shoot in Dallas, so she will have to be okay with a me-and-Roo welcome committee. I’m going to remind Roo not to jump on her, not to jab her fat head into Noëmi’s torso, and not to leave her shiv-bones around where we can step on them. We’ll see how it goes; I have low expectations.

I’ll be updating the blog throughout her visit, so you can see what hijinks we get up to, and if I’m lucky, I’ll convince her to write a guest post for the blog. Fingers crossed!


First run sign with a failed border






Celebrate Your Freedom To Read

This week is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, a week each autumn where the ALA highlights the First Amendment, focuses on issues surrounding censorship of information, and celebrates our freedom to read.

It’s one of the best weeks of the year.

But this is the first year in a decade that I haven’t been in the classroom during Banned Books Week, and it’s weirding me out. I put BBW on my syllabus each Fall semester, and I design an activity for my students that is meant to inform and engage them. These are some of the flyers they created last year during an in-class group activity:


Click link below to see full flyer



Click link below to see full flyer



Click link below to see full flyer


And there are always some excellent activities at my college to celebrate BBW: panel discussions, lectures, and one year there was a mock demonstration where we marched around outside of the library with placards to “protest” censorship. Our librarians put together resources for faculty and students to bring awareness and celebrate reading, and they always do a terrific job.

The librarians made me a robot and asked me to compare Sherman (my reading robot) to the ALA's reading robot campaign.

A few years ago the librarians made me a robot and asked me to compare Sherman (my reading robot) to the ALA’s reading robot campaign.

And the freedom to read is a personal issue for me; and it’s not just because I’m an educator and a bibliophile. In 2008, just after I got hired on at MCC in a full-time, tenure track position, a student of mine objected so vehemently to a book I’d used in class that she, her mother, and their pastor tried to get the book banned. Not only did they want me to stop teaching it, but they also wanted the administrators to stop the book from ever being taught again at our college. They wanted to ban it from our classrooms and our library.

I found this shocking, and I was worried my administration might think I was too much of a trouble maker and renege their job offer. But that didn’t happen. Instead, my fantastic deans and the VP of academic and student affairs supported me at every turn, swatted the pastor away like the gadfly he was, and, of course, didn’t even consider banning the book.

The book they tried, unsuccessfully, to ban.

The book they tried, unsuccessfully, to ban.

This event opened my eyes to the uncomfortable truth that people still try to ban books. This is not a theoretical problem; this is not an old-fashioned problem. This is a problem, now. So we as educators, librarians, and champions of democracy must fight — with great big swings of our book-holding fists — every effort to stifle our freedom of expression in speech or in the press.


I got this tattoo after my personal book-banning incident. Is it saying something that this was the most painful one I’ve ever gotten?

This week I had to celebrate Banned Books Week in my own personal way, and of course I enlisted the help of my local public library.


I was so excited to see this that I took a terrible, blurry picture.

They’d wrapped up books in black paper to hide the titles and authors’ names, and then pasted the “reasons” given to challenge and/or ban that particular book. I looked over the selection and choose this one:


In my Adolescence and the Schools class this semester, we read an article about the ineffectiveness and problems of Abstinence Only Until Marriage sex education, so when I saw “sex education” on this book, my interest was piqued.

I brought my secret book home, unwrapped it, and was delighted when I saw that I’d gotten a book I haven’t read:


Although, really, I was just delighted that I got to unwrap a library book like it was a present. No, scratch that: the library book was a present.

And now I’m wearing one of my Banned Books Week t-shirts (yes, I have more than one), and I’m going to read my Sherman Alexie book this weekend and love all of the gambling and violence and offensive language that are within its pages.

So, my job for you all is to go out to your local library and get a book — any book! — and celebrate your freedom to read!




Grad School Lessons

Last week I posted a snippet about the type of reading I’ve been doing while on sabbatical from teaching this semester, but this week, I wanted to elaborate a bit with some lessons I’ve learned during my first five weeks in grad school at UIC.

I knew that being a student again would be a very different kind of work than I’ve been used to, but what I didn’t realize was just how different the work for this degree (a Master of Education) would be compared to the work I did at DePaul University for my first graduate degree (Master of Arts in Writing). While I did take four courses for my MA that focused on theory, rhetoric, grammar, and teaching, the remainder of my eleven courses were writing courses: writing the novel, creative non-fiction, magazine writing, short fiction, and screenwriting. And it’s remarkably different when your weekly homework includes doing a close reading of a Reginald McKnight story, and writing a draft of your own story for a group workshop, than when your homework includes doing close readings of case studies from the academic journals International Journal of Environmental & Science Education and Child Development.



And, thinking about these past five weeks — the reading, reflection papers, discussion questions, and one presentation I’ve done (that made me feel like a teacher again for about fifteen minutes!) — I decided to share with you the lessons I’ve learned.

I Sure Love a College Campus

Now, this is a silly lesson to learn, because I already know this. I work on a college campus, and I love where I work. But my campus at MCC isn’t what people usually think of when they think “college campus”: It’s a single (albeit large) building where commuter students walk to-and-from the parking lot with their backpacks rather than to and from their college buildings by way of pedestrian walkways and quads.

When I went to DePaul, all of my classes were in the same building (the now-demolished McGaw Hall) and I lived on Deming Place at Orchard, which was only six blocks away. This didn’t give me a “college campus” environment, either, at least not in the same way I’d experienced undergrad at Madison, where everything sprawled out over a green, hilly campus, and most of my classes were in this 165-year old building:

What you don't see is Bascom Hill, leading up to this building, and a murderer of a climb to do every goddamned weekday morning for four years. Especially during a Wisconsin winter.

What you don’t see is Bascom Hill, leading up to this building, and a murderer of a climb to do almost every weekday morning for four years. Especially during a Wisconsin winter.

So when I got to UIC’s campus and walked from the #60 bus stop to the Education, Theater, Music, and Social Work Building, and I was surrounded by young adults wearing backpacks, looking all adorable and studenty, I felt right at home. A college campus is a place where it’s totally normal to hang out at the library (I was lucky to find a tiny seat at a counter in the technology section of the first floor at Daley Library last Tuesday), where it’s not uncommon to see someone walking around in pajama pants (I’ve embraced my jeans and t-shirts, but haven’t taken it quite this far yet […yet]), and where you might see art pieces in trees as you walk to your lecture hall.

Hey, tree eagle. Treagle.

Hey, tree eagle. Treagle.

And then, when I had to drive to campus one afternoon, this was my view from the campus parking lot:


I mean, come on. Come onnnnn.

This wonderful view, as well as my new commute using CTA buses and trains, confirmed my love of college campuses and informed the next lesson.

I Kinda Miss Chicago

After spending five weeks floating around the Loop and UIC’s campus, usually on the #60 bus or the Blue Line, but sometimes on my own two feet, I realized that Chicago is so easy to maneuver, and I really miss that.

Now, I love Camp Crystal Lake, but it’s nice to be totally anonymous for a few hours every week, to be able to get lunch somewhere and then walk half a block to get a cup of coffee and then walk four more steps to a bus that will take me where I need to go in five minutes. It is so easy. And easy is so nice.

You Can Never Have Too Many Library Cards

I now have three working library cards (yes, I still have my Chicago Public Library card because it’s hard to part with something that was very important to you for so long, and it’s so small that no one will know and my wallet doesn’t mind don’t worry I asked): my Crystal Lake Public Library card; my McHenry County College library card; and now, as of last week, my University of Illinois Chicago library card.


Sorry. The power has gone to my head.

I Know What My Professors Are Doing

Not, like, right now. I’m not a creepy weirdo. But I do know what they’re doing in respect to their teaching and grading practices. There’s a benefit to being a teacher-student.

See, I have weekly assignments due in each of my classes: a reflection paper, discussion questions, and a chapter self-quiz in one class, and discussion questions for another. I submit these all through Blackboard, our online learning management system.

And the first three weeks, my professors gave lots of feedback for all of the assignments. My psychology professor gave comments on each of my three page reflection papers, engaging my ideas and giving me thought-provoking comments. My policy professor gave general comments about my discussion questions. I was happy to get all of the feedback, but I certainly wasn’t surprised that week four came and went with no new grades entered into my account, and, in the middle of week five, when I finally got new grades, there were no comments.

The first few weeks of any semester, teachers have high hopes for the amount of feedback they can give each student and the amount of time it will take them to grade a single set of assignments for a single class. As the assignments pour in, however, and as the semester continues to chug along, teachers understand how unrealistic their hopes really were.

I go through this every single semester. I used to beat myself up over it, but then I realized, after chatting with my colleagues, that we all suffer this same fate. There’s never enough time, nor enough hours in the the day, nor enough energy in our bodies.

So, to my professors, I say, thank you, and I appreciate you and your work, and I won’t ask you when you’ll have my group project graded. You know the one I did two and a half weeks ago? Don’t worry, I won’t ask. Promise. I won’t.

Everything Is Better When It’s Covered in Kittens

Case in point:


This is a passage from a week four reading assignment. I covered it in kittens for you.

I Don’t Mind Working In Small Groups

Now, most people (at least 99.9% of my students) dislike working in small groups. I force my students to do it almost every week during the semester, even if it’s just for a small-stakes discussion or activity. It’s good to generate ideas before a large group discussion; it’s good for brainstorming; it’s good to promote teamwork and individual responsibility.

But people still don’t like it!

I’ve used this to my advantage as a student this semester to take a leadership role in my small groups. For me, it’s really easy to do, and people speak up after I break the ice. In fact, my first group was so okay with my nerdy, group-happy participation, that they didn’t mind if I took a picture of the development model we were working on:

It's a puzzle piece and we rocked it.

It’s a set of puzzle pieces, and we rocked it.

And a few weeks ago, the group I worked with on a class presentation didn’t even laugh at me when I made this picture after being stunned and driven into hysterical laughter about the Federal Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) sex education programming for adolescents:

A required piece of curriculum included a video showed a young woman asking a nurse what would happen if she had sex before marriage; this was the nurse's reply.

Curriculum included a video dramatizing a young woman asking a nurse what would happen if she had sex before marriage; this was the nurse’s reply.

Of course I didn’t include this picture in the presentation, but my group didn’t kick me out for making it, so I think we all know who won here.

Teachers — All Teachers — Appreciate This Whiskey


Um, or any whiskey, TBH.

I didn’t learn this last one in grad school; it’s just a Truth in the world. A TRUTH.

Well, that’s it for now! It took me about four days to finish this post because each time I started to work on it, I realized that I had more reading to do. So, maybe my next post will be completed by Halloween!















My Brain is Working Hard

Hi, all.

It’s been about four weeks since I’ve posted anything, and this post won’t be substantial at all. But I needed to check in and let you know the following:

  1. Yes, I am still alive
  2. No, I haven’t left the house very much for the past three weeks because all I’ve done is read, read, read for my two classes and my butt is half-asleep all of the time and I already need to buy some new highlighters
  3. Yes, I am having a wonderful time doing all of this reading and being a student and I’ll tell you more about it later this week

And just to show you how much fun some of this stuff is, I thought I’d give you a little slice of heaven from the journal article I’m reading tonight, Do the brain networks of scientists account for their superiority in hypothesis-generating? (Lee, 2012):

“All functional volumes were then spatially smoothed with an 8-mm full-width half-maximum (FWHM) isotropic Gaussian kernel to compensate for residual between-subject variability after spatial normalization (to allow for comparisons across subjects) and to permit application of Gaussian random field theory for corrected statistical inference (Worsley & Friston, 1995).”


my brain is doing this right now

my brain is doing this right now

So, just be aware that I’m working hard, even though my body isn’t moving very much.

I’ll catch you all up very soon.

The Scary Truth About Sisters in Horror Films — Bitch Flicks

This guest post written by Laura Power appears as part of our theme week on Sisterhood. Female siblings have been a go-to in horror films since horror films themselves. Sisters have been used as minor characters to fill in a cast: Daisy and Violet, the conjoined twins, and Elvira and Jenny Lee, the “Pinhead” twins,…

via The Scary Truth About Sisters in Horror Films — Bitch Flicks