Gold Stars – 51/56

When I was about 7 years old, I asked my parents for a piano and piano lessons. It was a bold request; we had just moved from our house in Pittsburgh’s North Hills to a newly constructed colonial on the outskirts of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, placed lovingly by my parents at the foot of the hill leading up to my paternal grandparents’ home. We had visited the house through all phases of construction, peering over the muddy pit that would become our basement as it was excavated, to playing tag in the spindly wooden uprights which would define our bedrooms and bathrooms.

I don’t know where I got the idea for piano lessons from. I had heard my mother play Clare de Lune when we visited her parents’ home in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and I remember being surprised that someone as capable and strong and sensible was also so expressive, so lyrical, so sad. She lost herself in the keys, and the sound of her playing filled their house with a melancholia that was tangible. I don’t know why I remember it as sad, because I think she was actually happiest then in those early years of motherhood, but my auditory memory is one that stills me to a sadness.  Mom wasn’t the only one to play that piano; my Uncle Lou could bang out happier music, which underscored our sing-alongs. My cousin, Doug, too, had a propensity for playing that was astonishing. He really was adept. Perhaps I was jealous of his skills. Who knows.

Anyway, for whatever reason, my precocious seven-year-old self got it into her noggin that she was going to be a virtuoso pianist and when we moved into the finished Greensburg house, one Christmas morning, there, in the linoleum-floored family room adjacent to the kitchen and laundry, was a dark, upright piano. I was enthralled, and spent hours playing the piano, and learning the songs that my piano teacher, Mrs. Gardner taught me. She lived in a house in the center of Greensburg, right across the street from a a friend of my father’s  from Yale. It happened that Dad was a squash player with this friend, Joe, and Joe had recently constructed a squash court behind his house, right down the street from Mrs. Gardner’s house. So while I was being taught by Mrs. Gardner, Dad was working up a sweat across the street. Sweet deal for both of us. Every Saturday morning we went to our separate labors.

The inside of Mrs. Gardner’s home was dark; her concert piano ebon, it’s black and white keys angled so that as I sat on the bench, my back was to the window on the front of the house facing the street. She was really old. Remember, this was my 7-year-old perspective, so she was probably my age now, or maybe even younger. But she had been a concert pianist, so I was told, and now, her hands were gnarled with the arthritis which had forced her career to a close. Her training was strict and rigorous. I was a little terrified of her and her methodology.  She told me that my fingers should also be tightly clenched, the fingers functioning as little independent hammers to strike the keys during the endless scales that she gave me to practice. She wrote the fingering with a stubby pencil above the notes, afterwards, laying the pencil to rest on the music stand of the piano. And she used little gold stars to reward me if I came and performed the scales or the simple pieces well. Oh, how I lusted after those gold stars, or the little piano stickers. They incentivized me to a ridiculous extent. Sometimes when I would sit on the bench of the piano at home, having been cajoled there by my patient mother folding laundry to my left at the machines, and I would think about those little gold stickers and the pleasure of Mrs. Gardner’s approval. It took so little then to make me reach for a goal. My parents did a good job teaching me how to strive to better myself.

Today I have a piano in my living room, adorned with pictures of my family and friends, my new granddaughter held lovingly by my son and his beautiful partner. I haven’t played the piano for weeks, and before that, for almost a year. There are no gold stars in the books in the piano bench. There is a copy of Clare de Lune, which I occasionally struggle over; it’s more about making contact with my mother, who has gone on to the great piano concert hall in the sky, than my piano practice.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other goals that I’m reaching for. You may have followed my current physical challenge of 56 yoga or spin classes in 57 days as a 56th birthday present to myself. It hasn’t been a solitary journey. I have had lots of support along the way, and lots of gold stars from my instructors at #YASDTLA.


Special thanks this morning to Mike Nobrega for giving me the gold star I needed to cross into the final 5 days of my challenge. I’m offering you a free ride and yoga class any morning next week at 5:30AM Monday-Friday to start your own challenge, or help me finish mine!

Birthday Challenge & I Need Your Help!

Els and Allyzon midway through Allyzon’s Birthday YAS Class

Today was a special day at YAS DTLA. It was Allyzon’s birthday (I’ll let her share the number if she wants) and she threw a big ol’ bash for her birthday. In attendance were virtually all the YAS DTLA star instructors in addition to a lot of others, including myself on Day 21/56 of my challenge. Kristy, Sterling, Julie, Mike, D.J., Andrea, Jules L.,  were a few of the instructors who were riding in solidarity with Allyzon. It was a celebrity event – an A-list ride. Allyzon shouted out to her YAS family throughout the ride, pumping us up and making us all ride like we were there for a reason.

Afterwards, Allyzon generously catered a party; after the YAS class, 1/2 hour of spin, 1/2 hour of yoga, and at 9:30 when we finished, we were feted with a gorgeous all vegetarian spread by Jennie Cook’s Catering and Plant-Based Parties. There was quiche, and some egg-muffiny concoctions, a beautiful platter of fruit, and little individual jewels filled with yogurt and blueberries. Pitchers of cranberry juice and orange juice and a basin filled with Champagne ready to be cracked open – it was quite a beautiful spread.

At the start of the ride, spirits were high, with birthday balloons gracing the back of Allyzon’s bike seat, and flowers and cards littering the top of the stereo. Lots of whooping and hollering accompanied the ride, and a special comedic dance break-out by Instructor DJ and Allyzon had us laughing just when we were starting to break a sweat. Halfway through the ride, the balloons freed themselves from the back of her saddle, and rose triumphantly to kiss the ceiling. The crowd roared.

The yoga room was full, mats close to our neighbors, giggles when our handstands evolved into wide spread legs. I silently admired my mat mate’s pedicure color –

Oh! That’s a nice color!

And before you knew it, it was time to party and the energy was great – like a big family birthday party.

The After-YAS Birthday Party. 

Our parting gift was a homey Mason jar filled with the ingredients to make Allyzon’s signature cranberry, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies. (I know, you are thinking right about now that this is counterproductive to having spent an hour working out), but better the workout followed by the cookies, than the cookies alone, right?

It was particularly fun to celebrate Allyzon’s birthday today because mine is tomorrow. I will be a fierce 56, and you may have read my blog earlier this week about the challenge I’ve set for myself, of 56 classes in 57 days. Here’s where I need your help, gentle but athletic reader. Today was day 21, and I know that I still have 35 days left to meet my personal goal. I invite you (friends, students, fellow faculty at USC SDA, Staff)  to come any M-F at 5:30AM or Saturday or Sundays at 8:30AM between now and February 16th to take a YAS class with me. If you are new to the YAS Downtown studio, you can take the first class for free. If you aren’t new, I have some free coupons saved up – just let me know in advance if you can make it and I’ll bring one along to get you into the seat/mat next to me. Here’s a link to the YAS DOWNTOWN website so you can plan your visit!

Here’s the thing. Yes, 5:30 is really early. But truthfully, when that alarm goes off, your intentions become instantly clear and somehow, it works out with the REM cycle so you can jump out of bed. And it would be so nice to see a familiar face in the room to cheer/goad/push me on. So, that’s my plea for help, and I hope to see you there to help me make my goal. Now excuse me, I have to go make some cookies!

Cranberry, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip Cookie mix