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Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

Rich Egger

Almost every morning between 6:00 and 6:30 for the past 17 years, a "thump" could be heard on my front porch.  Last week at 7:30 still barefoot and in my pajamas, I ventured out and went looking for the thing that goes thump.  I looked behind the chair, under the table, and even in the bushes but to no avail.  My daily copy of the McDonough County Voice was nowhere to be seen. 

Michael and I are among the millions of parents in the US who have young humans who have or will be moving onto college campuses this fall.  Last year, Willow & Maren spent their first semester remote learning from their childhood bedrooms because their mother was certain that their university, like many others around the nation, would end up delivering classes totally online.  I was wrong and am happy to admit that I underestimated what a university can do when they have outstanding leadership and total commitment from students, faculty, and staff to follow the public health guidelines prescribed by the experts.  

As we pass the one-year point of the COVID-19 pandemic, I've been wondering: what stories will prevail about this particular point in time one hundred years or a thousand years from now?  How will humanity, if our species is even still around, look back at this moment in time and evaluate how we responded to this distinct crisis?  

In late July of 1995, Michael and I packed everything we owned into the back of a U-Haul and headed south to Gainesville, Florida.  As newlyweds and poor graduate students, we rented an apartment on the outskirts of part of Gainesville called Porters Quarters.  The upstairs garage apartment was spacious, surrounded by beautiful live oaks, and while only a couple of miles from campus, was considered to be in the poor part of town.  

I don’t know about you all, but I am beyond exhausted.  This isn't pandemic fatigue, but full on pandemic burn out.  Pandemic fatigue is being tired of wearing my mask.  Pandemic burnout is not being able to envision ever not wearing my mask.  I had hoped that by the beginning of 2021 we would have had COVID somewhat under control.  But, the new B.1.1.7 strain of the virus appears to be more contagious and at this point is moving faster than our ability to distribute vaccines.  

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Last year was rough.  And to be honest, I am not sure that this year is going to be much better.  Usually at the dawn of the new year, I feel a sense of relief.  There is a perception of having a clean slate and being able to begin again.  This year I feel none of this.  The messes of 2020 continue to follow us into 2021 in no small part because of decisions we make as individuals and as a larger society. 

Congratulations!  We’ve made it to December and are that much closer to being able to say goodbye to 2020 in a few short weeks.  We survived Thanksgiving however we chose to observe, or not observe the day.  Whatever it ended up looking like, it is behind us now and in front of us are a plethora of holidays to celebrate.  Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hogmanay, and New Year’s Eve are all festivities that take place this month.  While 2020 has been a challenging year, there is still much to be grateful for.   

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To say that 2020 has been a stressful year is an understatement.  The coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest, and a contentious presidential election have resulted in heightened levels of fear and anxiety the world over.  My normally calm and even-keeled family is stressed out beyond belief.  And while intellectually we all know that this current state of being will not last forever, making our way through all the emotions of this year sometimes seems impossible.  

I have long been a fan of Brandon Stanton and his blog Humans of New York.  After he was fired from his job in Chicago as a bond trader, he moved to New York City and decided to see if he could make a living doing something that he loved – photography.  His initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and place their portraits on a map of the city.  At some point he started not only taking pictures of people, but talking to them as well.  He posts interesting quotes to accompany the photos. Sometimes it's a sentence and other times a short story. 

The onset of a new semester generally greets me with a combination of excitement and dread.  This semester however, has been a bit different, in that despite my decades of teaching and my dutiful mastery of online instruction, I find myself in full on panic mode.  And while the adrenalin that courses through my veins is a welcome relief from the chronic anxiety that has not relinquished its hold over me since March, I remind myself that I know how to teach and my students know how to learn, despite all of the obstacles that 2020 may throw our way. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

For the last two Saturdays, my daughter Maren and I have joined a small group of returned Peace Corps volunteers and friends from Macomb to help Genesis Gardens distribute food from the Loaves and Fishes pantry.  Armed with hand sanitizer and attempting to keep 6 feet between ourselves at all times, we loaded copious bags of dried, frozen and fresh food into our vehicles.  Maren and I spent the next hour finding nooks and crannies of Macomb that I never knew existed.   We knocked on doors and left food on front porches and stoops.  


In The Botany of Desire Michael Pollan wrote, "With the solitary exception of the Eskimos, there isn't a people on Earth who doesn't use psychoactive plants to effect a change in consciousness, and there probably never has been."  Science has proven this true, in that everywhere plants grow, people have ingested them. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

This winter marks the final swim season for my Maren as a member of the YMCA of McDonough County Dolphins.  She was just five when she started swimming and qualified for the state meet in her very first season.  Over the years we have driven hundreds of miles to YMCAs all over Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  Maren has logged thousands of hours in the pool and along the way she has gathered lots of swim related t-shirts, caps, goggles, swimsuits, friends, and some invaluable life lessons.  

Rich Egger

Ringing in the New Year and attempting to make positive changes in how we live seems to go hand in hand.  According to historians, 4,000 years ago ancient Babylonians were among the first people to make New Year's resolutions.  The vows they made to their gods were pretty concrete – pay back debts and return objects they had borrowed from others[1]

Every month I look forward to the new issue of "The Sun" magazine[1].  I always start on the very last page, diving into a section called the Sunbeams.  Filled with quotes from notable individuals, I like this segment because I often find that the theme resonates with me.  This month was no exception.  In the very first entry the author Cheryl Strayed writes:

Courtesy of Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

Winter came early this year ushering in the end of the summer gardening season.  Tomatoes, herbs, and flowers vanished beneath the snow and won't reemerge until summer comes again. As I took my last walk through Barefoot Gardens (a CSA in Macomb) this year, I was especially mindful of how everything changes.  Always.  The end of the 2019 season marked the end of seventeen years that John Curtis and his family have made cultivating food and community the center of their lives.  I will miss the leisurely Saturday mornings after yoga in the garden and the solstice celebrations filled with amazing people and wonderful food.  But aside from being a bit sad, I am grateful for what John and Karen have given this community. 

Science doesn't care if we believe in it or not.  From shrinking glaciers, to open water in the arctic, to trees flowering earlier than normal, the climate will continue to change regardless of our beliefs.  We do have a choice, however, as to how to respond to the crisis we have created.  And in order to respond appropriately, we need to examine how we got here.  You see, I think the climate crisis is really just part of a larger problem about how we, as a species, choose to relate to the planet. 

"If you want your white clothes to stay white, don't wash them with clothes that aren't white."  I didn't have to say this to our Willow as we left her with the same family I spent a gap year with in Germany some 34 years ago.  She and her sister have been doing their own laundry since they were eight.  They have also learned to cook and to clean up after themselves.  They know not to spend money they don't have and to always keep some in reserve in case there is an emergency. 

Spring traditionally marks the end of the school year and a time of transition.  My oldest, Willow, who I swear was just born yesterday, will be graduating from high school in a few short weeks.  In the fall, her younger sister Maren will be beginning her senior year at that same school. 

This is a commentary.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican born politician, journalist, and publisher once wrote, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots."  I grew up knowing a fair amount about my family history.  I knew that we had roots in Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.  As a young girl I remember talking to my Mema about her parents and grandparents.  As a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, my Aunt Bea did a lot of genealogical research to trace part of our family back to ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War.  

In many ways women have made substantial gains in the United States since its founding 242 years ago.  We are citizens, can vote and own property, and compose 47% of the workforce.   Yet, we still face inequalities on a daily basis.  The wage gap continues with women earning 80.5 cents to every dollar grossed by men. According the National Women's Law Center, women are 38% more likely to live in poverty than men. We all know about these challenges, but sometimes the most exhausting part about being a woman today is suffering the constant microaggressions.  

Every couple of years, my notoriously socially adverse family and I mask our traits that mark us as introverts for one evening and host a New Years Eve gathering.

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

I keep a quote from Mark Van Doren pinned to a bulletin board in my office.  It reads: "The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery."  At this point in the semester, up to my neck with papers to grade, I look at this often to remind myself why I assign so much work.  

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At the intersection of East Calhoun and Dudley streets in Macomb, in the northeast corner of the First Presbyterian Church is a magical cupboard. This cupboard doesn't hold clothes or shoes or forgotten treasures.  This cupboard is full of food and with it hope for a better tomorrow.  This month Loaves & Fishes is celebrating 25 years of keeping that magical closet stocked to serve residents of McDonough County.  This all-volunteer organization composed of twelve religious congregations scattered throughout the county provides food, and assistance with emergency housing, utilities, and medical bills to those in need.   

I was leading a study abroad course in Puerto Rico when I heard that Anthony Bourdain had died.  My immediate thought was, "Damn it, we lost another good one."  Like most, I had never met Anthony Bourdain, yet he felt like a friend to me.  From his very first foray into ethnographic filmmaking and eating around the globe with A Cook's Tour to his more recent Parts Unknown, he kept me company on a regular basis.  

The same day that Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas and the Board of Trustees announced that Tri States Public Radio will "become a self-funded department within the University structure and will be responsible for generating its revenue needs, including personnel expenditures, effective March 1, 2019," the lead story on the WIU website lauded the accomplishments of its nationally award winning Broadcasting and Journalism students.   What??!!??   

Last week I led my last regular classes of the semester.  For all of my courses, whether they are introductory level or advanced seminars, I like to leave my students with a solid idea of what they have learned and how they can carry their newly acquired knowledge and skill-sets outside of the classroom and into their futures. I generally begin by asking students to reflect—both individually and in groups—on how their knowledge about anthropology and the skills associated with the discipline have grown over the course of the semester.  Where are they now versus where they started?  And what are the most important insights they have gained over the course of their studies?

Last week I spent four days in Philadelphia at the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings.  I must admit, that while I don't normally lack self-confidence, these meetings always leave me feeling a bit like a charlatan.  The SFAA is a professional organization that brings together people from a wide variety of backgrounds (not only anthropology) whose work seeks to make a positive effect on the quality of life in our world today. 


Mar 7, 2018

Mark Manson, a blogger and NY Times best-selling author writes, "Pain in all its forms is our body's most effective means of spurring action."   There has been a lot of pain in my world lately.  The grief of discovering too late that was no farm legacy to leave to my daughters.  The agony of watching yet another school shooting while our politicians sit idly by and do nothing to ensure the safety our children.  And most recently, the visceral anger I feel after discovering that administrators in the Macomb School District appear to have blatantly violated the law and the trust of students, parents, and community members.  

Porque no veine mas mujeres a mis charlas? "Why don't more women come to my meetings?" I complained to Doña Columbina after returning from yet another sparsely attended community forestry gathering in the rural mountain village I had been placed in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was fresh out of training and ready to change the world. It was the spring of 1991 and having survived the first few months of culture shock in the Dominican Republic, I was ready to get to work.