7. Unplug For Five Days

I am a creature of habit. I habitually turn the TV on whenever I am in it's midst. I am in the midst of a TV very often, because we have a lot of them in our house. We have 7 televisions under our roof. This is excessive and I am aware, but I use our professions to justify it. You see, my husband and I both work in the media. I work for a local radio station, and my husband was once a television producer (for the now defunct "Whatever" Show on KARE 11 - R.I.P.) and is now in Public Relations. It pays (literally) for the two of us to be informed. I also believe in multitasking, so we have TVs in places like the laundry room and the kitchen. It helps make the average housewifery more palatable.

Also, we're pop culture junkies. It's one of the things that brought us together in the first place. The fact that we both were fluent enough in pop culture to recall the episode of 'Family Ties' where Skippy and Alex get stuck in the basement for a weekend and Skippy had to don a chipmunk costume to stay warm. We are so well versed in pop culture trivia, that people do not invite us to play Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture Edition because we will win, and not by a small margin. We are a force to be reckoned with.

This love of media has now spanned to the Internet. I have been known to lose hours online, following the breadcrumb trail from website to website. Some of this stems from working on a daily radio show. There was a short period of panic each morning when I realized that I was partially responsible for filling three hours of air with witty repartee. Remember the feeling you would get on Sunday nights when you realized that you had to go to school the next day and you might not know all the answers if the teacher called on you? I had that feeling... every day. The World Wide Web (thank you very much, Al Gore) was always ripe with topics and was the remedy to cure my ills. I guess I never got out of the habit of trolling the web each morning. My job still requires daily use of the Internet to procure the latest and greatest celebrity news... my job does not, however, require the daily (often hourly) visit to the grand poo bah of time suckage, FACEBOOK.

Conveniently, Liv, my co host on my Saturday morning radio show, Get Real on FM 107.1 (to answer your question upon seeing our picture: No, Liv and I are not related - at least not in this life, but we are the best of friends) suggested that we do a show about how "plugged in" we are as a culture. I happened to have it on my handy dandy list of challenges, so I was definitely excited to unplug both for the show and this blog (I wrote papers in college about communicating through dance as a woman in Asian cultures to turn in to my Communications, Dance, Women Studies, and Japanese professors - I'm a master at killing many birds with one stone). I blurted out to Liv that I was going to unplug (no Internet or TV) for five days. Liv, who knows me better than most, managed to hide her amusement at my passionate declaration. Instead her eyes became as wide as saucers when she said, "Wow, Colleen. I am just going to do it for ONE day." I couldn't back down though, five days really felt like a challenge, and that's the whole point.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must make a public apology to Liv. I made ruthless fun of her when she told me that Sunday would be her day to unplug. We spent the entire afternoon together at a class on Sunday, and I teased her for taking the easy way out. I stood by that... until the Oscar telecast started on Sunday evening. Liv and I are equals in our interest in award shows. I mourned for her, and then made the best of my final few hours of television viewing. By the way, I need to figure out how to work in the fact that Liv's husband Brad is the voice on the DVD of the Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture Edition (I guess I just worked it in). I have always dreamed of playing the game with them so that I could say that I actually played the game with the voice of the game. They won't play with us, they are afraid. I am going to have to kiss that dream goodbye.

There were ground rules. First of all, as earning an income is essential in this economy, I still had to perform my basic work duties. I set aside a couple of hours in the morning to accomplish my daily tasks that require the Internet, and gave myself the framework of five essential sites that I could visit, no wandering outside of these parameters. Also, cartoons did not count as media consumption. My son watches a couple of cartoons in the morning, and then again after his nap - and let's be honest, while I am engaged with him while he watches, I am really thinking about how badly I want to see an episode of Caillou where Caillou's Daddy turns to the bottle, and Caillou's Mommy turns to a life of crime to make ends meet because of Daddy's excessive drinking. Odds are, that episode will never exist. I knew that what I would miss the most was my "shows" (which I will spare you from listing, they are great in number), and my beloved Facebook (which my college room-mate, Liz calls "crackbook").

I first must disclose that I did not make it five days. I made it almost four. I caved on Thursday evening when the hugest snowstorm in the entire world that has ever happened in all of history (I am exaggerating for effect) hit us hard (again... slight exaggeration). As the snow was falling, all I wanted was to cuddle up in my snuggie (yes, I have one, in fact, I have four) with my honey and watch 30 Rock. I went down in a blaze of glory. I spent Thursday evening after my son went to sleep absorbing the healing rays of the TV, and once my son was up and gone for a day with his grandfather on Friday... the binge continued. My own personal marathon of my very favorite shows. It was a lot like what happens when you're on a diet, and you give yourself a little permission to have a bite of cake, and then you end up eating the whole cake. Not that I know what that is like.

On Wednesday, after I put my son down for his nap, I rolled out my yoga mat in the living room and did a few Sun Salutations while I listened to Louise Hay's 101 Power Thoughts on my iPod (yeah, I'm all spiritual like that. Though, I may not have done that if a really killer Tyra Show episode had been on.) I realized from this experience that the reason I was missing the TV and the internet was because I was afraid I might be missing something. I think this happens more often than we realize. We get confused about where life is "happening." Here's the good news, life is "happening" wherever you are. That's what is important. Have you ever not been invited to a party and then felt awful because you were afraid of what you were missing? Your life doesn't happen where you are not. Your life happens where you ARE. The unexpected lesson I gained from this challenge was to remember to be present in each moment. Each one of MY moments. Not to focus on life beyond me because that has nothing to do with me. It's good that I got to that lesson on Wednesday though, because by Thursday... I was ready for some TV!

Next week, I am going to go all Andrew Zimmern and eat some sort of bizarre food. Probably brains. Seriously, brains, I mean it.


6. Wear a bathing suit in public...

I, like almost every woman (who is honest), have a part of my body that I wish were different. I actually have multiple parts of my body that I wish were different, but one that stands out above the rest. It's my thighs. For two reasons. The obvious; you know how people talk about eating something that goes straight to their thighs? I think it actually goes to MY thighs. I have big thighs. I always have. Even when I was 130 pounds I had big thighs. So naturally, being... not 130 pounds any longer, my thighs are bigger.

Perhaps less obvious; I am quite possibly the palest person in the world. I have less than no pigment. I have always been made fun of for this, and I remember literally every single remark that has been made about it. Hundreds of them, coming from children, adults, friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers. Things like, "Have you ever seen the sun?" and "you are the color of paper" I even had one friend tell me that I shouldn't wear white at my wedding because "the groom wouldn't be able to find you." I know you're probably laughing, and I would be laughing on the outside too having always been comfortable being the butt of a good joke, but what I would be thinking on the inside is... "this makes me ugly." Because of it, I swore off wearing shorts in my late teens, and would probably feel more comfortable if I were covered head to toe constantly. I am most self conscious about my pigment.

These two things combined create the perfect storm. Especially around bathing suits. I always cringe when I get a fashion magazine with the headline, "The Perfect Bathing Suit for Any Figure." Yeah, right. There isn't a bathing suit in the world that covers up the thighs (and please don't tell me about the skirts. I have bad news for bathing suit skirt wearers, the skirts do nothing but draw attention to the thighs. It's true.) and I am positive that no bathing suit could make someone as pale as I am look... not pale. So, the groundwork has been laid, the bathing suit and I do not have a good relationship.

(I need to take a deep breath here, because I had not anticipated that the writing of this event would turn out to be more of a stretch than the event itself.)

When my first child was born, my baby girl Brady (named for my maiden surname) who lived only 3 1/2 short months and died of SIDS suddenly and unexpectedly, I had a life changing experience upon holding her for the first time. My second thought (because honestly, my first thought was, "OH MY GOODNESS, she looks like my father-in-law) was that she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my entire life. I could not believe that Matt and I had put her together so perfectly. This took me so by surprise. Of course, a mother thinks her baby is the most perfectly beautiful thing, that is nature. I think what was striking me in that moment was the realization that she was a reflection of me in so many ways. I realized that in order for me to see this unique and amazing beauty in her, I would have to acknowledge the unique and amazing beauty in myself. This was big. Right then and there, I decided that it was about time for me to get around to figuring out how to love these parts of myself that I had spent a lot of time and energy hating. This propelled me down a path that has put me where I am right now, trying to make amends with the size and color of my thighs, and honor the beauty in me. Yes, I said it, the beauty. in. me.

I am lucky enough to have a husband who has told me in so many words, that he would think I was sexy if I were 900 pounds and had to wear a bedsheet. While it is tempting sometimes to eat enough to challenge this assertation, I will not. However, knowing this comes in handy in times like these where I feel anything but sexy. I envy and admire women who feel their sexiest in a bathing suit. That takes some confidence that I don't have right now. The goal this time around is not even to do it and feel sexy, the goal is to do it. So, it has to be done.

I have two bathing suits. One that I bought a year ago in preparation for a family cruise (which I never wore), and a maternity suit that I bought when I was pregnant with our third child that we lost during pregnancy this past November (also never worn). This goal is one that I have held for just over a year, and clearly I have had the intention to do it whatever shape I was in. I grabbed the one I bought for the family cruise last year and shoved it in the suitcase while we were packing for an overnight at a local hotel with our son. I am realizing with these challenges, that an element of getting through them is not spending time thinking about them in the hours and minutes up to their happening. If I do, I am afraid I'll talk myself out of it, or put it off for a later time, a time that may not come. So, we literally drove to the hotel, checked into the room, and headed directly down to the pool.

Well, not exactly directly to the pool. I have something to admit: I have a habit of forgetting to shave my legs. Not forgetting a day or a week here and there. I forget for months. Sometimes seasons. Hey, I don't wear shorts or bathing suits, and it's cold out there. I'd like to take another moment to thank my husband for thinking I'm sexy anyway. In the car on the way to the hotel, I had noticed the growth, and cursed aloud the fact that I hadn't packed a razor (quick plug for my favorite product: the Schick Intuition Plus which has the moisturizing cream built into the razor. AWESOME.) Luckily the front desk was able to supply me with the proper instrument (although not my Schick Intuition Plus) to sufficiently butcher my tender white legs so as not to further embarrass myself.

Once at the pool I had a revelation. You see, I am not, nor have I ever been (for obvious reasons) the type who could "lay out" by the pool or on a beach. It is pointless for me. I come in two colors, paper white or burned red. So, if I am to put on a bathing suit, it is for the function of swimming. My white and enormous thighs would only be exposed from the moment I dropped the towel until I immersed myself in the water. What was the big deal again? I relaxed and had fun tossing my son around in the water. He is a two-year-old and I had never gone swimming with him because of my own issues. As he was giggling and gripping my neck with his slippery arms I realized that he didn't care about my thighs, he cared about the safety and security I offer him both in and out of the water. He loves me no matter what. I cannot ask for much more in life than to be loved so purely and unconditionally. That said, I was thankful that nobody I knew was there, because it may have muddled that revelation. For now, I may need to just be satisfied with the accomplishment of doing this alone with my family and perfect strangers present. I think that's enough, because this lesson brought me back to where I started. I am uniquely beautiful. Each one of us is uniquely beautiful.

Next week, I'm unplugging. No internet or television for 5 days.


5. Sing Karaoke... In Front of People

When I was younger, I was a "good" singer. Certainly good enough to be picked for solos in school choir, church choir, and play the lead in a couple of musicals. The last time I sang in front of people I was 17 years-old and played the part of Adelaide in the musical Guys 'N Dolls at Minneapolis South High. I remember rehearsing for that show when the musical director said to me as I was passionately belting out I Love You a Bushel and a Peck, "That's okay Colleen, I guess it doesn't really need to sound good." Ouch. It's amazing how someone can say one thing, and you can carry it around for 14 years. It still hurts a little (a lot) when I think about it.

Having been demoted to a "below average" singer, the list of places I will sing is limited to the car, church, and my son's bedroom. We have been known to go to karaoke bars, because my husband loves to ham it up and sing Neil Diamond songs while the crowd goes wild. He somehow understands that karaoke is not about being good. It's actually all about having fun and making a complete ass out of yourself for the entertainment of others. While being aware of this makes the experience slightly more accessible, I am happy to observe, but sing... into a microphone... with people looking... and more importantly listening... not so much.

When out for coffee with my friend Amy, she told me that I was expected to do karaoke at her birthday party. Her husband, Jim, and I had been friends in high school, and he apparently told her that he was certain I would do karaoke because he knew I could sing. Jim had been in a musical (Oklahoma!) with me when I was in tenth grade (for Jim's sake, I must note that in this true story, Jim plays the character of the cool guy who tried out for a musical on a dare - I, on the other hand, was straight-up-geek). Jim apparently didn't remember the episode where I had a solo taken away from me because I forgot the words during the performance (in the musical Oklahoma! it is imperative to accurately convey to the audience exactly why the Farmer and the Cowman should be friends. I was not the right woman for that job.)

I realize that this all sounds equal parts dramatic and ridiculous. It has been almost 15 years, after all. It's these little hurts that we carry with us though, and time has a habit of making them bigger. However, bearing in mind that at least two people who have actually heard me sing were not offended by my voice (my husband, being one, and Jim, the other), I figured, with a little liquid courage... I could do this... maybe.

At the Lindstrom house, the process of picking out a karaoke song begins days, even months before the karaoke event. My husband is a pro at picking out the perfect karaoke song. He understands the nuance of finding a song that is a crowd favorite, but that you do not have to sing well. He has provided me with options; Goodbye Earl by the Dixie Chicks, Walkin' on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves, and I Touch Myself by the Divinyls. The conversation regarding karaoke song has occurred at least once a day since we found out we'd be going out for karaoke for Amy's birthday (almost exactly one month ago). I'm serious. Matt Lindstrom takes karaoke very seriously, and he wants me to understand the gravity of this decision. He is right, in order for this experience to be a success for me, I'm going to need to have the perfect song.

In preparation for Friday night's Karaoke Spectacular (I find that everything sounds more fun if you make it a "spectacular"), I watched the movie Duets. Okay, the truth is, I've sort of been wanting an excuse to watch that movie for years. I secretly love the song, Cruisin', and I very publicly LOVE Scott Speedman (who was an added bonus, because I didn't even know he was in the movie). This turned out to be an all around horrible idea. Despite the fact that the movie is just not really that good, the characters in the movie take karaoke a little too seriously, and that made me nervous. They are out there, you know. People who make karaoke their job. People who hope that they'll be discovered in a karaoke bar. People who travel the country competing for the biggest purse. There is nothing wrong with these people, I just must make sure that nobody thinks that I think I am one of those people, because those people are usually actually good. Here I go again, making mountains out of molehills. I bet nobody ever knew I had to think this hard just to have a little fun. Well, I do, and I wish I didn't.

The evening of the Karaoke Spectacular, I was enjoying a martini in a downtown lounge with my husband (this is essential to do before you bear your soul through song). Across the bar, I noticed someone familiar. It was my elementary school music teacher, who had everything to do with my appreciation of music and the arts. I imagined how ridiculous it would sound if I told that teacher who had given me solos in the school choir concerts and asked me to be in the special Madrigal choir at Hale School that I was feeling afraid of doing a little karaoke. This teacher knew me 20-plus years ago. She knew me when I would boldly march up to any microphone and sing my little heart out. Fearlessly. Then I thought about what a conversation would sound like between my current self, and my 20-plus-years-ago self... that girl would have thought this woman I am now was old and lame. I had something to prove to that girl.

The ingredients of a good karaoke experience are the right people, the right place, and the right song. I was in the sweet spot. Jim and Amy are great friends to us, and their friends (whom we had not previously met) turned out to be equally awesome. Good people travel in packs. This is a universal law. U Otter Stop Inn is a great karaoke bar. It's a karaoke bar without being a karaoke bar. It's a dive bar where karaoke is the experience. The best part is, at the Otter, the only people who care about the person singing are the people who came with the person singing. This makes it so much less intimidating. As far as the song is concerned, my invisible support group selected the perfect song. I'm pretty sure that the Divinyls created I Touch Myself specifically to be sung by women in karaoke bars. This must be true, because without karaoke, this song is nothing more than a masturbatory anthem, and I choose to believe that a song this awesome has more potential than that.

I was able to corral Amy and her friend Shannon to the mic along with me (note: this was immediately upon our arrival at the bar, and well before I discovered that Shannon is actually a super duper awesome singer) and we sang each word of that song like we meant it (and maybe a little bit like we had enjoyed a couple of cocktails). I like to think that my 20-plus-year-ago self was proud. I like to think, that if she could have had a conversation with me after my performance, she might have said something like, "I guess you're pretty awesome and cool, and what is that song about?" I guess I don't really have to wonder because she's still in there, and I'd like to invite her to make an appearance a little more often. She's a fun girl, and a really brave girl.

When I was 11, bravery meant being able to sing into a microphone without fear. As a 31 year-old, bravery means a lot more. I have spent the better part of the past 10 years learning a new definition of bravery. Bravely committing to a marriage with a loving man as my parents were divorcing. Bravely facing the birth of my first child, and then her sudden death three and a half months later. Bravely deciding to become a parent again, knowing that bad things can (and sometimes do) happen. Bravely surviving yet another loss, that of our third child at 20 weeks of pregnancy. When I put it in this kind of perspective, I am amazed that I spent any time building up the bravery to do karaoke. After all, if 11-year-old me had it... wasn't it there all along?

Next week, I'll make amends with my thighs by wearing a bathing suit in public.

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