Monthly Archives: September 2014

And, finally, Z is for Zoolander.

In the year 2001, the great and handsome prophet Derek Zoolander asked a profound question… one with the power to affect us all:

“Did you ever think that maybe there’s more to life than being really, really… really ridiculously good looking?!”

And many hearts were glad.

Especially the heart of this girl:

Baby R 0.1

And this girl:

Baby R 0.2

And especially this girl:

Baby R 0.3

Because it was quite clear that she was not destined for a life of being even really (just one really) ridiculously good looking.


Thanks be to Derek Zoolander, this girl finally heard it:

Baby R 0.4

Well, not that girl exactly… but that girl a few months later (the photo above was taken in the fall of 2000)… and many years more for internalization.

(Side note: yes, I do have an entire file folder dedicated to ugly pictures of myself. Is that weird?)

Zoolander, like Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), Love Actually (2003), and Amelie (2001), came out at a very impressionable time in my life. And no matter how funny/unrealistic/weird those movies were/are– they made a big impact on me. BIG. Zoolander is no exception.

I guess I have a lot to ponder. (Zoolander quote.)

In addition to the quotable quotes and the most important lesson of all (more to life than being really, really good looking) there are a bunch of actual for realsies lessons to be learned, if you’ve watched the movie enough times…

1. Assuming that everyone is just waiting to tell you what a bad eu-google-izer you are is no way to live.

People aren’t always out to hurt you! I swear it! Some, yeah, but that’s their problem (or their editor’s), not yours. So give a person the benefit of the doubt. It could work out in your favor. Zoolander and Matilda were totally MFEO (made for each other– Sleepless in Seattle, another favorite) and it was a good thing he gave her a chance even after she hurt his feelings!

2. Have a go to for happy– like an orange mocha frappaccino!!

Derek is so super down after not winning male model of the year for the fourth year in a row, but his roomies know just the thing to cheer him up! (Maybe they could have done without the gas fight.) And in my life, I’ve had lots of roomies like that– Abby (my Fisky Sister) who told me stories from the top bunk to help me fall asleep; Erin, Adriane, and Aimee who put on a little bit of Abba Dancing Queen or Outkast Hey Ya for an impromptu dance party; Stephanie who popped Zoolander or Napoleon Dynamite into our $5 Korean Bazaar VCR; Seth who makes a great Harry Potter reference. (No joke, he told me last Friday that his patronus was me… cooking. Naturally, I swooned.)


3. Own what you are, even it’s a merman. MERMAN.

There’s not shame in being who you are! So own it! … see the photo gallery above. That was me, y’all. No point in pretending anything different. Might as well laugh about it together. After all, plenty of those images are in people’s brains, and there’s not a darn thing I can do about that.


4. Technology changes fast. REAL fast.

So… a huge punch line in the 2001 movie Zoolander is Derek’s itty bitty, teeny tiny phone. Do you remember that? When itty bitty phones were the shiz? And now we’ve got the the iPhone 6 and 6+… insanity. It wasn’t that long ago, really. Was it?

5. It’s good to know, and respect, what makes you farty and bloated.

For Jacobim Mugato, anything foamy will do it. For me? Anything with even a bit of lactose! Maybe I wouldn’t scald someone’s face if they tried to serve it to me. But I will take pains to avoid it so as to avoid the pains later. Just not worth the deliciousness.


6. If someone has to miraculously pull their underwear out of their butt to beat you– you’re kind of awesome.

For most of us, there’s always going to be someone better. Someone out there is faster, funnier, prettier, gentler, kinder, better at cooking, got a cleaner house, etc… but that doesn’t mean you’re not any of those things. Quit comparing and you’ll be happier. Guaranteed. You’ll at least have far fewer wedgies. (Side note: one time in middle school when I wore what I thought was the cutest outfit ever to school– train engineer overalls with a pretty white shirt with lace trimmed sleeves underneath– I got wedgied in the hallway. It was the wooooorst. No one likes a wedgie. And an elephant never forgets.)

7. Remember that most people are not professional film and television actors.

Except if Mindy Kaling actually became my friend, in which case, I would have a professional television actor for a friend. But alas, that day has not yet come. In the meantime, we don’t get to script the reactions of others. And even if we try, people are generally very prone to improv. Jerk people…

8. Age before beauty, goat cheese!

Honestly, I will happily take the wisdom of age over the beauty of youth. Granted, for me, youth wasn’t particularly beautiful (again, I reference you to the photos above)… so… maybe this one is more specific for me. But some of you can dig it, yes?

9. Talk it out! It’s usually pretty simple.

Derek and Hansel had quite the beef going on. Things were tense and everything kind of came to a head during the walk-off. (The walk-off judged by the David Bowie. So awesome.) Afterward, though, it only took one simple phrase and a brief discussion before things were all sorted out– “why you been acting so messed up toward me?” Both Derek and Hansel apologize for being whack. And that’s that. Just talk it out, yo. So simple. I even tried it once. (It’s so scary though!)

10. You can’t help who you love.

At the end of the movie, Maury says of Zoolander, “I love that kid. Dumb as a stump, but I love him.” And it’s true. When you love someone, you just do. There’s not always rhyme or reason to it. Dumb as a box of rocks, a la Derek Zoolander, or too intelligent for their own good, a la Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler. Love just happens anyway.

And finally, bonus #11. There’s always room for a David Duchovny cameo.

Why don’t you love me?!?!?!?!


In conclusion, Hi. I’m former graduate super student Rachel Stankowski and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Rachel Stankowski Center for Physicians Who Can’t Write Well… and Want to Learn to Do Other Stuff Well Too.

That’s what I’m talking about!!!!



And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our A to Z (plus an interlude for an XX) blog tour. Things were super tough when I started. Things are still kind of rough, but it always (always!) feels good to write… and all this letter by letter mumbo jumbo has allowed me to fill up my little notebook of thoughts. Get ready, cuz here I co-ome!

(I just heard that song on my Pandora, we played it in pep band in high school… recipe for being completely stuck in my head.)


PS: I totally watched Zoolander again, just one more time, to make sure I really got everything I could out of it. When I went to play it from Amazon Prime (I’m obsessed!) my options were to “resume” or “play from the beginning” because I watch it a lot… I am not ashamed!!!!

Y is for yo-yo, yo-k?

I’m not pregnant. Again. And I’m sad about it. Yesterday was pretty rough. Today I am sad, but my friend Marie made me smile (hugely and genuinely) and my sister has a ridiculously cute new hair color that I’m in love with and my friend Kristin liked the cookies I brought her and my husband and I are taking his parents out for dinner at a (central-Wisconsin-style) fancy place in Point tonight… and overall, I have a million and one reasons to be happy. So I’m not sinking. I’m not drowning. I am dealing.

And that’s a huge step for me. A yo-yo-er.

Next illustrative story…

One afternoon this week, at work, I got prank called by an endocrinologist. He put on a fake accent, called from another physician’s office, and pretended to be someone he was not and then laughed hysterically at himself as I got my footing back underneath me when he told me who he really was. I was literally taking notes for this “new” physician who wanted my help…

It was super weird. And super funny. We both cracked up.

And then we talked for a while for seriously about the importance of perspective when considering clinical data related to false-negative rates for thyroid biopsy in the context of nodules larger than 4 cm in size.

A far cry from the former formality of all my emails that began, “Dear Dr. So and So… lots of professional words… Thank you for your time, Me Me Me, PhD.” Followed by nearly incessant joking with my office mates (I needed an outlet!).

Tuesday’s conversation with the endocrinologist? That’s moderation. Funny. Serious. Everything in between.

Final illustrative story…

The weather this week has been absolutely lovely and sunny and cool and I’ve gone for several (incident free!) jogs. During one such jog this week, I took THREE puppy petting breaks. Three.

I also stopped to take a picture of this sweet bird's nest!
I also stopped to take a picture of this super sweet bird’s nest!

It was wonderful, but not the point.

The point is that I did NOT stop my RunKeeper (it’s my app for distance and time and I love it so much– I love making it map me while I mow the lawn, back and forth and back and forth, it’s hilarious) even once during a puppy petting or photo taking break. It just ran. The clock kept ticking while my feet stopped moving and it made my time slower… and yet. The time and the distance are not the point.

This is what it looks like when I mow the lawn-- hilarious to me.
This is what it looks like when I mow the lawn– hilarious to me.

End illustrative stories… now, the point.

I have generally not tended to live my life that way. I’m usually at one end of the spectrum or the other– filled with hope or in complete and total despair. Too many jokes or too much seriousness. So much running that I crap my pants or no running at all for fear I’ll crap my pants. But this moderation thing, it’s so much better.

With respect to the big things, my mental health, my physical health, my work, these are places where yo-yo-ing from up to down, one end of the spectrum to the other, has never been good for me– yet it’s always been my default. That’s where I find moderation to be most key (key-est???), and where it’s often hardest (most hard???) to find.

Don’t get me wrong, living life on the end of yo-yo, with the ups and downs, fits and spurts, can be awesome for things like canning (pickle/tomato/apple marathon– ready go!) or sewing (it’s almost winter– time to go pick out some new fabric!!). Turning that yo-yo into a gently swaying, much more even keel, pendulum-style instrument is much more valuable in some arenas though. And I’m getting there.

Canning-- a good place to yo-yo. From left to right, top then bottom, apple butter, dill pickles, ketchup, green beans, and tomatoes. 100% of raw material provided by my in-laws!
Canning– a good place to yo-yo. From left to right, top then bottom, apple butter, dill pickles, ketchup, green beans, and tomatoes. 100% of raw material provided by my in-laws!

I’m getting there with mental health. Yes, part of it is biochemical control (better living through chemistry) and part of it is therapy (with a therapist I didn’t want to like, but do), but honestly, most of it is time and experience and patience with myself…

I’ve spent over two years trying to start a family and every month so far has ended in sadness. Sadness coupled with a headache and cramps and discomfort that all seems so unfair. Life’s not fair though. That’s not part of the terms and conditions. Life is life and it’s weird and circuitous and out of our control for the most part. And that out of control thing is key when it comes to staying off the yo-yo. I can’t be in despair when I have no control. I know that I’m doing everything that I can do, and that’s literally all that I can do (short of illegal things like stealing babies or black-mailing my sister into sending me one of hers– chimps do that, you know, I read about it in National Geographic). I can be sad. I can be hopeful. I can be both simultaneously… a little more of one or the other at times is ok, but I don’t need to go all the way over the top in either direction.

This is the chimp that stole some babies. Not a terrible idea... except a really terrible idea.
This is the chimp that stole some babies. Not a terrible idea… except a really terrible idea.

I’m also getting there professionally. I know more people, I am more comfortable with more people, I am more comfortable with myself…

At work, I was nothing but a ball of nerves for about a year or so… especially around physicians. Turns out, I was basically just being a total Dorothy to the Great and Powerful Oz– it was just a man behind a curtain. Some physicians still seem to prefer the “Dear Dr. So and So” deal, but more often, they seem to prefer when I behave like myself– sometimes silly, sometimes serious. Exclamation points and winky faces and jokes in emails, book recommendations in both directions, hugs at Cattails when I see my most favorite residents, cookies and recipes and Valentine’s day gifts. All of that with good writing, prompt service (as much as possible), and a willingness to be as helpful as I can be. I’m good at my job, and (hopefully) likable and personable at the same time.

And finally, I’m getting there with my physical health…

I’ve been a runner since I was young– maybe sixth grade. My first 5K was maybe the Belleville Strawberry Festival or the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run with my friend Kelly and co. (Where “and co.” = Emily and Danielle and Christin, most likely, but I’m fuzzy on that, so we’re going to go with and co.)

My friend Kelly sent this super old photo on one throwback Thursday. I’m in love with us as baby runners. So cute.

Since then, I’ve always always always stressed over time and distance and intensity and frequency and when I couldn’t live up to my own expectations… I stopped. Stopped entirely. Most recently, I couldn’t run my favorite distance on my favorite route without have GI issues, so I stopped. Turns out, though, if I’m careful about what I eat, run at a comfortable pace without pushing myself too hard, and make planned loops with a quick escape route to my house every three-quarters of a mile or so, I can go pretty far/pretty long… and get this: I can even enjoy it!

And here’s something really crazy: by being patient with myself and super experimental, I have even learned to enjoy many vegetables! No, not onions. But lots of other vegetables… and that’s a big deal. I don’t have to force myself to eat an iceberg lettuce-based salad drenched in ranch dressing (yuck), but I looove pretty much any green preceded by “baby” or “mixed” with some chia seeds and an Asian-style dressing.

My favorite dressing... from the 21-Day Tummy by Liz Vaccariello. I don't dig the premise (at all), but some good recipes.
My favorite dressing… from the 21-Day Tummy by Liz Vaccariello. I don’t dig the premise (at all), but some good recipes. Turns out, I’m not as opposed to rice vinegar as I am to white vinegar. Who’d have thought?

Patience and time, when it really matters. Yo-yo when it’s just for funsies. This is why, for me, I’ll take my thirties over my twenties any day. So much more time, experience, patience. It’s good.


Speaking of fun yo-yos… in sewing, yo-yos are these little dealies:



Growing up, my cousin Mary, me, my cousin Ashlee, and my sister Abby were all relatively close in age and we passed clothes, especially cute little dresses, down and down and down amongst the four of us. In their infinite wisdom, my mom and Auntie Pam kept all those little dresses thinking they’d be great for making quilts some day. My mom spent last summer making all those little dresses into yo-yos (even the velvet and corduroy ones! dang!) and then turned those yo-yos into four quilts– one for each of us.

Look at how amazing this quilt is:

Specifically, the quilt hanging on the wall. BUT, my amazing mama also made the duvet cover on the bed. And I crocheted the blanket on the end  (brag).
Specifically, the quilt hanging on the wall. BUT, my amazing mama also made the duvet cover on the bed. And I crocheted the blanket on the end (brag).

It’s so ridiculously and unbelievably beautiful and meaningful and I love it so much. My mom is incredible. This is the kind of thing that makes me continue to hope for that family– so that someday I can do something like this for my sister’s girls and their cousins, my kids. My someday babies 🙂

X is for the xylophone I almost stole…

… and I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you pesky kids!

(Scooby Doo? Am I the only fan? Ruh roh…)

But seriously, I almost stole a xylophone from Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti, MI.

(And good thing, too, because I don’t know where I’d go with the letter X otherwise.)

Thankfully, we’ve just recently passed the statute of limitations on xylophone-related crimes and I can no longer be prosecuted… so it’s finally safe for me to share this story with you.

Band, and particularly marching band, is a super big deal in high school… if you’re in it.

Nerd alert, right?

Except it doesn’t matter because if you’re in the band, particularly the marching band, you’re too busy learning music and having a blast to care whether it makes you uncool or not.

Which is why that band camp line in American Pie is so universally funny to everyone. If you weren’t ever in band, you probably think they’re making fun of band nerds. But what you don’t realize is– we’re totally in the joke. Because band… well, band is like that. It’s insane. There’s long hours, physical activity, forced closeness, long periods of inactivity, huge commitments, ridiculous uniforms, so many things that make it so unique. And when you’re in it, you know you’re a dork, but you don’t even care. Because band is freaking FUN. Hard, yes. Intense, of course. But so much fun. So bonding. So cool to be a part of.

So that xylophone…

I told you how I was in the drumline, but drums were mainly my thing during the marching season… and only because we didn’t march with any keyed instruments and I liked the snare. It was fun to be part of the group that kept the rhythm– the cadences, the roll offs, the taps after the whistles. But during the concert season, I was dedicated primarily to keyed instruments… bells, chimes, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone. And oh man, I loved, loved, loved playing the xylophone.

NOT the almost stolen xylophone-- this was the completely intact one.
NOT the almost stolen xylophone– this was the completely intact one.

(I also loved playing the beaded gourd, but sadly… only got to do it once during a performance. Perhaps in another life.)

At good old LHS, we actually had two xylophones (perks of having a percussionist as a band director, our section of very expensive, school-owned instruments was quite well-stocked)… one was in need of repair, but was great for practicing. It just had a broken string on the bottom that made some of the keys sound kind of dead, but otherwise completely intact.

Between my junior and senior year, the band director I’d come to know and love/hate (because that’s another thing about band– the director is like a parent and sometimes they throw tantrums and sometimes you do, but at the end of the day, you love each other, so it’s all good) offered to let me take home that busted xylophone for practicing… except he made absolutely no note of it for the incoming director. No one, except the people I chose to tell (you know, other band nerds who would be excited that I had a xylophone in my basement) knew anything about it. It was wonderful!

I kept it all year, no one ever the wiser. I practiced and practiced and practiced on it– particularly Sabre Dance, because it was fast and exciting and made me feel awesome when I played it. (Ugh, my poor parents!)

Until the day after I graduated from high school, when another kid from the percussion section showed up at my house to pick it up. I don’t know how he knew… I guess I must have said something, or maybe I said something to the new director out of guilt? I don’t know. But he came and got it and I was so sad that I got busted. Because that xylophone was sweet.

The other thing that was sweet? Being in the band.

Although I haven’t played a single note on anything other than a table top or a steering wheel since 2001, I still feel like music and being part of the music is a huge part of me. I hum Honor’s Band songs I haven’t heard since 2000 while I’m washing dishes. I play the cymbal part to Stars and Stripes Forever with my bare hands.

I loooove marches. (So does my two month old niece, Claire— it’s spectacular!)

I am a band nerd, through and through. I even almost stole a xylophone.

Maybe I’d still be a musical type person if I actually had.

Regardless, the band was a big part of my life and I will forever love all those people who experienced it with me (Kelly! Christin! Laura! Emily! Other Emily! Tammy! Kacey! Dolly! Alex! Stevie-D! yes, even Evan a little bit! and so on and so forth! you know who you are!). I told you about Tim Haight and making assumptions before… but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I have a million and one stories and even more lessons, but the biggest one is this: cool doesn’t matter. Not nearly as much as you might think. What really matters is what you enjoy. If you enjoy doing the “cool” things, more power to you, but if what you enjoy is anything else– do it anyway!

Turns out: cool, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Understanding that at the age of 15 is a challenge, yes. But when you’re in the band, your peers are in the same boat and at band camp (it’s a very real thing), during sectionals, while marching on the football field or along a parade route, on a long bus ride to band festival, you are cool, because you’re part of something big and fun and empowering and musical.

I imagine any group activity you really enjoy is like that, whether it’s a sport or drama or the school newspaper or yearbook or television station or whatever. These days, for me, it’s blogging (which is surprisingly communal) and book clubs and loving dogs and doing “homely” things that give me that community. That empowerment. That joy. And at 30 years old, it’s a lot easier to not worry about what other people think is cool.

Especially now that I can no longer be held responsible for any xylophone-related crimes. Whew.

W is for the Writing Center… and finding my special purpose. (Wink.)

I started working in the Michigan Tech Writing Center when I was a sophomore in college. I loved it there SO much– more than being an RA, more than rowing crew, more even than my actual major. I only worked 8 – 12 hours per week, depending on the semester, but those 8 – 12 hours were much more formative for me than any 15 – 20 credit course load I ever had.

The chem sci building-- where I basically lived for four years.
The chem sci building– where I basically lived for four years.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that I learned chemistry and physics and math (except differential equations– what a waste! I couldn’t even get a date out of that class, though I tried…) and such. It’s probably even good that I learned some things about myself by being an RA (which super sucked, but led to meeting my husband, so…) and rowing crew (which made my back, arms, and legs crazy strong for the year I did it, but just ended up being too much– let’s be honest here, I’m no athlete). Those are the things that made me look different from the outside, paid for my room and board, and filled in the bubbles on the GRE, but I’ve got to tell you, they are not the biggest things. The most influential things.

The most influential thing was absolutely, hands down, 100% for definitely sure the Writing Center.

The Writing Center. At an engineering university? That caters almost entirely to the most technically-minded of the nerds? In the middle of no where? I mean… the edge of no where?

Yes. The Writing Center. At Michigan Tech. Which is all those things, but such a hidden gem. (I should really recruit for the Huskies, I love that place so much.)


I’ve talked a little bit before about my boss in the Writing Center, Sylvia Matthews, and how absolutely amazing she was (is, to be sure). And I really think that it was she, Jill Arola, and Nancy Grimm and their ridiculously insightful ways of thinking, living, and educating that made it the special place that it was.

You see, in the Writing Center, it wasn’t so much about the grammar and the punctuation and the sentence structure and all the other technical aspects of writing that tend to give the vast majority of people either a headache or a panic attack. It was about understanding and being understood. About using words to do that. And the things I learned. Oy.

As part of working at the Writing Center, all of the coaches had to take a small, one credit course in which we discussed pedagogy and techniques and experiences and the like. At the end of every semester of “work,” we all wrote reflections about our experiences and what we had learned. I saved a couple of them. Not sure how exactly… they’ve definitely survived several major paper purges since I graduated in 2005, but listen to this one:

I can’t help but feel like this shows the the Writing Center is the place where I am supposed to be and the work I’m doing is important.

That was in 2004!

Pablo Picasso once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Words, communicating with them… I think that’s my gift.

It’s not what I expected my gift to be. Nor is it what I thought it was or what I necessarily would have hoped for, but here we are. I think I finally found it.

It’s not like I just woke up one day in the recent past and liked writing or thought I was good at it.


My “gift” found me a long, long time ago. The Young Authors thing-a-ma-jig at Lincoln (who remembers that big book? how good it felt to have your story “published”?) was always awesome for me in elementary school. I loved the Independent Study in English I did with my cross country coach, Mr. Moran, my sophomore year in high school… and even now I’m still proud of the essay I vaguely remember writing about Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles… no idea what it was about, but guys, it was good.

Later on, in college, I got this rave review on a biochemistry report:

An absolute pleasure to read, etc... yay yay yay! A+!
An absolute pleasure to read, etc… yay yay yay! A+!

Yep, kept that too. It made me feel awesome!

And I loved the writing center so so so much.

Yet, my brain, my logic, my ACT results and aptitude tests and interests had me convinced that it was science science science all the way. Science would lead me to success. I would cure something, help someone, do sciencey things and make the world a better place by being noticed, by making a big impact.

A little piece of me must have known that wasn’t true. Because if it were, I’d be a chemist somewhere… working at 3M, inventing polymers and interpreting spectra and such, because I could have done that after college. But it didn’t seem right. Something wasn’t fitting and I wasn’t happy. So I went to grad school… where I wasn’t happy… and tried to go to med school… but I realized that was a very expensive path to continued unhappiness… so I stuck it in grad school… and came to the end… and still wasn’t very happy with my options.

It took all that time for me to admit to myself that I didn’t want to be a bench scientist. I didn’t want to run a lab. I didn’t want to come up with new ideas and new ways to test them.

So what did I like?

Talking about it. Always. Telling other people about science, about medicine, about dinosaurs, about whatever.

Thankfully, the universe, powers that be, whatever, know better than I do… and ultimately I ended up where I am now, as a scientific research writer at a big clinic. Back in what is, essentially, a post-collegiate writing center! I’m finally in a place where I use my gift on the regular.

Well, half of it anyway.

The other half was definitely this blog.

An illustrative example for you…

At work, I say “epistaxis as a result of digital trauma…”

On the Internet, I say “nosebleed because you dug too deep. Get your fingers out of there. Geez.”

A different way of saying exactly the same thing. One gets published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (hopefully) and the other makes someone laugh, but get it while they’re laughing.

And that’s the other half.

The things that makes me the happiest about writing now, at work and on the internet… and the thing that made me the happiest then, in the Writing Center… was the impact it had on people. And on me. Equal and opposite forces. An action and a reaction. Both things leaving the encounter changed.

At work, I help people make their science understandable and accessible. I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to see something in print, to get a funding notice for a grant… but most of all, to have an author I’ve previously worked with come back an improved writer. That’s the best best. (I’m talking to you, Dr. Kanth!) I learn about crazy things like deformed pancreases and what a vitamin D deficiency really does to your body (it’s not just rickets, yo)… I take that away, and someone takes something completely different away from me. A better technique for incorporating literature into a Discussion section, a modified sentence structure, a new way to format a table. Some little piece of communication.

It always happened that way at the Writing Center too. There was this kid one time, a freshman that I coached, and a professor made him cry in front of his entire class during the first week of school when he pronounced a word incorrectly. My heart broke for him. Absolutely broke. There was little I could actually do besides listen and encourage him and help him to communicate better. And seriously, by the end of the semester, he was volunteering to speak in front of the class. I’m not trying to say that was necessarily because of me, but I do know that he and I were both changed.

Here’s what I said about it on December 7, 2004 (Writing Center reflection style, again)–

I have been continually impressed with Jason this semester. He has determination and work ethic like no one I have ever met. I can say with confidence that having been faced with the same situation, I would have become very apathetic toward my work, sure that I could do nothing to please the teacher. I would have been very angry, but Jason never was. As much as I feel like I helped him to come out of his shell, he showed me the way that a person can handle difficulties gracefully. Through all of these difficulties, I am really glad that I got to be Jason’s coach.

And I think that maybe, just maybe, that’s what Picasso meant. When you give your gift away, this intangible gift that is the purpose of your life, you don’t lose anything. The little space you opened up is filled with something even better, something different and new and exciting. A new facet on your perspective. And the person who took that little piece of your gift away? They grow it– they grow it into something completely new, and different, and exciting inside themselves. Like planting a seed, or rooting a plant cutting.

At least, that’s what Picasso said means to me.

Communicating with words, erudite and crass, is my mission and my jam, my calling and my thang. I can do it for science, I can do it for life, I can do it for the twisted workings of my brain, and I can do it for others.

For others though, that’s my favorite part. I can brag about my sister-in-law if she’s having trouble doing herself (she’s always have trouble doing it herself– Sister Doctor just got the biggest honor you can get in all of medical school and tells people it’s “just” an organization thing. Sigh.). I can proofread and format a resume for someone who has lost a job. I can fix up a poster when someone panics a week before a conference. These are the things I can do. The gifts that I can share. Always something in return, of course, even if it’s just the satisfaction of having been able to do something when I would otherwise be helpless. And I like that so much.

The Writing Center helped me to find my special purpose… not the same special purpose that Steve Martin came across a little prematurely in The Jerk (Trista, let’s watch that this weekend! trip to Family Video!), but a special purpose in the sense that his mom really meant it. I couldn’t have done what I do now if I hadn’t pursued all of the sciences, so I’m glad that I did the chemistry degree and the grad school with all the STDs and the like, but at the time, science was always the goal. Not so, it turns out! The Writing Center was to be the place I circled back to, in another form, yes, but the same idea. I work with authors with all ranges of education levels, backgrounds, accents, talent and skill levels on far more topics than I could ever possibly fully understand, but regardless of all that– I help people get their words out, to be heard, to share, and in return, I am constantly changed.

It’s funny that way back in 2004, I worked so hard with other Writing Center coaches to present on what we called “The Ripple Effect” at a writing center conference… but only as an abstract and beautiful thing that I mostly hoped would happen. Good news: it did. It does. Always.

Here we are at that sweet writing center conference-- Sylvia right in the middle :)
Here we are at that sweet writing center conference– Sylvia right in the middle 🙂

Well… this is awkward. I go searching to find a link to take you to the Writing Center website and find out it’s now called the Michigan Tech Multiliteracies Center. Makes sense. Still in Walker 107. A rose by any other name, I guess! More importantly, M for Multiliteracies is basically just an upside-down W for Writing… so… we’re good.

Oh wait... apparently I did know. I took this picture when I was there for Winter Carnival in 2012. Well then...
Oh wait… apparently I did know. I took this picture when I was there for Winter Carnival in 2012. Well then…

V is for a vacation… with and from my values. With is better. Trust me.

I started writing this V-themed blog post in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, August 21st on a chartered bus heading from LAX to San Diego after a very long day of traveling.

This is what the inside of the bus looked like at 2 am PST somewhere between LA and San Diego... because I thought it might be blog-worthy.
This is what the inside of the bus looked like at 2 am PST somewhere between LA and San Diego… because I thought it might be blog-worthy.

V… vacation… values… it popped into my head, I started writing (and then got very bus-sick, so put it away), and it’s been writing itself in my brain since that day. More and more and more. Time to get it on the screen and then out into the ether.

Since that super late night/very early morning bus trip in California, I visited friends and got an opportunity to see their new house and ridiculously adorable new puppy.

Oh how I want to steal this sweet puppy and make her my own!!
Oh how I want to steal this sweet puppy and make her my own!!

I boarded a cruise ship with my husband and said friends (plus some new ones!) and cruised down the coast of California from Long Beach to Ensenada and back.

I think we all know that the towel animals are legitimately the best part of a cruise, am I right?
The towel animals are totally the best part of a cruise, am I right?

I got on a plane, came home to Wisconsin, weathered an eczema flare and a bit of a head cold, and welcomed my sister, her husband, and their two ridiculously cute little girls into my home.

GAHHHH!! The cuteness of my nieces! I can barely stand it!!!!
GAHHHH!! The cuteness of my nieces! I can barely stand it!!!!

And now here I am, back and ready to tell you about my vacation– with and from my values.


We’ve talked about all kinds of values in this space– some explicitly, more often implicitly. But based merely on that word cloud that pops up on the right, I think we can get a pretty good picture of the things that are important to me: family, friends, kindness, love, health… Harry Potter. These are things that I value and I try to live my life accordingly.

Except when I don’t.

When it comes to kindness and health, I spent some time on vacation with and from both. With was where it’s at. Trust me. Let’s talk about that.



Getting to our friends’ house in San Marcos was quite trying. I’ll spare you the details, but you’ve all traveled by air, you know what it’s like to miss your connecting flight… Long story short: 12 exhausted passengers (including three from first class and one mom with two young children) were waiting at the closed gate when the agent came back from sending off our flight without us. That’s a recipe for a very angry party. And that gate agent? She was a very easy target.

Lots of people were yelling lots of things at her… demanding managers… using the phrase “first class ticket” over and over again…

But kindness, you know?

Patience and such… catching flies with honey… it’s something Seth and I value. And we made it to San Diego that night. Late, yes. But completely unscathed and super happy to see our friends. No yelling necessary.

But then there were new friends of friends and I got super scared. I was a little Judgey McJudgerson, assuming I wasn’t going to like people… mostly because I assumed they wouldn’t like me. They were all from SoCal and had cool hair, listened to cool music, owned cool companies, wore stylish clothes, and so on and so forth. No way could they have all that and still be nice… except they were. And then I felt like a big ol’ dummy for not giving them the chance I would have wanted them to give me… and that they did give me.

Kindness. It’s something I value. That was a good little lesson about it. Also, I have some new friends (with cool hair and cool jobs and cool music and cool locales– suh-weet!).



I also value my health… and it’s a constant struggle to uphold this value in my daily life on account of all that stuff with weight and food and gastrointestinal issues and such. You’ve read about it if you’ve been reading along.

First, the upholding of the value: I packed weights! In my carry-on bag! That I dragged across the country! And more importantly– I used them every day!! They were just 2.5 lbs a piece, but a 20 min Jillian Michaels-based circuit workout once a day plus some “olympic jogging track” walking with my friend Melissa and I felt awesome, awesome, awesome about getting some physical activity in, even while on vacation. Yes, TSA and I had to chat about the weights, but I joked with them and it was all good. (Oh how I wish I could have gotten a picture of the weights on the xray screen– it was hilarious!)

TSA guy (to other TSA lady): come look at this!

Me: It’s weights!

TSA guy: How much?

Me: Just 2.5 lbs a piece… I’m not very strong!

TSA lady: I only do three [grin].

We all laughed… ahhhh ha ha ha ha! (And Seth just rolled his eyes…)

Health FTW!

Except… I decided that since I was on vacation and since it was super hard not to eat gluten while traveling, I was just going to do it. And I did it. On the plane (Biscoff cookies… nom nom nom…), in the airport in Minneapolis (I got the chicken nuggets rather than the sandwich on a bun– a feeble attempt at limiting gluten intake…), a Subway cookie on that crazy bus (because it was my consolation prize!), and by the time we made it to San Diego, my hands were starting to get puffy.

I didn’t eat gluten the rest of the time, but the damage was done. And by the time I got home to Wisconsin, I was in a full blown eczema flare.


In retrospect, it actually looks much worse while healing... those blisters don't seem so bad. It's the complete loss of skin after the fact that's hardest to bare.
In retrospect, it actually looks much worse while healing… those blisters don’t seem so bad. It’s the complete loss of skin after the fact that’s hardest to bare.

Super suck. I beat myself up about it for a while, mostly because my hands freaking HURT.

Then my therapist made a really good point: health is hard, even if you value it. AND… what would I say to my friend Melissa? (I think that’s his new favorite line…) I’d be kind to my friend Melissa, of course, so I gave myself a little break. (A little one.)

The blisters are gone now, all my skin has peeled or flaked or done whatever it’s going to do (I’ve coined the term “handruff” to describe the skin flakes my palms leave behind on pretty much everything I touch until the new stuff grows in), and some new fresh stuff is finally growing in nicely. It was a rough week — definitely not worth the cookies and nuggets, no matter how delicious. (Biscoffs… so delicious!)


Basically, vacations are tough for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love them… they’re awesome. But sometimes I make them harder for myself than I really need to, just because I don’t stay consistent with my own values. I value kindness… I value my health.

The most important thing I think I learned from all of this is that your values are your values, no matter the place, no matter the circumstance…. that’s what makes them a value and not just a passing fad.


(Good news: I also value blogging and the wheels seem to be perpetually turning and turning and turning! I’ve got some words percolating about family and friends of friends that I’m excited to say. WOOOORDS! Yay!)


PS: Harry Potter

Also, real quick, Harry Potter is a value that I never leave behind… and our little cruise vacation was no exception. Melissa, Emily, Christian, and I went to Harry Potter trivia night on the ship. We were late and didn’t get to officially participate, but I can say with absolute confidence that the four of us would have ROCKED IT had we been there the whole time. That ship on a stick would have been ours! Lucky for the other contestants, we were only playing for fun!