4. Learn to Play a Song on the Piano

My grandma was the pianist in a popular dance band in the 1930s. She was amazingly talented, and because of this, I had every belief that this natural talent could be passed down to me through the generations. I began taking piano lessons when I was 6 and quit taking lessons when I was 12. However, having learned to sight read and with some theory and technique under my belt, I still played a lot of my favorite songs well into my twenties. Mostly from the Billy Joel collection, balanced with a healthy dose of show tunes. I never loved playing the piano, especially not like I loved dancing, but I was proud to have the ability.

At my first piano recital when I was 6, I had worked hard on the little known tune, Grasshopper Green. We had been asked to memorize our pieces, I don't know why. Perhaps so that we could look like fools if something like this happened: Suddenly, hit with the stage fright of my first piano recital, I could remember nothing but the first four measures of Grasshopper Green. No matter how many times I played those first four measures, I could not possibly make my fingers play what came next. I sounded like a broken record. At one point I sat in silence, looking at the piano. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was approximately four minutes of silence. I know this because my dad had videotaped the recital. During this comatose episode, he had stopped the tape, and when I faked him out and looked like I might start the whole thing over again, he started recording again. When you watch the video, the silence lasts three and a half minutes. I can only imagine what was going through my little 6-year-old mind. Eventually I made something up and finished the piece. It likely sounded nothing like the Grasshopper Green I had worked so hard to memorize, but eventually, after about 10 minutes, I left the stage. Much to the relief of... everyone, really. Naturally, I wonder about why on earth I was tortured so. Why my piano teacher (Ms. Weber) didn't rescue me from this humiliation?

So, you see, while I can read music, and generally know where to put my fingers on the piano keys, I am no great musician. Musicians interpret the notes. They infuse emotion and and energy into the piano keys and what comes out is nothing short of heavenly. I have the ability to play the piano... sometimes.

I have standards when picking out sheet music. The first rule is that the piece cannot have more than 2 sharps or flats. I cannot be bothered with remembering more than 2 sharps or flats. I know my limits. The second rule is that it has to be filed in the easy section. In addition to knowing my limits, I also am aware of my abilities. Playing at all is challenge enough. I selected a song that I have dreamed of playing for quite a while, Songbird by Fleetwood Mac which seemed to fall well within these guidelines. Honestly, I have a fantasy of playing this song on the piano and singing it to my husband... but as you'll see, this may have to remain a fantasy.

The good news is I can play the first page, the bad news is I can only play the first page. The piece is four pages long. I can play the first page. Again, because I dislike the word "failure," I will not classify this a failure, instead I frame it as a moderate success. Perhaps learning to play the entire song in one week was a lofty goal. The truth is, I had time. I had ample time to sit and play and learn. I have never liked practicing. When I was young my mother would set the egg timer for the required half hour a day, and I would play as quickly as my little fingers would go. My mom would yell from her post in the kitchen, "SLOW DOWN, COLLEEN." You see, I thought if I played very fast, it would be over quickly. So, while I had the time to practice this week, I did not take advantage of it. Because while I love the music that comes out of the piano (specifically when other people play), and I enjoy the feeling of sitting at the keys, I do not love to practice playing the piano. I never have, this must be why I quit taking lessons when I was 12.

Not everything that you used to do at one point in your life is a passion. I was actually pretty good at playing the piano when I was young, I even played on stage at Northrop Auditorium in front of a packed house once (with about 49 other miniature pianists like myself). Even when I was good at it, it wasn't a passion of mine. I remember going to the senior concert of a longtime family friend of mine, Kerry. She made music. Kerry made beautiful music. (I wonder if she still plays, because she had a gift, and a passion.) I was proud to have had the privilege of appreciating her gift, and very aware of how much work that took her, and consequently aware that I did not have that gift nor the passion.

Now I understand why 6-year-old Colleen was not "saved" by the "evil" Ms. Weber at that first piano recital. Even those early experiences inform us of who we are. Despite the fact that 6-year-old Colleen lost her way entirely in the midst of Grasshopper Green if she were ever going to play on the stage of Northrup Auditorium, she was going to have to have these experiences of faltering. When you falter, you discover your passion for something. Does this experience mean enough to you to get back it and keep trying? At the time, the "wise" Ms. Weber allowed me to make that decision for myself. At the time, it was important enought to me to try again. As an adult, maybe it isn't that important to me. Part of discovering your passions, is identifying what you are passionate about. I can tell you right now that I am passionate about dance, since week one of this blog, I have been faithfully attending my dance class and am loving it more and more each week. I am passionate about yoga, I look forward to my Saturday mornings at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis and am still going each week. I am very passionate about sushi, since I tried making it last week, I have made it three times. I am not passionate about playing piano. The sheet music will stay where it is on the piano, and it's possible that I'll pass by from time to time and see what I can do, but I'm not planning a comeback. Not at all. And that's okay. Maybe a more appropriate word for "fail" is "discovery." I had a discovery about playing the piano. I like that.

Next week, it will probably take a few chardonnays, but I am going to sing Karaoke.


3. Make Sushi

I understand that this might be a confusing item to have added to my list of things that stretch me outside of my comfort zone. It's important to remember that what may be commonplace for you, may be a stretch for me. I love to cook. I also suck at cooking. My husband is a great cook. He loves to experiment with things and see how they turn out. He often challenges himself to take on recipes from the most complicated cookbooks, he's not afraid to take chances. It's one (on a long list) of the things that I love most about him, his willingness to wander out on a limb and explore new things, I am inspired by this. I stick to the basics just to be sure that everything turns out and I don't get egg on my face, literally or figuratively. So, this is a stretch for me.

I have a complex and expensive relationship with sushi. I would argue that this is my most expensive habit, my husband would disagree and confirm that I have many more expensive vices (Target). I tend to get a sushi fix at least once a week, if I'm having a particularly bad day, or need a pick me up, sushi is my go-to comfort food. I skip the pizza, the mac and cheese, the Chipotle, and go straight for the raw fish. When I need a night out with my girls, it's usually a sushi date. I love sushi so much, that each time I became pregnant, and had to delete the raw fish sushi from my mealtime repertoire, I acquainted myself with all the rolls containing cooked fish, and then scheduled my sushi rendezvous far enough apart so that I did not have to worry about mercury poisoning. Do you see? I love sushi. I will go to great lengths for sushi. I am always looking for ways to enhance my relationship with sushi. However, combining my repeated failures in the kitchen with my love for sushi, this will be interesting.

As is becoming an increasingly common theme for me here, I didn't want to have to do this alone. I emailed my friend Heidi who has taken a sushi making class before and invited her to our house along with her husband and her son. I figured that if I failed, it could not possibly be pinned on me alone, Heidi could take some of the blame too. Maybe this is one of the reasons I like to do things with reinforcements, then I don't have to take complete responsibility if a disaster ensues. Could this be?

Heidi must have been wise to my plan of blaming her for certain failure, because she emailed me back proposing alternative dates, weeks in the future for this activity. On any other occasion, I would have postponed my sushi making adventure so that I could have Heidi's support (or more accurately, so I could have the option of blaming Heidi for gaffs). Only, I had committed to doing it this week and I cannot let myself down. Looks like this adventure just got... more adventurous.

On Friday morning, I went to gather the necessary items for sushi construction. A few years ago, we were outfitted with the appropriate hardware (the rolling mat, etc.) by a family member who foolishly thought I was brave enough to try making it at the time. So I was specifically shopping for the edible stuff, the nori (seaweed), sushi rice, and most specifically... the raw fish. I met a lovely fish monger at Coastal Seafoods in St. Paul who told me exactly how much I would need and he knew his stuff because he had just made sushi the previous night (he said it was easy, I didn't believe him). It's important to recognize here and now, that a normal sushi outing for me alone would have cost approximately $15 (I told you it was an expensive habit). Taking into account that I was actually preparing sushi for 2, the total cost for all of the necessary goods was... $10, that's $5 per person, and a savings of $10. So, this is my new plan for the Lindstrom family to save money in this rotten economy. I will make my own sushi. I had better be good at this!

The thing that takes the longest about sushi is the cooking of the rice. Sushi rice is just like normal rice, it takes a good 20 or 30 minutes to make, and then it needs to be cooled to room temperature. Once that is done, it's just about getting your mise en place and it's smooth sailing. Smooth sailing, that is, if you've read the instructions. This would be a good time to explain that I have a talent for putting together Ikea furniture without ever opening the directions. I should have a side job doing this. I could easily solicit my assembly skills. I am awesome at it. This is not bragging, this is just a ridiculous truth. Honestly, if I were in a beauty pageant (don't hold your breath), I would have a hard time choosing between three talents for the talent portion; parallel parking, getting pregnant, and putting together Ikea furniture. Unfortunately, sometimes I am mistaken in thinking my Ikea talent can be transferred to anything and everything. Like sushi, for example.

My first roll was nothing short of horrific. It was approximately three times the size of a "normal" sized roll, and could not have accurately been called a "roll." If I'm being perfectly honest, my first and only thought at that moment was, "I don't think I'm cut out for this." I was ready to throw in the bamboo mat. Then I realized how completely moronic it was to give up on sushi. There truly was nothing I wanted more than to make some sushi. Besides, I had not planned a back-up meal - and I was not about to go hungry. I picked up the directions, and tweaked my technique and each roll got easier and easier. I think that the rolling of sushi is all in the attitude (I wonder if they teach this in sushi-school). It takes a little gumption, but if you're a seasoned sushi connoisseur like myself, you know what the end result should be, and you keep rolling with that in mind. By the time I had enough sushi to feed a small army (an army that goes by the name of Colleen Courtney Brady Lindstrom), I had really gotten the hang of this. The good news is, the Lindstroms will effectively be saving $10 a week from here on out! Beyond the amazing financial benefits, I was reminded of a time from my past...

When I first learned to drive I would get lost a lot. I had no concept of direction, and would regularly pull the car over to a pay phone and call my mom in tears (these were the ancient days before cell phones). I admired my mom, because she was so calm in helping me reframe my observation of the situation. She would remind me that in the midst of being lost, eventually with practice I would find my way. This was the case of the sushi experiment. With my first roll, I felt inadequate and lost. When I reframed the experience, I realized that a little problem solving (and maybe a little peek at the directions) would get me to where I needed to be.

I am not a fan of the word "fail." The word "fail" denotes an inability to try again. If you fail it is final. You have failed. You are a failure. Nothing about that word inspires you to dust yourself off and get back on the horse. Had I believed that that horrible and embarrassing first roll was truly a failure, I never would have gone on to make the super awesome rolls that my husband and I gobbled up in a fraction of the time it took to prepare them. This is important to remember as we go through life, inevitably putting ourselves in situations where we are bound to falter. It's okay to trip and fall every once in a while, but the important thing is to pick yourself back up and find your way.

Next week, I'll learn to play a song on the piano. Please follow this blog and check back often!


2. Do Yoga.

I have done yoga before. Once again, 75 pounds ago. I basically hated it. The notion of pretzel-ing yourself into ungodly positions and then staying there, breathing into the discomfort, just for the fun of it didn't really turn my crank. In more recent years, my relationship with yoga has been limited to the pants. They are so comfortable, and practical for the mom of a toddler who is always bending and crawling somewhere for some reason (parenting is it's own kind of yoga). Having always believed that owning the clothing for an activity and wearing it publicly is ridiculous if you don't participate in the activity, it seems like it was about time for me to use the yoga pants for their intended purpose.

I'm going to go ahead and say it, because I know you're thinking it: My number one fear was that I would (my mother taught me to be polite when tackling this topic) break wind. This is the most embarrassing thing about yoga. Some of the positions you find yourself in are conducive to the passing of the gas. Having never met anyone in the class, naturally I didn't want our first conversation to include the words, "excuse me." After some careful thought about this, it occured to me that I might not be the only one concerned about this matter. That was enough to calm me down.

Similar to my experience of going back to dance class, I was also afraid that this new body, this larger body, might not be able to twist and turn in the ways I would command it to. Taking this into account, I found a class at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis called Big A#%! Yoga. This class was designed by and for women with a little more... junk in the proverbial trunk. There was comfort in knowing that I wasn't going to have to bend over and possibly fart right next to a Heidi Klum look-alike. Besides, I reminded myself of all this body has accomplished. It has created and sustained life, given birth, survived multiple traumas, and heals itself time and again despite a chronic disease. These miracles should not be ignored.

Having now conquered these two fears, I only had to conquer the final fear... I had to do this alone. No posse like I had for dance class last week. None of my other fleshy friends were interested in bending over and possibly farting with me. I will not lie to you, doing something all by myself has been the cause of my backing out of things last minute in the past. I tried to take a community ed class once a couple of years ago, I paid $60 for 10 weeks of class, and never went because I was too afraid to go without knowing anyone. Those who know me would tell you how ridiculous this is because I'm known as an outgoing gregarious person. The truth is, I get shy in new social situations because I am not comfortable with the inevitable judgement. So, while it seems silly, this was the greatest of my fears.

I arrived with just about one minute to spare. I generally like to be places early, but dealing with my fears meant leaving no time for small talk. This is not entirely the truth. I actually parked the car ten minutes before class was scheduled and rode the elevator up to the floor I thought the Yoga Center was on. I was wrong, but when I ducked into the stairwell to take the stairs, I immediately turned around to check the door behind me only to find that I was locked in the stairwell. I ran down the stairs checking each door on each floor hoping that I would be able to escape. Luckily, I was able to free myself on the first floor and then catch the elevator to the correct floor. I was relieved that I didn't walk into a room full of my fellow yogis, asses in the air, accomplishing Down Dog.

Class began, I didn't fart (or if I did, I didn't notice), I got into all the positions (some with less effort than others), and I actually enjoyed myself. Throughout the class, the instructor talked about being a "compassionate observer" of yourself in the experience rather than judging yourself in the experience. It occurred to me that this advice is best to take beyond the yoga mat. Notice your fear and discomfort, accept your fear and discomfort, and move forward with your fear and discomfort in tow. Without judgement of your new companions, face the task at hand. It's possible that you'll pass a little gas, and you may not be able to fix yourself in all the positions, you may even have to go it alone, but by allowing yourself to be who you are at any given moment, and honoring that person, you can do anything.

Next week, I've never done it myself, but I love eating it... I am going to make sushi.


1. Take a Dance Class.

I started taking dance classes when I was about 3 years old. I started in Mrs. Holmes' basement, that's where she taught her classes. I graduated to a studio and joined a competition team. When that teacher (who doesn't deserve a name drop) skipped town and took our money, we all moved to the best dance school we could find. Leah Rosch taught me some of the best ballet technique you could get in the Twin Cities (without spending your parents' life savings or having to park downtown). Everywhere I danced after that, I was always complimented on my good training. When I graduated from highschool (with boobs and curves - which are strictly prohibited in ballet), I went to college and tried my hand at modern dance. I was really good at it, and most importantly - I loved it. Michele Rusinko opened doors for me in the world of modern dance, and I learned more about technique and composition and found my talent in the realm of choreography. I loved to dance. Dancing felt like home. I made it my college major and planned on a life filled with dance.

I quit dancing, cold turkey when I was 21. I realize that after my previous paragraph, this statement is alarming. Let me take you into my world for a brief moment: Despite the fact that I was told time and again that I was indeed a "good enough" dancer, I did not have the confidence at that time in my life to believe it. I made the excuse that I could not possibly make a living doing this thing that I loved, and I walked away. Just like that. I walked away from my home.

A decade later, I am able to admit to myself that this was a mistake. That part of me has been missing for 10 years, and it's time to go home. Legitimately, I am 75 pounds heavier than I was the last time I danced (feel free to do any kind of math you want to now, I'm admitting my flaws here - and swallowing my pride), and I have certainly lost much ability and flexibility. Let's be honest here, if I'm going to wait until I'm "back to where I was," I could be waiting forever. So, let's just rip the band-aid off.

I gathered up a posse of my old dance girlfriends. Betsy has her MFA in Dance and is still teaching, Nickie is a performer at Chanhassen Dinner Theater, and Jen is in Vet School. We had drinks (sometimes a girl needs a couple chardonnays before hatching a hair-brained scheme). I floated this idea of taking class out there, and let them know that if I was going to do it. I was going to need the support of my posse. Part of this whole challenging yourself thing means requesting support and reinforcements... shamelessly. I fully expected laughter. I got none. Nothing but encouragement in the most genuine form. When you share your dreams out loud, it makes them real. So real that you can't back out - your friends are counting on you.

I researched a studio in my area that is well known and has adult beginner classes (holla to BALLAREteatro). Yes, I was prepared to try a beginner class again. It has been a decade, after all. Jen had consented to join me, having not danced in a decade herself. I also garnered the support of a dear friend, Lisa, who also had not danced in quite a while, but was an amazing dancer in her day. It was time to see if we all still "had it." We, all three, registered for class. Not just one class. Ten classes. Once a week. For ten weeks. Oh My God.

Here's my list of fears: Everyone's going to be looking at me. I'm fat, and out of shape, I've been pregnant a lot, and I'll probably pee my pants.

Here's what happened. None of that. Well, almost none of that. I did almost pee my pants once from all the jumping.

Listen, it's easy to think that everyone in the world is paying attention to you. Especially when you are so overly focused on yourself. This is important to remember, NOBODY IS LOOKING AT YOU. Also, if they are, WHO CARES? Sometimes it takes a week of sweaty palms, a racing heart, and an uneventful dance class to get to that point. So, I took a trip home. It felt good, and I can't wait to do it again. Next challenge, taking a yoga class. Remember everything I just said? I'm already starting to forget it... palms sweating... heart racing. This may be a lesson I have to learn more than once.

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