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.


8. Eat a New Food

I'll eat just about anything once, and most things twice or more. It's true. I don't think I was always this way. I seem to remember dramatically gagging every time my mom put butternut squash in front of me as a kid. My mom kept trying though. She was always a very good cook and appreciated different flavors, she taught us to be adventurous when it came to food. When I started dating Matt, we had a little problem. Matt only ate steak and potatoes. He counted Caesar salad (drenched in dressing, as if to say, "would you like a little salad with your dressing?") a vegetable - and it was his only "vegetable". I call this a little problem because while I believe that one's food choices are very personal, if I was to be sharing meals on a regular basis with this man, we were going to need to figure out how to get him to branch out, because steak, potatoes, and Caesar just don't cut the mustard for me (so to speak). One day I introduced him to asparagus, and it was like he was visiting a whole new world. I am thankful that in the early stages of our relationship, he took some chances, and those chances opened doors to even more chances. Such that the two of us now find great joy in trying new foods. For some people, going to movies is a hobby, or playing a sport together, or doing home improvements, our hobby is enjoying great food together. Made that much more fun when we can share community with dear friends over good food. It really is one of our lives greatest joys.

We play matchmaker with our friends and our favorite restaurants. We have lists of restaurants that we'd like to take different friends too. When Matt and I try a new restaurant, part of our mealtime conversation is about which of our friends would enjoy the experience at that particular restaurant. To us, the restaurant experience is about more than the food, it is about the energy of the room, the scope of the menu, the concept of the chef, and we want to share that with the people we care about who we think would appreciate it. Some of our best dining friends are Clint and Lisa. We have a long list of restaurants to visit with Clint and Lisa. We have even eaten out in the middle of a grazing field together at an event where local chefs prepared a twilight meal on a farm. A true celebration of the farm to table movement. (By the way, if this sounds like something you might be interested in, I am excited to tell you that Scott Pampuch of Corner Table in South Minneapolis is organizing this type of meal four times this summer - it's called Tour de Farm, and you can bet I'll be at at least one of these events.) Naturally, Clint and Lisa would be part of the team that would help me find that thing I had never tried before.

This was almost the more difficult part of the challenge, finding something I had never eaten before. I did have one rule, it had to taste good, or at least be presented in a way that would have me believe that it was good. I watch Bizarre Foods from time to time, and I gag at some of the things that Andrew Zimmern gnaws on. He has to be an amazing actor in my book, to pretend that bugs really taste that good. I also wonder what kind of damage he has done to his intestinal tract. I am not willing to make such sacrifices. I would prefer not to be scarred for life by this experience, thank you very much.

Clint, Lisa, Matt, and I had plans for one of our dinner dates at a restaurant selected by Clint and Lisa. The restaurant is called Saffron and is located in Downtown Minneapolis. They have lamb brains on the menu. They don't even call them something fancy, the menu just calls it what it is, "lamb brain." As soon as I saw that, I knew I had met my match. Everyone was on board to try the brains, so I had my ever important posse.

Here's the deal with Saffron's Lamb Brains, they are fried. I was relieved. I will definitely eat anything if it's fried! I will spare you the details of the taste of the brains, I will only tell you that they weren't what I expected, and I didn't think they were gross. In fact, my posse and I were all members of the clean plate club. (I should also tell you that all of the food at Saffron is FABULOUS, especially the gnocchi.)

This experience really re-invigorated that piece of me that sought out new food experiences. I think I am sort of in another rut. A different kind of rut. You see, I love all types of food. I love complex food with many different flavor combinations, and simple food with just the basic ingredients. I love a couple of crazy things like foie gras and roe, and I love completely normal things like a really good jucy lucy (yes, that's how they spell it at Matt's - the REAL home of the jucy) and french fries. However, I have sort of stopped paying attention to things I have never tried before. Food is still exciting to me, but as adventurous as I am, I have lost the true sense of adventure.

You may not relate to the food portion of this particular blog, many people don't, but perhaps there is something in your life that you can substitute here. This feeling, this "stuck in a rut" feeling is the exact reason I started this blog. To actively rediscover what it's like to just try new things, and the best part: To celebrate the accomplishment of TRYING. It's really about stretching yourself beyond your comfortable edges. In yoga, one of my instructors says, "the pose begins at the moment you want to get out of it." I love this thought, the idea that once you think you've gotten the job done, there's so much more to do, and that is only the beginning. Think about where you're stuck. I'd love to hear from some of you about challenges you've met, or the places you think you might be stuck. Please email me at colleen@lifecelebrationcoach.com!

Next week, essential for this economy - I am going to not spend a penny (beyond the necessary expense of gas and bills). You may notice that I didn't include food as a necessary expense. I believe that I have enough food in our pantry and freezer to make it through the week. I am going to test this theory. Target is really going to miss me.

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