How to be a ski bum

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What you’ll need: sicky pow-pow, big air

Songlist: anything by Snow Patrol, I’m Going Down by Bruce Springsteen

Further reading: Skiing and Snowboarding: Everything You Need to Know About the Coolest Sports

Today, December 19th, I look out into my backyard in Minnesota and am more than a little disconcerted. For I can see the ground. Not only is it visible, there is absolutely no snow even lightly dusting the grass. And while I don’t long for last year’s winter–there was approximately 10 feet of snow on the ground by this point–I am, as Bing Crosby so famously put it, dreaming of a white Christmas.

For a few years running, my family went on ski vacations in Wyoming for Christmas, where there was never a lack of snow. In fact, the ski resort we’ve always gone to, Grand Targhee, frequently has some of the best snow in the country.

I loved skiing as a kid but, being from Minnesota, I’d never understood what it was like to ski on a mountain. We learned on “Afton Alps” and at “Welch Village,” names that give quite a sense of grandeur to prairie hills.

Grand Targhee is different. On our very first day at the resort, a guide took us up on a Sno-Cat through acres of fresh powder and we schussed down through it all day long. At lunchtime we stopped at a little clearing with the Tetons just behind us. It was glorious. I remember the end of the day, thighs burning, falling into a deep pile of snow and being unable to get back up, yet grinning nonetheless.

As much fun as we had, I was a tiny bit jealous of the guide. I mean, he was getting paid to have this much fun. And he probably got to do it several times a week. I felt sorry for the other resort workers, the ones who had to man the chairlifts and rent out skis in the morning. But then I found out the incredible truth–they all got paid to play. Maybe they weren’t all lucky enough to be trail guides, but on their days off they could ski to their heart’s desire! I felt like I’d stumbled on a well-kept secret–wouldn’t everyone take this job if they had the chance? I assumed one day soon I’d be wearing the black-and-red Targhee jacket, helping skiers onto the lift and honing my technique in my down-time.

But now, I’m sad to admit, I haven’t been on a ski slope in four years. The job doesn’t seem quite as appealing anymore–a friend of mine works at Winter Park, Colorado and hasn’t spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with his family in four years–but I do miss the mountains. Someday soon I’ll be back in the powder, schussing away.

Grand Targhee trail map

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Random acts of kindness

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One for me, one for you

As I pointed out on Monday, being a hero can be as simple as just being kind to someone. I went to Starbucks last month during their buy-one-holiday-drink-get-one-free weekend and the guy in front of me gave me his free drink. Ok, he wasn’t exactly my hero, but he did make my day (especially since I’d escaped to Starbucks after watching my football team lose yet again).

Here’s another random act of kindness/karma story that I love telling: One of the colleges my dad and I visited in 2003 was Hahvahd. We were planning on going to a 1-hour information session and then a 1-hour campus tour right after that. We drove around Cambridge madly trying to find a parking spot and found one magically close to the campus. The only problem was that it was metered, and only accepted one hour of coins at a time. Since we didn’t have time to find a new spot, my dad decided he’d just run back before the tour and pump the meter.

Just after we got out of the rental car, we passed a homeless man who held out a plastic cup for donations. My dad said hi and gave him a dollar bill. I’m sure I rolled my eyes–who knew what the man would use the money for?

My dad and I went to the session as planned, and he joined up with me on the tour after putting in a few more quarters for our second hour. The tour lasted longer than expected though, and we walked briskly back to the car, worried about finding a ticket on our dashboard. Instead, as we neared the parking spot, the homeless man flagged us down. I saw the meter maid making rounds, he told us, so I put a few more quarters in your machine.

And thus, the only lesson I learned at Harvard had nothing to do with the school itself: kindness counts. Or, as Justin Timberlake likes to say, what goes around comes around.

Before the duffels come the presents!

Everyone loves it when a stranger does something kind for them, and a few companies have caught on. Here are my two favorite “RAK” campaigns (quoted from the trendwatching website):

“In December 2010, Spain based airline Spanair collaborated with creative agency Shackleton Group to surprise passengers on one of its late Christmas Eve flights. As the passengers waited to pick up their luggage at the carousel, the airline sent out personalized presents to everyone who was onboard as a way of celebrating the holiday.”

A gift certificate to offset the parking ticket

And: “Washington based eco-conscious restaurant chain Sweetgreen employs a street team to perform ‘Random Acts of Sweetness’ for its customers. Previous acts include covering people’s bike seats when it rains, or leaving gift certificates for drivers who’ve received parking tickets.”

I love these two examples, because the people on the receiving end probably needed the extra cheer more than usual. Because, as we know, nobody likes a parking ticket.

Thanks

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Today I am thankful for all the things that cannot be purchased. I am thankful primarily for my family. And I am thankful that, in Minnesota in late November, I was able to make the Thanksgiving centerpiece entirely from plants I found blooming in my front yard: a pumpkin, dusty miller, pink and yellow mums, and even a few pink snapdragons.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How to be a doctor

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What you’ll need: steady hands, bedside manner

Songlist: Surgeon by St. Vincent, Dr. Robert by the Beatles

Further reading: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Gray’s Anatomy by Gray

Last night I had a dream I was failing my med school quiz.

This is a little strange because (a) I’m not in med school and never plan to be (b) I’m not stressed about any other tests in my life and (c) to answer the questions I had to color the number of squares that corresponded with the right answer in a bar graph on a piece of felt.

Let’s go back to (a). I have no interest in being a doctor now, but I did when I was a kid (have you noticed a theme to this blog?) My paternal grandfather is an immunologist and used to teach at Albany Medical School. My maternal grandmother was a nurse. My maternal grandfather was a surgeon with a private practice in New York who operated on the likes of Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie O. It’s not surprising, then, that medicine seemed almost destined for me.

My maternal grandfather had a knee replacement surgery when I was about five, and came to visit us at Christmas right afterward. He brought the tape of his surgery with him. I have a vivid memory of the two of us sitting around the TV watching the footage of his surgery, him explaining the different parts of his knee that were being revealed. I remember being fascinated. I also remember my brother standing just out of view of the television and only sneaking a peek when we told him the surgeons’ heads were obscuring my grandfather’s open knee.

I don’t remember when I became squeamish. Perhaps it was when I had a long illness that the doctors couldn’t diagnose, and thus had to get my blood drawn week after week so they could run more tests. Perhaps it was when my best childhood friend split her own knee open and the blood was right in front of me. Whatever the cause, I became irreversibly hemophobic (not to be confused with homophobic).

I think my grandparents would have been proud of me for following in their shoes. On the other hand, I have many friends in med school right now, and I must admit I don’t envy their Facebook statuses about cadavers and sleepless rotations. And I certainly don’t envy those weird quizzes they have to take–coloring in bar graphs on felt? No thank you.