Master Gardening

Master Gardeners take master gardening quite seriously. They are masters, after all; and those who have earned merit badges usually insist that others endure a similar amount of torture to acquire theirs. Many of these fanny-packing, rubber-clogging, organic-everything conservationists log countless hours pulling weeds in public gardens and manning the HelpLine. I didn’t. I was content to remain a Master Gardening “intern” indefinitely. After completing the 13-week course with its myriad lectures and homework assignments and volunteer gardening shifts, I was content with my newfound knowledge, binder of notes, and soil testing results. I didn’t mind how my bright yellow intern badge contrasted with the forest green of “certified” gardeners or the venerated gold badge of “lifers.” This is just gardening… so… um… (very quietly)… does anyone really care?

Yes. Yes, they do. Yesterday I received a curt email informing me that my “status” was about to be switched to “archived” for my inability to log 60 volunteer hours since graduation. This, from a gang of reusable tote-toting, composting cat-lovers to whom I’ve devoted 48 hours of free work:

…sadly only 25 of them count towards the Certified collection– you can only use 6 of the Admin hours so the others are banked until you have your green badge. So you need:

12 hours HelpLine

11 hours of approved Outreach

3 hours of approved gardening

1 hour of Continuing Education

Plus 8 more hours of any combination of gardening and outreach

They were kind enough to honor my Big Cancer Excuse for failing to check all of these green badge-worthy boxes in a timely fashion.

If you are of this world, recognize an entity call The Internet and its effective little encyclopedia for the universe called Google, you might wonder why a HelpLine staffed by Master Gardeners exists. But it does. And three years ago, when graduation required we waste a certain number of hours replying to inane emails and fielding questions from bored elderlies, I wondered that, too. One morning, the only phone call was from an octogenarian requesting tips for freezing basil. Emails to the HelpLine are usually to-pull-or-not-to pull soliloquies, and include fuzzy pictures of overgrown common weeds. And every single scintillating exchange must be documented longhand in a gigantic binder as if some future historian might want access to Official Garden Emergencies of 2013. Another dozen hours in that cinder block cell is varsity level hazing of the nerdiest kind.

I’m less focused on completing an additional 35 hours of volunteer garden grunt work than learning which clickety-clack meeting-knitter ratted me out to the administration. Is there some seditious faction of sober gardeners who want me “archived?” It’s quite possible I don’t really fit in, being rather fond of fancier footwear, and being mostly indifferent to cats. But in order to earn the green badge of this lofty class of shear-wielders, I’ll have to follow their rules. Anticipating twelve hours addressing your most pressing plant problems with Girl Scout enthusiasm… just as soon as I run out of excuses (and master gardener stereotypes).

I may not be "certified," but I can grow a lovely flower.

No green badge required to grow this beauty.

Fancy Lady Tips

Jessica Kim (of BabbaCo fame) recently asked her customers and fans to share memorable motherly advice. The thread includes hearth-warming tales of delicious meals, but my memories go to what I consider Fancy Lady Tips. I adore this topic. When that 1955 Housekeeping Monthly list for young wives is read tongue-in-cheek at bridal showers, I’m amused… not outraged. Even though they sound silly now, those guidelines were the purported path to a peaceful, quiet home. Don’t we all want a peaceful, quiet home? Certainly there are ways to achieve that without frantically fluffing pillows before the breadwinner arrives all grumpy and expecting a cool drink from his freshly lipsticked wife. But the other stuff about wearing dresses and preparing yummy food and de-cluttering the house? I love it all. Sometimes I think I’m a 1955 housewife, minus the smokes and garters.

My mother, perhaps in an effort to stifle inherent Gertrude-ness, didn’t adopt the myriad, judgmental rules dictated by her own mother. Mom never insisted we protect our ears as fiercely as our virginity. (Grandma Vinette abhorred lobe-baring hairstyles.) But my pretty mother still encouraged us to approach the world with a ladylike respect. We sported our Sunday best on airplanes. Young girls wore bright, cheery colors… never black. My sister and I were expected to don a dress at least one day during the school week, and all of us shook hands with grownups and uttered (with some reluctance), “how do you do?” Mom also reminded Paige and me that youth embodies its own beauty that requires no adornment or alteration. And though young girls require no makeup at all, a grown woman should never be seen without it.

Abby’s mom was another role model who stamped her worldview on the passport of my youth. Abby looked like Tatum O’Neal, wore an enviable add-a-bead-necklace, and carried her books in an L.L.Bean tote bag. Abby was an 80’s goddess of the preppy ilk, and her mother was my shaman for all things tasteful. One Friday night in 1984, as Abby and I settled in with our Cokes and Betamax, we watched her mom prepare for an evening at the country club. “When you go dancing, you should always wear a gown that floats,” she said, and also included, “…never leave the house without a quarter for the pay phone and a safety pin.” Watching this elegant woman gather her wrap and bag for an evening of romantic adult fun, I couldn’t wait to be like her. Abby’s dad was super handsome and kind and quietly masculine and wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening twirling with him in a floaty gown? If following her advice would lead to this pretty future, I was taking notes. (And later I totally found my own super handsome, wonderful guy to share evenings with in formalwear.)

Abby and her dashing Daddy

Abby and her dashing Daddy

Since I don’t have daughters to torture with old-fashioned counsel, I’ll bore yours, or heap unsolicited Fancy Lady Tips onto the young folk who find themselves living in my house. (Our four-year rotation of young tenants is the topic of another set of paragraphs; but where others collect Fiestaware, The Lees collect People.) I’ve encouraged more dress-donning, bed-making, de-cluttering, oven-using, and flower-potting for quite a few young women. But the goal of these girlie pursuits isn’t to please some Man (although that might be a side-effect), but to experience the joy of creating a little beauty in the world. Maybe I’m traditional, naïve, and engage in magical thinking, but some part of me believes that nothing too, too terrible can happen in a clean house that smells like muffins. And even if it does (and it did)… it’s a little less terrible if it happens in a clean house that smells like muffins.

My mom and Abby’s inspired this list of Fancy Lady Tips. I hope you’ll add to it.

God created you with hair and skin that match naturally: stray from either too far, and the result will be unappealing.

Dress nicely when traveling, as others will be more apt to come your aid should you require it.

Accept compliments gracefully, and offer them sincerely.

Everyone is fascinating if you listen.

Plant flowers. Buy flowers. Send flowers.

Wrap presents beautifully (and reuse the double faced satin ribbon)!

Make guests feel cozy and special and welcome and expected.

Don’t mix liquors. Bubbles or booze, but pick one for the evening.

Little boys should have little boy haircuts, lest they look like teeny criminals.

Unmade beds are an insult to the home.

Everyone appreciates a handwritten thank you, even if one isn’t expected.

There are oodles more, but the final suggestion is inspired by Ran, who may be the last man on the planet who stands up whenever a lady excuses herself from the dining table. It’s antiquated, quaint, and possibly ridiculous… but has never failed to make me feel noticed and special.

Let’s all be old fashioned and wonderful to each other.

Abby's mom, an original Fancy Lady

Abby’s mom, an original Fancy Lady

*DP Challenge

A new kind of awareness

Today, this made a lot of people really happy.

I’m in awe. I want to meet her and hug her and be her (millionth) best friend. Look at her all adorable and smiling sunbeams and effectively preventing everyone in that room from crying! But I’ll bet you a Beyonce hair extension that tears flowed after the camera stopped and anesthesia started. A woman this spectacular is a woman adored. And no one wants what happens next to happen next. To anyone. To her. In addition to the millions who “like” this, there are thousands more sobbing atop their restructured parts (please pass me a tissue).

Roughly one in eight of us is thrilled October and all its yammering awareness is over. After Halloween, we were relieved that daily reminders of our personal demons had stopped polluting our newsfeeds, and tote bags, and cereal boxes. I wonder if, like me, they watched this gem of a video and thought, “This. This is ‘awareness.’” A beautiful, groovy gal in a backless gown shows us one way to plow through the terror of it all: with love… and a bit of Beyonce.

I’ve been quite vocal about championing Angelina Jolie for her spotlight on breast reconstruction after mastectomy. She brought awareness to the triumph of reconstructive surgery over devastating mutilation. Famous for being stunning before and after her mastectomies, she provides compelling evidence to women with this distressing diagnosis that the road to recovery isn’t necessarily the autobahn to ugly. Bravely sharing the nitty gritty of her medical treatments, she effectively outlined what women should expect as a “standard of care” faster than any number of 5K runners in tight, pink clothing. Today, I applaud Dr. Deborah Cohan for putting a groovy spin on awareness, for showing us the triumph of spirit over fear.

I hope today’s viral, feel-good story will be famous for longer, and for so much more than her johnnie jamboree. Deborah Cohan hijacked “awareness” like a John Malkovich movie cameo, showing us it can be quirky and cool. (For all of the good they do, Komen has become a bit of a Kardashian.) Don’t you want to know Dr. Cohan and her fun bunch of boogying buddies? What a gift to the people who love her: to show them joy when they feel dread, to give them Beyonce when they’re expecting dirges, to share herself (with the world!) when they (we!) need to know desperately that this isn’t breaking her. While I’m preoccupied with Pink-tober backlash rants, here is this brave woman reminding us of the big picture in a tiny space. She marshaled six minutes on the scariest day of her life to show everyone who loves her that she knows she’s loved, that joyfulness hasn’t died with this diagnosis, that it’s going to be OK. And in our hearts, we’re all dancing with her.

Big Shot Jerk Face (or, how I met my husband)

It’s the first day of my surgery rotation, third year of medical school. I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, so I focus on the easy stuff: looking pretty and being on time. Boosting my first impression seems important since I cannot remember where the electrolytes belong on those stick figure scaffolds or any of the branches off of the mesenteric artery. Only a few weeks prior, I became Dr. Stockton, defending my PhD dissertation in front of my parents, an entire Immunology department, devoted friends who will endure 79 slides about a cell surface molecule, and a (recently ex-) boyfriend. I was A Smart Girl, searchable on PubMed, and could talk to the field experts without hair flipping or reproach. But there were two years of clinical rotations to complete before gradation; and after a four-year hiatus of mouse murdering and futile, ring-less dating, I was rusty.

I set the alarm for 4:30am, blew out my hair, and channeled my best Bond Girl Goes to Medical School. One could reasonably assume that this getup was enduring an extended tour from an evening of bad decisions, but that didn’t occur to mid-twenties me. I looked good. Also, I needed the confidence of little dress/tall boots to endure impossible questions–a sort of medical hazing known as “pimping”– from a group of doctors who had only ever been described to me as assholes. Surgeons have a reputation (especially among the nerdy, PhD set) for being jerks: over-confident-frat-boy-cowboy-old-school-chauvinistic jerks. I had been warned, and I’ll admit to the disappointed sighs of my feminist sisters that I dressed to appeal to that demographic. It was still dark when I located the right floor and found a sleepy intern to tell me what to do. An hour later, I had collected the overnight vital signs of every patient on the service.

The Chief Resident arrived at 6am with a few other blue-pajammied underlings in tow. They were a sniggering bunch of inside joke-swappers; their swagger intimidated and annoyed me. Blech. I’d never catch up with these gunner medical students who could spew correct answers like the names of their own children. I had forgotten everything I’d learned five years ago in Gross Anatomy, and I had no desire to memorize minutia to impress physicians in a specialty I certainly never intended to join. Clutching my notecards with their teeny documentation of temperatures and urine outputs, I braced myself for the upcoming twelve weeks of sleep-deprived grunt work and public mockery.

The third year resident appeared to be in charge of rounds, and led the gaggle of us into each dark room to awaken the post-surgical patients, barking orders at the intern for dressing changes, scans, labs, or discharge plans. Occasionally he’d regard the medical students with distracted disdain, and assign us mundane tasks with subtle assurances that somehow we’d fuck it up. The Chief filed in behind us in his unstained white coat, paying more attention to his coffee than the plans for the day. He spoke quietly and infrequently, but his offhand remarks elicited smirks from the residents within earshot. I didn’t actually hear him speak until it was my turn to present a patient.

He didn’t interrupt me right away. I thought I was doing a bang up job, yammering away about temperature spikes and heart rates and drain outputs just like the students before me had done outside their patients’ doors. But he stopped me mid-sentence…

“Stand up straight when you’re presenting a patient to me.”

I was leaning against the wall. I was also desperately trying to finish my little speech about the overnight events of a patient I had never met so I could disappear again from their notice and questions. But Big Shot Jerk Face made me re-start my presentation from the beginning to the smug delight and grateful relief of my fellow classmates. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl, I thought. I had committed a grave error in sartorial judgment. Pants-with-clogs ponytail girl got through her morning report with absolutely no hassle at all.

Later that day, Big Shot Jerk Face sat down across from me in the cafeteria. The other medical students had already raced off to compete for space at the carotid artery aneurysm repair, but Big Shot Jerk Face implied that there was no rush and started being nice to me, explaining his reaction to my wall-leaning insolence was a common prank on Day 1 of a rotation. I was relieved that such a blatant example of asshole-ry was only a joke, less happy to be the butt of it. Big Shot insisted I follow him into the next case, and then his next one, where I began to notice that the attending surgeon was letting Big Shot do all of the sewing, and the nurses were happy to see him (if not blatantly flirting with him). Suddenly, surgery seemed interesting.

How many of you fell in love during medical school?

How many of you fell in love during medical school?