A Woman of the People

My memory of the caricature of a food critic is someone who is an elitist and only recommends the poshest of places that few can afford. They may disguise themselves so chefs and customers don’t recognize them when they are out “critic’ing”. Restaurants bend over backwards to make sure the critic has an excellent experience, only to be disheartened to read a scathing review in the next publication. We’ve all seen this movie.

The foodie experience has changed over the last 10+ years and I’d go so far as to say that it has been democratized much like my industry of design.

One of the main disruptors, locally, to that old fashioned idea of the  food critic is Stephanie March. She’s currently the Senior Editor of Food and Dining at Mpls.St. Paul Magazine and co-hosts the radio show, “Weekly Dish”.

Even though she used to pretend to be a writer as a kid, won a writing contest in high school and majored in English, she didn’t realize she wanted to be a writer until much later in life.

Her food hospitality experience started in college when she worked as the bar manager at the campus pub. When she graduated, she spent a short time in advertising, and then went on to bartend at Buca in Eden Prairie. She worked up the ranks at Buca, becoming the Director of Training where she would travel the country opening new restaurants and training the staff. One of the perks of this job was being able to eat and drink through all the cities she was traveling to.

She left that job for circumstances out of her control and launched her own freelance consulting business training restaurant staff, blogging and media buying. This was where she started to build her food network.

There was a new magazine launching in Minneapolis, called The Rake, where she pitched and landed a food writing gig. She spent 6 years at The Rake and when the magazine folded, she continued to blog. She was still figuring out that she was a writer.

She took one more restaurant consulting job at Oceanaire when the great recession of 2008 hit. Budgets and expense accounts dried up and nobody was hiring for that type of work anymore. It was also around this time that Andrew Zimmern was leaving Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, so she applied for his job. She was turned down, but took freelance assignments with the magazine, which ultimately led to an Assistant Editor job, which led to her current role as the Senior Editor of Food and Dining.

What I personally love about Stephanie’s work, is the attention she pays to what she’s defined as her two audiences: Readers to feed and the restaurant community as a whole. She’s earned the trust of chefs because she provides her honest feedback when they ask for it.

I also love how she believes that good food should be for everybody. She’s not judge and jury on what “should” be the right restaurant, chef or food experience. If you like it, that’s awesome. The way she describes food is her authentic experience of it, which may be critical because she has a duty to the reader to be honest about her thoughts.

She’s made the local eating out experience engaging, celebratory and fun. I’m a huge fan because her optimism is contagious.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? 
MFK Fisher. She’s a food writer who was born in Minnesota, but moved to California as a young girl. She was the first person I discovered who had a voice and creative writing around food. She took no pleasure in dissecting taste. Context was more important, as were trends and why we accept them.

What would you cook?
Speaking of trends, Cacio E Pepe. I would cook that.

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
I used to think so. I’m locally known and enjoy interacting with people who respond well to my work, but fame is not a goal.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?
No, I’m famously off-the-cuff.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning. All the time. My kid and I listen to a lot of music and we sing in the car.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? 
No, but I think about it. Like on a plane. My averages are up there because I used to fly so much. I’d think: “Is this it?”

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
3 beautiful and wonderful step children.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? 
My mom is amazing and my best friend, but she raised us herself. It would have been nice to have had a male role model, but I don’t yearn for it.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Flight, so I don’t have to do so much driving. Ha! Seriously though, I have a pretty zen outlook, but I am at an age where I think about things differently. I need to trust myself more and let go of the BS that comes with doubt.

What is your most treasured memory?
Finding joy in the most difficult moments in life. To give you context, I’m a first generation American. My mom escaped the war in Germany and she worked so hard. She was an immigrant, divorcee, with 2 teenage daughters and in the process of getting her CPA. We didn’t have much. There were many nights when dinner consisted of Bisquick, tunafish and pasta. One night her and I were doing dishes and I played the “Rubber Band attached to the sprayer” trick on her. When she turned on the faucet, she got really wet! A laughing chase ensued, where she tackled me to the ground and stuffed a stinky, milky, trashy rag in my face to get back at me. We laughed ourselves silly. I still laugh really hard thinking about it today.

The Teacher

Dr. Meghan Walsh is reluctant to lead with titles & CV’s. It’s the thesis behind her strategy to collaborate together on featuring women Docs on a style & fashion blog. In her professional culture, it’s all about the CV, the research and the degrees. The humanity of doctors gets reduced to accomplishments.

Dr. Meghan Walsh is reluctant to lead with titles & CV’s. It’s the thesis behind her strategy to collaborate together on featuring women Docs on a style & fashion blog. In her professional culture, it’s all about the CV, the research and the degrees. The humanity of doctors gets reduced to accomplishments. She wanted to see what it would be like to put them in an environment where they had to talk and think about themselves first.

Meeting with each, very accomplished woman, I found that it was easy for them to talk about their work and their patients. These are women who can literally save lives, so I see where that would be easy to talk about.

When the questioning turned personal, the answers didn’t come as easy. I suspect it’s because they rarely do think about themselves. They have so many others to consider. I found it to be in stark contrast to the interviews I conducted with women in the creative field. I suspect that is because, as creative women, we’re constantly in a state of expressing ourselves. It’s part of the process we have to leverage to make things for the brands we work for.

Dr. Walsh’s experiment also stretched me to think more about what style means, who I show up as conducting interviews and how I write about my subjects. I found myself feeling really unworthy to interview these women. See, I work in retail, and while I love my job, I also think that the work I do isn’t as important when compared to them. These doctors can work anywhere in the world and they all choose to work at a hospital that embraces communities of people who the rest of the world discards. That is very different than debating red lipstick trends for spring. Don’t get me wrong, I still love retail, it’s just nice to get hit with a little perspective once and while. Helps with gratitude.

What I also discovered through this process is that the doctors were feeling unworthy to be featured on a style blog. It was really hard for them to get out of their heads, be vulnerable in front of a camera, and have articles published about them. Worried texts were sent, articles were edited, fear was expressed.

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As I was reflecting about how everything transpired over the past few weeks, I realized that this perfectly illustrates how Meghan operates as a teacher.

She likes to test systems and assumptions and empowers those around her to build strong & smart communities. She doesn’t tell you the answer to the problem. She builds the environment and brings you along on the journey, helping you identify the symptoms so you can solve the problem on your own. That’s what makes her such a great teacher. Meeting her, you’d never know that she’s an executive and runs one of the most respected resident programs as Chief Academic Officer at HCMC.

Science came easy to Meghan and she actually thought she’d be a teacher. She spent 2 years in the Peace Corp, working in Africa, and also worked at Planned Parenthood before she decided to go to medical school. She envisioned a life as a doctor working in Africa. HCMC is the perfect place for her because she gets to work in the diverse community that she thought she had to travel the world to experience.

I find Meghan’s style so fascinating because she stays true to her value system. She is not interested in the “finer things” even though she can easily afford them. She also has this magical mixture of formal and informal authority. Formal because she has a fancy C-Suite title and it’s easy to move people by flexing your title.

More importantly, she has informal authority. Informal is earned, and she earns it by speaking truth to power and acting authentically in every environment she walks into. Informal authority looks like calling 5 doctors and saying you have this idea for a blog article, show up with 4 outfits and be ready to be photographed and interviewed. Then all 5 women show up with suitcases full of clothes and hearts full of trust in a woman they know would never steer them wrong.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? The Obamas. Since you live next door, I’d invite you too.
Yes!
I just want some hope and I want to know why shit can’t happen.

Would you like to be famous?
No. I don’t want my life on display and I don’t want my kids exposed. I prefer relative anonymity to worrying about my image and the pressure to keep it up.

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Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
Unfortunately, no. This is also true when I’m speaking out at a board meeting or to a boss.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Something active with my family. Hiking in a beautiful mountainous place. Ending the day with a glass of wine and my kids not on technology. I love hanging with my family. We’re actually taking a camping trip to the Grand Canyon in an art van. It’s my “Instagram” vacation.

When did you last sing to yourself?
Oh, yesterday! My husband, Chuck, is obsessed with Alexa and remembers song titles and artists. Yesterday, I sang that song: “Joey, I’m not angry anymore!!!!!”

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Mind, hello! As doctors, we play “what would be the worst disease to get” game. Mine is locked-in syndrome where the brain is fine, but you can’t speak or move. You’re screaming from the inside. But I guess that’s contrary to what I just said about mind versus body.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
Yes, dementia. There is cognitive loss on my dad’s side. I’m going to have just enough going on with my brain to be a pain in the ass. I’m going to question the doctor’s every move.

What do you and your partner appear to have in common?
Laughter, politics, kids & dogs. We enjoy being parents and are dog lovers.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My health and the health of my family. The rest is gravy.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
Probably exposure to a greater diversity of people’s backgrounds and religions. I was definitely taught empathy, but my classroom and community weren’t diverse.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
I would sing like Sinead O’Connor. I would love to be able to sing.

The Internist

Dr. Veeti Tandon was inspired to become a doctor when she was 8 years old. Her grandpa had eye surgery, which was videotaped, and given to him. Veeti found the tape and watched it. Riveted by what she saw, which was very invasive eye surgery, she knew she wanted to somehow make medicine part of her life’s work. It sparked her inspiration to become a doctor and was always part of her professional plan.

Veeti is also a dancer. She performed Indian and Modern dance in high school and chose her undergraduate college based on the dance program. She attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she majored in Dance, Sociology/Anthropology, Biology and balanced that with classes she had to take to get pre-med credits.

Immediately after college she went to medical school at the University of Minnesota. It’s common for students to take a break between college and med school, but Veeti decided to jump right in. It was during her 3rd year that she thought she may need to take a break from the rigors of med school. By this point in the program, a student is supposed to know what their specialty is going to be. Veeti wasn’t ready to make that declaration, so she took it as a cue to take a break.

So, she went back to dancing. She took a year off and worked as an artist, dancing in a troop that traveled to Toronto & New York City. It was a good break from the intensity of med school and she developed an appreciation for how hard it is to earn a living as an artist. She supplemented the dance work with a job in the administrative offices at the U of M.

After that time off, she returned to medical school, revitalized and ready to get back into the medical field. That time in her life was a great lesson about knowing when it’s time to take a break from something and not just plow right through life.

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During her 4th year in medical school, she traveled to Ghana to work and study for 3 months. Being a woman traveling alone in a country she didn’t know, was more intense than she expected. She was totally removed from anything in culture that she was familiar with. It was socially isolating and was the first time she had ever felt like that. This experience has helped her relate to her patients who are immigrants and may suffer from the common ailments of social isolation.

Prior to departing to Ghana, she knew she would do her residency at HCMC and was excited to return and get started. There are many reasons why she chose this hospital. “If I trained there, I can work anywhere.” She loved the mission at HCMC and knew she would learn so much.

When Veeti talks about her style, she expresses that she likes bright colors and that she MUST wear earrings. She actually admitted to having an emergency pair in her car. She likes to be comfortable because she’s running in and out of patient rooms taking care of sick people. She’s recently started wearing sneakers because of foot issues from her years of dancing.

The most important part of Veeti’s style is her active presence for her patients. “I need to be present and put together so the focus is on the patient in front of me. That means I have to take care of myself too.” Her style strategy is to get good sleep, be well fed and meditate. Throw on some sparkly earrings and she’s good to go.

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Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Dr. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi from the 1800’s. She was one of the earliest Indian female physicians and practiced in the United States.

Would you like to be famous?
No. I want to be useful, make a difference, be kind, laugh a lot and be happy.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
Yes, I like to be prepared. I don’t rehearse every time. If it’s a difficult call, then yes.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Sleep in. Have a really good meal that I didn’t cook. Dancing, reading, having my kids do something goofy. Just a day without having to multi-task.

When did you last sing to yourself?
Oh, on my way here! I sing a lot in the car. I’m a total rock star…in the car.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
The mind. That’s a tough one, but I’d say mind, so I could continue to learn.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
No, but we’re all going to die and I’m not scared of it.

What do you and your partner appear to have in common?
Humor, politics, travel and not sweating the small stuff.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My village of people (family, friends, co-workers). I’m also grateful for my health.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I wish we could have lived closer to my extended family. They lived in India, so we’d only see them every other summer. My kids’ grandparents are here and I see the beauty of them being part of the day to day.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Take more risks in my career. Medicine is not a risk in many ways because of its clear path. It’s not an easy career, but it’s not necessarily risky.

The Internist

When Wendy was in 8th grade, her 2nd cousin died young from “brain cancer” that nobody ever talked about. Her intuition always told her that something felt “off” about the situation. Later in life, she found out that he actually died of AIDS and always wished that she would have known he was sick.

When Wendy was in 8th grade, her 2nd cousin died young from “brain cancer” that nobody ever talked about. Her intuition always told her that something felt “off” about the situation. Later in life, she found out that he actually died of AIDS and always wished that she would have known he was sick.

Witnessing this stigma is what led her to root for the underdog. When she pursued medicine, she thought she’d be interested in infectious diseases, but discovered that her true calling in medicine was advocacy.

As an Internist at HCMC, she cares for a high risk population who are vulnerable and frequently admitted to the hospital. They are typically medically very complex and may struggle with housing, addiction or mental health issues. In her day-to-day work, she focuses on anything she can do to remove stigma for her patients. That includes stigma around drug addiction. If her patients can be open and honest with her, she is better able to serve them. She takes great pride in the creative problem solving required for this type of work.

Wendy always liked science and religion when she was a student. In high school, she thought she would be pastor, but that changed once she reached college and discovered new ideas in subjects like Eastern philosophy.

She studied plant science at Carleton College, which set her back in med school. What she did learn though, the understanding of how things work, ultimately set the foundation for the work she does today.

One of the main reasons that Wendy decided to work at HCMC was because they approach care with a team of problem solvers and everyone is committed to making a plan with their patients. She has resources like social workers and psychologists, and together they collaborate to serve the patients.

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Her style strategy is to wear pieces that don’t require a lot of time to style and thoughtful consideration for what her day looks like. She may, literally, have to run to the emergency room, so her shoes need to be sturdy and comfortable. Fluevogs are her signature shoe! She wears a lot of dresses because it saves time in the morning, and has even less of it since becoming a parent.

She doesn’t always wear the white coat, even though she thinks about if it will work over the outfit she has selected for the day. There’s a lot of debate about wearing the white coat. For women providers, wearing the white coat establishes that they are the physician when they are working with other team members in the hospital. However, the white coat was not designed with women in mind. It works well for men because their shirt collars fit tighter. For women, the best thing to wear under the white coat is a sleeveless top. Wendy mainly wears the white coat when she meets with her patients in the hospital, where there are a lot of people around, or when she meets them for the first time. She’s less likely to wear it for her clinic appointments where her patients already know her.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? Oprah. As a kid and in college, I never missed an Oprah show. I feel like I learned a lot about the world watching her show. I also have a ton of questions for her about the decisions she made.

Would you like to be famous?
No.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
I really dislike talking on the phone and it’s a big part of being a physician. I don’t practice because it feels too stilted. If I have to call someone, I do it as quickly as I can. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid

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What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
I love canoeing. I worked at The Boundary Waters in college, so I’d like to go canoeing with my family. Have lunch on Sawbill Lake and finish the day looking at Lake Superior and the stars at night.

When did you last sing to yourself?
I sing most mornings in the car. One time, I arrived at a team meeting and heard someone talking about passing a car with loud music with the driver singing. Turns out, it was me they were talking about!

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
The mind.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
I’m most terrified of dying of cancer or a disease where I have to make a lot of decisions. It’s not suicide anymore, which at one time, it could have been.

After I had my first daughter, I suffered from postpartum and anxiety. I wasn’t expecting it, so I didn’t know it was happening. I had this vision of what a working mom would be and the reality was quite different. I had no maternity leave because I always made myself available. Poor self-care is part of Doc culture. We congratulate each other about it. The effect of that culture can be very dangerous.

By the time I had my second daughter, I knew the signs, so I was able to manage it. It’s a very common experience for new moms. Now, they are screened for it as part of the post natal care.

What do you and your partner appear to have in common?
We’re both introverts, committed to our kids and we both love “Uranus” jokes.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My kids.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I wish my sister and I would have spent more time together. As kids our age difference made it hard simply because when I was in high school, she was in college. She’s 4 years older than me.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
To speak a foreign language. I have Dyslexia, so I’ve never been able to do it. Being able to speak Spanish would be very useful.

The Neurologist

When Tenbit was a teenager, her family immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia. The political state of the country was uncertain and her dad wasn’t safe because he was a journalist. So, her family of 8 moved to the U.S. and settled in South Minneapolis.

One of the biggest cultural shifts for Tenbit was attending public school where there was no dress code. In Ethiopia, she went to a private Catholic school, run by nuns, and had to wear a uniform everyday.

It was never a question of whether or not Tenbit would go to college and graduate school. Her parents believed that she had to do better than them, so it wasn’t up for discussion.

Her mom was a nurse and a medical director of a community clinic, so that is where Tenbit was first exposed to the medical field. She knew she was going to be a doctor as early as elementary school, and attended the University of Minnesota as a pre-med student, studying psychology. Discovering that she needed research experience for her med school application, she applied for a position at the V.A. to do research with a clinical psychologist.

While Tenbit was at the V.A., she pitched the idea to translate the M.M.P.I. (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) to Amharic, the offical language of Ethiopia. The psychologist she was working for, told her that the pitch was a great thesis for a Ph.D. So, she applied for her Ph.D. and did the M.M.P.I. translation. When the translation was complete, she traveled to Ethiopia to present to college students to validate the cultural relevancy.

After completing her Ph.D., she then applied to medical school, knowing that she wanted to study the brain. She considered neurosurgery, but she thought that neurosurgeons rarely have much of a personal life, and family is very important to her. Considering her values, she chose neurology. She completed her residency in neurology at the U of M, as well as a 2 year fellowship in Neurocritical Care at the U of M.

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She’s the Chair of the Neurology Department at HCMC. Her clinical practice includes managing critical neurologic and neurosurgical illnesses such as traumatic brain injury, severe strokes and seizures.

Her attention to style started during the days she spent in private school where she would paint her nails to add a little flair to her uniform. Her first job out of high school was at Sears and she started paying more attention to clothes and shoes.

It depends on her mood, but she generally likes to dress up. How she dresses sets her mood for the whole day. She’s usually overdressed, but doesn’t mind because that’s who she is. Her uniform always involves some sort of jacket. She loves shoes. It doesn’t matter if they make sense for her day ahead, if they’re cute, she’s wearing them!

She still has days, mostly weekend calls, where she wears scrubs all day. This is especially true when she’s working as a neuro-intensivist, providing care for ICU patients that have neurological issues.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? The Obamas. They’re an incredible power couple and have been through a lot. I would love to learn from their experiences.

Would you like to be famous?
I don’t know that I want to be famous, but I want to make an impact in some way. I want to make a difference in someone’s life in a significant way. On my deathbed I want to say: “I did that and it was good.” It will probably be something career-related.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
It depends on who I’m calling. If it’s a professional call or a difficult conversation, then yes. When I call to talk to my family, no.

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What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Get up in the morning without the snooze button. Go to the gym. Get to work by 7:30 and get all the things done. Dinner with my husband and watch the news. And finally, talk to my family on the phone.

When did you last sing to yourself?
Sing? Never to someone else! I don’t remember.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
The mind, for sure. Speaking as a neurologist, the body without the mind is no way to live. I’d rather die early than live without my mind.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
No (laughter). I have to tell you, I don’t think about that stuff. Since I have no control over it, it’s not worth thinking about.

What do you and your partner appear to have in common?
We like the same shows on Netflix, our politics & ideology and we like similar people.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My health and my family. As an immigrant, I’ve seen more “have not” than “have” and it helps me appreciate and value what I do have.

I’m also grateful for my job because I’m valuable to human life. I help people come to terms with their illness and cure, or treat, when I can.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
Now, I appreciate everything about how my parents raised me. I used to think they were strict. The way I was raised has everything to do with who I am today, and I love who I am.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
I’d like to be a charismatic public speaker.

The Pediatrician

As a young girl, Dr. Sonja Colianni was always drawn to helping younger kids, and worked as both a babysitter and a nanny when she was a teen. She loved school, didn’t mind homework, and knew she wanted to be a pediatrician from the 3rd grade on. There was never any question in her mind about where she was headed.

Sonja attended Colorado College, majored in Biology and minored in Latin American Studies. She studied abroad in Costa Rica to learn Spanish and to experience living somewhere else. While in Costa Rica, she volunteered at an orphanage playing with the children and running activities. She’s also worked in Nicaragua & Guatemala as an interpreter on medical trips.

She attended medical school at the Mayo Clinic, where everyone had to wear a suit, no matter who you were. When she rotated at HCMC, as a visiting medical student, she felt as if she had found her place. The physicians she worked with were inspiring on so many levels, and the patients had incredible stories. She knew she wanted to work here when she finished residency. Sticking to her plan, she ultimately accepted a position at HCMC where she’s been practicing for the last 10 years.

Like many tweens, she spent an exorbitant amount of time planning the details of her outfits. In high school, she was a downhill ski racer and spent a lot of time in spandex ski suits hurtling down hills and mountains as fast as possible. Much of her identity was wrapped up in being a ski racer, and her style reflected this.

This also transitioned well to her typical uniform at college, which was Birkenstocks and fleece. It was a sharp transition to Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, which required suits, but she would add her personality by adding colorful accessories or shoes.

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Since she works with children, her style strategy is functional and fun. She gets away with pink high-tops at work, and wearing them can earn some props from her patients. As a pediatrician, she can wear a dress with a birdhouse pattern, or a sparkly t-shirt under a blazer, and it does not feel out of place. She’s always surprised when people notice her clothing, because she doesn’t think she’s particularly stylish.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? Oh, that’s so tough. I’d like to have Ruth Bader Ginsburg over for dinner. It would be interesting to talk about everything she’s seen in her lifetime. She’s so smart, patient and has established relationships, over time, to get things done.

Would you like to be famous?
No, the loss of anonymity would be painful. I think people underestimate this. For ten seconds, if I did something great, it would be nice to be acknowledged. Beyond that, I think it would be painful.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?
Yes, in my head. I don’t love talking on the phone with people I don’t know. I don’t even like to call and order pizza. I make my husband do it.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Skiing two feet of fresh powder on an untracked mountain followed by an amazing meal with people I love, and then a small venue concert by a favorite band.

When did you last sing to yourself?
Just yesterday to my daughter, or maybe this morning to wake them up. I make up songs to make them laugh or to encourage them to do something unpleasant like clean their room or homework.

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If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Mind, for sure. If I have my mind, I can still read, study, connect ideas and with people. Losing my mind would be its own prison.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
No, that’s a funny question. Do most people know? I’d rather not know.

What do you and your partner appear to have in common?
We like the same activities like, skiing & mountain biking, finding our new favorite restaurant, experiencing other cultures, and seeing live music. We both get fired up about politics, and value spending time helping others.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
Good health & a supportive family.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I wish I would have been exposed to more diversity earlier in my life. I felt sheltered and didn’t realize it until later.

The Surgeon

Dr. Ashley Marek grew up believing she could do anything, until she went to college. She started as a journalism major, but was inspired to become a surgeon after interviewing 2 surgeons for an article she was writing during her journalism internship. During the interview, one of the surgeons told her that she had a really good understanding of their field.

Dr. Ashley Marek grew up believing she could do anything, until she went to college. She started as a journalism major, but was inspired to become a surgeon after interviewing 2 surgeons for an article she was writing during her journalism internship. During the interview, one of the surgeons told her that she had a really good understanding of their field.

After that encounter, she thought she wanted to change majors and study biology so she could switch to pre-med. When she told friends about her plans, they replied: “You have to be smart to be a surgeon.”

In addition to her friend’s doubt in her abilities, some professors in her biology program also discouraged her from going to medical school. Here she was, a journalism major that just showed up to take Biology classes. She had no other science background, so some teachers didn’t take her seriously and told her that she wouldn’t make it into medical school.

Although these external messages were beginning to build her self-doubt, it didn’t stop her. She graduated with a biology degree got into medical school just fine.

While in medical school, she started to develop her goals for her life’s work, which is to serve the underserved.

It was a childhood dream of hers to go to Peru to see Machu Picchu. In college, she had the opportunity to go to Peru and volunteer. There, she worked with a nurse doing wound care and home visits for patients, worked as an interpreter for a visiting dentist, delivered mattresses, and helped build homes for people out of what was basically thatch. She was struck by the degree of poverty that they lived in and remembers visiting a lady who was a paraplegic who had a huge wound on her buttocks, and flies were  buzzing all over her. There was another elderly man who would lay on his mattress in this dark, tarp-covered room in an alley way. They took him food. It smelled very bad in there and she had to hold her breath, but he was always so excited to see her. During her time there, she decided that while it seemed “exciting” to be a doctor in a 3rd-world country, she had a lot of work to do back at home.

During medical school, she went back to Peru two more times. Once was on a clinical rotation that she and one of her professors organized for other medical students so that they could get education in healthcare disparities on the global scale.

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In the last 2 years of medical school, students do clinical rotations. During rotations, students shadow physicians and residents at teaching hospitals, have access to patients, and gain valuable hands-on experience. They shadow physicians in a variety of disciplines so they are able to make an educated decision about the specialty they want to join.

Ashley did surgery right away and really loved it. Surgeons can fix anything! But that self doubt reared it’s ugly head and she talked herself out of it. She spent the rest of her time trying out different specialties, but always came back to surgery.

She ultimately decided to be a surgeon and began her interviews for residency. Because she was from the Midwest, she intentionally focused on east coast interviews only. Until the one of the Deans of the Medical School whom she admired greatly, (University of North Dakota) asked her to consider HCMC (Hennepin County Medical Center) in Minneapolis. She was so uninterested, she almost blew off the interview to watch a facelift on her plastic surgery rotation, which she still hasn’t seen to this day!

After meeting the people and learning about the culture and the vision of the hospital, HCMC became her first choice. She found a culture that aligned with her personal values, which is to serve the underserved.

At HCMC, she works as a General Surgeon, which means that she does a little bit of everything. She can operate on hernias, gall bladders, colons, cancer, abcessed breast and the thyroid. Her practice is urgent and emergency patients and she’s the only woman in her practice group of 13. She also does surgical critical care in the ICU, which means that she takes care of patients in the ICU after they’ve had surgery.

As it relates to style, Dr. Ashley Marek always dresses professional if she is going to see patients in clinic, attend a conference or give a speech. All the men in her practice group wear suits, everyday, even if they are coming to the hospital to change into scrubs right away.

She admires people who are well-dressed and understands that it impacts how people perceive you. She feels like wearing scrubs to meet with patients gives off the impression that she doesn’t care, so she dresses professionally for all of her patient meetings. It inspires confidence and also shows how much she cares.

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Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? Oh my God, so many people and I have to pick one? John Oliver & Hillary Clinton.

Would you like to be famous?
I used to think so, but not any more. I don’t like being in the public eye.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?
I used to be afraid to call people on the phone. Because I was a Journalism major, I had to get over that really fast.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
I love to travel. I imagine being somewhere amazing for the first time, like Machu Picchu. I’m going to Africa in April.

When did you last sing to yourself?
I sing to my dog all the time. Yesterday, I think it was the theme song to Growing Pains. I sing to myself too, but more commonly to my dog.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Has to be the mind.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
Yes, a heart attack. Heart disease is the number one killer of women and I don’t have the healthiest lifestyle. I have a high stress job.

Say more about that.
There’s the acute stress of the job, when someone has been shot, you get that call and have to try to stop the bleeding. Then the other stressful part of the job is when you’re trying to figure out whether or not your patient needs surgery. You worry about whether you made the right choice.

There is a quote from a book by Abraham Vergese, “When the abdomen is open, you control it. When it’s closed, it controls you.” This is the perfect metaphor for what it is like to be a surgeon. When I have the abdomen open, I can see what’s happening and I’m in control. But once we sew it up, I can no longer see what’s going on to know if a patient who doesn’t look good is bleeding or has an infection or other perforation. You lose a lot of sleep and that can be stressful.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I’m fortunate to have my job and all the opportunities I’ve had to be where I am. I have a good family and got to go to good schools. Statistically, I shouldn’t be a doctor. My mom and dad were poor and didn’t go to high school. And here I am a medical school graduate.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
My mom didn’t push me to do things that I didn’t want to do. She was always encouraging, but if I didn’t want to do something, like a piano recital, she didn’t force me.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
To play the piano.

Acting natural

There I found myself in front of the camera, wondering if I should be bending my knee a little…

There I found myself in front of the camera, wondering if I should be bending my knee a little…

When Mary asked if we’d join her in sharing women’s style and stories, I jumped at the idea. Of course! I love hearing people’s stories. Key word, right there. Hearing. It didn’t occur to me that my story would be a subject matter and it just might involve having a picture (and a few wardrobe changes) taken. But hey, what do they say about the infamous comfort zone? We set the photoshoot date and while there was a little pit in my stomach, I knew it was good. That is, until the night before. I was picking out outfits, which should have been easy because it’s what I wear every day, right? Holding up combos in front of the mirror, I for some reason found myself asking, ‘I wear this, right?’

And that’s where it began.

The questions seeped into the following day’s shoot. Is that how I stand? Does this look good? Where should my hands go? That’s really how I smile? Should I hold my sunglasses? Am I walking weird? Thoughts on bending my knee? Oh, maybe straight is better…

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Before I knew it, things I’d never even given a second thought to, were making me second guess myself. Act natural, I told my racing thoughts. But that’s when it hit me. Could those words be any more of an oxymoron?

Being in front of a camera can so easily pressure us to put on a show. Act a certain way. Dress a certain way. Look a certain way. Do a certain thing. Not do another. Be a somebody, when in reality, all we really want captured is ourselves.

After what felt like some rough moments, I found myself saying to our photographer, just get candid stuff. Instead of trying to pose, it felt more normal to have a conversation and what ended up happening was so welcomed. I got to hear stories again. Anna talking about her latest adventure with the cats. Michelle talking about her journey with photography and the last wedding she shot. Liana with her sense of humor all over everything. It was natural and I began to feel it.

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In bringing all of us women together, Mary’s removed the word “act” from our stories. We have the opportunity to open up and just be ourselves, trusting we’ll be loved for it. I respect the women who’ve gotten in front of a camera, shared their story and owned their style. Because hey, when it comes down to it, we should be proud! Proud of each other, of ourselves and whatever we decide to put on. (and yep, proud of however that knee bends)

Article written by: Kiera Jacobson