Monday, February 10, 2014

Going for the gold . . . tiara

HALLIE EPHRON:  Amazing women are competing in this year's Winter Olympics. But there was a time... At the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 in Chamonix, there were 11 women out of 258 competitors. Women could only compete in figure skating until 1948 when skiing was opened up to them.

But since 1921, it's been women only competing for the title of Miss America. Though I haven't watched for years, my favorite part was always the talent contest. Yes, there were figure skaters. And some of the more memorable talents on display:

  • In 1959 Miss New York gave a vocal impersonation of Maurice Chevalier. Miss Connecticut gave a speech on fashion designing and tractor driving.
  • In 1961 Miss Idaho gave a dramatic reading of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Miss Connecticut performed a dramatic interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.
  • In 1973 Miss Florida performed a roller skate ballet to Swan Lake.
  • In 1987 Miss Massachusetts did a marimba interpretation of Hava Nagila.
  • In 2011's Miss Arkansas's performed a yodeling ventriloquism act.
Could you play the marimba? Roller skate to Swan Lake? I cannot do any of the above, and though I like to poke fun at these feats, the truth is I'd have a hard time coming up with a "talent" of my own to perform were I ever, in some alternate universe, a Miss America contestant.

I could:

  • Type. Very fast. Like the wind. And yodel at the same time.
  • Make mayonnaise. Like magic from egg yolks and oil.
  • Twerk ... maybe. Or else it's the Jerk. Or maybe it's the Watusi.
What hidden "talents" could you trot out to compete?

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Oooh, I've always wanted to make homemade mayonnaise, Hallie!

I could:

  • Make flaky homemade piecrust. My grandmother taught me.
  • Puppeteer (yes, my husband taught me — and Jim Henson and Frank Oz taught him, sooo.....I am not horrible.)
  • Drive stick-shift in a blizzard.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You guys are talented! Here is a non-olympic photo of me on the mountain at Alta (a few, um, years ago), preparing to go down the opposite way from the easiest way. We do not have a photo of me, splatted, soon after. So much for my skiing career.

My skills. I could:

  • Sing along to Broadway show tunes, if it was more about knowing all the words, and less about being in tune. My big finish could be to do ALL the parts of the West Side Story "Tonight" quartet: --"A boy like that, he'd keel your brother...." "Oh, no Anita, no... "ToNIGHT, tonight... " "We're gonna rock 'em tonight...) 
  • I can cook something out of whatever's in the fridge
  • Ah, write for-the-occasion lyrics? (There seems to be a theme here.) Like: "He is the very model of a modern dad and grandpa too, He knows the finest restaurants from Panama to Katmandu..." (I did the whole thing for my Dad's birthday last year.)

Dancing, no. And just a side note--how much more dramatic can the sermon on the mount even be? And I'm not even gonna comment on the tractor/fashion thing.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am so glad I didn't see the yodeling ventriloquism thing.  Really. NOT even going to think about looking it up on YouTube...

You want to know about my talents?  I can't sing. I can't dance. I can't play an instrument--in fact, my best pal and I got laughed out of the recital at the end of the guitar lessons we took when we were twelve... I can't blow bubbles. I can't whistle. I am not good at any sport.

I can, however, make mayonnaise. (Is there a theme here, Hallie?) I can not only cook something out of most anything in the fridge, but I do a mean clean-up. I can, like our Susan, make a smashing (no pun intended) cocktail. (Somehow I don't think they'd go for the mixologist skills in the Miss American contest...)

And I can, like Hallie, type like the wind, and I can not only yodel and type (how hard can that be?) but I can type while carrying on a conversation about something completely unrelated.  (This skill is honed by spouse talking to you about drains or batteries or something equally interesting while you are trying to write..)

Oh, and I'm a dandy plumber's helper.
RHYS BOWEN: Sorry, can't make mayonnaise (or I probably could, but don't)

Like Hank I can write mean parodies. For John's birthday I did "Gonna tell you a story of a man named John.." and went through his whole life.

But I'm still in stupefied shock about the danced version of the Sermon on the Mount. No, I wouldn't do that, either.

I sing quite well. I spent 10 years in ballet school but I wouldn't dance these days. I play my Celtic harp, but just for my own amusement. When I have to perform, my fingers won't work.

But I do tell good jokes. I'd do a stand up comedian act as my talent, I think.

LUCY BURDETTE: I've seen Hallie type and she is very, very fast. Have not been treated to the yodeling yet...

HALLIE: Be careful what you wish for.

LUCY: I probably could place pretty high in the wearing silly costumes that match your dog's outfit competition.

The zenith of my performance career was a lipsync act to Tammy Wynette's STAND BY YOUR MAN. When the big green felt frog came out to dance with me, we brought down the house. (Believe me, that was the high point of the relationship too.)

John says, such a shame I didn't pursue skiing. I say, but I hate the cold and am afraid of heights and plunges and generally timid so, no.

Oh and PS, I make a mean birthday cake too. Just about any flavor you want...

HALLIE: So, dear readers, what's your talent, and are you ready to go for the gold?


  1. Oh, my . . . I fear the list of my “could not do” things is so much longer than my list of “could do” things . . .
    I am not good at any sport, I don't play an instrument, I can't carry a tune, and I’m horrible at telling jokes [I always forget the punch line] but, in keeping with what’s already been mentioned here, I can: type very fast, make mayonnaise, and cook a meal from whatever’s in the refrigerator . . . .
    I can walk in moon shoes . . . I can [as long as the print is not too small] read upside down --- a wonderful feat when reading to a group of children because I can hold the book so they see the pictures while I am reading the words . . . .

  2. Can I just say how much I love the picture of all of you with your sashes, especially how Hallie had a growth spurt, and how Lucy's height is just right?

    Let's see. I can make a beautiful quilt in a week, but that would take too long for a talent show. Same with growing delicious organic vegetables. I can make a perfect pie crust and a stunning apple pie. Yep, nothing suitable for the stage. Good thing I have no aspirations in that direction!

  3. Joan Emerson - read upside down!?!? I of course had an image of YOU upside down, reading a book. I was impressed.

    A quilt in a week? Wow, Edith. Yes, in a talent show that would seem like watching paint dry. Ditto growing veggies.The pie could work.

  4. I am terrible at physical talents. Can't sing, knit, play an instrument, yodel, dance, draw...

    I am pretty good at making people laugh. On that note, maybe I could say my best skills are in the bedroom? ;-)

  5. Oh Hank, I too know the lyrics to tons and tons of broadway musicals. I can't hold a note to save my life, but I can sing along like crazy in my car (when I am alone).

    We should find two more folks and recreate the Tonight Quartet at the next Bouchercon...

    ok, maybe not.

  6. I used to be a ballerina - many years and pounds ago. I used to play the flute...don't remember how, now. However, I still remember about a dozen silly poems I learned in Childhood, and I still recite them fairly often to annoyance of family. So if you want to listen to a collection of Ogden Nash poems, and Eletelephony and "Willie and Nell" poems....I'm your girl.

  7. I think that photo of the Jungle Red in bathing suits might be my new Facebook logo.

    I used to (way back) read up-side-down and backwards for the newspaper, proofing last minute changes in the lead type. I can sing Blue Suede Shoes well enough to surprise you, but only because I've been practicing for 58 years. I knocked out a wedding party with my karaoke two years ago, but had no encore.

  8. Edith, yes, I noticed how Hallie put herself in a quite tall:).

    Reading upside down should certainly be a category Joan...Ramona, you racy thing you...

    Kristopher, hmmmm we'll be looking for that!

  9. I could team up with Edith and we could make a quilt together. I'm pretty fast - I made a baby quilt this weekend. It is possible to sew for 22 hours in two days and still get the laundry done and watch all sorts of British television on Netflix. However, my crowning achievement (ha!) is the ability to write backward, or mirror image. Flip the paper and hold it up to the light and it's forward. I even managed to combine quilting and writing backward once, when I stitched the word "backward" backward into a quilt.

  10. Ramona - I love that! Making people laugh in the bedroom is a much underrated talent.

  11. Lucy - laughing because I realize I should have given Rhys that body and taken the one she's stuck on.

    Jack, you may be required at some point to give a command performance.

  12. Hallie, this is too funny... and telling, because my first thought was--oh, I look fat. But that's a blog for another day.

    Joan, you and me sister. Reading upside down is a necessary skill for a reporter!

  13. I can do a lot of things just a little, sing, tap dance, act, etc. Enough to toss out an occasional line of a song or dance step and look very impressive--but I don't do more, because then the mystery would be lost.

    But my superpower is finding anything my husband loses. Even if I'm not in the same location as him at the time. But that would take a lot of doing to demonstrate.

  14. I am an excellent snowstorm driver, particularly in the dark, on rural roads, where moose meander. Have to get from Bingham, Maine to the Quebec border in a blizzard? I'm your girl.

    Having grown up in a family of tradesmen, I can clear clogged sinks and fix running toilets with ease.

    I can cook lobster perfectly every single time, and am a prize-winning pie baker. (Not the county fair, just a small island fair, but the competition was fierce.)

  15. Let's see. I can type fast (100 wpm was my height, might not be quite there any more) - and I can type and hold a conversation. Comes from being a mother of teens, I guess.

    I can bake. Hot chocolate souffle anyone? Or pie.

    I can sing, play piano, violin, and viola (if I brushed up on it).

    Jokes? No. Anything physical? Probably not. As my grandfather used to say, I'm about as graceful as the bird they call the elephant.

    And Hank, I would have loved to hear that ditty for your dad!

  16. Tammy, I love that! Me, too..It's like--
    Its in the top drawer.
    I looked there.
    Maybe, but that's where it is.
    (after finding it right where I said)How did you know?
    Shrugging. That I cannot reveal.

  17. Such a talented bunch!

    My daughter is whizbang at playing the marimba, with four mallets, and was in drumline in high school. She had one in our living room for years, and even taught other kids to play.

    I can also read upside down and backwards, but envy those who can write that way. These days, driving a stick shift anyplace is a talent, since manual shift cars are no longer commonplace. And I also know a lot of showtunes by heart, but my voice isn't what it used to be. Sign me up as the third member of your not-so-great quartet, if you want.

    My biggest talent, though, is sewing--anything, really, but high-end garments are my specialty. Lest you think that isn't easily enough shown for a Miss America contest, allow me to introduce you to Nancy Fleming, Miss America 1961, who not only showed off her self-made wardrobe, but modeled it onstage for her competition:

  18. Summarizing things
    Is it a talent when done
    In Haiku format?

  19. Finding things! I say to my family member, "Start counting . . . " and they rarely get to ten. My little grey cells!

    When youngest daughter gets married in September 2014 the Friday night festivities include a talent show. I have organized the three older daughters and the mother of the groom (who is a Sweet Adeline) to do a performance, with harmony, of "Daisy, Daisy" and "The Sidewalks of New York." I am making us gingham bonnets and aprons.


  20. p.s. It's a surprise -- don't tell Ellie and Tim.

  21. I can make a great salad dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dried herbs. That's about the extent of my talents. Oh, yeah, I bake pretty decent cookies.

    I CANNOT dance(guys: don't ask me to dance; nobody deserves that kind of trauma!), sing (cover your ears!), do any sort of sport (was always that very last chosen for any kind of team sport as a kid - "does she HAVE to play with us??"), do any sort of needlework/sewing, etc.

    Oh, I can read really fast. I need to, if I want to fit in all the books that you folks write!

    (and I just discovered that I CANNOT read the capcha words today...attempt number 4 coming up...make that number 5)

  22. I can get along with anybody, and the more difficult the personality, the more I enjoy it. I taught meditation to protective custody felons at a local prison. I'm 59 and can still kick over my head from old cheerleading days.

  23. I can get more in a single dishwasher load than any other human being on the planet. If only this were an Olympic sport. Or a skill worth a hedge fund manager's compensation package. Alas, it is appreciated only by my family and only after parties.

  24. Good for you, Barb! I do that too.
    And Deb, I can't whistle either. Or blow bubblegum bubbles. I do "yodel" after a fashion if something comes on the car radio and I want to torture my husband. It is way worth it. Can't carry a tune in a bucket or remember the lyrics but I'll try to sing along anyway. So, what can I do? Well, I can get along with just about anybody, whether I want to or not. I can make people laugh with witty or snarky (depends on your viewpoint) comments. I can dance in public now without being embarrassed about it. That is major. I grew up shy and didn't want to draw attention to myself in foolish ways. Getting older seems to have erased fear of humiliation. Oh yes. I have a superb beer palate.

  25. You guys are all great and oh so talented! I'm dynamite at loading the dishwasher, too! Why don't they have competitions for that, I ask you!

  26. I love the bathing beauties picture! Gee, special talents ? At times like this, I wish I'd kept playing the bassoon. I guess I could go with writing bang-up thank you notes, something I'm happy to see my daughter excels at, too. Giving compliments could be a talent, I suppose, as I strive to find something good to say to people who are in especially trying jobs, to hopefully make them have a moment of feeling good in their hectic atmosphere. I seem to have a gift of gab like my father did. Does taking multiple dogs out on leads to use the restroom count, too? LOL!

  27. Hey, Suzette! And I was about to note that we didn't have any 'twirlers' in the bunch. Your talent comes close.

  28. I have a theologically-themed comedy routine that I performed at the Harvard Divinity School End of the Year Theological Review. My last was a reverse drag version of my Senior Paper Advisor, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza dressed in full bishop's gear, accompanied by the "Reine's Boy's" chorus line. I graduated anyway.

  29. Forgot to mention this morning that I can dance an Irish jig.

  30. oh my gosh you people are amazing and hysterical. we could definitely sweep with this amount of talent!

  31. Denise Ann--that's wonderful! And we demand photos!

    ANd you all are incredibly talented! xo

  32. A topic I've been thinking about talents. But I can bake; I can drive in snow (though you don't want to in Houston because nobody else can!); and, I think I understand my animals (not sure about my kids though).

    I really enjoyed this post - thanks!