25. Exercise every bit of patience I can muster

I am an impatient person. This, along with my excessive potty mouth rank right up there with my least flattering qualities (don't worry, I'm aware that those qualities have company - I am certain I have many unflattering qualities, but these are always among the first that spring to mind). My impatience is rooted in a perceived need for control. My life path has taught me intellectually that control is an illusion, but the maintenance of the illusion of control is still a facet of my personality that I manage daily.

I have gotten a lot better about managing this illusion. I cannot believe that I am about to share this because I have never admitted this aloud to anyone. ANYONE. Most importantly, my dear mother, who is discovering this as she reads it for the first time... and I am afraid... very afraid. Growing up, we had a cool "secret room" in our house that was always referred to as "The Surprise Room." It was a closet behind a closet, and it was wall to wall shelves filled with gifts. Gifts for friend's birthdays, housewarming gifts, hostess gifts, shower gifts, lots of gifts... like our own little Patina right in the walls of our house. You can guess that around holidays and our own birthdays (I have an older brother who has a birthday the day before mine), shelves of that room became stocked with gifts that would be given to US (you know where this is going - but stick with me). Yes, I did it. I snooped. I have heard people say that you only snoop once because once you ruin a holiday... you learn your lesson. This was not the case for me. The gift snooping occurred in my teenage years, when I was old enough to be left home alone. I would have long, intense conversations with myself about how this was wrong... and then I'd promise myself I'd never do it again... and then I'd do it. I'd sneak into the surprise room taking careful note of where everything was so that I would not leave evidence of my presence. I'd take mental note of anything that looked like it would end up with my name on it, and then leave satisfied. Like I had just licked up the last crumbs of Duncan Hines brownies. Then I'd practice my surprised face for when I had occasion to open up the gifts I knew were coming to me. I did this for about three or four years, consistently.

I feel so guilty sharing this. Partly because I am ashamed, but mostly because I am imagining my amazing mom and how it feels to her right now to know that she worked so hard each holiday to surprise me - and how disrespectful I was to her all to satisfy my impatience and need for control (and now I'm thinking that I better give her a heads up about this blog before I publish it - so that she's not feeling EVEN MORE disrespected). I will confess also that it is so much more exciting now to receive gifts because of the genuine surprise. My mom is an AWESOME gift giver (in addition to being a wonderful and supportive mother), and I appreciate that so much more than I could ever express.

So, I'm having twins (if this is news to you - check out this post). Basically, it's like this, the twins are in the Surprise Room, and I can't get in... yet. I want to express that a parent's choice to find out the sex of their baby or not find out the sex of their baby is their own personal choice. I respect each individual's feelings around this, and I want to be clear that because I have made different decisions, it in no way means that I think our way is the "best" or the "right" way. It is just the way that worked for us. We have always found out the sex of our babies. For us, it was a way to build the relationship early on. We wanted to name our children and know what we could about them from the earliest possible time because, to us, it enhanced our own relationship to them. In hindsight, I am so glad that we did this with our first daughter, Brady, because when she died at 3 1/2 months of age, I felt like we had known her so much longer. With Brady, we found out at 16 weeks of pregnancy that she was a girl. With our son, Ollie, we found out at a similar stage (that he is a boy, of course). With our second daughter, Parker, who we lost during pregnancy, we had the opportunity to find out at 16 weeks, but she was shy.

As far as these two babies are concerned, we have not yet had the opportunity to peek into the Surprise Room... and I am ANXIOUS. My anxiety is not entirely centered around the discovery of their sex, it is also centered around my need to know that they are "okay." You see, it was at the 20 week ultrasound that we found out about my daughter Parker was very much not "okay." So while I have excitement about my journey into the Surprise Room that is my uterus, I also feel trepidation, because right now, I live in a world where everything is fine. Intellectually, I know that knowing is not the same as controlling. I have learned that the hard way. My intention is to focus on the positive and look forward to the day that we will find out exactly what flavor these babies are.

So, if you've been following along, you may have guessed that I am beyond that 16 week mark which is when I found out the sex of my other babies (or at least had the opportunity to). In fact, I am fast approaching the 20 week mark... which is when people normally get the opportunity to learn the sex if they so choose. So, it's on the calendar... this Friday to be exact. It has been all I can do to not come up with multiple excuses to deliver to my OB with reasons that I think we should move the ultrasound date up. I have purposely resisted every urge to do just that, and have been practicing patience. Patience that I don't believe I have (BTW, who ever said practice makes perfect was crazy). In my mind I honestly feel like I'm treading water. I am reluctant to start any preparations for the babies until this ultrasound is over and I know that they are "okay." I can't start moving stuff into the nursery until we know which clothes to unpack from the Sterlite containers and wash in copious amounts of Dreft. I literally feel like I'm at the top of the big hill on the roller coaster, and come Friday... down we go (and I'm hoping that the plunge will be forgiving this time).

Sometimes you face life's challenges again and again, and continue to be offered the same lesson. The lesson that life keeps presenting me is that I am not in charge around here. I can make good decisions, I can prepare for multiple outcomes, but at the end of the day, I am not in charge. I happen to believe that God is in charge, and my whole life has been a lesson in trusting that whatever does happen, God will give me the tools to deal with whatever I am facing. So far, it's worked out that way. Even though I am a total impatient control freak, there are always more surprises waiting for me in the Surprise Room, and if I wait for them to reveal themselves in divine time, it makes the surprise that much more worthwhile. I am certain that Friday will yield at least two surprises, both of them good... at least that's my prayer.

P.S. I had a nice conversation with my mom immediately before publishing this post. I confessed about my snooping. She let me know that she guessed that I had snooped at some point in my life. She was not at all surprised. She asked me if snooping ruined the surprise, and after careful thought, I told her that it just made me that much more excited for the holidays so that I could get my hands on what I'd been coveting in the Surprise Room. It's kind of like these babies. I can't wait to peek at them... and then I'll be as antsy as can be to get my hands and lips all over them. Babies are pretty sweet that way.

Also, for the record, she asked if I felt better having confessed. I said, "no." It's true. I still feel so ashamed, greedy, and disrespectful. Just wanted to let you know that I'm engaging in appropriate self loathing - it seems to be appropriate punishment for my actions.

Next week, I'm thinking of joining a Mother's Group. You won't want to miss this... so far, this will easily be the biggest challenge for me (and remember, I've pole danced).


24. See My City Like a Tourist

I am a proud lifelong resident of the 612. South Minneapolis to be exact. I have always been passionate about Minnesota (I cry at the State of Hockey song played at MN Wild games), and am particularly passionate about the area of Minneapolis that I have called home for 32 years. To be fair, I spent college sporting a 507 area code (Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN), but always knew that I would return to my beloved home near the chain of lakes. Deep in my heart, I have always loved this area, but you grow used to your surroundings and sadly become blind to them... until the opportunity to introduce your haunts to people who are experiencing them with new eyes presents itself.

One of my very dearest friends is not from Minnesota. In fact, we have never lived in the same state. We have never even lived in the same area of the country. Helen is from New Jersey, went to college in Washington, D.C., and has landed in the suburbs of Boston. She has made only a couple of trips to Minnesota in her life, once for my bachelorette party, and once for my wedding. She was a bridesmaid. That was over 7 years ago. The last time I saw Helen was at her bachelorette party in Las Vegas. I was not able to make it to her wedding because I was weeks from delivering my first child (apparently the airlines discourage air travel at that stage of the game). So that was the last time I had seen her, I hadn't even met her husband! Despite the geographic distance, Helen is one of my most treasured friends. Perhaps because we have remained so close having never spent more than a week in each other's physical presence. We are kindred spirits, and have offered incomparable support to each other across the miles in some dark times.

Helen and her husband Mike were planning a trip, and the stars aligned such that they made Minnesota their vacation destination. Keeping in mind that Mike, a native Bostonian, had never been to Minnesota (he'd barely set foot in the midwest), Matt and I were determined to show them a good time, Minneapolis style. Thankfully we had time to prepare, because we really needed some time to get into tourist mode.

Asking ourselves the question, "what is most beautiful about the place where we live?" and "what are we most proud of?" Matt and I engaged in a powerful brainstorm. We began to fret that the 36 hours of time we had to spend with Helen and Mike would not be nearly enough for them to experience the beauty of this place we call home. Letting that fear go, we prioritized the list.

In the interest of full disclosure, I began to share the list here, but deleted it for a very specific reason, our list was OUR list. Rather than give you, the reader, OUR list, I want to encourage you to make your own list of things you would show someone who had never seen the beauty of your surroundings. Whether or not you actually have a visitor coming, I encourage you to take your own tour considering the following:

Where do you LOVE to go? Where do you find yourself so engrossed with the culture and surroundings that you actually lose track of time? Who of your friends would you introduce your out of town friends to? Who helps create your experience of "home"? If your were seeing your city with fresh eyes, what would you find particularly beautiful, unique or exciting?

I have a new pride in my home. Not just the city I live in, but the home I live in. We have a beautiful view from the window of our house of Lake Nokomis. We are so used to this view that perhaps it has become like a piece of art that you adore, but begin to ignore. It is in seeing it through the eyes of our friends, that we gained a new appreciation and gratitude for the beauty that surrounds us each day. We are fortunate to live in the midst of this beauty, and I intend to remind myself to see this beauty with fresh eyes more often than not.

I have been changed by this experience in many ways. The past few years, I have become more thoughtful about the choices that I make in my life. The places I spend my time, the kind of food I eat, the people I surround myself with, and showing it to my friends has become an affirmation of those choices. Helen and Mike enjoyed themselves enough that they are already talking about their return trip. Matt and I are anxious to visit them in their hometown to give them the same experience that we had, the experience of pride and beauty in their surroundings, and the opportunity to see what is commonplace through fresh eyes.

The weekend was not only a celebration of our city, but a celebration of a friendship that has spanned the miles over years (almost 14 to be exact). When counting blessings on this particular weekend, I almost ran out of numbers. What a wonderful problem to have!


23. Meditate

I envy people who meditate regularly. It sounds so nice to be able to clear ones mind and absorb the quiet. I find that whenever I take a moment of quiet, that is the signal to my brain to start the to-do list. So, the skill of clearing ones mind is impressive to me. On a recent vacation, I read the book Eat, Pray, Love (I say recent vacation... the vacation was over a year and a half ago... this tells you how often I "vacation"). I was particularly intrigued in the Pray portion of the book. The author, Elizabeth Gilbert studied at an Ashram in India and engaged in marathon chanting and meditation sessions. She honestly shared her experience in such an accessible way. I believed then that I could benefit from meditation. I still believe that now (key word: benefit).

I have monkey mind. The term "monkey mind" is a Buddhist term that means, "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable." Apparently I have ordered a big whopping serving of all of the above. I seriously think that the only time my mind is quiet is when I am asleep - and even then, I am working out some crazy stuff with the insane and vivid dreams that I cook up. Is it possible that I just can't meditate?

Listen, I tried. I really really tried. I have a podcast downloaded on my ipod with 3 different meditation programs. They are about 20 minutes each. I set aside the first 20 minutes of my son's nap time each day to meditate. Every day, within five minutes, I was sawing logs. Napping. Sleeping. Soundly. The tinkly music and calming voice still playing in my ear as though I was achieving my goal, when the only goal I was achieving was rest. I don't think I succeeded in actually meditating.

I might have known I wouldn't be cut out for this. When I was practicing yoga regularly, that could have been the closest I have ever gotten to meditation without falling asleep. Still, my mind would wander to different "problems" that I felt I needed to work out, like what to have for lunch, or where my lost pink crocs (which I am not at all ashamed of) have disappeared to, or perhaps most importantly, when I was going to catch up on all of my TIVO. I can't be the only one this happens to. So here is my question, and I honestly don't know the answer, does my effort count? I mean, the fact that I set aside the time, and tried to get into a meditative state (whatever that is) - even though I only achieved sleep (which I also really needed), does that count? I am not calling this a failure, because I tried. I still believe that I could benefit from meditation, but maybe I'm just not cut out for it. Or maybe I need a class. As long as I don't have to get graded, I'm all for it!

Here's where I get stuck, I like my monkey mind. I thrive on the quick pace of my brain. I get excited by the many thoughts that pass through by the minute. I think my mind is so much a part of who I am. I don't know that I want to calm it. I don't know that I want to hit the mute button on what makes me... me. Maybe I don't want to meditate at all. Maybe I think I "should" and that's why I gave it a try. I admire people who meditate and can find that calm in their lives, but I am afraid that that kind of calm would change all the things I love about myself. I am getting better at spotting these "shoulds" in my life. Acknowledging the times I tried something because I felt like others wanted it for me more than I wanted it for myself. When I make decisions based on other people's desires for me, I never am satisfied. True satisfaction only comes when I fulfill my OWN needs and desires.

Lesson learned: I can admire other's ability to do something, and not have to do it myself. Not have to even WANT to do it myself.

Next week, I am going to see my city like a tourist.


22. Tell My Dear Readers What's Up!

Yes, something is very much up. I have been conspicuously absent from the blogosphere for the past month. Perhaps you've noticed. It's not that I haven't been stretched or challenged, quite the contrary. The past month has stretched and challenged me beyond what I could have created myself with the careful construction of a list. It's time for me to share some stuff with you, friends. Some stuff that may change the direction of this here blog, but I hope that will not deter you from visiting and continuing to challenge and stretch yourself.

Just the other day, when I picked my son up from preschool, his teacher met me at the door with a smile on her face. "It's really not funny, Colleen, but I have to tell you what happened today." She pulled an incident report out from a file folder. Again, she covered her smiling, almost giggling mouth with her hand as I read the report. It appears as though my almost 3 year old son (who has the energy of... well... an almost 3 year old) took off running laps around the gym during free play. He tripped and fell resulting in a huge swollen goose-egg on his forehead. According to my son's teacher and the report, "he didn't even cry. All he was concerned with was getting a band aid." Much to the surprise and delight of his teachers, once the icepack was applied for an appropriate period of time, and the aforementioned band aid was affixed to his bulging forehead, he took off running again.

By the way, telling people you have something to share, and then distracting with a seemingly unrelated story is what we call a "tease" in radio. It's annoying to be sure, but I promise you it will all make sense in a short moment. Stay put and keep reading. Please.

When my son came running out of the classroom sporting a blue band aid right smack in the middle of his forehead that said, "I'm okay" I could not have been more proud of him. He was down for the count for just a moment, but then back in the game. Unafraid of what roadblocks life (or rather, a poorly fitting pair of crocs) could throw in his way. It's been two days, and I still haven't seen what kind of carnage is hiding under that band aid. He is too proud of his badge. This is the way my husband and I have approached our lives in the past five years. I had a worry-free (or relatively worry free) pregnancy with our first child. We joyously welcomed our baby girl, Brady (named for my maiden surname) into the world, only to have her suddenly taken 109 days later - a victim of SIDS. My second pregnancy was quite short lived. It seemed that we had just found out we were pregnant and soon after we were experiencing the pain of a miscarriage. This beautiful son that inspires me daily, Ollie, was conceived shortly after the miscarriage, and that pregnancy was filled with fear. His birth was joyous, but again, the first few months of his life were cloaked with that same fear. We were no longer innocent to the temporary nature of life. He is, of course, alive and thriving, and for that we are abundantly thankful every moment of every day. I was determined to make my next pregnancy fearless. I told people early in the pregnancy because I didn't want to be frightened. We named the baby quite early in pregnancy (we had the same name picked out for a boy or a girl), and we anxiously awaited the fateful date when we could find out what flavor Parker would be. The day proved to be fateful in quite another way. On the day that we discovered that Parker was a girl, we also discovered that she had some of the most severe birth defects that made her incompatible with life. In short, it was a miracle that she had been with us so long. We said goodbye to Parker Hope Lindstrom at 20 weeks of pregnancy in November of 2008.

You are probably guessing what my next words are going to be, and you are correct, I'm pregnant, again. But that is not all the news. Matt and I had one wish, ONE more healthy baby. Well, it turns out that there were different plans. We are expecting TWO more babies. I am admitting to you that I am very afraid, for reasons that are so great in number that I couldn't begin to list them here. I am also feeling as blessed as can be.

Please understand, though we have experienced losses, these babies are not coming to "replace" those we have lost. We have heard that all too many times, and I simply cannot believe it. It may come as a shock to hear this, but what my husband and I have gained from the experience of grief I wouldn't trade for the world. This is the road we have come to walk, and we try every day to walk it with grace, and so having two babies in no way erases the pain we have suffered or the children we have lost, nor do we want it to.

We continue to "count" Brady and Parker among our children, and hope and pray that the two that I am carrying now will join their brother, Ollie in a vibrant life. When Matt and I were married, we planned to have two children. We have been blessed now with so many more, and we love them all equally. Like our son, we have taken off running laps, we have fallen and gotten hurt, we have gotten back up, dealt with the pain, and taken off running again with the band aids proudly displayed. We are not ashamed of where we've been, we honor it. It has made us better mates, better parents, and better people. We have lost friends that are uncomfortable with our grief, we have made friends who celebrate life (however short) with us, we have navigated uncomfortable conversations with well-meaning acquaintances when they have asked the question, "how many children do you have," and we have tried to live our lives in a way that would make our daughters proud.

Quickly, upon finding out that we were expecting twins a few weeks ago, my emotions shifted from focusing on the fear I felt, to focusing on the excitement of twins. I have been given the gift of a whole new pregnancy. A whole new experience. I have no intention to make this blog a parenting blog. Instead, I want to acknowledge that sometimes we are faced with challenges that cannot be accomplished in a week or even a month. Sometimes when we stretch ourselves, we are stretched indefinitely and we cannot control the outcome. We ask for support, we share our truth, and we hope for the best. That is what I intend to do here. Starting now, I will check in weekly (again, I promise), I still will post blogs that are totally unrelated to my pregnancy, but frequently I will likely blog about how this pregnancy is stretching me figuratively, not literally (although - rest assured, that is happening).

So that's the news. Two new Lindstroms arriving in the winter. I never got around to that laughter yoga - but there has been plenty of laughter and celebration around here. This week I intend to meditate every day. Trust me, I need it.


21. Bake a Wedding Cake

Let's just get this out of the way, I will never be on Ace of Cakes. In fact, in the completion of this challenge, I probably committed a minimum of ten violations of the code of cake ethics. Beginning with the fact that I used a mix, extending to the fact that I bought pre-made frosting, and probably topped off by the fact that I did not successfully frost without the presence of crumbs.

Here is how this began. My amazing husband and I have been married for seven years. We decided to have a few friends over for a pig roast to celebrate our completion of those years. Seven years that included some of the most beautiful miracles, and the most painful losses. We thought a party was well deserved. I thought it would be fun to bake a wedding cake. I knew I wouldn't be able to recreate the one we enjoyed on our wedding day, but I thought I'd create something equally memorable (even if it were for all the wrong reasons). Side note: I completely forgot to get my husband an anniversary card. I am still hoping that the labor I put into this cake will count for something.

So, how does someone who has never made a three-tiered cake before begin to understand the inner workings of cake construction? The world wide web, of course. Thank God for this amazing resource! I studied a few different methods before embarking on this challenge, and felt prepared. Michael's craft store has an entire section devoted to cake making and decorating that I made good use of. My purchases included three different sized cake pans, a special tool for levelling the cake before layering it, cardboard to separate the tiers, and two 4.5 lb buckets of butter cream frosting. Did you get that? A total of 9 pounds of frosting went into the construction of this cake. This is both beautiful, and disgusting.

After stocking up at Michael's, I made the split second decision to stop at the grocery store, and rather than purchase the ingredients to make the cake from scratch, I bought boxes of Duncan Hines. Six boxes of Duncan Hines cake mix, to be exact. Here's my justification, I have made cakes from scratch before. I have made frosting from scratch before. I have hastily frosted said cakes, and left them in the pan for consumption. This challenge was less about the baking, and more about the construction. So, mixes and prepackaged frosting it would have to be.

Making a cake of this size is a multi-day procedure. I broke it up like this, I baked one day, frosted and built the next, and refrigerated until the party/unveiling. After spending three days with a cake, the last thing you want to do is eat it. This is the basis of my new diet plan. I am going to spend days and days with my food, and then perhaps I won't want to eat it so much. What I'm saying is, I didn't actually taste the cake ever, but I'll have to take the word of my nearest and dearest, apparently it was tasty. Again, this was not my chief concern.

I am the most annoying type of perfectionist. I like the idea of perfection. I would love to aspire to perfection. I am often hard on myself for falling quite short of perfection. However, I am far to lazy to put the effort in, and I know this about myself. Therapy is in progress to tackle this ever important and consistently emerging issue, but it was in full effect during the cake construction. While I meticulously followed the directions of frosting and stacking the layers, I was having crumb problems. I have the same problem with butter. I always am dragging the crumbs back and forth. Instead of taking a break and researching how to make my frosting crumb free, I kept my eye on the prize and frosted away. Once the three tiers were in place and I stood back and looked at my work, I told myself the truth. That. cake. is. ugly.

Without even a second thought, I grabbed the keys and drove to Michael's for embellishments. Since it was a Hawaaiin themed party I found the most Hawaaiin looking fake flowers and a little Hawaaiin bride and groom. When I arrived at home, I made quick work of magic-ing up some fine looking embellishments mostly in an effort to hide the ugliness of the cake. The result... hilarious:

Remember that I said that people thought it was delicious (many thanks to Duncan Hines, and the Butter cream frosting manufacturers). Luckily, I had nothing to do with the pig. Because the pig, was nothing short of amazing on all counts. And because I had nothing to do with making it... I ate a lot of it... and it was tasty!

Next week, I am going to make a complete and total rear end of myself at laughter yoga.


20. Knit Something - for real this time.

Am I a knitter? I've been called a knitter, and I have felt like an impostor. To me, knitters can actually knit. I mean beyond just a knit and purl stitch. They can follow patterns and put together something that resembles clothing. Up until now, I have only followed a pattern to create hats and scarves. Okay, to be truthful, I have never actually made a scarf from a pattern. So, do you see what I mean? I am a knitting impostor.

I love to knit, for many of the same reasons that I love to vacuum. There's something extremely satisfying about seeing progress. As a knitting project comes to fruition, it is such a fulfilling feeling for me. It's also a nice brain vacation. When I'm knitting I am almost in a meditative state. For that time, however long or short, I am quiet. For a dramatic, quirky, busy minded lady like myself, these moments are treasured. After our daughter died of SIDS, knitting helped me retain what was left of my sanity. With each stitch, I saw that life continued. I was continuing to create in through this significant loss. If it was all I could do, then it was enough. But I've grown leaps and bounds since those sorrow-filled days, so this week, I decided to stretch my knitting abilities.

I deliberately chose a pattern for a baby, because babies are small. This means knitting projects for babies are small. I should also mention that while I love the progress of knitting, I need the end result to come quickly, as in a few days. I don't know that I am the type of person who could knit a plus sized adult sweater. I think the suspense would drive me crazy. So, baby clothes are small, and take little time and money (relatively). I found an easy pattern online (I love the internet! It's so easy to find things for free) for a baby girl jumper, and got going with my needles. (Here is the pattern for those of you who would like to follow along).

Pardon the profundity here, but this is my truth: Knitting is like life. We are given a whole mess of circumstances and it is ours to tend to the pattern, and modify according to our needs as we weave and stitch what becomes our story. Pay special attention to the part where we modify according to our needs.

I printed out the pattern. I read the pattern very thoroughly to be sure that I knew all the steps, and that I could actually perform them. I memorized the pattern so as to be prepared for whatever I may encounter during the construction of my creation. I was ready. I took this journey very seriously. As I began, I started to realize that certain parts of the pattern weren't working for me. I didn't love the way it looked, or maybe I wasn't sure the sizing was just right, or I just didn't feel good about my ability to execute the plan. So I tweaked. I thought hard and I tweaked. I made up different arrangements, and added and subtracted as needed, took a couple of short cuts, learned from some mistakes, applied some other skills I've learned from other projects, and in the end, I am pretty darn proud of the result. It is not perfect by any means, but I probably see the flaws more clearly than the loving eyes of those who will receive the gift of my work.

A private note to my babymamas who are expecting girls: Spoiler alert - you will each be receiving one of these jumpers. The good news is, now you know how much each stitch means. You can be confident that your little girl will be cloaked in the trial and error of a woman who has made a lot of mistakes, and applied skills I've learned from many areas of my life. I hope I can be a good example for those little promises of our future.

Okay, so the finishing touches haven't been added quite yet, but this will give you an idea of what I am so proud of:

Would I call myself a knitter? Not really. Not yet. I'm sort of a three trick pony in the knitting department. The point is, maybe I strayed from the pattern a little (a lot), and maybe I didn't do it exactly like an experienced knitter would, but a learned a whole darn lot from it... and that's beautiful... to me.

Next week, in celebration of my seventh wedding anniversary, I am going to attempt to construct a three-tiered wedding cake, and then serve it to people I care about.


19. Mow the lawn... for the first time... in my 32 years on earth...

I will be 32 years old in 1 week. Until now, I have never mowed a lawn. I feel like I should be embarrassed by this. Having minored in Women's Studies, I have this whole equality thing, and generally shirk typical gender roles. For example, at my house, I am the one who wields the power tools. I am as crafty with home improvements as I am with the laundry.

Matt and I have our jobs worked out. We never sat down and divvied it up - it wasn't part of our vows, but we know who does what without discussion. Bathrooms are my job. If we need to hang blinds or put something together specifically with the use of an allen wrench, all mine. Lawn work, kitchen cleaning (with the exception of cleaning out the refrigerator), and oil changes - that's Matt's. Matt lets the dog out, makes the coffee, and waters the herb garden in the morning, and I get the little man dressed and ready for preschool. See, we know who does what. We dance seamlessly through life by getting our "jobs" done, and who am I to mess up the natural order at the Lindstrom house? Besides, I have this belief that once someone learns to do something new, it becomes their job... FOREVER. Trust me, I do not want to be the official lawn mower of the Lindstrom family, so I'm going to have to be pretty careful with this task.

Seriously though, to be 32 years old, and never have mowed a lawn. I feel a little pathetic. I LOVE vacuuming. I love seeing the clean lines on the carpet. I love hearing the sound of dirt, gravel, and whatnot being sucked up and bouncing around inside that plastic tube and then going over the same spot over and over again until I hear nothing but the hum of the vacuum. I have a complex and torrid love affair with my Dyson (here she is, isn't she pretty?). So, I have reason to believe that the experience of mowing the lawn will bring the same satisfaction.

In two weeks, Matt and I will have been married for 7 years. In those 7 years, he has never heard me say the words, "I'm going to mow the lawn." So, imagine his excitement as he guided his green wife out to the smelly garage, and taught me how to pull the little cord thingy that makes the mower... mow. (I never promised that I'd learn the language.) I had to explain to him why I was afraid:

Despite my current love of the vacuum cleaner, I haven't always been so fond. When I was young, I was often told the story of my brother's first experience with the vacuum cleaner. He vacuumed his sock off his foot. I have no idea how this happened, I only know that it was extremely traumatic for him. As a result, it was years and years before I would even touch the vacuum cleaner, afraid that it would suck something off me. A vacuum cleaner is only suction, the lawn mower has blades. I told Matt that I was afraid I was going to mow my foot off. He laughed. I didn't think it was funny.

It took me a couple pulls of the cord thingy to get the mower... mowing. I didn't realize the force it would require - but felt victorious. Once it was going, Matt gave me a couple of quick tips about the mowing pattern and left me alone to conquer the lawn. When I was young, my brother and I bought my dad a t-shirt for Father's Day that said, "I fought the lawn and the lawn won." I chuckled as I got started, wishing I had that shirt as a reward for my efforts.

I found it amazingly satisfying to mow over the dandelions. I found myself forgetting about the mowing pattern and just going after the dandelions. I had to remind myself that this was serious business, and not a game. I learned a couple of things from this experience:

1. Lawn mowers smell like gas. That is disgusting.
2. Lawn mowers are poorly designed. If I could redesign the lawn mower, I'd make it just like a vacuum. It would turn on a dime and you would be able to do it with one hand. This would make the experience more satisfying. In fact, I think Dyson should expand their market and design lawn mowers.
3. I have bad allergies.
4. I totally understand why a lot of men perform this task without a shirt. You will be thankful to know that I kept my shirt on.
5. While I'm glad I did it this once, I don't want this to be my job.

Matt and I talked about it afterwards. He gave me a thumbs up for the job I did, and I told him that I would do it once in a while, like if he ever breaks both legs or something, but I'm not doing it all the time. I'm glad I did it, that I kept all my limbs in tact, and that when I admire our house from the curb for this week, I can also admire my landscaping prowess. I am comfortable now, having this skill. It was easily earned. The bonus of having done this is that my husband can never report to his friends with an eye-roll that his wife has never mowed a lawn. In fact, that might actually be the biggest reward.

Next week, I am going to get kind of crafty. I call myself a knitter even though I only knit scarves and hats. I'm going to challenge myself to knit something other than a scarf or a hat. The perfectionist in my is terrified.


18. Fire a Hunting Rifle?

You know how it goes when your eyes are bigger than your stomach? When you're at a buffet and suddenly you think, "yeah, I'd like to try that caviar," only you've never tried caviar, and generally you don't like anything fish related. Even so, you dump the biggest scoop of caviar on your plate, and then you bring it back to the table, where you realize that you have no intention of putting it anywhere near your mouth. Not ever. Not even once just to try it and see if it was good.

That's what happened this week. Months ago, I put this on my list. I have a friend who has some land up in Northern Minnesota. They do a lot of hunting on the land, and he offered me the opportunity to shoot his gun. I didn't like the way it made me feel, so I said yes. I have now realized that there is a difference between feeling nervous about something, but still being excited to do it, and feeling nervous about something, and really having no attraction to the activity at all.

First of all, let me tell you, I am an enthusiastic carnivore. I love meat. A lot. I greatly respect vegetarians for their beliefs and their choices, however, I have different beliefs and make different choices. I love meat. I have often been the lucky recipient of the fruits of my friend's hunting labor, and have happily consumed every last morsel. I recognize that in order for me to reap the benefits of said game, it has to have been killed at my friend's hand. Specifically using his hunting rifle. I have no objection to that. However, when I envisioned myself holding that rifle and pulling the trigger, I got an unmistakable pit in my stomach. What I had ignored at first mention really began to nag at me.

My grandfather (affectionately named "Boppa") fought in World War II. I don't know much about his experience, we simply don't talk about it much. I am certain that the memories are so painful and beyond my comprehension. I know that he was in the platoon that liberated Dachau (the first concentration camp to be liberated in Nazi Germany). All I've ever heard him say about the experience is that he couldn't believe that people could be so cruel to one another. I revere my Boppa. He is easily the most fun loving man, with the biggest heart, and he has a knack for always seeing the good in people. I always said that if I ever met a man like my Boppa, I would marry him on the spot. Although I believe they broke the mold with my Boppa, my husband is about as close as you can get. I feel very lucky to have such wonderful men in my life. You are probably wondering why I'm telling you all of this. It has everything to do with the reason I couldn't go through with this task.

I remember the first time I realized that my Boppa had held a gun. It was in junior high school when we were studying World War II and I saw a picture of a soldier holding his rifle. I had seen pictures like this before, but this time, I imagined that the young man in that picture was my Boppa. Young, innocent, in love with a woman whom he had left behind to face who knows what, and armed. It struck me. The image of a young man carrying a rifle denotes violence. My Boppa is the polar opposite of violent. Reconciling this new revelation was nothing short of impossible - and it still is. I have the deepest and most abiding respect for what my Boppa did for our country, what all soldiers who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom have done for our country. However, that honor, juxtaposed with the violence that is involved is a lot for the human heart to make sense of.

This may seem like quite a leap to you. I was going to shoot a hunting rifle, I wasn't going to war. I wasn't even going to point the rifle at living beings. I was going to shoot cans. It is that image of the young man with the rifle that gives me that pit in my stomach. That pit that I wish I hadn't ignored. However, that is what I learned from this week's challenge; the gut doesn't lie. Your intuition is there for a reason. In the end, I did trust it. While this would have been a challenge to be sure, it is not one I would have been so proud of in the end. Having not done it, I am proud. I am proud of my friend who shoots five-point bucks that I get to devour in community with great friends, I am proud of my Boppa - a hero, whose contributions in the Service were so important to so many people and shaped the way we live today, and I'm proud of myself for following my instinct, and deciding that shooting a hunting rifle was not something I needed to do in order to feel accomplished or complete.

My husband is ever so excited for me to deliver the news that my challenge for next week is to mow the lawn (yes, I'm just shy of 32 years-old, and I've never mowed a lawn, you won't want to miss this blog).


17. Go a Day Without Swearing

I have a potty mouth (the first step is admitting you have a problem). This is very certainly my least flattering feature. I have nobody to blame but myself. I really like the way swear words are constructed. The way the hard consonants of a swear word feel on the tongue always seems to mirror the frustration or passion I feel when I say an offensive curse word. It is possible for me to keep myself from swearing when it's totally inappropriate (right now my mother is reading this and arguing that it is NEVER appropriate -- it's important that I point out that this is my ultimate rebellion. I was raised to know that it's not polite to swear, and so I do it... a lot. In most other areas of my life I am a by the book gal). I never swear in church, in front of my grandparents, in front of children, or on the radio (I really value my job). In all other instances it is all systems go. I am known for my creative use of the swear word, and have taken pride in my swearing prowess. That said, I will repeat, it is my least flattering feature.

I don't know that I've ever been bothered so much by swearing that I've wanted to stop altogether, but I am almost 32 years old, and I'm a parent (to a sponge-like toddler), and I'm supposedly a lady, so it's probably wise to put in an effort, right? It may seem ridiculous to you, but the task of going 24 hours without swearing is enormously daunting for me. In theory, I should be able to do it, I have the ability to flip the swearing switch off, I do it all the time, but somehow it's not that easy.

I deliberately chose a day that had many activities where I would potentially find myself swearing. I swear when I am happy, mad, confused, excited, and frustrated. So, it was important for me to select activities that would provoke any or all of those emotions. Most importantly, we invited some friends over to dinner who I usually find myself swearing a lot with. I also moved something heavy, did some cleaning, talked to friends on the phone, got excited, and tried to find something.

I swore 15 times that day. Mostly the F word (my mom calls it "the purple word," and I still am not quite sure why). I am being honest here, I might not be the kind of girl you want to bring home to meet the parents. The worst part, the first 8 times were out loud... to MYSELF. There was nobody else around. Which, of course, begs the question, if a person swears in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it... you know the rest. I counted each time, because part of being self aware is being brutally honest with yourself. The ninth time I swore I was talking to my girlfriend Liv on the phone. I hadn't told her before the conversation that I was trying not to swear, but when that glorious F word slipped out, I caught myself. Naturally, what I wanted to do was swear because I swore. Instead I defaulted to my swear word alternative (the one I use when my little boy is present), "CURSES." It's funny, isn't it? That the word I use in place of a curse word is actually "curse"... the word. It seems like I should be able to employ that more often. Liv asked how I had been doing, and I told her that I was failing miserably. Her observation was that if I'd already sworn that much, what is a normal day like. It's true, if I actually slipped up 15 times, and I was TRYING, what is a normal day like?

I give myself credit for being aware. It did draw my attention to how much I actually swear, and most importantly, it did get me thinking about how those words land on other's ears. I can't imagine that everyone is so impressed by it. Again, not my most flattering feature. I had a friend once who took a cool approach to quitting smoking. She made a list of every place she smoked, and then started to eliminate them one by one. For instance, she knew she always smoked in her car, so she worked on not smoking in her car. Once she mastered that, she moved on to the next location where she smoked a lot and started cutting down in that area. I have a leg up, because I already know that I am capable of not swearing in certain situations. This is nice incentive. So, I think I might employ this technique in an effort to cut down on the potty mouth. It's about time for me to grow up. I'm going to start by not swearing when I'm alone. I know that seems backwards (after all, isn't the point of cutting down on the swearing to keep other's from hearing it), but I learned that that is where I do the bulk of my swearing. So, if I can master that... the rest should be cake. Maybe that will be my reward, a big F#$%!in' cake. (That didn't count, right?)

Next week, I'm hopefully going to do something so completely out of character, and shoot a hunting rifle.


16. Have Sexy Photos Taken

This is me. I almost can't believe it, but it's true - and there are more where this one came from.

A few weeks ago, I tried (and failed) to find my sexy at a pole dancing class. A few weeks prior to that I wore a bathing suit in public. Both of these experiences proved to be particularly challenging, but I learned a lot from trying it. Still on a quest to find my sexy, I thought I'd combine what I learned from wearing a bathing suit in public with what I had been searching for in the pole dancing class, and have some boudoir photography.

I had heard recently about someone having this type of photography done, and they had been so pleased with the results. My immediate response was, "I'm so glad she did that and had such a great experience, but I could never do that." It sounded like the perfect opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone. And so, I called the ladies at Sugar and Spice Photography. Angela and Cyndi are the best of friends who shared a common desire to have some sexy photos taken. After finding that there weren't really any women that specialized in this type of photography, they decided to become experts and take the pictures themselves. After taking photography classes, they only had the intention to take these photographs for each other. Once they shared their work with friends, the word spread, and soon they were doing these photographs for friends of friends. Finally, they found space, opened an official studio, and the rest is history.

On the day that I called, I was wise to have not given much thought to what I was getting myself into. I had a great conversation with Angela and she made me feel so comfortable and at ease. "I have to tell you something," I said to Angela, "I'm really fat." I couldn't believe I said that word, because that word is so full of hate and disgust, and I have worked so hard to use more supportive words when talking about my body. Angela assured me that they find beauty in everyone and they shoot women of all shapes and sizes. I have always been a fan of the 1940's pin-up look. I love the way those photographs celebrate the female form by playing up the natural curves, and tastefully suggesting a hint of sexuality. Intrigued by this look, I committed to becoming a pin-up girl for a photo-shoot. I booked an appointment and gave my credit card number for a deposit. After I hung up, I had a moment of regret. I couldn't believe I was really going to do this. This was so out of character. Having worked in radio for the past 6 years, I have had my share of photographs taken. I absolutely HATE it. I have never seen a photo of myself that I actually like. Even my wedding photos, on the day that I felt the most beautiful, there are only a handful that I really love. What on earth was I thinking? Having pictures taken in my underwear? I hardly look at myself in my underwear. But, the damage was done, I had put down a deposit, scheduled a shoot, and told my husband I was going to do it. There was no backing out.

Sugar and Spice Photography is located in Buffalo, MN. This is easily a 55 minute drive from my house in South Minneapolis. This means 55 minutes of time alone behind the wheel of the car to think. Time to work up the nerves, and consider chickening out. Believe me, had I not put down a deposit, I would have called them from the car to tell them I was too scared, headed back home, and happily stopped at every Taco Bell on the way for a chili-cheese burrito or two (and believe me, there are many Taco Bells on my route). Instead, I kept driving toward Buffalo, cranked up the radio, and tried to drown out my inner voice. That loud mouth can be pretty hard to get away from.

When I arrived at the studio, I met the two most beautiful women. Angela and Cyndi are seriously gorgeous on the outside (within minutes, I would find out how absolutely beautiful they are on the inside, too). I felt the most faint instinct to make a break for it and employ my plan to stop at every Taco Bell, leaving them to laugh at this goofy girl who actually thought for one moment that she could look sexy. Instead, I defaulted to my humor and said with a gesture, "do you think you can make this look sexy?" They assured me that it would take minimal effort and sat me down in the make-up chair. They take care of the make-up, the clothing, and the coffee (when you go, have Cyndi make the coffee - Angela knows that it's not her strength), and your job is to relax and get ready to have fun. I felt like I had connected with long lost friends. The three of us did all the things that girls do; talked about shoes, make-up, our kids, and diets. I almost forgot that they were going to see me in my underwear, and then... we were picking out my underwear. As I was getting dressed, Angela asked me, "what is your favorite part of your body?" She asked it so nonchalantly and I felt like I had been socked in the stomach. "I don't have one," I told her honestly. I hadn't thought about that, do people have a "favorite part" of their body? Should I have one?

I was relieved to find that the last thing they were concerned with was how I looked in my underwear. In fact, it was such a non-issue. They were busily focusing on how to compose the best shot. They are artists, and they had spent the time getting to know me, and assured me that we were going to find my inner vixen, and make her the star of some seriously sexy photos. Much to my surprise, it happened! This shot at the right was seriously among the first shots. Look at me, do I look the least bit uncomfortable? I was having a blast! Angela and Cyndi showed me one of the pictures they had just shot as long as I promised not to be critical (they reminded me that they would get rid of the hail damage on my thighs when they touched the photo up - and they are masters at the touch-up). I couldn't believe that they had found this vixen inside of me, made her come out, and then caught it on film. I let my guard down, and trusted them. They were generous with the compliments, "that's hot", "you're sexy", and "look at how gorgeous you are" are commonly heard in the Sugar and Spice Photography Studio. The best part is that Angela and Cyndi don't just say it, they mean it.

When I was gathering my stuff and getting ready for the drive home, there was another woman just arriving to have her photos taken. She looked as nervous as I felt on the way there. I asked her if she was scared, and naturally - she said she was. I told her not to worry, she'd have the time of her life. Seeing her reminded me of the journey I had taken in those couple of hours. From timid to sex kitten.

In the car on the ride home, I cried. I cried because I haven't felt this beautiful in a very long time. Maybe I haven't felt this beautiful ever. On the one hand I feel a little ashamed of saying that because my husband makes me feel beautiful all the time. I realized that he makes me feel like he thinks I'm beautiful. This experience actually made me think that I am beautiful. There is a difference, a huge difference. Now I have photographic evidence of this revelation, and what I paid for the experience is tiny compared to the value that these photographs have to me. Now I can tell you if you ask, that my favorite part of my body is the whole darn thing. Everything that God gave me. Every little bit, and big bit. Because this girl, in these pictures, she is really me.

Next week, this little sailor is going to try to go a day without swearing. Not once.


15. Overcome the fear of heights

Is it really possible to overcome a debilitating fear? I don't know, but I have this blog that is making me want to try. I'm not sure that I could properly be diagnosed with Acrophobia (fear of heights), but suspect that I could come darn close. I don't know when it started, I only know that with age it has gotten worse. I am really, really afraid of heights. I don't know what it's like to not be afraid of heights. I don't have any idea what it's like to ride up an elevator in a skyscraper without sweaty palms and heart palpatations. Here's what I can tell you, I can handle being two stories up and looking over a balcony, but that's really about it. Anything higher, and it's weak knees, cold sweats, dizziness, and swearing. To be fair, the swearing happens at any altitude, but increases the higher up I go. I am oddly not afraid on airplanes, at least not of the height thing, but that's the only high up place I can be without finding myself in the midst of a full blown panic attack. I also have a fear of elevators which only makes sense, since the best way to get high (come on, you know what I mean) is on an elevator.

I remember going to Chicago with my family when I was young. My older brother is up for anything, and really wanted to go to the top of the John Hancock Center. Though I was the kind of younger sister that generally wanted to be just like my big brother, I was content to stay at the bottom with my mom and enjoy the sites, from the ground. I never had any intention of completing such a daring act, I knew I wouldn't enjoy it.

I don't know WHY this is such a challenge for me. Intellectually I understand that the construction of such a building is safe enough that it's not going to accidentally fall to the ground, the glass is thick enough that I won't accidentally break it, many people have taken the ride up before me, and they have come down in one piece. No big deal, right? Wrong. It is a big deal, but similar to people who run a marathon just to say they did it (yeah, I'm going to go ahead and make the comparison), I really wanted to go to the top of the Hancock building just to say I did it. So, when my husband and I visited Chicago for a little vacation last weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to check it off my list.

I am aware that the Sears Tower (soon to be known as the Willis Tower) is not only the tallest building in Chicago, but the tallest building in North America, and the third tallest building in the world. I know my limits, though, and I don't need to be breaking any records at this point. So, I settled for the Hancock Center, the fourth tallest building in Chicago. Despite the fact that I knew there would be three other buildings taller, the highest I'd ever been was 50 stories up (in the IDS Center in Minneapolis),and I was frightened because the Hancock Center is twice that.

The good news is that I did it. The true news is that it took a whole lot of coaxing, and a martini. We arrived in Chicago on a Friday, and while we were walking around and exploring, my husband asked me a couple times if we should make the trip. I wasn't ready. Honestly, thinking about it made me want to cry. I really was terrified. During dinner on Saturday night, our friend Clint mentioned to me that there was a restaurant and bar on the 95th floor called the Signature Room. This was the key. There was a destination, and a reward at the top - a martini. I decided it was time.

We hopped in a cab and were soon in the lobby of the Hancock. I made a point to not look up as we were entering the building, in keeping with the theme of not thinking too hard right before I take on a challenge. As I walked into the elevator, I buried my head in my husband's shoulder. To my surprise, the ride was really short, and as long as I wasn't thinking of how high up we were, I managed to stay calm. It sounds really crazy to say this, but I employed the same techniques riding in the elevator as I did when I was in active labor before giving birth. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and thought about the martini I was going to enjoy when the mission was complete.

It is really beautiful up there. We were there at night (which was probably best for me because I could see mostly lights instead of the edges of the earth), and it really is beautiful to see the entire city twinkling. I tried to relax and enjoy myself despite the fact that I was restless. I knew I didn't like the feeling of being so high up, but I watched the other people casually looking out the window the way I do when I'm seated near a window at a restaurant on a busy street where I can people watch. It's so different when the people you're watching are literally the size of ants. I tried not to squirm when my husband walked right up to the window and put his head on it ala Ferris Bueller, and was most alarmed when I made a trip to the bathroom to try to get away from the site of the city so far beneath me only to find floor to ceiling windows in the ladies room, too. So much for the escape plan.

I lasted 20 minutes, thanks to the martini. I was pretty proud. I buried my head in Matt's shoulder on the way down in the elevator, and said a private little 'thank you' to the building for holding me up as we walked out to the street. Once we were out there, I looked up, and felt a sense of pride for my accomplishment. That was really high.

I don't know that I conquered my fear of heights, but I definitely overcame it for those 20 minutes. Most importantly, I took that moment to recognize how high I'd been, both literally and figuratively. When you find yourself outside of your comfort zone, when you feel squirmy, and restless, that's where growth happens. Maybe those are the growing pains. I had a goal; to say I did it. I met that goal! Now, I plan to remain as close to the earth as possible for the rest of the days of my life, but if you see me close to the ground, and you ask me how high I've been, I will proudly tell you.

Next week, I will tell you about the experience of taking my clothes off for strangers. Not strangers with stethoscopes, strangers with a camera... Boudoir photography, baby!


14. See an Opera (and attempt to enjoy myself)

I love music. I love musicals. I love rock operas (The Who's Tommy happens to be my favorite, but I could go for a little Jesus Christ Superstar, too). I have never been to a "real" opera... until now. My mom and I have a long history with the theater. As I was growing up, my mom and I had season tickets to see many of the Broadway musicals that travelled through the Twin Cities. It was important to her to share her love of musicals with me, and luckily I loved them too. No matter where the family was financially, my mom always made sure it was possible for us to continue our theater dates. It was so important to both of us to spend the time together doing something we enjoyed. In recent years, my mom has found a passion for opera, I did not choose to go along for that ride, but now she has invited me, and I am ready to try it - and hoping I don't fall asleep at the wheel.

It turns out that Minnesota has a heckuva Opera Company. I suppose having been very aware of the rich arts community in Minnesota, I should have known that, but Opera has always been an entirely different beast to me. I guess I imagined opera to be above me. For the hoi polloi. Appealing to the sophisticated. I find myself in different categories entirely, but I've seen 'Pretty Woman,' and I know that the prostitute portrayed by Julia Roberts falls in love with the opera, so maybe I can too. The major difference: In the movie, Julia Roberts' character is whisked away by private jet to the Met and given an expensive new wardrobe. In my case, I threw on "this old thing," and was chauffeured... by my mom in her PT Cruiser. Totally different.

My mom and her friend have season tickets to the Minnesota Opera, and her friend was gracious in giving me her ticket for a performance of Rossini's 'The Barber of Seville.' This happens to be a better known opera and what insiders might call a "soft entry point" for a novice like myself. Some of the music from this opera has been made familiar through use in animated cartoons like Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry. It is also featured in a very well known Saturday Night Live sketch starring Eddie Murphy doing an impression of Buckwheat. Now, that's more my speed. I don't imagine the real opera is going to reflect this, however.

Though very comedic, 'The Barber of Seville' follows a confusing storyline incorporating multiple identities for one of the main characters. When you add to that the fact that the opera is sung in Italian, it becomes apparent how necessary it is to read the synopsis before, during, and after the performance. Thank God for subtitles. Yes, during the opera, the English translation was projected above the stage. This was both wonderful and terrible for me. Wonderful, because it helped me remember the key plot points that I was trying to keep straight after reading the synopsis. Terrible, because my eyes alternated between focusing on the action on stage and focusing on the translation above the stage. Like a cat watching a tennis match, the hypnotic back and forth... you are getting very sleepy... well, you get the idea. Yup. I fell asleep. More than once. It was that miserable feeling that I used to get in science class when the teacher was talking about hydrogen, and protons, and blah blah blah, and my head would bob, and I would simultaineously be thinking about how badly I needed to stay awake and how good it would feel to give in to sleep. (A very public apology to my mom's friend Ruth who surrendered her ticket to a performance she surely would have enjoyed immensly.)

I am pretty sure that opera isn't for me. I don't mean that it isn't for "people like me," because I'm certain now that opera can appeal to many different people with many different interests. I mean literally, I don't like opera. There. I said it. Here's the difference between me before seeing the opera, and me now; now I have tried it. I like to throw around the expression, "don't knock it 'til you rock it" a lot. Meaning, you can't really say with great certainty that you don't like something until you have experienced it. Well as far as opera is concerned, I rocked it. I don't totally want to knock it, though. I have great respect for the talent of the performers. Amazing singing, in a different language, and comedic acting layered along with it. That's no easy task, and they performed it with grace and ease. I just was not able to enjoy it with grace and ease, and I am comfortable with that.

The evening was not wasted. I learned something about myself (that's always a good thing), and I got to spend some quality time with the most important woman in my life, my mom. I would have fun reading the phonebook with my mom because she is that cool, and I would like to thank her for opening my eyes, ears, and heart to all kinds of new and exciting experiences my whole entire life. My mom has never knocked something she hasn't rocked - and she rocks so much. I try to live by that example. Mom, thanks for making me.


13. Get Acupuncture

Do you see this? This is probably why I never was too excited about acupuncture. This image was stuck in my head. This scary looking dude is from the movie Hellraiser. I've never seen the movie, so I have no idea how or why he got that way, but I am pretty confident that he wasn't getting acupuncture (though he may have been a prime candidate as he looks like the kind of guy that could benefit from some balanced qi, I'm just saying).

I'm a pretty "woo woo" chick (I guess that's the common language these days to describe a person who is interested in personal development... I am embracing it). I am fascinated by all things metaphysical, and as an extension of that, I like to sample from the buffet of alternative medicine. That said, I also like to sample from the buffet of traditional medicine. Oddly, I have always been much more amenable to being pricked with a needle used to either get something out of me or put something in me than a needle that promises to help realign my energy. There's something less tangible about that, and under most circumstances intangible is a fascinating concept to me (one that I'd be urgent to explore) but when it comes with the possibility of pain, however slight, let's just say I wasn't in such a rush.

I suppose for most people when they are driven to have acupuncture done, they have an issue in mind. Maybe an ache or pain, or some other such malady that they have probably talked to their doctor about. While I have more issues than People Magazine, I was not exactly sure what I wanted to have treated by an acupuncturist. If I am going to get stuck with a bunch of needles and spend an hour or so looking like Pinhead, I better come up with something good -- because it's not going to be worth it if all I'm looking to cure is a little cough or something. So I dug deep and found a very private issue that I believe is just as much emotional and energetic as it is physical, and decided that I wanted to find a practitioner who would be respectful of that.

I have walked by an acupuncturist's place of practice for the past two years. It's literally in my backyard. Just three short blocks behind my house. I have seen the sign that advertises the acupuncture and other healing modalities practiced by this Master of Oriental Medicine, but had not ever honestly considered visiting... until I committed to this challenge. Even then, it didn't occur to me that three short blocks was all that stood between me and getting needled. I actually googled "Minneapolis Acupuncture" and was met with a slew of practitioners with a 612 area code. One in particular stood out to me because I recognized the name of the practice, but I still couldn't put my finger on it. Where had I heard this name "Rapha-El Acupuncture Plus"? It dawned on me when I took a closer look at the address that this is the location that I have taken notice of for the past two years. Remember, I am a woo woo chick so I don't believe in coincidences at all. I dialed the number faster than you can say, "om."

Mary Denison is a very well credentialed Master of Oriental Medicine, and she was able to get me in within the week for a first appointment. I spilled my guts about my super secret personal issue that I hoped she could help resolve specifically using acupuncture (Mary does more than just acupuncture, she's got a lot of different tricks up her well educated sleeve including, but not limited to reflexology and massage) - and was confident that at our first face to face meeting she would not only be respectful of my situation, but that she would have some insights that would aid me in my own resolution.

I had told a couple of friends that I was planning to get acupuncture, and had two very specific reactions. One friend told me that she had a transcendent experience that she believes lead her to ultimate resolution of the issue that she was being seen for, and the other friend told me that she was so bored that she forced herself to recite the 50 states of the Union until she remembered all 50. So, naturally I figured that I would either levitate or fall asleep. Honestly, either one sounded exciting to me, if only I could get the image of Pinhead from Hellraiser out of my mind.

I am not generally afraid of needles. I get blood drawn with an abnormal frequency, so I am well aquainted with those needles, the ones that scare most people. Those needles don't stay in you for prolonged periods of time, though. It was hard for me to imagine that a person could fully relax while they had needles actually in them for the better part of an hour. Here's the deal, I was dead wrong. After a very thorough intake process where I completed a lot of paperwork that informed Mary of where my energy blocks were (and a whole lot of more in depth and complicated things which Mary's knowlege of is particularly impressive) Mary inserted a series of very thin needles into my skin. Now, when I put it that way, it sounds pretty easy. But Mary's extensive training tells her which points on the energy meridian are appropriate for my particular issues. It really is fascinating. I don't know how many needles she put in, and I only looked once. I could feel each needle being placed very faintly and once they were in, I felt nothing. Literally, nothing. I mean I have never in my life been so relaxed. Mary left me alone in the room with the tinkly music, and I was completely out of it. So out of it, that when she came back 45 or so minutes later, I had no concept of how long it had been.

There may not be appropriate words for what I experienced, and actually it was so personal that I am glad there aren't appropriate words. The important thing for you to know is that the needles, while essential to the experience, were a secondary element of the experience for me, in that I did not feel them as I thought I would. I had imagined that the challenge would be acheiving relaxation despite the fact I was uncomfortable because I was covered in needles. In fact, that was what I feared. This was not at all the case.

When we challenge ourselves to do something that makes us even a little afraid, often we are very specific about what we are afraid of. We rarely consider that what we are afraid of may not be part of the experience at all, that in fact by fearing it we are making it part of our experience. I personally don't subscribe to the notion that it is practical or possible to live completely without fear. Fear is often there to protect us, but yes, fear can also inhibit us from reaching our potential or acheiving our goals. Instead of looking at fear as a wall, I am learning with each challenge to see fear as a gateway to possibility. When you are afraid of something, it's a perfect opportunity to examine yourself and become concsious about the life experience you are creating. Not every challenge inspires a fear, but every fear inspires a challenge - and it's ours to rise to the occasion.
Next week, I'm going to my first Opera, and I am going to attempt to enjoy it.


12. Ride a Mechanical Bull... or...

I got a bee in my bonnet about a month ago. One Tuesday morning, the thought occurred to me that I had never been on a mechanical bull, had not in fact ever seen a mechanical bull and I was desperate to find one. I asked everyone I knew if they knew of a place where I could mount one. I came up with a handful of options, and then put the list aside to save for a day when I was ready to do the deed.

About a week ago, my husband called from a bar in downtown Minneapolis where he was killing time before a concert. "Honey, I'm at Bootleggers, they have a mechanical bull! You have to ride it." Of course, in the days before children and responsibilities I would have dropped everything and been there in about... 8 seconds. However, those days are far behind us now, and instead of rushing to the bar for a raucous night of boozing and bull riding, I tucked my son into bed and was not far behind him on the trip to dreamland. The next day, my husband regaled me with stories of the bull and we set the plan for me to meet the bull in motion.

Friends emailed tips, "#1, go to the bathroom immediately beforehand....the laughter combined with the saddle will make you have an accident. #2, do not drink a dirty martini to get loose beforehand. #3, name your bull something like "mean joe brown" and pretend you own that MF-er." Another friend said, "I have some pointers for you that will ensure a successful ride. Tip #1: don't ride the bull wearing a pencil skirt." And yet another suggested, "Ride it sexy like Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy or perhaps you've picked up some pointers for that at pole dancing." These mini-pep talks made me laugh, and more importantly got me excited to ride the bull.

The plan was made that we would meet up with friends on Thursday night for the ride. Preparation for a night out on the town is so different once you are a parent. Sometimes I wistfully recall the days when spontinaity ruled. These days, we almost always have to plan days in advance for even the smallest outings. Not to mention the fact that when we do have a sitter, there is still work involved. Getting the house clean enough, having dinner ready, clothes laid out, snacks lined up, and anticipating and preparing for any and all potential disasters. I get tired just thinking about it. Gone are the days of travelling with a toothbrush in the handbag just in case we never made it home. Before I was a parent, I couldn't imagine why it would be so hard to keep your social life in tact. Of course I knew that my social life would change, but I don't think I ever knew how much. Certainly it never occurred to me that there would be times I would actually prefer an evening of playing animals to an evening of partying like one.

That was the case Thursday morning when I woke up and had one thought in my mind, "I don't want to do this." I am sure you see what's coming. It's true. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I am human, after all. I chickened out. I didn't even try. At about 8:00 am, I told my husband that we could cancel the sitter and tell our friends to make other plans. The funny thing about it is that up until about an hour ago when I sat down to write this blog, I thought I had taken the easy way out. It turns out that the bigger challenge is owning up to the fact that I chickened out. Seriously, the easiest thing for me would have been to just get over the fact that I didn't feel like doing it,do it, and then blog about the profundity of the experience. Fake it 'til you make it, right? There is nothing easy about admitting failure. I am disappointed in myself, but probably more worried about letting people down. I was expected to blog about riding a mechanical bull this week, not about failing to do it.

This email from a dear friend made me feel better: "Don't feel disappointed, you're human and look at all the other things you've done so far. I'm sure your body is thanking your mind for chickening out. Next time you call me and i'll show up with some liquid courage, some attitude, and a pair of chaps. I have several." We all fail at some point. A lucky few of us do it more than once. The important thing is to not make a habit of it, cut yourself some slack, and don't take yourself too seriously.

I'll let you know when I get around to riding that bull, but next week - could it be true that the best way to get unstuck... is to get stuck? I'm going to get acupuncture!


11. Pole Dance

I have never put myself in the sexy category. Never. I have always laughed at images of sexy redheads, or the notion that redheads are sexy, because in my experience, having red hair has been the culprit of my lack of sexy. Don't get me wrong, I love having red hair. It took me years to embrace this thing that made me unique, but sexy I am not. I am whatever the opposite of sexy is. Goofy? Silly? Clumsy? Yes, that is my belief. So when I wondered what could get me in touch with my sexy (there's got to be some in there somewhere, right?) pole dancing jumped to the front of my mind.

I have seen and heard a lot about this striptease fitness phenomenon that has been sweeping the nation. I like the idea of the fitness angle, especially because if I tell people that I'm going for the workout, they won't laugh at the idea of this redhead trying to be sexy. The sexy angle, I'm not too comfortable with...

I definitely needed a posse for this challenge! Enter my good old dance companions from my college dance company, Betsy, Jen, and Nickie (see week 1 to get to know them a little better). I sent my girls an email via facebook that explained my latest hair brained scheme, and invited them to join me. Within moments, Jen responded saying she was nervous, but she'd do it, and I could hardly believe Betsy's excitement (Nickie had a conflict). I quickly went about finding the location and making arrangements. During the planning phases, we were in communication about what exactly we were getting ourselves into. Betsy questioned Jen's and my nerves, "perhaps this reveals something about me," she wrote, "but I don't know why you guys are freaked out... I think it will be hilarious. Are you nervous to be sexy in front of other people????" Jen's response, "I don't feel sexy. I'm going to wear a mumu (with a thong on underneath)." and my response, "Of course I'm scared to be sexy in front of other people. That's why this is such a challenge. I'm not afraid of the pole, I'm afraid of sexiness." I was glad to know that I had an ally in Jen.

DOPDC (Day of Pole Dancing Class), Jen, Betsy, and I met at Flex Appeal Studios in downtown Minneapolis. We had called the evening before to reserve our pole, and ponied up our $20 to get our sexy back (or get it... in the first place). Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Betsy became our ally too, because when we met there she revealed that she was also really nervous (though, not of being sexy... just because we had no idea what we were getting into). Of course we had been curious about what other types of people would be at this class, and I can confidently report that everyone was pretty much just like us. It was a beginning level class, and everyone for the most part, looked pretty... beginner. We were relieved, although we still had no idea what was in store for us once class started.

Well, the joke was on me. When I embarked on this challenge, I thought I was doing it to get in touch with my inner vixen. What ended up happening was quite unexpected. You see, I spent the greater part of my life learning the art of dance (again, see week 1). I spent most of my college career studying technique, choreography, and dance history. In all of those years, when I would tell people that I was a dancer, about 25% of the time someone would think that I meant that I was a stripper (this is especially amusing to me because I could easily turn stripping into a comedy routine - for me in particular, it is a thin line that separates the two). I would roll my eyes because I had a judgement about strippers and I thought I was above them. I thought that I understood and appreciated the art better than they did. I thought that I was superior.

I WAS WRONG! Now, I have taken some really really hard dance classes in my life. I have been taught by instructors who have had me in tears by the end of class. I have been so sore that I couldn't walk across a room. I have had bruises in places that I didn't know could bruise. As brutal as those classes were, they were nothing compared to the challenge I faced on that pole. It was so hard. I was so busy trying to keep up, I didn't even have the chance to focus on my sexy. I was in absolute awe of the instructor because she made it look so easy... and sexy.

When I was in college, a girlfriend of mine who was a soccer player made a comment to me about how she didn't believe that dance could be counted as exercise. I was both offended and flattered by that. Offended at her ignorance of how physical dance is, but flattered because it is the job of a dancer to make it look effortless. That is part of the art. When you see a ballerina en pointe (those brutal, satin torture devices that ballerinas strap to their feet) you are not supposed to know that she has probably lost most of her toenails and is bruised and blistered all over. If you can't tell, then she has done her job. While I was spinning around that pole, I realized that I had been as ignorant as my soccer player friend. I still have no idea how they do that and make it look sexy, it shall remain a mystery to me.

So, I'm still looking for my sexy, but I walked away with a whole new appreciation for "that" kind of dancer. I never like to think of myself as a judgemental person. I know that I don't like to be judged, and I know how often I feel judged, but I never realized how often I judge others with really no idea what life is like for them. This experience caused me to take some inventory, and modify the old Native American adage, "never judge someone until you've walked a mile in their... lucite stripper heels?" Not as catchy, but it'll do... for me.

Next week, I'm going to ride a mechanical bull... I hope.


10. Be in a Parade

Admittedly this is a pretty lame challenge, isn't it? Only, I have never done it, so it qualifies. At 31 years of age, I have never been in a parade. At first blush, it doesn't seem like such a big deal to be in a parade. It's pretty simple in theory. In practice, it's a little more intimidating.

I was asked to march in the Minneapolis St. Patrick's day parade with the "Calling all Colleens" group. I consented before I gave it much thought, deciding it would be really fun to celebrate my Irish heritage in this way. In the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's day, I realized that I wasn't exactly relaxed around the idea of this parade.

I think that I think a little too hard about things (I also think this is an understatement). My first concern; what on earth do you wear in a parade? In a St. Patrick's Day parade, you wear green, right? Unless of course, you are like me and you have beliefs that prohibit you from wearing green on St. Patrick's Day. It's not that I don't believe in ANYONE wearing green on St. Pat's Day, it's that I have red hair, the signature Irish pale skin, and the name Colleen Brady (that's my maiden name) which all scream Irish. Wearing green just seems like a way of saying, "in case you didn't notice..." it just seems a little much to me. Perhaps a little like it insults the intelligence of those around me. As a result, I honestly don't have a stitch of green in my closet.

My second concern; people will be looking at me. I know this seems strange. After all, people look at each other all the time. In fact, it's nearly impossible to go out in public without being "looked at." I guess the pressure lies in the fact that I was part of the spectacle, myself, and my fellow Colleens and Colleen wannabes. I feel like when you are in a parade, you should be DOING something. Like being a Beauty Queen, or playing an instrument in a marching band, or riding a unicycle. I wasn't doing any of those things, I was just walking and being Colleen, and while I like to think that people find that fascinating and impressive, in a parade setting - it's just not.

So, on parade day, I made a half-assed attempt to shop for something green to wear (and ended up with a bunch of garments, none of them green - see last week's post regarding my spending) and selected something black to wear. My husband and son had planned to be at the end of the parade route watching for me, but when he got home from work, I decided that I really wanted his support during the parade. So, Matt and Ollie were Colleen wannabes, and I was so glad. We lined up on Nicollet Mall and joined the processional.

On Nicollet Mall on St. Patrick's Day at 6:30, there are a lot of intoxicated people pouring out of the bars. People who have been celebrating since the early hours of the day. There are also families with young children lining the streets hoping to get some candy thrown in their general direction. The skyways are packed with people who don't want to handle the cold (it wasn't that cold), but want to be a part of the fun. Lots and lots of people, lots and lots of eyes... on us.

Colleen isn't necessarily an unusual name, but it certainly isn't a common name. I can count on my two hands the number of Colleens I have known in my lifetime. A conversation ensues when I meet people and they learn my name, "how do you pronounce it?" I confuse them, because I apparently pronounce my name Cuh-leen versus the more Irish sounding and probably correct Cah-leen. I will respond to anything but Co-leen, which in my opinion, is blatently incorrect and honestly an act of cruelty. I don't say my name that often, but I hear my name often - especially when someone is trying to get my attention. In normal cases, I can be pretty sure that if someone calls my name, they are talking to me. When I am in a St. Patrick's Day parade marching behind a sign that says, "Calling all Colleens," this is not the case.

The five block parade took about 45 minutes to complete. That was 45 minutes of hearing well meaning drunk parade goers hollering, "Colleen" and then watching the gaggle of Colleens turning their heads expecting to see a long lost friend, or family member calling for them. Then of course, laughing hysterically as though they had really fooled us. Oh, it was funny. By the end of the parade, when my old neighbor Kate called out my name, I almost missed her because by then I was no longer responding to my own name.

When you are in a parade, it's easy to feel like a spectacle, lots of eyes on you. I can see how some people get a natural high from that. I am not one of those people (this probably comes as a surprise to many). I felt like an animal in a zoo. Like people were just sitting there waiting to be entertained by this mysterious species of Colleens. The one thing that did occur to me though, that occurs to me anytime I am in a crowd, is how amazing it is that there are so many people in this world, and we all have the same parts, and yet we all look so amazingly different. Some people may resemble each other, but no two faces are exactly alike, even identical twins look a little different. I was struck by this so strongly during my parade experience, that it took me by surprise. I stopped thinking of myself and my fellow Colleens as the spectacle, and started thinking of each face in the crowd as it's own spectacle.

I often get discouraged with the level of judgement we have in our culture regarding people's appearance. This person is pretty, this person is ugly, this person is skinny, this person is fat, this person looks old, this person looks young... When we talk like that, we aren't respecting how amazing nature is. That we all got mixed up the same way, carried around inside our mothers, cooked for an appropriate period of time, and then launched out (poor choice of words?) into this sea of faces. This beautiful sea of faces where no two look the same. It's really quite amazing when you pause to think about it, and I hope that the next time you find yourself in a crowd and that quiet voice of judgement is echoing in your head, instead you'll drown it out with the loud voice that reminds you that screams we are all unique and all beautiful!

Next week, I am serious here... I am going to take a pole dancing class.


9. Go One Week Without Spending Money

My name is Colleen, and I am a Target-aholic. October 14, 2007 was among the best days of my life. It ranks right up there with my wedding day and giving birth. October 14, 2007 was the date that a Super Target opened near my house. It is possible that I visit that Super Target at least once (sometimes twice - and maybe on a rare but blissful occasion, three times) a day. Yes, a day. My two year-old sees that beautiful bulls eye and exclaims, "Mommy's happy place!" I may have taught him that. Target has such a hold on me, that I honestly think it's the only place that I can buy things, and that if Target doesn't carry it, then I must not need it. I am an impulse shopper in the very worst way. I am the one that they created those check out lane displays for. Of course I need some gum, a Tide To-Go pen, and some baseball cards. In fact, I probably won't be able to complete my day without them. The biggest challenge of this week is going to be avoiding Target's magnetic pull. I will have to find alternative routes to any and all destinations that usually require me to pass by a Target. Any Target. Any Target at all. Yes, it's that serious.

This challenge began with my husband emailing me a blog on the NY Times website called Diner's Journal. The blogger talks about the notion that middle-class Americans have very ample pantries that would allow us to survive a week eating only what we have available to us in our homes without introducing new ingredients. I had already decided on the challenge to make no unnecessary purchases, but could I include making no food purchases? This made the challenge more exciting to me, so of course with great confidence, I added the stipulation that I would not purchase any food.

I am slightly wary of saying what I'm about to say for fear that it might be read with a tone of superiority, please know that is not the intention, this is just the truth of my experience and part of my story. We have made some very large changes already in our lives due partly to the economy and partly to a vested interest in buying local (I highly recommend the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver to learn more about the global benefits of eating local). We bake our own bread, we belong to a crop share, and we use cloth diapers (for the most part, we still use disposables at night and when we're out and about). While our crop share only provides us locally grown vegetables in the summer, we process those vegetables in the form of soups, pestos, and other freezables that have left our freezer stocked. So, without having to worry about buying diapers (we are generally well stocked with disposables for rare use), and feeling confident that although it would take some creative planning, food was available, I had to wonder what in the heck I was always buying at Target.

Growing up, I was generally teased by my older (and more fiscally responsible) brother about my relationship to money. He called me, "the weigh station for money, " meaning money stopped long enough in my hands for me to count it, and then out it went to stimulate the economy (I am putting my own positive spin on it). When I went out on my own after college, I had a rude awakening. It turns out that debt is bad, but even though I knew it, I was rapidly finding myself acquainted more and more with it. After my husband and I purchased our first house, we had a couple of years of living paycheck to paycheck. I have always done the bulk of the grocery shopping, and at the time I was in charge of paying our bills. As a result, I had myself convinced that I was the "spender" in the family and thus the reason we were in such financial straits. I have a vivid memory of standing in our kitchen on a chair reaching deep into our cupboards to find anything that resembled food and crying about this "situation I had gotten us into." I ate peanut butter off a spoon for dinner that evening while I reflected on this long held belief that I had that I was simply "not good with money." The point here is that often we allow ourselves to be defined by the opinions of others. My brother (who incidentally probably still has the first dollar he earned and has probably somehow turned it into 3 gazillion dollars) was known by the family to be "good with money," and I was known to be "bad with money." I lived the majority of my life believing that this was the truth. In the past few years, I have begun to shift my personal belief about my relationship to money. I have begun to believe that I have the capability to be wise with money, to make money, and that as a result of this awareness and respect, I will always survive... and in fact can thrive.

Even through the gradual modification of my beliefs in regard to my relationship with money, I still had not confronted my relationship with shopping. I get a high from buying. I like gadgets, I like doo dads, and I like knickknacks. This is why I have difficulty browsing the aisles at Target without gaining one or two items that I not only had no intention of buying in the first place, but that I don't even need. If this exercise taught me anything of value, it was to be conscious of the concept of need. I also found that I could achieve the same high of buying just by looking. This was an ah-ha of epic proportions. I don't know if this will always work, but for now it does, and I'm just going to go with it.

We didn't starve, and I didn't spend a penny. In fact, this week went so surprisingly well, I am considering doing another week. Don't quote me on that. Honestly, I don't know that I want the pressure of "no-spending," but I certainly am implementing a "think really hard about spending" rule. Matt and I started asking ourselves the question "is this a necessary expense" when we were considering large ($100 or more) purchases. I intend to ask myself that question for all purchases. I understand that it seems pretty ridiculous that this is a new concept to me. It's not entirely. When we had lesser means, I didn't even have to ask that question because the differences between the wants and the needs were so clear. It's true though that there is a tendency to expand to meet means, and my life is evidence of this.

So often, we avoid trying new things because we have ourselves locked into a belief about who we are. We are either "good" at something or "bad" at something. Things either "come easily" or "are very hard" for us. We leave little to no room for growth, or more importantly change. To grow or change would challenge our personal theories about who we and others believe we are, and then what? When we subscribe with such certainty to our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities, we don't allow ourselves the opportunity to reach our full potential. I'll tell you what, I am not content to be sub-par, are you?

Next week, I am going to totally geek out and be in a parade.

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