Monthly Archives: October 2013

What’s in a name? Everything, if it’s Grace.


Dang– I’ve been missing a lot of posts lately.  Last night’s detour was completely necessary though.  I made four accidentally enormous candy corn jello shots last weekend and I needed to trick some people into eating them last night.  Only Sister Doctor fell for it.  At least they looked nice and festive even if they were mostly disastrous.

Seems awesome, right? It’s not.

I have a nice story for you today to make up for it– get ready to find some grace!


When I was in fifth grade one of our first classroom assignments was to draw a self portrait… but with a twist.

First, we had to look up the meaning of our name and then incorporate the meaning into our drawing.

So, I looked up Rachel.  The meaning?  Ewe.


So, I looked up ewe.

Lady sheep.  Nice.

My teacher was excited and thought I should draw myself with short, curly hair (wool, if you will) and little sheep ears.  Or not!  I was in fifth grade and I was a nerd.  I was not about to draw myself as a sheep.  Can you even imagine?  (Incidentally, that was the year of the shroom-cut.  Wool for hair?  Yeah, it could be worse…)

So Plan B: middle name.

And I looked up Ann.  (Which was my middle name before the Social Security Administration let me change it to anything I want– nothing too exciting here, but it could have been!!  I chose Vonck, my maiden name, just like my mom did.)

The meaning of Ann?  Grace.

Grace?  That was something I could work with.

So I drew my fifth grade version of grace.  I was wearing a long, red, Disney princess style dress and white, elbow length gloves.  Pearls around my neck and sparkly, dangling earrings from my ears.  Hair in a fancy up-do and perfect make up.  (All of this as a fifth grade illustrator, mind you, so nothing amazing.  I‘m sure it included blue eye shadow. It was nineteen-ninety-something after all.)

That fancy pants version of myself was what I thought of when I heard the word grace for a long time.

I think perhaps I had confused the idea of grace with the ideas of elegance, class, and finesse… to be graceful.

Or maybe confused is the wrong word.  Perhaps the real idea of grace was just beyond me at the time.  Which is likely considering that it’s still hard for me to grasp even today… many, many years removed from 5th grade.

Fortunately, I have spent much of the last… umm… approximately 20 years?  Yeah, about that.  So I’ve spent the last 20 or so years slowly figuring out what grace really means.

And WOW.

Even the limited understanding I have of the concept is enough to leave me somewhat floored.  It’s a powerful idea really, that you can be “flawed” and still be perfect.  That you can do “bad” things, but still be a good person.  That you can sin and yet you still have infinite opportunities to be forgiven and to be loved— even at your most unlovable moments.

Perhaps it’s cheesy to put too much stock in song lyrics, but I really think that Mumford & Sons say it so crazy succinctly and brilliantly and understandably in their song Roll Away Your Stone:

It seems that all my bridges have been burnt

But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart

But the welcome I receive with every start.

The whole song is great really, but I’ll play it on repeat again and again and again (especially while I’m running) just to hear that line.  I love it.  It resonates with me so strongly.  That idea, that we can always try again, no matter how bad it seems, is what I’ve searched for for a long time.

Want to know something kind of crazy?*  My little friend Emily, the one I keep telling you about– the amazing girl who colors my vision, survives my attempts at destruction, and is in so very many ways just like me… her middle name happens to be Grace.  And she is grace to me, because she gives me a chance to start over loving myself… and giving myself grace from the very beginning.  It’s powerful stuff.

Now, when I talk to her beautiful and amazing mama and hear about Emily’s struggles, it’s so meaningful to me because I can give Emily grace in the same situations in which I’ve so long been unable to give it to myself.

I really think we all deserve that from ourselves, even though it’s hard to do.  Forgiveness is difficult, even for other people, but I know I tend to hold myself to a ridiculously high (and largely unattainable) standard.  (But I’m sure you’re not like that…)  Life seems a little better with a dash of grace though.  When I can stop the second track for just a second to give myself a break, knowing that I can try again and do better next time.

I suggest starting with a pair of elbow-length satin evening gloves.  You can only go up from there.


*Ok, ok… that wasn’t really crazy.  Grace isn’t a terribly unpopular name.  But to me, it’s quite meaningful.  And if you knew Emily’s parents and knew how unbelievably graceful AND grace-giving they are, you’d really appreciate how big of a deal this is to me.  It’s big.  Bigger than my hair on a rainy July day in New Orleans.  Big.

In-laws, Awkwardness, and Finding Family

When my husband and I first started dating (many, many moons ago) meeting his family was definitely the scariest thing ever.  EVER.  He was my first serious college boyfriend and it was the first time I ever had to actually meet the parents, because they weren’t people I had grown up knowing.  That made it scary enough, but add to it the fact that we had to drive 4 hours to get there and then stay overnight (no escape if things get awkward!) and I was terrified!

My fears?  Totally founded!  It was every bit as terrifying and awkward as I had it hyped up to be.

(Please, Marilyn, I beg you– keep reading!  It gets better!!!)

But it had nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.

My in-laws are different from my immediate family in a lot of ways.  Have you seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding?  You know the scene when Ian’s parents roll up outside Toula’s parents’ house wearing sweater sets and see the big Greek lawn party, complete with a lamb roasting on a spit in the front yard?  Sort of like that.  (And in the movie that is my life, I’m playing the role of Toula.)

My parents are omg-we’re-so-happy-to-meet-you-tell-me-your-life-story-and-I’ll-share-mine-let-me-take-your-coat-and-get-you-something-to-drink-please-do-sit-down-and-don’t-mind-the-dog kind of people.  That’s what I was used to.  My husband’s parents are also incredible people—they are kind and thoughtful and brilliant and generous and hard-working and truly 100% amazing, but they are reserved.  And that freaked me out.

Because when other people are reserved, it leaves way too much room for me to be awkward.

Let me just illustrate with an example.

Seth met my parents for the first time the night before my cousin’s wedding in Marquette.  We were at my aunt and uncle’s house for a yooper-style dinner,* complete with potato sausage, pastie pies (that’s past-ee, NOT paste-ee, fyi), and venison chili.  As I was snubbing the chili (I do not like venison) my mom leaned over to Seth, my brand-new boyfriend, and said, “Rachel doesn’t eat any vegetables… we don’t know how she poops.”

(Mom, noooooooooo…)

In contrast, Seth’s parents didn’t make a single poop joke the first time I met them.  (And in fact, they may not have made one yet in the eleven years I’ve known them.  Interesting…)

As horrified as I was at the time, my mom’s use of bathroom humor upon first meeting certainly broke the ice right away.  And what could Seth have possibly done that was more awkward than that?  Whew.  That was my comfort zone.  The quiet at Seth’s parents’ just begs a person like me to make an awkward joke.  Or an awkward comment.  Or awkward gestures (omg, what do I do with my haaaands?!).  Or all of the above.

This weekend, I had a lot of time in the car without any other humans (once there was a plant and once there was a dog).  Lots of thinking time.  I spent a lot of that time thinking about the family I’ve since become a part of, despite the initial awkwardness.

On Saturday, I was on my way home from a baby shower for Seth’s cousin.  Seth’s grandma and mom were there along with lots of his aunts and cousins… and it didn’t feel awkward to me at all.  I just felt like I was with family.  And while I recognize that since Seth and I got that fancy piece of paper that says we’re married, they legally are my family, a lot of people don’t ever get to feel that way.  (At least I assume that’s the case… because if they did, there would be very little material for sit-coms.)

On Sunday, I had to bring our pup to the emergency vet just past Mosinee and it was a rather trying ordeal.  I stopped at my in-law’s house on the way back to Marshfield to get her some water so she’d stop panting, and again, no awkwardness.  I stopped in the garage and said hi to my father-in-law (and my sister-in-law, who was wrapped in cardboard painted like an otoscope on the garage floor, but that’s another story for another day…), ran into the house, grabbed an ice cream bucket, filled it with water, and went on my way.

As I headed back toward Marshfield, out of Mosinee and through Halder (love small-town Wisconsin!), I wondered about when I had achieved this level of comfort…  I still remember worrying all those years ago that I would never be accepted, that I would never fit in.  When did things change?  When did they start to like me?  (Or at least get really good at pretending?)

Despite all that time I had to ponder, I still can’t really put my finger on on when exactly it happened.  But what I did realize was that it wasn’t the situation that had changed and it wasn’t Seth’s relatives that changed either.  It was me.  I grew up.  I grew into myself—into my awkwardness, my big hair and big feet, my sense of humor, and I got over a lot of my worries and decided to just be myself.

As myself, I got to know Seth’s family and I adore them, all of them—I love them even, because they are my family too.  I have a second set of parents (complete with love and support– not to mention their rockin’ garden and incredibly handy skills at everything).  A new set of grandparents that come with a farm— and an insane level of unfounded faith in me as they let me drive a tractor around it!!  I have three little sisters, two of which I didn’t have before, and because they both have curly blond hair too, no one knows it’s not by blood!  (Seriously, no one, a lot of confusion when Sister Doctor and I started working a the same place.)  I’ve been blessed with more new aunts, uncles, and cousins, than I can count… and all of their spouses and kids and animals on top of that.

The night before my wedding, one of those brand new cousins sent me a message telling me how excited she was for our wedding, but that as far as she was concerned, I was already part of the family.  It made me cry– I was so happy!  (And Meg, you will always be my favorite for it!  Always!)  That may not have been the moment, but it was a pretty solid reminder of how this family had, over time, become my family too.

So, in-laws can be scary, but in-laws really can be family, too.  For me, a little bit of time and a lot of attitude adjustment made all the difference.  That, and awkward jokes.**


The Cooler Peninsula

*Yooper is what you call a person from the Upper Peninsula, or UP, pronounced like the letter U then the letter P, not the word up… hence: yooper.  The more you know.

**Because everybody loves my awkward jokes.

The Ugly Meet-ling

I had to go to a meeting today.  It was a long meeting.  And it was an ugly meeting.

I already knew a lot of the people who were there individually.  I like a lot of those people individually.

But collectively?


I had hoped for respectful dialogue and constructive criticism.  But it was more like this:

Angry Meeting


Angry.  Angry.  Angry.

(That’s me in the pink, by the way… everyone in our office wore pink today to support breast cancer awareness and it was our pink challenge day, so I was SUPER pink.  Pink dress, pink tights, pink nails, pink jewelry, pink scarf (hand-dyed by my aNut!), and even pink bobby pins!  So yes, I really did stand out pretty much just like that… except that I wasn’t the only one with hair.  I just didn’t feel like drawing it on everyone else.)

There was nit-picking, items were mocked.  Mocked!  I wanted to shrink out of the room.

But shrinking wasn’t an option.  (If it were, I wouldn’t still be wearing a size 11 shoe.)  So I had to make a choice: keep silent, implying tacit agreement with the tone in the room, or sit at the table, lean in, and speak my mind.

I spoke my mind.  And by speaking my mind, I did NOT make any new friends.  But I couldn’t stand what I was hearing.

So I shared a little bit of love.

Angry Meeting Solution

I’d love to tell you that I won over the room.  That I lulled the angry masses into a calm and respectful group.  That sitting at the table and leaning in worked.

But it didn’t.  I was readily dismissed.  And I suppose sometimes it’s like that.  You can’t win them all, no matter how hard you try.  But at least my conscience is clear and I can rest well tonight knowing that I went to bat for what I thought was right.

Worth it.

My dad has a lovely little term for just such situations.  This is precisely what he calls an AFGO: Another eFfing Growth Opportunity.  Genius.  I recommend adding the word AFGO to your vocabulary, effective immediately.  I think you’ll find that life is full of opportunities to use it, and AFGOs really don’t seem quite so bad when you think of them that way.  After all, personal growth is a good thing.

Except when you have to buy new pants 😉


PS: I really wanted to use The Ugly Duckling as the title somehow, but I just couldn’t work ducks (or swans) in… so I had to settle for “meet-ling.”  Dang.  Better luck next title!

Great Expectations… Jurassic Disappointments

I set my alarm for half an hour early this morning with every intention of getting up to spend 30 minutes on the elliptical.  Unfortunately, I have set my alarm half an hour early almost every single day for the last two years with the same intention, but it has happened a grand total of perhaps 3 times.  Maybe 4.  And today was much like most of the others.  The elliptical did not happen.

So all day long, I hyped myself up– 30 minutes on the elliptical, a chance to move my legs a little bit after a long day at a desk!  And I held this blog post hostage to ensure it got done.  Posting is my reward for exercising my legs and sweating through my shirt.  Victory!

Before I get to the good stuff, I just want to share with you a sad little story about a lady with a dog she loves too much.  That lady is, of course, me.  And what did I do that makes me kind of pathetic?  Well, my dog, Curly, just had knee surgery and she can’t go up or down stairs for another 7 weeks.  Unfortunately, our elliptical is in the basement.  My husband is out of town all week and I just couldn’t bare the thought of leaving my sweet Curls upstairs alone for another half an hour.  So I picked her up, all 65 lbs of her, and carried her down for the work out and back up afterward.  The way down wasn’t so bad, but up was pretty rough.  A little bonus workout and a weird ride for my pup, I guess.  Sometimes I even disturb myself.

Anyway, on to my point…

I talk about a lot of different things, but as you’ve probably noticed, it’s not very hard for me to relate pretty much all of those things back to either Harry Potter or Jurassic Park.  And you guys, Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure Theme Park in Orlando, Florida is home to not only the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but also Jurassic Park.  A nerd girl’s dream come true!!

Respect the Spell Limit

Spells and velociraptors!

Butterbeer and pteradactyls!

Hogwarts and insects trapped in amber!

Harry Potter AND Jurrassic Park!

Hogwarts #2

So when the opportunity arose to visit Islands of Adventure as long as we were a mere two hours away in Jacksonville for a wedding, my husband and I jumped at the opportunity!  (Ok, I was the one who jumped… but my sweet husband did the driving!)

I was pretty dang pumped and since we were coming straight from a dream vacation in Cabo san Lucas, my expectations were sky high.  Oops.  Because, if I’m completely honest, Universal kind of failed to deliver.

Don’t get me wrong, Hogsmeade was crazy well-done, butterbeer and pumpkin juice were every bit as amazing as I had anticipated, and being able to see Hogwarts castle through the Jurassic Park arch was unreal.


However, Universal charges a heck of a lot of money to get into the park for the experience… and then gives you opportunity after opportunity to buy, spend, and pay more and more and more with a relatively small amount of actual “experience” sprinkled in.  Everywhere you turn– another souvenir stand, a food shop, airbrushed t-shirts and commemorative photos for purchase, hair wraps or glitter tattoos to be had.  No joke, even Ollivander’s Wand Shop was a long line for a 30 second demo only to be shuttled straight into a gift shop.  (Ok, maybe I’m just pissed that they picked a little boy to be chosen by his wand rather than me…  Maybe.)

And Jurassic Park?  Well… kind of boo, to be honest.  This is what I wanted:

raptor chase!

I wanted to be in that car, chased by dinosaurs, and I honestly expected that as a ride.

But this is what it actually was:

raptor reality

Photo-op, picture for purchase.


Have you ever read a book that put your imagination into absolute overdrive?  To me, Harry Potter was like that, and amazingly, the movies did not disappoint at all.  They were amazing too and while I was watching the movies it felt like someone had pulled the scenes straight from my head.  (And captured them like a memory poured into a pensieve.)  But the parks… wah wah.

Oh well!  Back to my imagination place– now that I know what butterbeer actually tastes like, I feel like I can retire there comfortably!



Blog milestone… let’s celebrate!

Have you seen the movie Little Shop of Horrors?  It’s an excellent musical comedy that makes some very important points about accepting others as they are… and the dangers of feeding carnivorous plants. And don’t forget about the dentist.  This dentist:

{Image Source}
{Image Source}

But really, isn’t the job of any dentist to inflict pain?  All I had this morning was a cleaning and my mouth and ego are still sore!  My mouth because of all the scrippity scraping (ugh, hate that part) my ego because despite brushing, flossing, and mouthwashing religiously (more than religiously even– I only go to church once a week, after all) I still get chastised for not doing well enough.  Do you think a dentist has ever said to anyone, “great job! keep up the good work, pearly whites!”?

Doubt it.

And please don’t tell me that your dentist does.  I can’t handle the jealousy right now.

But seriously, criticism always kind of hurts and for a long, long time, I have had a notoriously thin skin.



Last week I reached a major blog milestone: first criticism!  (Out loud and to me, anyway, who knows what else has been floating around out there?)

A friend of mine (and really, a friend, I’m not being sarcastic this time) gave me my first dose of criticism.

He had two issues with my blog: 1) tapestries are for women and 2) I am spending far too much time writing far too many words when there are clearly better things I could do with my time.

Fortunately, my response to the two-fold critique was a pleasant surprise, especially to me!  Let me demonstrate.

My response circa 2005 (assuming I would have screwed up the courage to start a blog in 2005– ha!):  Dang it!  I picked such a lady name!  Tapestries are totally for women and I turned off half the population by making it something so girly!  And all of my posts are way too girly too… who wants to hear about women’s issues anymore?  What is wrong with me?!  And why am I spending so much time on this thing?!  No one reads it, no one likes it, no one likes me, and I should just give up.

Sigh… that person was annoying.

My response circa 2013 (because I did screw up the courage to start a blog in 2013– ha ha!): Really?  Tapestries are for women?!  What does that even mean???  And perhaps I should mention the fact that it was a man who brought the under the tapestry analogy to my attention in the first place!  And don’t even get me started on the fact that the things that are “women’s issues” are really just issues that affect women and should matter to everyone.  And the choice to spend time writing this blog is just that– a choice made by me, for me, on how to spend my time.  I enjoy it, it’s cathartic, and it’s fun for me and my friends!  Don’t like it?  Don’t read it.

Granted, what I actually said to my critic was a bit more toned down.  I talk a big game here, not so much in real life.  Also, all that may have been considered unprofessional 😉

Notice the difference in the tone?!  Ahhhh… that. feels. good.

The things is, what other people think of me is really none of my business.  And although it’s cliche, the negative things that other people say to me, or about me, really say a lot more about them than they do about me.  Perhaps my critic has misconceptions about gender roles and related insecurities.  Perhaps he also has some very strict ideas about how time outside of work is best spent.  Whatever it is– those things are not my problems.  What a relief!

So, congrats to me on surviving… and THRIVING… despite the criticism!

Although, I have to admit, I am a good flosser, and my feelings do still hurt a bit about that…


Later gators!

Shed Light in a Dark Place

Melissa-- light


I’ve probably done more than my fair share of over-sharing with this blog as my platform, but I must say, your responses– the laughter, the encouragement, the kinds words– are amazing.  My beautiful friend Melissa left the above as a comment when I fessed up about binge eating on Thursday.  How true?  And my friend Dawn mentioned a similar idea when I showed you my shroom cut a while ago.  Neither of those things feel quite so embarrassing or shameful to me anymore– power?  Poof!  Be gone!

If you’ll excuse me please, I’ve got a book club list to generate, I made some promises that I’ve been bad about keeping!

Here’s hoping you have a lovely weekend!

Gratitude for a Gentle Reminder

While it is true that people in the Midwest tend to be exceptionally friendly, it’s also true that they are quite reserved and that it can be hard to build a relationship with people you only interact with peripherally.  As such, it’s taken me quite a long time to get to know the people I work near, but not directly with.  But two-and-a-half years later, I’m finally on friendly terms with lots of the people at the clinic and it is good.

After several friendly chats in the bathroom and hallway, I’ve found a lovely friend in one of the well-established and brilliant research scientists in the National Farm Medicine Center named Barbara.  Barbara loves to walk (seriously, like 8 miles a day), but recently fractured her foot and is slowly working toward recovery.  Likewise, I loved to run, but had tummy troubles that pretty much put a halt to that in recent months.  We really bonded over that… our shared loss of beloved physical activities.  (And yes, I did tell her all the gory details of my intestinal troubles— this is a good example of that overly quick intimacy I talked about yesterday.  Barbara is someone I really like!)

Hmmm… I like where this is going, but I’m going to have to back up just a touch to give you some context.  Get ready… I am about to spill my guts.

I am a binge eater.  I have a binge eating disorder.

You’re probably thinking, right, I know– I was pretty sure you said you were a woman.  But no, not just over-eating, not just an inability to resist something delicious.  We are talking about a truly life disrupting disorder of ongoing and epic proportions.  It’s not a pretty thing and something I have taken great pains to hide for most of my life.  (Literally, most of my life… like since I was 8 or 9.  This is a kind of big deal to me.)

One of the biggest triggers of my binge eating is, paradoxically, restriction.  And when I spend a lot of time restricting what I eat, either in the amount of food or the type of food, I tend to make a wild swing the other way and binge, binge, binge.  Sometimes for a day… sometimes for a month.

My second biggest trigger is, kind of pathetically, self-pity.  And sometimes I really spiral out of control when it comes to feeling sorry for myself.  Boo hoo, poor me, life is rough, and all that.

Unfortunately, all of my gastrointestinal issues and the lengthy process toward diagnosis has led to something of a perfect storm with respect to binge eating.

Following a series of rather unpleasant tests (see that poor me thing?  clearly I have a flair for the over-dramatic), I was diagnosed with EXTREME (!) lactose intolerance.  (Literally, the diagnosing doc used capital letters and exclamation points in my chart, Dr. Roy showed me… I’ve always been good at taking tests.  I blew this one out of the water!)  I’ve always known that milk and ice cream were off limits without lots of lactaid, but nothing wrong with a sprinkle of cheese, a pat of butter, a cup of yogurt, right?  Wrong.  In fact, even my allergy medication contained lactose!  What the what?!  (Yeah, I’m definitely the one that taught that age-inappropriate phrase to Emily… sorry!)

So, for an entire 1.5 weeks I was crazy careful about lactose– either none whatsoever or precautionary lactaid anytime there was so much of a chance.  And my stomach was awesome.  AWESOME!  For the first time in MONTHS.  I went for a couple of runs, my stomach felt great, no emergency trips to the bathroom, no awkwardness.

BUT– I felt super sorry for myself.  And I felt like I was being super restrictive.

So.  I came back from Mexico and went completely off the rails.  The result has not been pretty.  Lactose is definitely the culprit.

So, back to the story at hand.

I spent the better part of today binging.  On lactose-containing things, naturally.  Because that’s just how I roll.  My stomach hurt, my confidence in my ability to get past this binge was waning, and I was ready to head home and continue the vicious cycle with more food and more self-pity.  But, on my way out the door, I bumped in to no other than Barbara and we walked to the parking lot together– chit chatting the whole way.

Barbara was so thrilled that I had a diagnosis and that a simple avoidance of lactose was enough to allow me to run again.  She reminded me that running is something I love to do.  And she pointed out the gorgeousness of the season and the perfectness of the temperature for running.  And she was so right.

So.  Right.

So instead of going home and sitting on the couch with a big bowl of lactose-laced anything, I came home, laced up my running shoes, and headed out to pound the pavement for 20 minutes.

It was a brief run, but it was a good start.  The temperature was in the upper 40s and perfect and the skies were a bubbly, cloudy gray.  I ran past bright red leaves and a sweet puppy that wanted to play.  I ran past pumpkins on porches and jammed to Seth’s Road Trip Mix.


Yep, I do love running.

Thank goodness for Barbara and her gentle reminder.  For her kind words and genuine interest in my life.  She gave me exactly what I need today in such a subtle way.  And for that, I am incredibly grateful.


PS: I make jokes… even about serious things.  It’s just what I do.  But binge eating disorder and any other eating disorder is a serious thing and professional help is required.  Don’t worry, I’m getting some.  And if you ever feel like you might need help, you should absolutely reach out.  For realsies.

15 Things Mindy Kaling Should Probably Know About Me

Subtitle: Why We Would Probably Be Besties if We Lived Closer and/or I Were More Famous

When I read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg I was struck repeatedly with how important the words were in a professional sense.  I had more moments than I count of YES—how does she know what’s in my head?!  And yet, I don’t think Sandberg would love me in any kind of personal way.  I’m not really her type.

But Mindy Kaling?  I am definitely her type.

As I read Mindy’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) I felt over and over again a similar YES feeling, but this time, it was about the things that I feel in my gut.   And that was cool.  (No, not the physiological things I feel in my gut.  Sicko.) 

Even though Mindy Kaling is a petite Indian woman (who considers herself “chubby”—what?!) and I am a tall, un-petite, white girl with an extraordinarily square jaw, I think we would get along incredibly well.  And here are 15 reasons why.

1.  Because I get what it’s like to be bullied.  Especially because of your weight.  And especially when you think you’re doing it right. 

Take for example the LHS Homecoming dance my freshman year.  I was dressed to the threes (in retrospect, it only felt like the nines) in a forest green, high collared, shapeless dress and I had painstakingly “straightened” my hair.  (Yeah, my hair doesn’t really do straight…)  I had been nursing a crush on a track star for quite a while and was thrilled when he asked me to dance!

Sadly, the highest highs are often followed by the lowest lows and the phone calls started coming in the next day.  Several fat jokes to mutual friends later, word reached me.  But then he apologized (by note, because notes were all the rage in the late 90s…) and somehow became the hero.  A-hole.

I could go on, but it’s all kind of the same and you get the idea.  You know who else gets the idea?  Mindy.

Mindy related similar stories in her book.  She said, “How I continually found myself in situations where I felt I had to say thank you to mean guys, I’m not sure… bullies have no code of conduct.”

Truer words have never been spoken, future friend.

But more importantly, she also said, “Being called fat is not like being called stupid or unfunny, which is the worst thing you could ever say to me.”

Do you hear that US Customs Agent in Houston?!  By failing to laugh at a single one of my jokes (e.g., “What are you bringing back with you?” “Just a little bit of sun burn!”) you did call me unfunny, and that was not cool.

2.  Because I sweat.  A lot.  So other people that sweat a lot are not gross to me—they are kindred sweat spirits.

Pretty people always terrify me.  Mostly because I’m sure they are going to hate me.  But pretty people who sweat?!  We will get along just fine.  I have bonded with plenty of girls over pit stains or comparing notes on antiperspirants.

Sweat.  The great equalizer.

I know Mindy gets this, and I know she would want to be my friend, because she said, “How can you not make a best friend out of a girl who has seen the sweat-soaked pelvis area of your gym pants, daily, and who still chooses to spend time with you?”  Right, Stephanie?!

3.  Because high school was absolutely not the highlight of my life.  And it just keeps getting better.

Throughout her book, Mindy dispenses very little advice, but she does say this: “Teenage girls, please don’t worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school, or the best athlete.  Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually make you look kind of pitiful.”  Word.

In high school, I was an academic nerd, a band geek, an art weirdo, and the worst girl on the team (yes, every team).  But I was all in… and that’s the important thing to remember.  (Did you catch the New Girl reference?  Kayla?)

I do allow myself one bragging point from high school, though.  I was good at dissecting things.  Jealous?

4. Because when it comes to friendship, I value quality over quantity.

And so does Mindy.

“One friend with whom you have a lot in common is better than three with whom you struggle to find things to talk about.  We never needed best friend gear because I guess with real friends you don’t have to make it official.  It just is.”

Every friend I’ve ever had to try really hard for hasn’t been real.  The friends that just were… they just were.

Mindy is clearly going to be the exception.  This post is taking a considerable amount of work…

Also, Melissa and I totally just got best friend gear, so… perhaps I’m a big old hypocrite, but that’s ok.

5.  Because I can relate Harry Potter to pretty much anything.

Look at this paragraph:

“We clung to each other with blind loyalty, like Lord Voldemort and his snake Nagini.  I, of course, was Nagini. If you messed with one of us, you knew you messed with both of us, and Voldemort was going to cast a murder spell on you, or Nagini was going to chomp on your jugular.  It was such a good, dramatic time.”

Yeah, I get that relationship.  Excellent reference.

How better to make a point than with a Harry Potter reference?!  Did you read my post yesterday?  Harry Potter is where it’s at!

6.  Because I do not believe that being from the east coast legitimizes a-hole-ish-ness.

In my opinion, and please feel free to hate me for saying so, it’s true that people on the east coast are less friendly than those living elsewhere in the country.  (Granted, I’ve never been to Georgia, Alabama, or Arkansas… maybe people there are jerks?  I doubt it.  How can you be a jerk when you drink nothing but sweet tea all day?)  But how seriously obnoxious is it when people use that as an excuse for being a jerk to you?  Right, seriously obnoxious.

Mindy’s description?  “You know those people who legitimize their sarcastic, negative personalities by saying proudly they are ‘lifelong New Yorkers’?  She was one of those.”  This is my new favorite phrase.

7.  Because if I could eat anything I wanted, it would be 100% kid-friendly garbage.

I try really hard (no, really!) to eat as healthy as possible as much of the time as possible.  I enjoy eating things fresh out of the garden (and by “the garden” I mean other people’s gardens) and I like cooking from scratch.  But let’s be honest: if I could eat anything without consequence, it would be crap.  100% reeee-fiiiiined crap.  And it would be delicious.  I hate pretending all the time like, “Ewww Oreos…” and “Fruit Roll-Ups are soooo unnatural….”  Whatevs, give me a bag of Oreos and a box of Fruit Roll-Ups and I’ll have them polished off in 15 minutes.  Seriously.  Mindy agrees: “Kid-friendly food is the best, because kid-friendly simply means ‘total garbage.'”

Delicious, kid-friendly garbage.

8.  Because if I like you, I love you and I will get intimate real quick.  If you do not reciprocate, I will assume you hate me.

When I was younger, I hated it when people called me “Rach.”  Now, I love it!  LOVE IT!  But it can’t be forced, and I would never ask someone to call me that.  But when it organically makes it’s way out of a good friend’s mouth (Abby, Melissa, Ellen, Jess, I’m talking to you here!) it just feels so right!  (Was that the creepiest thing I’ve ever written?   Maybe.)

But seriously, when you’ve got that kind of natural intimacy with a friend right away, it’s going to be awesome.

I was totally comfortable asking Melissa to teach me how to cut up an avocado the first time I ever met her.

I made pancakes in Jess’s kitchen when she wasn’t even there the day after I met her.  And then emailed her to ask her about school supplies… for grad school.  (See?  NERD.)

Like me, Minday says, “I respond very well to people being overly familiar with me a little too soon.  It shows effort and kindness.  I try to do this all the time.  It makes me feel part of a big, familial, Olive Garden-y community.”

This post is overly familiar, Mindy is going to love it.  (Or get a restraining order.  Can you get one of those for the internet?  I hope not… it would be a bummer if I couldn’t follow her on Twitter anymore.)

9.  Because I’m ok with weird, non-mainstream kinds of things so long as they don’t hurt anybody.

Reiki?  Tried it.  Loved it.  Would totally do it again.

Acupuncture?  Tried it.  Hated it.  But I totally get why some people swear by it and that’s cool with me.

Mindy once worked for a tv psychic and I loved what she had to say about him: “If I had to testify under oath, I would admit, no, I don’t believe Mac Teegarden in psychic…  I am certain, though, that Mac Teegarden provided an enormous amount of comfort to people who had unexpectedly lost loved ones.  I don’t know if it was psychic, but it was cathartic, and therapeutic, and it helped people.”

An important point I feel I need to make here is this: I believe in ghosts.  100%.  And Ghost Hunters (NOT the International version– very important distinction here) is one of my favorite shows ever.

10.  Because I LOVE romantic comedies.  LOVE THEM…

Rom-com is definitely my favorite genre of movie.  Oh yes, I have taken a lot of crap for it and I spent some time being seriously ashamed (like after the night I made a big group of girls watch The Holiday and was made fun of mercilessly for it– I get it, Cameron Diaz is a terrible actress, but the Kate Winslet/Jack Black/older guy storyline just slays me and I can’t help it!).  In fact, the only thing that gets me through workouts on the elliptical (because running out of doors causes bathroom incidents, as we’ve discussed) are movies recorded off of Lifetime or the Hallmark channel.

Imagine my joy when I read this from dear Mindy: “I love romantic comedies.  I feel almost sheepish writing that, because the genre has been so degraded in the past twenty years or so that admitting you like these movies is essentially an admission of mild stupidity.  But that has not stopped me from watching them.”

Stupid or not, I love love!  And those movies make me feel happy!

11. … especially British romantic comedies…

Bridget Jones and Love Actually.  End of story.

Ok, not really end of story because Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Jane Eyre are also favorites of mine.  Granted, they are more British romances rather than romantic comedies.  But I have to believe that Mindy probably likes movie adaptations of Jane Austen too.

12. … and in British romantic comedies, Colin Firth is the best.  BEST!

Seriously, Mindy Kaling spent basically an entire paragraph on Colin Firth.  And that was when I knew knew that we would be best friends.

“All women love Colin Firth: Mr. Darcy, Mark Darcy, George VI – at this point he could play the Craigslist Killer and people would be like ‘Oh my God, the Craigslist Killer has the most boyish smile!’  I love Colin Firth in everything… But the role that makes me cry is Mark Darcy, from Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

OMG– I know!  “I like you very much.  Just as you are.”  I DIE at that line!  I just adore it so much!

But, Mindy, ponder this for a moment: the Colin Firth story line in Love Actually.  He learns Portugeuse for bonita Aurelia!  I think Jamie may just edge past Mark Darcy in terms of all time most romantic things ever.  EVER.  We should really get together to discuss.  Perhaps watch both movies back-to-back… just to be sure.

13. Because I hate “because you’re a woman questions” that wouldn’t even be questions if you were a man.

This is actually an important point that I think Sheryl Sandberg, Mindy Kaling, and I can all agree on.  We don’t ask male CEOs how they balance their home and work life, we assume that their wife is at home taking care of the kids along with whatever hired help they’ve got to work alongside them.  When a woman has a husband and hired help at home do the same thing, she is somehow neglectful and has mixed up priorities or whatever other insults get thrown around.

Similarly, Mindy laments being asked about women being funny:

Why didn’t you talk about whether women are funny or not?”  I just felt that by commenting on that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn’t.  It would be the same as addressing the issue of “Should dogs and cats be able to care for our children?  They’re in the house anyway.”  I try not to make it a habit to seriously discuss nonsensical hot-button issues.”

I feel like she should maybe write that in a letter to Sheryl Sandberg so that Sheryl can pull it out of her pocket and read it word-for-word the next time a reporter asks her a dumb question like that.

Women are people, too, after all.  Some people are funny, some people are not.  Some people are good at business, some people are not.  I’m pretty sure in both situations “people” can be either women or men.

14. Because I get what it’s like to be a writer, and my productive-writing-to-screwing-around ratio is very, very low.

I had never really thought about this ratio before, but Mindy describes it well:

“I’ve found my productive-writing-to-screwing-around ratio to be one to seven.  So, for every eight hours day of writing, there is only one good productive hour of work being done.”


I write all day and then come home and write some more at night.  And I’d say that my ratio is probably about that at work.  (I try!  Seriously!  But things never seem to really come together except for in brief manic spurts!)  And blogging, well, some come easy and some, like this one, take DAYS.  Seriously, it’s disturbing how much time I’ve spent on this post.  This creepy, creepy post.  And yet my rapidly rising word count down below suggests that I’ve at least made some progress.

15. Because I hate arbitrary beauty standarsd, but sometimes I adhere to them and I reserve the right to choose which ones and to ferociously defend my right not to observe others.

Once upon a time, I refused to pluck my eyebrows and I was quite vocal about it– if a guy doesn’t like me because of my eyebrows then forget him!

These days, I have literally gone out to purchase new tweezers on a week long vacation because my eyebrows just couldn’t be trusted anymore.

Mindy talks about men waxing their chests and says, “… it just shows so much icky effort to conform to some arbitrary beauty standard.  And the standard in this instance is particularly inane.”

HA!  It’s true… even about my eyebrows.  But I do it anyway.  And men continue to wax their chests anyway.  (And thank goodness they do because seriously, that made for true comedic gold in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.)

So, I guess this post is actually kind of a book review.


I didn’t actually intend to write a book review, but as I approach the end, it seems that that’s exactly what I’ve done.  Mindy Kaling is F-U-N-N-Y funny.  And interesting.  And I feel like we have kind of similar writing styles, so obviously I found that charming.  And if you’ve been reading along with me here for a while, you might just find her charming too.

There are lots of comparisons out there to Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, which is also an excellent read, but they are both autobiographical and this may come as a surprise to you, but Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling are not, in fact, the same person, so naturally, the stories they tell are 100% different and 100% excellent.  I would highly recommend them both.

AND, since your DVR has an open slot now that 30 Rock is over, you may want to consider filling it up with The Mindy Project.

So, in conclusion, I think Mindy Kaling and I could be good friends.  Fingers crossed she reads this and we can plan a romantic-comedy-watching-junk-food-eating sleepover sometime soon.  (Or that she just doesn’t file for that restraining order… I’m good either way.)


Rachel Vonck and the Order of the Faux-nix

First off, to my sister’s friend Jackie– big apologies for keeping you waiting, my dear!  Lots of traveling and catching up to do when I got back.  No more delays, I promise!  I want to make sure you have something to do over your lunch break!  (Also, huge thanks for reading!!)


Now, down to business…


Harry Potter became kind of a big deal when I was in high school, but I didn’t really get into it until the summer after my first year of college.  While this meant I was definitely late to the party, it also meant that I could get all the books from the library without waiting AND that I got to read the first four books in rapid succession.

(I believe that I have mentioned before how when I get into something, I get really into it.  That summer, the Ypsilanti Public Library must have thought I was completely bananas– I checked out all four Harry Potter books, several books on the Manson Family, including Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter, and lastly, Cameron Manheim’s Wake Up, I’m Fat!, because I was just started to realize that just maybe it was ok to not be super thin.  Seriously weird list, right?  Maybe that was how I ended up on some sort of TSA-extra-security list for a few years???)

Anyway, Harry Potter…

So I read the first four books (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire) in a matter of a few weeks and then had to WAIT… and wait and wait and wait and wait for the Order of the Phoenix to come out the following summer.

I was not a Harry Potter fan accustomed to waiting.

Fortunately, I went to Michigan Tech around the time that digital pirating was kind of a big deal (Napster was the shizzz my freshman year)… and there’s nothing Techies love more than pirating, hacking, and the like.  Maybe digital pirating is still a big deal?  I really don’t know.

So my sophomore year of college I was an RA in the dorms and so was my boyfriend, now husband, Seth.  Seth’s hall was FULL of guys who were super good at getting things in advance (I saw one of the Lord of the Rings movies way before it was ever out in the theater on a teeny tiny little computer screen in a cramped dorm room with crappy sound… jealous?) and one of those guys got an early copy of the FIFTH HARRY POTTER BOOK– Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  SCORE!

Eight-hundred pages of delicious, advanced, Harry Potter-ness.  One of the guys even went to his computer lab in the middle of the night to print every single page and then to Office Max to have it bound for his girlfriend.  Seth just gave me a floppy disk.  Apparently, we weren’t that serious yet 😉

That summer, I worked at the front desk in Wadsworth Hall so that I could stay in the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, God’s country, if you will…) while Seth was on co-op in Wisconsin (the 4.5 hour drive was a lot better than the 10ish hours it would have been if I’d gone back home) and I read every word of that wonderful book.  Working at the front desk of a dorm in the summer time is an exceptionally boring job… there’s not a lot of work to be done.  And I was good at being a body behind the desk.  Especially since it gave me so much time to read.

I would bring my little, red floppy disk with me every shift and pop it into the big, old desktop at the front desk.  Elbows on the table, face inches from the monitor, I pored over that book.  And loved it.

In addition, I felt pretty darn smug over reading that early release.  It even had a few typos because the editors hadn’t gotten to it yet!  How lucky was I?!

Fast forward a couple years to 2005.  It was May and I had just graduated from Michigan Tech.  Seth and my mom, dad, sister, brother, Grandma Rita, and Grandpa John all made the trip up to Houghton for my graduation and we were headed back downstate with all of my belongings in tow.  It was a beautiful day and we stopped on the Mackinac City side of the Mackinac Bridge for a picnic lunch on the way.  In eager anticipation of the release of the next Harry Potter book (the Half-Blood Prince) later that summer, my mom, brother, and I set about discussing the Order of the Phoenix.

I was a little puzzled about this Delores Umbridge character they kept mentioning.  Perhaps she was added after some editing?  Was she a minor character I had missed?  Had I forgotten that much of the book?  So I brought up my favorite part– the Ron and Hermione romance.  Oh, maybe that was edited out before the release?  Dang, I really liked that part.  But definitely it got a little Star Wars-y when it turned out the Voldemort was actually Harry’s grandfather, right?!  RIGHT?!



Fake book.

I was… shocked.  I had read 800 pages of fan fiction.

But truth be told, I wasn’t mad.  Not even a little bit.

In fact, I was elated!  Not only did I have the distinct pleasure of reading an extra Harry Potter book, but I also had the opportunity to once again plow through TWO Harry Potter books back-to-back that summer as I caught up on the real Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix followed by the newly released Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I found the series conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to be a highly satisfying end.  I could have done without The Tales of Beedle the Bard.  But that fake book number five?  Icing on my Harry Potter cake, to be sure.

Order of the Faux-Nix
Book Image Source



PS: Vonck was my maiden name.  I almost made the title Rachel Stankowski and the Order of the Faux-nix, but that would have been inaccurate since my name wasn’t Stankowski at the time.  I’m all about truth in… advertising?  Titling?  Whatever.  Vonck it was, anyway.

People over Things– 6 years worth of wisdom

As you, observant reader, may have gathered over the course of this week, my husband and I were in Mexico.  With amazing friends.  And it was a dream-come-true kind of vacation.

However, with a family wedding to attend in Jacksonville, Florida, this weekend, we were forced to leave Cabo just a bit early and we said our goodbyes this morning.  We were having such a good time and we live so far away from our friends in real life (they live in SoCal, we in NoCenWis… that’s north central Wisconsin for those of you not in “the know”), so saying goodbye is always really hard.  Especially saying goodbye to those kiddos!  They give great hugs, but those little cartoon character eyes and the pleas to not go will really break your heart.

This week, Christian, who is 6, found that my husband has some really awesome games on his iPad (something about monkeys and balloons (?) was a big hit, apparently) so I jokingly asked Christian as he was saying goodbye what he was going to miss more—Seth (that’s my husband, big name reveal!  Saying “my husband” is becoming somewhat tedious…) or his iPad.

To which Christian responded, “Seth!  Because in our family, we value people more than things!”

Christian people vs. things

It was such a heartfelt and obviously true sentiment.  From a techno-philic, Apple (like the brand not the fruit)-loving, 6-year-old.  Dang.  Color me impressed.

Wise words from little Christian…

Happy Friday!  Enjoy some people this weekend!  (And some things too… because why not?  Just remember what Christian said and try to put the people first!)