Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Every Thanksgiving, my Aunt Susan writes a letter about the things she’s grateful for and sends it far and wide to family and friends.  It’s amazing every year, but this year it was really something special, and I think it captures both the tragedy and the beauty of a really important moment in the entire history of this family to which I am lucky enough to belong. Such an important moment that I asked if I could share it with all of you, and she agreed.

Thanksgiving 2013

Here’s the setup to my widest, highest, deepest gratitude this year: Dad falls into the Venice canal, nearly drowns, lands helplessly in a hospital where he and my mom cannot understand the language or culture. Despite the dire, frightening adventure the ensued, a crazy up and down, live maybe-die maybe, topsy-turvy mess of decision making, as easy to navigate as the streets and squares of Venice, itself, I find myself at Thanksgiving swimming in a pool of residual nightmare, grace, and gratitude. Gratitude?!? Yes, absolutely, gratitude!

In this morass of emotion, I know I am so fortunate to be working for Howard who didn’t question my assertion that I needed to hop on a plane and be gone for an ambiguous amount of time. And fortunate to be married to and loved by Ed who didn’t question any of my insane requests, like paying my parents’ bills from his own accounts, or my more reasonable needs for him to speak softly and calmly to me across the distance any time of day or night when I panicked about my own limitations. I’m fortunate to have family and friends who understand the power of a random, personal message of encouragement sent just to me in the midst of the crazy story. And fortunate that my mom is wise, capable, open, loving, and determined.

But listen, the truth is I am most fortunate that I got the opportunity to witness something profound.

I have always known that my mom and dad’s love for one another is fierce and just between them, all their own, impenetrable by us kids, unfathomable enough, really, that I gave up thinking about it in the pursuit of my own grown up life, no doubt as it should be… but in this Venice thing, I was given a ringside seat to examine it all. It’s a rare thing to be given the opportunity to stop the manic spin of life to contemplate the very essence of that which makes it worth living. So rare, in fact, that most of use never get the chance – and so I wish to share this picture with you. 

Imagine a scene of a stark white room, gleaming floors, and tubes and machines hooked up to my dad who the doctors say do not have the odds on his side. It’s my mother’s job to bring him home alive or in a box. These are the only two actors in the story, because all the rest of the players are living different lives which will not be so much altered by the outcome. Sure there’s help, and people who wish for the best outcome, but the job really belongs to Mom and Dad. Luckily, these two have one powerful thing that tipped the balance: Love.

What love looked like from my ringside seat, was a zillion small and unrelated things – love is showing up – is insisting to the doctors who cannot understand you that you will be standing by that bedside longer than the hour they wish to grant you. Love is knowing that even if you don’t feel like it, it’s important to look nice, to put on the lipstick and dress with care and add the touch of jewelry, “because John notices things like that and it matter to him.” Love is being prepared to let him go, if that’s his path, but to stand and hold his hand and will him to stay bound to the earth even if he doesn’t feel like it. Love is doing these things even when he doesn’t appear to know that you are there. Love is weighing out if it’s more important to show up with a fever and hide a ferocious cough, or to stay in the hotel and hope like hell you’ll get better soon – and then deciding your presence is the most important thing and that his need is greater than yours; that being there is more consequential than any germs you are bringing with you. Love is acting well beyond your comfort zone on his behalf and insisting, even when you’d like to curl up in a ball and wait for sanity to return to the planet you inhabit. It’s as simple as gelato and as complex as the emotional landscape of a 47 year marriage.

I stood with my parents for hours watching them communicate with their eyes. Even when they finally could use words, the real flow was eye to eye, heart to heart, tear to tear, touch to touch. They know each other. They trust each other. They understand that when one needs, the other will deliver. They know what it is to love and to be loved.

So on this Thanksgiving, for me, it’s quite simply this: I am filled with gratitude for the gift of witnessing my mother pull my dad back from the razor thin edge between life and death with love. The gift of the invitation to think of all the complicated and simple ways that love exists in the world I live in and just how much that matters.

Take a moment. Look around your Thanksgiving table and pay attention to the familiar visible and invisible proof that you are loved. That you belong. That every single action you take matters to someone. Give and accept love like life depends on it. And know that I send you an abundance of mine.

With an overfull heart,


I cry every single time I re-read these words.  I cannot even describe the way my heart felt this spring– when I heard the news that my grandpa had fallen into a canal, that he was in an Italian hospital, that he was in the ICU in an Italian hospital, that my grandma was alone in Italy while my grandpa lay unconscious in the ICU in an Italian hospital, unable to even breath on his own.  My heart was simply broken.  And my family was in crisis.  But my Aunt Susan, my amazing Aunt Susan, got on a plane, went to Italy, and was there.  She was support, she was a lifeline, she was a witness to something really amazing.

Her message serves to remind me of where I come from– I come from love, a big family bursting at the seams with love, founded on love, and constantly giving of love.  My grandfather’s ordeal is proof positive that love is truly the most powerful thing on this earth– more powerful than disease, more powerful than distance, more powerful than accident or injury.  Love never fails.

And for that, for this family, for this boundless, unending, powerful and beautiful love, I am eternally grateful.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving filled with love.

And maybe a slice or two of pie and some leftover turkey for sandwiches on Friday… because it is Thanksgiving, after all.

Sugar Cubes: Horses, Mindy Lahiri, and Me

Remember when I ranted and raved about how awesome Mindy Kaling is and I told you to add The Mindy Project to your DVR?  Did you listen?  Are you watching it???  I hope so! Because if not, you’ve missed some seriously funny stuff.

And right now, I’d like… no… LOVE… to talk about this funny little scene right here:


In this scene, Mindy is hanging out at Danny’s and it’s all very cute, but what I really need to bring your attention to is this:


(See the little box, just next to Mindy’s left hip… that’s the sugar cubes!  I’d recognize that box anywhere!)

This scene!

This beautiful, validating scene!!

Seriously, who is watching me at my house?!  And how did this get on national television?! And why do I feel so insanely validated right now?!

We’ve discussed binge eating disorder before and it’s very serious and painful and shameful and all of that, of course… but sometimes, when I’m not sitting down in the bottom of that deep dark hole, it’s actually really flipping funny.  Because some of the stuff I have eaten when desperate for a binge (yes… this is why food issues parallel the language of addiction…) have been absolutely insane.  And I’m not going to lie to you right now, sugar cubes have been it for me before.

But last week, there it was on tv– a gorgeous actress, playing an awesome and lovable doctor on tv, eating sugar cubes straight out of the box.  I loved Mindy Kaling before, but this– a whole new level of devotion!

And now that I think about it, these brilliantly funny actresses who are really into food– love them all!  Tiny Fey as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock says one time that she’s headed home for a nooner… which is what she calls having pancakes for lunch.  Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec is a waffle fiend (oh snap, love me some waffles) and when Rebel Wilson as Kimmi in Super Fun Night sees that her man friend has ordered her fries to go along with the champagne, her reaction is priceless!  These are the women I can get behind and cheer for, because sometimes food is way more than just food– it can be a nooner, a top three life priority, a mood setter, or even just a little something crispy and sweet to take the edge off a long day.  I’m not advocating food abuse, of course, but I do like when it gets represented on tv in a normal way, which is kind of funny, kind of weird, and definitely multi-dimensional in this crazy thin-obsessed culture of ours where to admit you’d rather have the burger than the salad is not the cool thing to do.

I have sugar cubes in my house because they are necessary for real old fashions (i.e. made with bitters and cherries rather than a mix) and my husband is a big old fashion fan. I’ve always thought that they’d be really useful if a stray horse every showed up in our back yard and I needed to lure it to the deck to secure it (it could happen– there’s a lot of Amish around here).  Horses do love sugar cubes, right?  Why do I feel so sure about this?  I don’t know… but it turns out horses and I aren’t the only ones who need a sugar cube every now and again.  So does Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, and suddenly my secret shame doesn’t feel quite so shameful anymore.

That's a horse and buggy right across the street from my house-- never know when you might need a sugar cube!
That’s a horse and buggy right across the street from my house– never know when you might need a sugar cube!

Quiet: A Long-Winded Book Review From a Girl Who Can’t Stop Talking (On the Internet)

On my way out of the office this afternoon I walked out the door just as a coworker from another department walked past.  We said hello, she asked me a question, and I panicked.  Panicked!  Because it’s a long walk to the parking lot and the thought of small talk all the way after a day full of interpersonal interaction was just too much.  Much too much.  So I did what any slightly neurotic yet professional adult person would do… I ducked into the bathroom.  I didn’t go, but I stood in there for a couple minutes, putting my hat and mittens on, and then left.  I walked all the way to may car in sweet, sweet solitude.  That was close!

So what exactly is my deal?  I think I might know…

For a nerdy girl like me, school (of the elementary, middle, and high school variety and beyond) was tough for many reasons, but none were quite as painful to me as group work.  It was always my least favorite thing– I hated having to depend on others, to not be in control, and most of all, interacting.  Do you know how hard it is for someone like me to constantly try to say words to other people without being awkward?  It’s hard!  Real hard.

Turns out, it’s not actually all that uncommon to feel that way.  A revelation!  And that one piece of information made reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” completely worth my while… but there was so much more!


I have to admit, I wasn’t in love with the writing style– too many direct quotations for my taste, but the information was good.  Really good.  And the way it was organized made a ton of sense.  (Ok, now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the problem wasn’t really the use of text from other sources, but rather the length of the passages that were quoted and the quoted text within the quotation and such… sometimes it was hard for me to follow.  Perhaps an issue with reading it on the Kindle?  Either way, it was a relatively minor thing.)

Cain begins by explaining how extroversion became the ideal in the US, describes the biology behind the personality type, and then discusses how to deal with introversion in the real world, in a culture where it’s not necessarily valued.

As a science-minded individual, I really loved the explanation of the biology.  Cain discusses really interesting research on “high reactive” individuals and explains that introversion can be predicted even in infancy by observing reactions to external stimuli. Introverts tend to react more strongly and than extroverts… translate that to adulthood and new people, new places, new situations leave an introvert in need of some major recharge time.

And it turns out:


I hate small talk– I’m terrible at it.  But becoming overly familiar and engaged in deep conversation from the get go?  That’s something I’m good at.  Apparently, that’s an introvert thing.  I enjoy social things once I’m there and fully engaged, but dang do I ever freak out in advance… and I really need to take time to wind down after the fact.  Apparently, that’s an introvert thing too.  And it’s all ok.

The only part of the book I really didn’t like was the amount of detail related to parenting and teaching introverted children.  It’s possible that it annoyed me only because I’m well past the point of it being helpful for my own life (watch me end up with devastatingly shy children now that I said that– karma), but I almost felt like it could have been a completely separate book– “Nerds: How to Parent or Teach a Child that Seems Really Weird.”  Just think on it, Ms. Cain.  We can discuss if you’d like.

One of the things I found particularly interesting was the discussion of pseudo-extroversion and the ability of introverts to build community over the internet.  No wonder I’m in love with Facebook (sorry, I know it’s not cool to admit that, but what a great way to keep up without direct interaction– dream come true!) and I’ve been surprisingly open to spilling my guts here…  It turns out, a lot of introverted people interact better when they can do it virtually.

Finally, if you read the book carefully, you’ll note Cain’s subtle promotion of Under the Tapestry… on page 263 (emphasis mine):

“We all write our life stories as if we were novelists, McAdams believes, with beginnings, conflicts, turning points, and endings.  And the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives. Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined an otherwise good thing (‘I was never the same again after my wife left me’), while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise (‘The divorce was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but I’m so much happier with my new wife’).”

So, Susan, friend, you say that introverts tend to be pretty good at the blessings in disguise thing?  Finding the silver lining?  Remembering that we can only see the underside of the tapestry from our vantage point?  I’d say that’s an advantage to being an introvert– an introvantage, if you will.  Cool.

Anyway, if you’re an introvert, you’re going to love this book– because it is thoroughly validating and if you’re like me, you love it when people grab you by the shoulders, look you directly in the eye, and scream “YOU ARE NORMAL (at least in this respect)”… of course, I prefer all of that in a metaphorical way because too much touching makes me cringe, direct eye contact is uncomfortable for me, and when people scream at me it hurts my feelings even if the words being screamed are positive.  (Ugh, introverts, right?)  Even if you’re not an introvert, reading this book may give you a little more insight into people who seem obnoxiously shy, or even stuck-up, aloof, or distant… perhaps they’re just introverted.  (Or stuck-up.  You never can tell.)

Embracing your STEMininity.

I went to grad school with a brilliant woman named Christina.  (Seriously, brilliant!)  She got her PhD a couple years before I did and then moved on to bigger and better things in the form of a post-doc.  I was especially curious about her experience as a post-doc because she is, to my knowledge, the only grad student to have survived a PhD experience in Dr. Money Machine‘s lab, making her an incredibly trustworthy source regarding all things painful.  Well, not only did she survive her post-doc, she freaking flourished and is now making her way through the ranks as Harvard faculty.


Holy.  Crap.

Like I said, Christina is amazing and absolutely, 100% inspirational.  She will undoubtedly do very big things in this world– big and important things.  And yet for some reason, she likes to read my blog…

Brilliant.  Harvard.  Reads my blog.  Cheese and rice!

Christina is the one who suggested I share this (the below, not above…) with you today on my blog, and how could I possibly deny such a simple request from someone I admire so very, very much?!  The answer: I could not!

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen several posts on Facebook related to Goldieblox— engineering toys specifically designed for girls where the tagline is “more than just a princess.”  They recently put together an absolutely genius advertisement where they show three little girls using Goldieblox to design a seriously intense Rube Goldberg machine.  (Kelly– do you remember our Rube Goldberg machine for math class in like sixth grade?!)  It’s too cool– watch it here.

(Oh, and it’s a music video.  Beastie Boys.  Got to watch it!  Click here.)

Honestly, the whole idea of Goldieblox is genius.  I’m not sure if people really realize how important early STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) experiences can be for little girls, but I am here to tell you that the impact is HUGE!!

When I was in middle school (I think middle school– definitely before high school, anyway), I got to go to a little conference called Girls + Math + Science = Choices.  I’m pretty sure it was one of the best days of my life even though all I remember from it was isolating DNA from salmon sperm.  I could lit-er-al-ly (like Chris from P&R) SEE the DNA in the tube… and I was AMAZED.  AMAZED I tell you!!!  I kept that stupid little tube in my bedroom retreat (the half of the bedroom I could call my own, anyway) for years and years and years.  Honestly, I don’t think I got rid of it until I packed up and left for college.  It was that awesome to me.

Also in middle school, 8th grade I believe, I went to MST at MSU– Math, Science, and Technology at Michigan State University.  A summer camp for nerds.  And again… LOVED IT.  (Incidentally, this is when I discovered that I am a nerd even amongst nerds.  Little bit upsetting, but I’m over it now.)  I decided on chemistry as my major someday right then and there.  We shattered things frozen with liquid nitrogen, made huge fountains of foam explode from bottles, grew huge logs of charred blackness by adding sulfuric acid to sugar, made stringy gooey polymers, and shriveled marshmallow snowmen in vacuums.  I loved every second of it!

I loved other things too, of course, and I legitimately came thisclose to majoring in political science (thank goodness I didn’t make that life choice!), but those early organized STEM experiences made a huge impression on me.  Especially given constant encouragement to think, think, think and experiment from my parents.  (I spent more family dinners contemplating whether a flame is matter or energy than most people probably do in their entire lifetime…)

Sure, little girls should be allowed to play with dollies and pink things– that’s totally fun (I loved me some Cabbage Patch and Popples when I was little), but when toys become branded and targeted specifically for one gender or another, we perpetuate unfortunate gender stereotypes.  Girls given pink dolls and boys denied them are told that women should be caretakers and men should not.  Boys given erector sets and girls denied them are told that men should be builders and engineers and women should not.  It seems to me that even if we don’t really believe those things to be true, our society is set up in such a way that its pretty difficult to show your children otherwise.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a woman that doesn’t want to go into a STEM field, just like there isn’t anything wrong with a man who does.  But I am of the opinion that all children are essentially made of perfectly dried kindling, ready to ignite when touched by the right spark… and it’s important that we don’t deny that spark, whether it comes in the form of DNA isolated from salmon sperm or the (only slightly) less creepy Goldieblox engineering toy.

(Am I trying to say I’m like Katniss– girl on fire?  No, of course not.  (Actually, yes, definitely yes.))

Anyway, Intuit is hosting a competition called Small Business Big Game where you can vote for one of four small businesses to run a commercial during the super bowl.  Obviously, I watched all four videos (two had clever names and one had a dog in a lab coat, couldn’t resist) and they were all pretty good, but when better than to remind people that women can do it too and that girls should be encouraged than during the Superbowl?  The ultimate “man” time.  So maybe you could click to vote for Goldieblox— vote for change for your girls!  And their brothers!

Still don’t think we need a change?  My husband just sent me this from Walmart:

Girl Aisle
Sigh. (But dang, what a good husband to humor me like this!)

Yeah.  Vote for Goldieblox.  Engineers are kind of cool… and some of the best ones I know are women.  Good enough to earn free cupcakes even.  That’s really good.

The Most Loved Little Girl in All the World

Being an adult is really interesting because it makes you see your own childhood in a whole different way.  It really makes you think.

And when I say you and your, I suppose what I mean is actually me and my… I can’t expect you to feel the same way, after all.  (Validate meeeeee….)

Until relatively recently, I’ve had very little occasion to actually interact with little kids.  But I’ve had more and more chances lately, especially now that my sister and many of my friends have little ones of their own.  (My baby sister has a baby!  It’s insane, you guys!  Insane!!!)

Being around all these kids, like I said, has been interesting.  Especially because I feel like it’s made me a lot less selfish.  Because I adore these kids!  Adore them!!!  All of them!

Emily and Christian… seriously.  Dreams come true.  Emily is a mini-me, as we’ve discussed before.  And Christian is a comedic genius– A B C D E F… PANTS!

My friend Aimie (that awesome Aimie I told you about the other day) has two little ones as well and the way her son talks and the way her daughter smiles– it just kills me!  Love them!

And of course, I have to mention my sweet little niece– she’s going to be TWO already in a couple of weeks!  What?!  She’s got this crazy little independent spirit and I just love that baby girl!

And then there’s the little sweetheart who got me a ticket on this thought train at her first birthday party last weekend.  Little Lotti (sorry Krystal, names changed to protect the confidentiality of minors) turned one this weekend.

Look at this picture for a moment: All the Cameras

Do you see all those cameras?!  Yep, that’s 6 separate camera screens pointed at that sweet little girl all at once… not to mention mine, which took the picture, and the several other people behind and to the side of me.  As I scrolled through the pictures after the fact trying to find one without a hundred other cameras in it I thought, wow.  Just wow.  There are a lot of people who love this little girl.

And then I thought about her future husband, who was sitting on my lap (another baby I just adore!), and I almost got weepy thinking about the two of them walking down the aisle and dang.  Just dang.

I have a lot of freakishly distinct memories about my early childhood stored up in my big fat brain, and yet, I can only recall feeling loved from the perspective of a small child… and that just doesn’t do it justice.  If I was loved even half as much as these kids are loved by me and all the other adults in their life, then dang.  Just dang.  That’s a lot of love!

So on Saturday, without a doubt, little Lotti was the most loved little girl in all the world.  But I think it’s pretty safe to say that at some point, we all were.  That’s pretty nice, right?

Late to the party, but I’m dancing in Downton now! (with lots of platelets!)

Before getting into the real deal, I’d like to share with you a very embarrassing thing I did today.  Because it’s funny.

I had a 6 month follow-up appointment with my hematologist this morning.  She is following me for ITP– idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura.  Basically, my platelets are low and the ones I do have are enormous because they are immature.  It’s generally not an issue, except for a little bit of extra bruising and a tendency for nosebleeds, but it can be serious so it requires some monitoring just to make sure the platelets aren’t dropping too low.  (For your reference, > 150K is normal and I hover around 90K… not really dangerous until you get to 50K or below.)

This morning, I had to have a blood draw for a platelet count and an abdominal ultrasound to check and make sure my spleen hadn’t turned into a platelet-hungry beast spleen.  When the results were in, it was time to see Dr. Gayle.

After the requisite waiting period (but really, it’s ok– I could hear her laughing with an older couple in the room next door, and chances are good one of them has something much more serious than me… she’s such a good doctor!) Dr. Gayle came into the room and looked at me askew over the papers in her hand saying, “What have you done differently?!”

Naturally, my mind (and hands) went straight to my hair and I said I got a haircut and launched into a big long explanation about how it was so necessary and I just couldn’t deal with the frustration of my long hair anymore and blah blah blah…

Except, Dr. Gayle meant what had I done differently that might have affected my platelet counts…


…because they were normal.


Unfortunately, the heat had already risen up my neck to my face and my armpits had dumped their nervous reserve sweat (it’s always there, you know, just waiting to drop when you get nervous!) and I was pretty much embarrassed beyond usefulness.  No idea what I actually did differently… but it was unlikely to be related to the haircut.  My platelets are still gigantic so the ITP is not gone.  I guess I’ll try to make a good impression again in another 6 months.  (Such a nerd!)CBC


And now, let’s head downtown to Downton…

So, this is kind of embarrassing for me to admit, but I just (like this week) started watching Downton Abbey.  So far, I have watched the first two episodes of season one… and I’m in L-O-V-E LOVE!

To be perfectly fair, my friend Ellen tried to turn me onto it a few months ago, so there had been intervention on my behalf.  (Ellen! You were so right!) And I was vaguely aware of the British countryside premise, so being the Brit-o-phile that I am, you’d think I would have gotten on board.  (Is Brit-o-phile a thing?  Probably not… I mean it like Francophile, lover of all things French… except that I am a lover of all things British– especially Colin Firth.)

Anyway, Seth hooked his old xbox (not his old old one, just his old one… and he’ll get a new new one sometime in the near future, so I may be looking at an upgrade… not that I’d notice one way or another, I’m just glad he showed me which buttons to push) up to the tv in our sweet workout area* of the basement and then discovered the beauty that is streaming from Amazon Prime.  HOW HAVE WE HAD AMAZON PRIME FOR SO LONG AND NOT DISCOVERED THIS EARLIER?!?!  I just don’t even know… it’s amazing.

And most importantly, Amazon Prime has streaming for Downton– YES!!!

So, of course, you can expect many, many, many more Downton (yeah, totally thought it was DowntoWn until like 5 minutes ago…) references in the near future, but I’d like to start with what Lord Grantham said to Matthew Crawley (don’t spoil his demise for me anymore that it already has been– I should have been more careful with the Internets!!) regarding Matthew’s reluctance to have a valet (with a hard t of course…):

“We all have different parts to play, Matthew, and we must all be allowed to play them.”

Word, Lord Grantham.  Word.

In so many instances, I hear this debate about what we should all aspire to be– nowhere more loudly than in modern feminism discussions as we scream back and forth at each other about whether it’s more “important” to be a strong working role model or an ever-present mom or whatever.  But I think Lord Grantham knows what’s up: play your own dang part.  And allow others to play theirs.

Matthew’s valet desires to be a good valet, and to serve the master of his house in the ways that a valet should.  He takes his role seriously and warms to Matthew instantly once he lets him play that role.

Whether we agree or disagree with someone else’s choices, the way they’ve decided to fill this role we call life is really irrelevant, because ultimately, you only get one part and it’s up to you to play it well.  Not to worry about how other’s are playing theirs.

That’s between them and the director 😉


*So, yeah, I’ve got a home gym.  No big deal.  I just do some hills on the elliptical, rock some pilates on my squishy mats, and do a little bit of free weights because my dad says weights are the cure for anything.  Got a headache?  Lift some weight– it works, for realsies.

Ripples, Spirals, and, of course, STDs

As an undergraduate, I worked as a coach in the Michigan Tech Writing Center.  It was pretty much the greatest place on earth I could possibly have worked and I’m relatively certain that I learned as much from working there as I did from every other class I took and experience I had during those four years combined.  It was a truly incredible experience, thanks in large part to the most amazing boss and leader I could every have imagined– Sylvia Matthews.  She is a quietly brilliant and beautiful woman, inside and out.  Her inability to be anything but genuine and sincere was, quite frankly, breathtaking, and I enjoyed every single moment I spent working for her.

My senior year, Sylvia took a couple of us coaches to the Midwestern Writing Center Conference in St. Cloud, MinnesOta, where the theme had something to do with water.  I can’t remember exactly what it was, but we put together a poster-style presentation where we discussed what we termed “The Ripple Effect” and shared some of the resources we had developed for working with international students in our center.

The ripple effect was essentially what it sounds like– like you drop a pebble in a pool of water and watch the waves spread out from that central point, making a change, even in yourself, will spread out from you in every direction and change the minds, hearts, and lives of those around you.  It was such a beautiful and simple idea and we really made it our mission in the Writing Center that year– to continually effect and be affected by change in others.

When I went to grad school, I moved away from writing and focused instead on infectious disease for 6 years, and interestingly, microogranisms seem to promote change in the same sort of way– primarily horizontally.  True, there are some infections that can be transmitted vertically (especially STDs!– gonorrhea? check… chlamydia? check… herpes? check… HIV? check… need I continue?), or from parent to offspring, but the most effectively spread pathogens spread horizontally from person-to-person-to-person… think the common cold, influenza, or norovirus on a cruise ship.  (Or even the primary spread of STDs– its horizontal, no matter how you look at it.  Ha!!)

And I heard the same sort of idea again when I heard Sister Miriam Therese Winter speak at the CTA conference a couple weeks ago.  She talked about ideas moving most effectively through the world in a spiraling pattern… not so much from the top down or the bottom up, but from person to person to person from the center out in a spiral pattern.

Recurring life theme?  I think so.

Sr. Miriam’s point was so beautiful.  She talked about how the divine, the Holy Spirit, the good, whatever you want to call it, is inside everything and everything is simultaneously inside the divine.  Those good things inside you can spiral outward to others, and the good things you are part of can simultaneously spiral back in to you.  Lovely, right?

It’s especially lovely when I think about how this has happened in so many ways throughout my own life.

Let’s start with the Writing Center, shall we?

I met my friend Ming in the Writing Center.  He was a brilliant mechanical engineer working toward his PhD… yet we spent most of our time talking about vegetables.  Vegetables!  Because he knew all the English words for building materials and other fancy technical terms, but he couldn’t match the produce he was seeing in the grocery store to the names on the signs above and therefore, couldn’t tell how much something cost… which was troublesome for a grad student on a budget.  So I brought in pictures of vegetables and we talked about their names, among other things.  It was so much fun!  He told people I saved him from starving to death (ha…), but he taught me a whole lot more than that.  Ming became my friend and accented English stopped bothering me in the slightest.  In addition, I dropped my prejudice against Asian accents, which was important for me… I had a preconceived notion that Asian accents were harder to understand than European accents.  How wrong I was! (Finnish was definitely the toughest for me, by far.)  And that, for me anyway, is true to this day.  Ming and I were both changed.  And I never miss the opportunity to work on understanding a new and exciting accent, foreign or otherwise.  (I live in Wiscahnsin now, dontchaknow!)

Likewise, things changed me and I like to think that I changed things in grad school.  No, I didn’t spread STDs (to any humans, anyway), but I did try to spread my thoughts about the importance of studying STDs for the sake of women’s health.  I remember sitting on the end of a dock on Clear Lake in Tomahawk one summer day with my aunt-in-law whom I barely knew at the time– we were chatting and catching some rays when she asked me about my work.  I talked (at length, of course) about gonococcal and chlamydial coinfection and my model and what it meant and blah, blah, blah and infertility blah… when she stopped me and said, “But if someone had gonorrhea and chlamydia maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to have kids– what kind of mother would they be?”  Or something along those lines… I explained that it doesn’t seem quite right for a responsible woman ready to start a family to have to continue suffering from an unfortunate mistake made at the age of 16.  Everyone makes mistakes, after all.  She liked my point, and I felt really good about making it.

And most recently, Sr. Miriam reminded me to keep it up– to keep dropping pebbles in the pond, to infect infect infect, and to send my love spiraling outward at every opportunity.

Seth helps me make waves these days!
Seth helps me make waves these days!

(Don’t worry– I left the STDs behind in Maryland…)

How to Start a Book Club in 10 Easy Steps

My husband (well, at the time boyfriend and eventually fiance) used to travel a lot for work while I was in grad school.  Sometimes I was super lucky and gto to go with him so that I could hang out with his boss’s wife, and my bff, Melissa (Boston! Miami! Seattle!  We’ve had pedicures all over this great country of ours!), but most of the time, I had mice and I had to stay home to tend to them.

Doing a mouse experiment is seriously exhausting.  They are tedious, they are long, and they are non-stop until the bitter end.  (Bitter for the mice, not so much for me…)  So, to unwind, I binged on movies.  And my drug of choice?  Romantic comedies, of course!

During one of those Seth-less rom-com marathons, I watched The Jane Austen Book Club… and my life was changed forever.  I absolutely loved the movie, but more than that, it sparked in me a brilliant idea.  You’ll never guess what it was!

I kid, of course, because it’s ridiculously obvious:

I was going to start my own book club!

While I love, adore, worship, and consume anything and everything Jane Austen wrote with a very happy heart, I realize that Pride and Prejudice isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea.  So I decided we’d read something else… and anything else!  I quickly sent out an email to some of my local girlfriends that I thought might be interested, asking them to join my book club.  And some of them did!

We met once a month-ish, took turns picking books, and read and chatted and ate and drank until I left the state.

I hear things may have continued even without me, but you can imagine that it’s hard for me to believe that a solar system could function without its sun…

(Seriously hoping The Big Bang Theory picks that line up for Sheldon to use… what a jerky, but hilarious, thing to say! ha!)

Anyway, that book club was such a saving grace for me.  Getting together with my friends, bonding over our shared experiences with the books we were reading as well as life in general and grad school in particular was awesome.  Jess, Stephanie, Ellen, Christine, and Alyssa were my lifelines and it was such a good way to de-stress and have fun in the midst of all of the things that were so stressful and un-fun (see description of mouse experiments above).

Since moving to Marshfield, I have really missed that book club.  I love having a group of good girlfriends and while I work (and play!) with a bunch of really amazing women (seriously, they are incredible— everyone deserves to have coworkers like this), I was really missing that piece of the puzzle that book club had become for me while I lived in Maryland.

So, in the midst of much hemming and hawing (not to mention all the whining about it being so hard to make friends in Marshfield) I decided to start a book club.

In a town where you don’t really have many friends, however, deciding to do something and actually doing something are two very different things.  So again with the hemming and the hawing, toying around with ideas, and dragging my awkward and nervous feet…

I thought about putting up flyers at the library, but not a ton of people my age use the library… I thought about posting an ad in the Pulse classifieds, but that’s internal to the Marshfield Clinic and I didn’t want to limit the book club to only people that work in the same place I do… I thought about advertising on Craigslit or MeetUp, but neither are as big in central Wisconsin as you might think for such a bustling metropolis and I was doubtful that I’d get much of a response…  So I procrastinated.  Until I figured it out.

And now, without further ado (because that was a lot of ado), I will share with you how I did it, in 10 simple steps.

How to Start a Book Club in 10 Easy Steps

1. Drop hints to gauge interest.  The best people to invite to a book club are, obviously, book enthusiasts… people who like to read.  And people you think you could be friends with.  So drop some hints in places you frequent, see if anyone expresses and interest, and start building a mental guest list.

Gauging Interest in Book Club

2. Choose a book.  Stop stressing about which book… just pick a book!  Pick something you’ve been interested in reading, or ask someone you’re planning to invite to pick something they are interested in reading.  There are a million and one different book club reading lists out there, and you could totally try one of those, but why not let everyone take a turn to pick– yourself included!  You’ll end up reading things you may not have otherwise picked up and that’s kind of fun!  Plus, everyone gets to feel like they’ve had input and like they can share their interests with the group.

3. Set a date.  True, it’s going to be hard to find a day that works for everyone, but it’s not going to happen for anyone unless you pick a date and time and get the ball rolling.  I ended up picking the second Thursday of the month for reasons described below in step number 5… it worked brilliantly!  The majority of the people I invited were able to come and the couple that couldn’t know that they have an absolutely commitment-free standing invitation, whether they’ve read the book or not!

4. Send an invitation.  Facebook, Facebook, Facebook!  So easy to capture someone in your Facebook web when you tempt them with a book club… and once you do you can send big, weird, group messages all the time.  Yes!  Seriously though, the event thing worked great.  I sent a message with the date, time, and location and included a link to the book on Amazon.  However you do it– send that invite with plenty of time for people to read the book.  No stress, low commitment is the best way to get people engaged and to have fun without feeling like it’s something else they have to do.

5. Engage spouses, significant others, and man friends who may not like to read.  Books aren’t for everyone, and as such, book clubs aren’t for everyone.  Personally, I like love stories… a lot.  So when I pick a book, it’s likely going to have an element of that going on and men, in particular, are often averse to such things.  So I was planning to invite a bunch of girls over and Seth was wondering what he was going to do.  Solution: Thursday night football!  Husbands, significant others, and man friends were sent invitations to what I like to call “Super Man Time Football Club” to coincide with our book club.  They were banished (with snacks) to the big tv in the basement and we stayed upstairs to chat about the book.  It worked brilliantly and it was super fun having everyone over with no one feeling left behind.  Rumor has it that Seth is thinking a foosball table in the man cave would really complete the experience 😉

6. Read the book. The second best part!  (Second only to talking about the book with other people that read it!)  Leave yourself lots of time so you don’t have to rush or stress as the date approaches and enjoy the heck out of it– because that’s the whole point!

7. Tame house beasts.  For me, this meant cleaning like a mad woman, hiding visible messes in closets and Seth’s office, and feeding my crazy dog two benadryl.  The cleaning and the hiding seemed pretty effective, the benadryl did not.  She may have cost us a member or two, but hopefully most everyone will see past the crazy into the cuteness that is my Curly girl and be willing to come back.

8. Prepare snacks.  Snacks and drinks for book club are super fun for me.  I especially love when I can make something that fits with the theme of the book.  (I’m a nerd.)  For example, we read a book by a local Marshfield, Wisconsin author, so I made Wisconsin-shaped cookies and marked the city of Marshfield with a cow sprinkle.  I also bought lots of Wisconsin made wine.  (Please remember that Wisconsin is not exactly known for it’s wine.  I now regret this purchase.  You live, you learn.)  But regardless of whether they are somehow based on the theme of the book or not, wine and snacks are always an excellent way to start and finish a book club.

9. Eat, drink, chat, and discuss the book.  The meat of the party!  The whole point, if you will.  Sit around in the comfiest positions possible, bring your book, and chat about what you liked, what you didn’t, take the tangents that lead you elsewhere and come back, and (some cheese to go with my Wisconsin theme) enjoy the friendships that develop!

10. Gather, rinse, repeat.  (Do you see what I did there?)  Keep it up!  Make sure you have the next book picked out and a date in advance.  Having a rule like “second Thursday of the month” makes it easy to shift the date slightly as necessary during different times of the year, but it’s kind of nice to have an idea of when it’s coming up– always another month, another book, and another meeting of the minds to look forward to!

Book Club

Last night was my first book club in this new town… and it was a smashing success!  And not only was book club a success, but so was Super Man Time Football Club!  I had a blast, and I have it on good authority that at least two of the other attendees did as well.  (Because they told me.)  But I’m pretty sure that everyone had a good time.  Everyone at least had good food.  (And someone else brought good wine, so we were saved from the Wisconsin atrocity I had over-purchased.)

The thing that was most striking to me was first, that no one else had ever been in a book club (that movie really made it seem like it was a thing everybody just does) and second, that everyone was kind of in the same boat as me, friend-wise.  What a revelation!  Guess what fixed both of those things: BOOK CLUB.

So whether you’ve ever done it before and whether or not you’ve already got a lot of established friends in your town, if you like to read and you’re looking for new ways to connect, a book club could be a great thing to do.

If you don’t like to read, or even if you like to read but want to supplement your book clubs with other such meetings of friends, here are some excellent ideas we brainstormed in our excitement last night (plus something we’ve already done once):

  • Game Night (Get everyone together to play board games– boys against girls?  So much fun!  Yes, this is the one we’ve done before.)
  • Romantic Comedy Watching Club (A chance to watch a romantic comedy with girlfriends once a month?  yes, please!  You know we’ll be starting with Love Actually.)
  • Pinterest Party (Each person brings enough materials for everyone to make one or two Pinterest crafts and then you all get together to make them– everyone leaves with one of each thing but only had to purchase supplies for one!  Genius!)
  • Cookie Exchange (Like the Pinterest party, but you bring cookies to share… and recipes!  Come with a boat load of chocolate chip, leave with a little bit of chocolate chip, sugar, molasses, gingerbread, pinwheels, spritzes, whatever…)
  • Shopping trip to Appleton (works best if you live in small-town Wisconsin, of course)

No matter what you decide might work for you, I hope you find a way to engage in your community.  This truly was this missing piece for me in Marshfield… I think I’m finally home.

The big chop… a photo-essay, by request.

I suppose it’s not really fair to describe a big old hair cut and then not provide pictures. This is what I originally saw on Pinterest (after searching for square head and curly hair) and was completely inspired by:


Sandra Bullock, of course.  Because who wouldn’t want to look like her?  I can assure you I’m pretty darn close. See:


Ok, not exactly, but I’m pretty happy with it!  Not to mention that I’m going to save a ton of money on conditioner!  Cha-ching!

Unfortunately, I am firmly against gratuitous selfies.  Especially because they tend to emphasize the fact that my one eye opens further than the other and that my enormous shoulders are uneven.

I generally prefer photos that either make people laugh, like this one… or that demonstrate my amazing skills, like this one.

So I decided to ask Seth, super duper nicely (ok, I kind of forced him!), to take pictures that would allow me to show you guys some cool things that I want to show off, including:


1) This wall!  I painted this sweet wall in our basement to look like a football field.  It is to scale (1/3 original size) and looks awesome.  The life-size Rodgers fathead really completes it, don’t you think?  Seth totally digs his man cave, and I’m pretty darn proud of it!

2) My pupster!  Look at that sweet girl!  Her name is Curly, for Curly Lambeau, founder of the Packers.  She recently had knee surgery, which explains the shaved back leg (the bum knee) and the poodle cut up front (where her IV was).  She loves when I carry her around like my baby.  Or not.  But I love it 🙂

3) Look at my new book that came today!  It’s Deadly Contact and it was written by my real-life friend Lara.  So excited to read it!!  (And now I might win a prize because I posted a picture of me with it!)

4) My new bracelet that my friend Aimie’s daughter made for me!  She’s eight and CRAZY talented with the loom– she picked pink and blue just for me!  Such a sweet, sweet girl with an amazing mama!  (Did I say amazing… I’m sorry, I meant to say awesome.  She’s slated to be my next profile in awesome, after all!  Get pumped!)

Yeah, we had a lot of fun taking these photos…  what do you think of the new do?


Chop, Chop!

My hair has been bugging me for a while.  And by that I could mean that my hair has been bugging me since somewhere around the age of 9, but I don’t.  I’d like to focus on the more recent past right now.

Every day for the past month or so has been a battle with this hair of mine and I had become quite frustrated.  I’ve tried different shampoos and conditioners and every different hair gel, cream, or frizz control product I could get my hands… all to no avail.  My hair was up in a pony tail by about 10 am every day, regardless of what I did.

In addition, at the ripe old age of 29 (ok, almost 30… we’re getting very close!) I have become gray to the point that coloring is no longer optional.  (Unless, of course, my vanity changes in some significant way.  Doubt it.)  And that really needed to be done.

So, after work today I finally went in to do something about it.

A couple big chops and many, many, many foils and dishes of color later (I have a lot of hair) and I feel like a new woman!  I’m terrible about getting my hair cut… I tend to go about once, maybe twice, a year and in between I consistently claim that I’m “growing it out.”  But every time I actually pick up the phone and make the appointment, I feel so much better.  And every time I am amazed at what a difference something so simple can make.

My hair has been a single source of frustration in my life as of late, albeit a very physical and outward sign of frustration.  A lot of that frustration needs to be dealt with in other ways, but I think the hair cut is a really good start.

A lot of things in life are that way though, aren’t they?  They are for me.

I don’t feel like going to volleyball, but I do… and I have a good time.

I’m planning not to have a good time, but I smile anyway… and it becomes a real smile.

Running sounds painful and I’d rather just sit, but I get dressed to workout… and end up feeling great.

It’s that fake it til you make it mentality, and it works in so many ways.  My new hair cut says that I’m not frustrated… perhaps tomorrow I really won’t be.