Monday, January 14, 2013

Old Dog, New Tricks.

RHYS BOWEN: It's still close enough to New Year's Day to be thinking about resolutions, and one of the things I try to do each year is to learn a new skill. I believe one is never too old to learn. I also believe that pushing onesself to do something out of a comfort zone is great.

So my next decision is what am I going to learn this year? Last year it was Tai Chi (as a martial art, not a meditation)and watercolor classes. I have just bought a collapsible bike, so that I can fold it up and take it with me in the trunk of the car. Riding a bike isn't a new skill for me. I used to ride to school for several years, up a hill that always felt like Mount Everest. Every day I used to try to beat my record to see how far up the hill I could ride before I was forced to get off and walk (no fancy gears in those days!). But riding a bike again after many years will be a good challenge for me.
We're also thinking of taking a boat through the Midi Canal in France. That will mean operating locks. Another new skill.

Not all the new skills I've tried out over the years have been equally successful. I tried fencing once. I thought I'd be a natural after years of ballet training and being a good tennis player. I was awful. I guess the thought of a sharp point coming in my direction made me want to retreat rather than attack. My daughter, on the other hand, took up karate to encourage her son to try it and is now a black belt and an instructor.

So, dear Reds--are there new skills you're planning to try out, or want to learn some time in your life?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: WHen my mother died, we inherited a lot of stuff, none of which has arrived yet. However--a piano is on the way! Yes. A piano. Do I play the piano? No. Does Jonathan? No. But you can't learn without a piano, and soon we'll have one. (I have to write a book, for gosh sake, so maybe I'll see if Jonathan wants to learn the new thing. Does that count?)
Riding a bike? Three little words. I FORGOT HOW.  We'll discuss it another time.
A new skill, Rhys? Eeesh. You are so energetic! I'm gonna work on the old ones, maybe...

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh a piano, Hank, that will be fun! I've taken some lessons over the years but never got too far past beginner...As for new skills, I'm having trouble coming up with new ones too.
I might try my hand at a children's book, if I ever catch up with the deadlines I already have. And I bought a new cookbook, the MY KEY WEST KITCHEN by Norman Van Aken, but after skimming through decided most recipes looked delicious but too involved to tackle. Maybe I'll take one of those on...And taking a boat through France sounds wonderful!

HALLIE EPHRON: I am in awe, Rhys - Fencing, watercolor, karate WOW.
I tried making bread after insisting for years that I don't do yeast. Actually, cinnamon buns for Christmas morning. A lot of work, and I definitely need more practice, but delicious.
I tried yoga and hated it -- does that count? I'll just stick with my weights and workout, thanks very much.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Love to try new things and new destinations, but the older I get the harder it is to come up with things either I haven't tried or will NEVER try. (No skydiving, downhill skiing or parasailing for me thank you very much.)
I am anxiously awaiting the next big snowfall to try out my new snowshoes. I have a tennis lesson next week (I love to watch but don't play.) And I will be brushing up my Italian for an upcoming trip. Brand new stuff? Going to Mozambique in September..that should be interesting.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I feel like such a boring person next to the rest of you! The new trick I really want to learn this year is "how to write a novel in twelve months or less." I have started something new - I got Ross and The Boy snowshoes for Christmas, but The Youngest and I have been taking them out ourselves. Snowshoeing through our fields makes a nice mother-daughter date. We'll just have to cross our fingers the snow doesn't all melt in this mid-January thaw we're having!
I'm also learning a lot more about mid-century jazz. The Boy has gotten into jazz percussion in a big way way, and as a result we're all listening to a lot of Monk, Coltrane, Corea, etc.
Maybe I can learn time-management from Rhys. How do you travel, learn new stuff, spend time with kids and grandkids AND write two books a year?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm with Julia. (And yes we are Boring!!!!) The new skill I want to learn is time management, which includes finishing a book a year (while Rhys finishes two) and just generally being more organized and enjoying my life more.  Rhys, give us lessons!!!!
I bought a bike for the first time since I was child two years ago, discovered it terrified me, and have hardly ridden. So hoping to improve that. Also, bought fabric to make a quilt and had a friend help me with the design. I've sewn one little block. So really, I'd just like to make a little progress on those.
Oh, and Rhys, I so envy you the canal trip. I've wanted to do that in the UK ever since I wrote Water Like a Stone, but hubby is not interested and it's not an adventure I'd take on on my own...

HALLIE: Debs, laughing at the one-square quilt. I learned to crochet and started a bedspread; ended up with a handbag. I took up quilting after that and ended up with a baby quilt. Eyes bigger than stomach, as my mother would have said.

RHYS: I remember learning to crochet when I was pregnant, and the baby blanket that started out three feet wide ended up about 12 inches. The only trapeziod baby blanket in the world. And I don't know if I am organized, really. I just find ti hard to slow down--I keep meaning to but I'm like an energizer bunny. I have to keep on going. And I can't sit still and do nothing. Watch TV and I have to knit, paint, do crossword at the same time. My mom was the same. But I have to admit I'm a little scared about taking up the bike again--was it always such a long way down?

And I'm dying to go to Hank's first piano recital, to watch Ro and Julia in a snowshoe race and to see Deb's quilt for Barbies.
So, dear friends, what new things are you going to learn this year?


  1. oh, I so love this! I made myself a promise when I retired, a very big, big important (to me) promise.

    To spread my wings. There are so many creative things I have an urge to try.

    I've tried a lot of things over the years (and thank you, Reds, for helping me come up with my next Jungle Red column!), many of them blazingly unsuccessful. One I'm "almost" ready to try again - pottery.

    You guys have some wonderful plans and I hope you'll keep us posted as the year goes on with how these things are going.

  2. Went hiking in the snow yesterday with Yaktrax on..not enough snow for snowshoes but I've got my fingers crosed for this week!

  3. Wow . . . such huge and energetic new things! Like Rosemary, skydiving, downhill skiing, and parasailing are definitely not on my list. Neither is bungee jumping. I’ll leave the snowshoeing to Julia . . . she can have my share of the winter snowfall.

    Perhaps I can find a way past procrastination . . . is that the same as time management? [Although I must admit that I really think the secret here is to find a way to get more hours into the day so that I can actually get everything done . . . .]

    As for new skills --- I’m still trying to learn the old ones! I’m afraid I’m pretty much set in my ways [translation: boring.] But I’m happy . . . new books from my favorite authors are on the horizon, and nothing beats a day curled up with a good book . . .

  4. DO any of you play the piano? I you think it's really --too late?

    I tried to learn how to play the guitar in high school--Jan, I know you succeeded!--but was too impatient with the dreaded "practiciing." I wanted to play SONGS. I fear I'll hit the same wall.

  5. Hank, if I knew you were interested in a piano, I'd have given you the one in my living room. I used to pluck at it to entertain my dog. Now that she's gone, it just sits there, unloved.

    You all are very ambitious. My immediate resolution is to figure out my iPhone. But I've also agreed to be a judge for the state's high school poetry slam competition. This feels adventurous to me, and there's definitely a learning curve.


  6. Hank,
    Although I have a beautiful piano -a Steinway our family does not deserve skillwise - I don't play. Spike plays a little, Bill keeps threatening to learn.

    I play guitar - which I started at sixteen - and which I keep up with to try to keep my brain limber. All sorts of studies on the brain show that it develops in relation to whatever you practice.

    The great thing about an instrument is that is jogs a different part of your brain. So I keep my guitar on a stand next to my computer and pick i tup when I am stuck on a scene.

    So HANK, go for it, it would be good for you. You may not be performing live at Symphony Hall, but its such a sweet sound in the house.

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  8. I found the same kind of brain-stretching by singing in the choir, Jan. Especially alto, which rarely gets the easier melody...

    We ALMOST tried jet skiing this weekend. Which I am not the least bit interested in (hate going fast!), but my character Hayley will do this in the next book. So maybe still will try it:)

  9. Hank, you can definitely learn to play piano. Methods these days make it fun from day one, with simple versions of popular songs etc. I've been teaching my grandson, who likes action and has short attention span and he's playing Harry Potter and Starwars.
    Ask at a music store for a good teacher, and also check out computer programs.

  10. Happy BIrthday, ROBERTA/Lucy! (Is it Lucy's birthday, too?)

  11. Ha -- already learned one! How to use Track Changes in Word. Does that count? (I write in Word Perfect and convert.)

    But you've all got me thinking. Hmmm....

  12. You all are inspiring me. I have my grandmother's piano (not a very good one). Never learned to play as a child. Took a few lesson back when Gemma started taking piano, but I only worked on one really hard piece that I wanted learn to play. (It was part of the music from The English Patient.) Maybe Gemma, at least, should get back to her lessons...

    Hank, I don't think it's too late. And just wanting to play songs is a great motivator. My husband plays the guitar very well by ear, and has never taken a lesson.

  13. PS I'm learning how to use the new tablet I got for Christmas. Does that count?

  14. A bike tip from one who learned the hard way--be sure the bike is adjusted to your height! Otherwise, when you want to stop you will fall over rather than put a foot on the ground!

  15. New Years Resolutions bring out my oppositional defiance disorder! This year I intend to start a gratitude journal and a money journal to track where my money really goes. So far? Not one entry in either book. Oh, and I also resolved to bring my lunch everyday to save money (does anyone see a theme here?) Today is the 14th and it's been take out everyday. Oh well, tomorrow is another day, said Scarlett.

  16. Hank--Never to late to learn to play the piano. I play--not as well as I used to, but I still get pleasure from it.

    New thing for me this year: jewelry-making. I got interested in it researching my new book, THE RECKONING STONES, and Tom bought me a class for Christmas! Will let you know if I have any facility for it at all. Maybe I'll wear an original creation to Malice! :-)

  17. My daughter just got a new (used) piano, so I got some simple books with Disney songs. While I was here this weekend, I polished up "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes." I took lessons as a kid, but was never good at it.

    Never that good at it has been a theme for me -- drawing, pastels, sewing. But I do enjoy having projects. Someone said my house is set up like a kindergarden with "activity centers" and I move around from fairy houses to baking to writing to crossword puzzles.

    I started to do crosswords pretty seriously a few years ago, and have been to three NYTimes puzzle tournaments in Brooklyn, where I am just better than middling.

    New challenges . . . I am going to write a mystery novel this year! I am. When I show up at Seascape in September, I will have a completed first draft. I will.

  18. Denise Ann--can't wait to see you! That's terrific...and very impressive about the puzzles!

  19. In the last five years: took up vegetable gardening, dehydrating, and canning (which took some courage!); horseback riding, both Western and English, including rudimentary dressage, which I adored until I got slammed into a fence by a horse I was overconfident enough to ride; made and finished (very important point!) my first quilt, which is for a full-sized bed. My friend owns a self-guided quilting machine, and she taught me how to use it. For any of you aspiring to make a quilt, find someone to do the actual quilting of your pieced top. It took me 7 1/2 hours of standing, backbreaking work to machine quilt the darn thing.

    I'm with Ro, no downhill, or jumping out of or off of anything, except maybe a curb. No way, Jose.

    I'd really like to learn to play a table harp, or maybe a flute. And I'd love to get to a point where I could perform some more difficult yoga poses than child's pose, at least without falling over. Writing a work of fiction would also be new for me, but I've said that every year for the last five and still have not done anything about it. Hmmm.

  20. Exactly, Karen. NO jumping out of anything.

  21. Elizabeth, ha ha, woman after my own heart...

    Deb, yes learning the new tablet counts!

    Thanks Hank, yes I think it's Lucy's birthday too:). we need to go get some birthday words written...xo

  22. Nothing new that I'm going to try this year, but I AM going to get back into yoga at home. You know, to keep the flexibility up and be good to my body. Does that count?

  23. I am going to try camping this year. When I say that sentence my friends dissolve into heaps of laughter. However, The Munchkin is working on a project involving edible wild plants and will be camping overnight. She needs a responsible adult with her and I'm it.

  24. I'll be very happy if I can figure out how to sew new straps on Kendall's assistance dog vest. Which direction do they go? Every time I try, one of them is facing the wrong way.

  25. CAMPING!!! Bwa ha ha. Not me, sister.

    Edible wild plants and camping overnight. Huh. Yikes. You are not just a great munchkin mentor--you are a HERO.

  26. Karen, I play the Celtic harp! I bought one and learned about ten years ago. I love it. So soothing.

  27. Cool, Rhys! Is there one you could recommend?

    And soothing is the exact reason I want to learn to play one.

    We have a piano, and I tried to learn, but once I needed to do two different things with my hands I was lost.

  28. You can definitely learn piano, Hank. In your spare time...

    Too bad Jan's not here - she could share learning guitar... my daughter took up the Irish tin whistle.

    Lucy: JET SKIS?! What we do for our art... one year I visited a brain bank.

  29. Hallie, is a brain bank what I think it is--a repository of human brains?

  30. There's a brain bank at McClean Hospital.

  31. Karen, I bought mine at a store in Bar Harbor Maine, but there are only a couple of companies that make Celtic harps in the States. If you have a folk instrument store anywhere near you go and try out harps and see which one feels right. Mine is 3 and a half octaves, enough to play most tunes. I can't give you the name as I've left it behind in California (it doesn't like temperature changes so it stays put)

  32. Laughing--they saw riding a bike is like sex, you never forget how. But at my age I'm afraid to get on a bike--not sure what that says about the other. But after years of resistance, I've become a yoga practitioner (not skilled, but...) Piano? I did it for a while and then let it drop. I have enough trouble perfecting the skills I have--mostly cooking and writing.