Places I Have Lived: Poplar Grove Rd, Poplar Grove, IL

May 1998 – August 1998

Over the winter of my freshman year of college, my boyfriend and his best friend moved to a farmhouse in Poplar Grove, a one stoplight town about 30 minutes outside of Rockford.  The house and property were owned by his coworkers’ parents, who planned to open a children’s farm and petting zoo on the property in the future, but for the time being just wanted tenants to keep the place occupied and the pipes from freezing.  My boyfriend and his best friend fit the bill, and I spent most weekends there as well, moving in for real after my first year of college wrapped up.

I haven’t spent much time in (other) farmhouses, so I’m not sure how typical a structure it was: three (or four?) bedrooms and an attic upstairs, another bedroom plus several living areas and a big kitchen on the sprawling ground floor.  One and a quarter bathrooms, though we only used the full bath.  A screened in porch and a very creepy basement.  I had my own vaguely technicolor room upstairs that was only ever used for storage; eventually we moved to the downstairs bedroom, leaving Joe with the upstairs to himself.

This was an interesting living situation for a variety of reasons.  We all had to drive at least half an hour to work – that is, when we were all employed.  I had two jobs that summer, but my boyfriend lost his shortly after I moved in, and spent the 4-6 weeks of our cohabitation unemployed, living off my part-time paychecks and credit cards.  I was never officially on the lease, so I paid for my housing by buying groceries and paying other bills.  None of us were particularly interested in housekeeping, cooking, or anything domestic, which I suppose is fairly typical of an 18 year old girl and two 21 year old guys.  We ate a lot of shitty processed food and drank a lot of beer.  We had a few epic parties, and ordered a lot of pizzas from the place down the street – the closest grocery store was also about half an hour away, so this was frequently the best option.

The most notable thing about this house is that we’re fairly sure it was (is?) haunted.  A number of weird things happened in the time that we lived there – things that individually might’ve been ignored, but added up to a vague creepiness.  One of the first times I was there alone, an interior door swung shut and locked.  A group of friends spent the night and later reported all having had the same dream about the attic space.  We once drove up to the house at night and saw the attic lights on, but when we went inside, the house was empty and the lights were off.  We never saw or sensed anything spectral, but these events were enough to make being home alone, especially on stormy dark nights, pretty damned creepy.

The aforementioned parties actually resulted in the end of this domestic bliss.  Our landlords came out early one weekend morning to do some work on the property, and found a bunch of cars parked in the driveway, tents set up in the back yard and the remnants of a bonfire in the fire pit.  We had thought we were being responsible by having friends spend the night rather than driving back into town; they, on the other hand, only saw a liability.  It turned out that they thought we were in our late 20s – as was the case with their son, my boyfriend’s by then former coworker.  I’m reasonably confident they would’ve evicted us on the spot if they could have – I don’t think they were interested in being landlords in the first place – but we stayed there for the duration of the summer, moving out in one quick and insane week at the end of August.

Looking back at this summer from the space of more than a decade, there are a few things that stand out.  I remember my parents’ sharp disapproval when I said that I wouldn’t be moving home; I received a harsh letter from Pop, and it was made clear that I wasn’t welcome at the house, albeit temporarily.  I remember eating disgusting meals of whatever we had on hand – melted cheese sandwiches with ranch dressing, anyone? – while teaching myself HTML on the bank of computers in the office off the kitchen.  At some point we acquired a bunny – perhaps the first of the intended farm menagerie?  – though I don’t recall that we were asked to care for it, nor that any arrangements were made for its care.  It just appeared on our porch one day, and the porch was its domain for the remainder of the summer, though I have no idea who fed it or cared for it or what ultimately happened to it.  I remember the first explorations of sex and sexuality, starting to understand myself as a sexual being.  I remember standing on the screened in porch after my shower, drying my hair in the sunshine, enjoying the fresh air on my skin.  And I remember the frustration and anxiety of not knowing where the guys would be living when our last week in the house was up, while at the same time not wanting to move apart from them and back into the dorms.


Places I Have Lived: McGaw Hall, Rockford College, Rockford, IL

August 1997 – May 1998

My parents had their heart set on me attending Wheaton College. When I wasn’t accepted to Wheaton, I was heartbroken, even though I felt strongly that I wasn’t ready for college. Why I didn’t fall back on my acceptance at Iowa, I don’t know. In retrospect, I regret it – but then my life would be completely and unimaginably different, so those regrets are ultimately futile. My acceptance (or lack thereof) to Wheaton was deferred to the latest announcement date, putting it past the deadline for applying just about anywhere else. I resigned myself to a semester at Rock Valley while applying elsewhere, and filled out an application for Rockford College on a whim.

I was accepted almost immediately and, in the middle of July, received a full scholarship. The one condition was that I had to live on campus for my four years. Fine by me, especially as this news came during a particularly tumultuous time in my relationship with my parents. I exchanged letters with my new roommate, and in mid-August, I moved out of my parents’ house for good, though I’d return for a few weeks here and there over the next few years.

All RC freshman lived in McGaw Hall, inconveniently located at the far end of campus, literally over the river (creek) and through the woods. In my memory, McGaw was a giant high-rise; in reality, I think it was six floors, and I think Mayra and I lived on the third. I know we didn’t live on the second, as the girls that lived below us would complain about Mayra waking them up by coming home from class, putting on Barbie Girl, and dancing around our room.

My First Dorm Room

Our room had two twin beds, two desks, two dressers, two closets with accordion doors, two windows, and two bulletin boards. Whenever we had deadlines, we would compulsively rearrange the furniture. Please note the requisite Beatles and Jim Morrison posters, the psychedelia lifted from my mom’s dorm room, the giant desktop computer, and the desk littered with coffee mugs. The temperature control in the building was terrible – in one room, friends would be freezing, while we kept our windows open through the winter and our floor was hot to the touch.

There was a kitchenette and a tiny laundry room on the floor. The extremely narrow shower stalls made shaving my legs nearly impossible – not that I was inclined to do so very often. We had keyed access to the building, though later in the year they switched to ID readers. This was problematic as I went through literally five IDs in the first few months through no fault of my own. There was an intercom by the exterior door, but friends often couldn’t get through because I was chatting on the RWorld BBS with friends or my boyfriend.

Freshman Friends

I have no idea how my dorm experience compared to others’. I made ramen in the kitchenette and drank a lot of Mountain Dew. I avoided the extremely terrible cafeteria food whenever possible. I made friends with my neighbors – Amanda lived next door, and Kelley down the hall – who would be my roommates in the coming years. My boyfriend spent the night, though in retrospect I have no idea how two of us not-small people fit in a twin bed. Mayra and I both stayed at McGaw until the very last day of move-out week for both Christmas and the end of the school year. It wasn’t always an ideal living situation, but I look back on that year with many, many fond memories.

2/3 Reading Challenge

Coming briskly on the heels of the 12 Books wrap-up is another book club challenge from my friend Mark.  He, like many others, didn’t finish his 12, but did make an earnest effort and felt like the challenge encouraged him to commit to reading – though that hardly seems to be a problem for him!  He has set forward the Two-Thirds Book Challenge:

  • Make a list of books that you would like to read in the next year. It can be as long or as short as you like. Post it somewhere, if moved to.
  • Read 2/3rds of them between now and 30 September 2012.
  • If you like, write about them on your blog, in goodreads, in your journal, or wherever you like. If you so desire, let Mark know where you post your writing and he will compile a sort-of-monthly post here that aggregates them.

I, of course, signed up immediately.  I like challenges that build in a margin of error.  I like having extra motivation to read.  And I like signing up for things.

In the next 12 months, I would like to read 15 books.  I would like that list to include the following 10 titles, plus 5 wild cards to be determined by whatever looks good at the library or sounds appealing on The Diane Rehm Show.


  1. 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander – though it is a bit cruel to set out to read about bread while simultaneously restricting it from your diet.
  2. The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
  3. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola
  4. Fair Shares for All: A Memoir of Family and Food by John Haney
  5. In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and The Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language by Arika Okrent


  1. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
  2. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
  3. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  4. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – yeah, yeah. A little escapist historical fiction never hurt anyone.
  5. Runaway by Alice Munro

With those parameters and a 33% margin of error, I think I can do it. Who’s with me? Or, more accurately, who’s with Mark?

12 Books, 12 Months: Final Round-Up

A month has passed since this challenge ended, and I’m just now getting around to finishing the round up.  Oops.  First of all, congratulations to everyone who picked up a book, read it, and posted a review in the last 12 months.  I’m willing to bet that if you finished even one book in that time frame, you’re ahead of many Americans.  So pat yourself on the back – you deserve it.

Several of our members didn’t finish the challenge, but wrote thoughtful posts summarizing their reading and their experience.  Anj finished 8 of her 13, but read an astonishing 96 books totalMark finished 10 of 13, with 33 read in the last year.  And I finished 4 books and 2 half books.

Amber finished 6 of 12 books, including her last read, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which recounts Didion’s experience in the first year after losing her husband.  Amber, totally in love with HER husband, found it honest and challenging, and said that while she enjoyed it, she doesn’t recommend reading it while one’s husband is out of town.  [review] Edit: Amber reports that she also finished A Scanner Darkly, which was “pretty good and a little trippy.”

Although Jill didn’t finish all 12 of her books, she did read One Day and enjoyed the device of a story told in one day increments over several years.  At the same time, she found aspects of the story problematic, especially the use of maudlin tropes.  She wrote that “it’s gotten to the point where if I see a character has a bicycle in a book or movie, I wince b/c I know something bad is going to happen” and goes on to observe that all too often, women have to die to make a point in romantic fiction.  “Women write these types of stories, but they have happy endings and are called romance novels. Men write these types of stories and the woman always ends up dead or horribly unhappy and they’re called ‘love stories.’ It’s not a complaint, just an observation.” [review]

Meghan really didn’t like her last book,  The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives.  Her Goodreads review is brief and pointed enough that I’ll quote it in its entirety: “The author tried to link these historical figures together through their shared symptoms of hypochondria, but then chose to focus and explain every symptom of psychological disorder except for hypochondria. The book was instead a showcase for depression and anxiety.”

Shane finished two books, one in the first month, and one in the last.  I can attest to the fact that he spent most of the last year working on The Corrections , which, despite receiving all kinds of accolades has remained a fairly polarizing book.  Shane suggests that this is because “it’s too damn real.”  The characters and their relationships are unpleasant, and Franzen is unflinching in his portrayal of these awful people.  At the same time, the book “does everything fiction is supposed to do. It is frequently amusing, brutally honest, deeply insightful, and ultimately discouraging. It is expertly and cleverly written. It’s captivating and emotionally moving. It’s, objectively, a Great Work. ”  Just one that perhaps cuts a bit too close to home. [review]

But to end on a pleasant note – Angel succeeded in finishing the challenge!  Since we last rounded up, he read six books:

  • The Surrogates, a graphic novel featuring “a nice blend of a police procedural/mystery and science fiction,” portrays a world where humans can opt to live their lives through mechanical surrogates, but where a terrorist is killing off these surrogates in an attempt to force the world back to real life.  [review]
  • Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America explores the world of antique dealers and flea markets and dispels the myth that anything old is valuable – while also discussing why we have the urge to collect. [review]
  • The Lost World and Other Stories, which he recalled liking when he read as a teenager, though it didn’t seem as satisfying a read as an adult.  The book collects the Professor Challenger stories into an enjoyable volume of  adventures and “science romance.”  [review]
  • The series authors and artists may be changing in Conan Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other Stories, but volume 4 still represents “a good place to look and get a feel for the real character” of Conan before watching the movies. [review]
  • The Compleat Boucher: the Complete Short Science Fiction and Fantasy of Anthony Boucher felt like “reading science fiction as it was written when it was in the heyday of the mid-20th century.”  He particularly enjoyed “The Compleat Werewolf,” the story of “a professor with a bit of a lycanthropy problem and a femme fatale more than willing to exploit that little problem.” [review]
  • The Ultramarines Omnibus is well-written “all out escapist military science fiction.”  It made up Angel’s bedtime reading for several months, and seems like it was both engaging and worth savoring.  [review]

Thanks, friends, for an interesting year of reading!