Sunday, December 27, 2009

1.5 Celebrate a Polish/Ethiopian/Tacomian Wigilia

I'm back in Burlington for a day between trips to Tacoma, Washington and Nepal. Celebrating Wigilia wasn't on my list of 52 New Things, since it happened in 2009 and more importantly, is the opposite of a New Thing. Rather, it is my most significant family tradition, and I've celebrated it on and off since the fifth grade with various configurations of Szuberts, Siplons, and other family friends. BUT it turned out this year that there were some new elements, most importantly, celebrating it for the first time ever with my niece, Tigist (and introducing some Ethiopian elements as a result) and celebrating it in a new place (Washington state -- to add to the list of Michigan, Idaho, Florida and Massachusetts).

Wigilia is a formal Polish Christmas Eve dinner that was introduced to our family by our very close family friends, the Szuberts (Conrad, Mary Pat, Lia, Teesie, Marita and Sue), when I was still in elementary school. It is a fairly elaborate multi-course meal that begins with unconsecrated communion wafers (which are broken and exchanged among all the participants) and ends with decadent desserts (which we've Americanized over the years). In between are other courses including caviar and other canapes, pickled herring (for luck in the New Year), borscht soup with mushroom dumplings, and pierogis. There used to be a fairly disgusting aspic course, but after years of it being passed around the table untouched, it fell off the menu, to no one's disappointment. Each course begins with a vodka toast, so things get progressively looser as the evening goes on.

I've never celebrated a Wigilia in Vermont (though I hope to someday), but my sister Katrinka is made of sterner stuff, and has been keeping up the tradition (as have my mom and all the Szuberts with their own families) for years. This year our table included our hosts, Katrinka and Brian and my niece Tigist, Brian's dad and stepmom (Pat and Kathy) and family friends Dave and Pat, and me.

I included a few pictures that I hope Tigist especially will like remembering in future years as a record of her first Wigilia. The first one is her special role in the evening. The meal can't start till the youngest child sees the first star in the sky, and so Tigist had to go out a few times before she found it (and as you can see, she was getting a bit peeved about its non-appearance). There's also a shot of she and me making molasses crinkles for part of the dessert course (and anyone who's had them knows why it's very important for me to teach Tigist how to make them early in her young life), and the last one is Tigist, Brian and me enjoying the final toast of the evening out of Ethiopian horn-carved cups that are now a permanent part of the dinner.

Most families have their own important traditions, and for me, Wigilia is our most meaningful. Over the years it has stretched to include new things and people, as it did this year, and I look forward to many more years of sharing it with my family and friends, especially my wonderful new niece Tigist.

1.5 52 Ways to Say I Love You

In honor of Tigist, this installment of New Words is in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia

Hello Selam
Tenastallan (May you be given health)

Good-bye Dehna Hun/Hungi/Hunu (M/F/Plural)

Two beers, please Huleutt bira, abakon

I love you Krishalehou

Coming Attractions

All the New Things for January from the previous Blog Post still apply (Going to Nepal December 28-January 8, ice climbing January 16, and learning to make mozzarella January 28) and people are welcome (and encouraged!)to join on the latter two -- drop me a line if you're interested.

But wanted to note two more -- one in the near future, one for the summer.

* Take a Penguin Plunge. On Saturday, February 6 at 11 am I'll be joining Erin and 900-odd other people at Waterfront Park taking a freezing dip in Lake Champlain to benefit Special Olympics. Want to join or sponsor? Drop me a line, please.

* Spend an afternoon learning glass-blowing. The other Wigilia participants were full of great new ideas for my list, and this one was my favorite. Tacoma, Washington is the glass-art capital of the United States, and the home of world-reknown glass blower Dale Chihuly. When I go back to Tacoma in July, my sister Katrinka and I are going to sign up for an afternoon introduction to glass blowing (and at the end of it I will have the most expensive paperweight I'll ever buy -- but I'll have made it!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The List

52 New Things: The List

I wanted to start off this post with a big thank you to Leah, who was the one that turned the idea of a Year of Travel into a Year of Many New Things. Here she is the night that the idea was born. She and Siham were at my place helping me with my Halloween costume for the following night’s party before we went out for a few drinks. And in case it’s not immediately obvious --though I don’t know why it wouldn’t be—I was dressed as one of my favorite things: Vermont in the fall (lots of autumn leaves and the occasional random snowflake – now does it make sense?).

So what’s on the list? It’s definitely a case of building the boat while I’m sailing it, and I think I won’t know what all the 52 things are for sure until I’ve actually done them. But having said that, the bulk of the list has taken shape and there are a lot of things that are either definitely or tentatively on the agenda.

In an earlier blog post I described the list in terms of four categories: travel (to countries and places I've never been); tackling things I'm terrible at or intimidated by (a long potential list including many things technological, mechanical, sports-related and creative or artistic); specific things I've always wanted to know how to do (everything from knitting mittens to baking croissants); and experiences I thought would be fun or have said for years I'd do (like ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City). I’ve now added a fifth category of things that sound really marvelous that I’ll do if I can swing them financially and/or logistically. Here then, is the list (not in chronological order), as it stands right now.

New Places

1. Nepal. Thanks to my gracious friends Cliff and Nicole, I’m headed to Kathmandu for the New Year on December 28.
2. Dominican Republic. I’ll be participating in a school sponsored international service trip with a crew of fabulous Saint Mike’s students and led by our outstanding fearless leader, Erin, from May 18 – 28.
3. Jordan. At least two weeks in June. This trip is part professional development, part personal interest and part opportunism. I’m developing a class on the Millennium Development Goals for Fall 2010 and using Jordan as a case study, and I’m starting to expand my water scarcity research to the Middle East for obvious reasons (that’s the professional part); several friends have told me that Jordan is a totally cool place and especially that everyone must see Petra (that’s the personal interest part); and two of my all-time favorite people (both of whom know Arabic), Siham and Jamila, have agreed to go with me (that’s the total opportunism part).
4. Lebanon. If you’re going to go to Jordan, doesn’t it make sense to see Lebanon on the same trip? What a silly question. The correct answer is obviously yes.
5. Syria. A maybe, but Jamila is advocating for it, and I think it sounds exciting…
6. Spain. A European country I’ve never been to, but could incorporate as a stopover with Siham in Madrid on the way to Jordan.

Tackling the Fear Factor

7. Dance. I’m signed up for beginning ballet at the local performing arts center in January, and have arm-twisted my friend Crystal into doing it with me.
8. Bike maintenance. A bike expert extraordinaire (aka my friend Dan) has agreed to teach me how to fix a flat and general bike maintenance.
9. Ice climbing. Talk about intimidating. But our campus Wilderness Program has highly recommended day-long outings, and I am going to try to be part of one on January 16.
10. Rock climbing. Ditto the above (that is to say, intimidating), but my friends Conor and Leah, both rock climbing instructors, say they’ll teach me if I can’t do it through the Wilderness Program.
11. Snow boarding. Friends and former students Derek and Cailey have offered to give me lessons, and have warned me that it involves falling a lot and winding up with a very sore butt.
12. Car maintenance. There are a couple specific things I really need to know how to do listed in the category below, but I might just go for broke and sign up for a beginner car maintenance class.
13. Learn to use my digital camera. Don’t know why photography intimidates me so much, but it does. My friends John (who has his own awe-inspiring photography blog at, Alexander and Cailey have offered to help on this one.
14. Downhill skiing. Technically, this is not a new thing, since I skied a little in high school and college. But it’s been almost 20 years, and I’ve never done it in Vermont, so I’m counting it. Dan, Cailey and Drisk have all offered a refresher lesson, and Siham is game to try it with me.
15. Cross country skiing. Same thing as downhill – did it a little but a long, long time ago, and shamefully, never here in Vermont. David and a number of other friends and colleagues have offered to help remedy that one.
16. Drawing or painting class. A friend suggested this to me last summer and claimed he saw a look of panic on my face. That means this is the year to try it.
17. Penguin plunge. When I told the student group that I’m going to the Dominican Republic with about the 52 New Things, they were all over it with suggestions. One was to participate in the annual jump into Lake Champlain (that is, through the hole that is made in the ICE) in February to benefit Special Olympics. Anyone who has ever rolled their eyes while listening to me whine for the millionth time about being cold knows why this one is quite the challenge, but I’ll be taking the plunge with Erin in early February.
18. Basic stuff with tools. I don’t know anything about home maintenance or repair. Not anything. I’m not sure how I’ll tackle this one – maybe start by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, but I’m open to other suggestions.
19. Power point. I need to learn a bit beyond the basics that currently allow me to make the world’s most boring presentations. I think I am intimidated by all things design-related, but I definitely want to give it a shot, and my youngest sister Donna has offered to help.
20. Surfing. Leah took a look at an earlier version of the list and said she could provide the location, boards and instructors if we wanted to give it a try, so of course I added it. It can’t be any harder than snowboarding. Right?

Things I Want to Know How to Do or Make

21. Create a blog. This is actually the first thing I’ve done. Funny how easy it turned out to be, once my friend Julia walked me through it.
22. Jump start the car. My sister Donna pointed out that it’s a bit ridiculous that I’ve made it this far in life without this basic skill. Siham offered to show me.
23. Change a flat tire. Like jump starting the car, I’ve somehow managed to skate through life without knowing up to now, but I think it’s time to learn.
24. Knit a pair of mittens. I don’t feel the need to make a sweater or anything that ambitious, but mittens are different. My sister Katrinka, a world-class knitter, is willing to show me how.
25. Cook an Indian meal. Wouldn’t it be neat to be able to make some of the things I love to order at Indian restaurants? My friend Tara offered to give me lessons, and interestingly, this has been the most popular thing that other people have requested to learn with me as well.
26. Make fresh mozzarella cheese. On January 28 my friend Mark is going to show our friend Valerie and me how to turn milk into one of my all-time favorite foods in my very own kitchen.
27. Bake croissants. My friend Dean, a professional baker, is willing to guide me through this one at his home kitchen/bakery.
28. Learn to do a one-footed spin and a single jump on ice skates. I know some fundamentals like backwards and forwards crossovers and 3-turns, but I think it would be fun to be able to do a trick or two. Julia has offered to provide some tutoring.
29. Sea kayaking. I’ve tried kayaking once or twice on Lake Champlain, but want to try it out on the ocean. My friend and former student Kate, who I actually met when she taught me how to fall out of a kayak, says she’ll take me out to try it this summer.
30. A few words (in 52 languages). My friend Matthew had the brilliant idea of learning how to say “May I have two beers, please” and “I love you” in a different language for every week of the year. I’m definitely doing it.
31. Snow shoe hiking. I’ll be going up at least one mountain (at least what we call a mountain on the East Coast) on snow shoes with the Wilderness Program this winter.
32. Brew beer. Dan and Derek were volunteered by another of our friends, Ted, to show me how it’s done.

Never Put Off Till Tomorrow…

33. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City. I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’m going to before the rink closes for the year in March. I’ll announce it in advance to see if anyone wants to join me.
34. Contra dancing. A bunch of friends have been suggesting it for forever. I’m going to take my friends David and Kristin up on their offers to go with me.
35. Bird watching. I’ve always been curious about this, and my friend Kimberly is willing to let me tag along with her.
36. Go to a college hockey game. For years my Siham and I said we’d go together and never did. But this year we will. And my friend Paul is willing to go to some other college sporting events that I’ve similarly never attended as well.
37. Do a hike in New Hampshire. As a Vermonter, it’s not exactly an insurmountable distance to travel, but I’ve never done it. My friends Leah and Kate B. have offered to do the hike with me.
38. A moonlight snowshoe or excursion on cross country skis. I think this sounds so cool, and the Wilderness Program does them every year, so I’m signing up.
39. Go camping in Vermont. In all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never gone camping in this state. My friend Melissa organized a highly-acclaimed group camping trip last year, and suggested I could join it this summer.
40. Visit the Rokeby Museum. For years I’ve driven by it on Route 7. My friend Valerie recently mentioned that I could put it on the list.
41. Do nothing. I thought this was an inspired idea from my student and fellow AIDS activist Madison. She suggested having a day of doing nothing but sitting, reflecting and listening. I want to try it.
42. Eat a Vermontster. Probably the most famous Vermont pig-out opportunity is the Vermonster, a ginormous 20 scoop ice cream sundae at Ben and Jerry’s. My Dominican Republic group suggested this one, but very kindly also offered to help me eat it, so we will have a gluttonous festival of dairy consumption together before embarking on our trip.

Assuming I Can Swing It

43. Visit Alaska. It’s the only state I haven’t been to.
44. Do a meet-up in Latin America. Five of the coolest of my college’s recent alums – Derek, Dan, Drisk, Ted and Zack – are planning a Motorcycle Diaries – style trip from the bottom to the top of Latin America. Only they’re doing it the hard way, with bicycles instead of motorcycles. Assuming they can pull it off, I’m going to fly down in the fall and meet up with them for a visit to either Argentina or Chile.
45. Try falconry. This was my friend Kimberly’s suggestion, and we’ll do it together if we can find a place not too far away.
46. Fencing. Ditto on the fencing possibility, which I think will be a lot easier to locate.
47. Visit Russia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and/or Norway. All of these countries are on my Really Want to See list, and which I pick will depend on money, time and who else wants to go. (Disclaimer: Almost every country that I haven’t been to could be justified as going on my Really Want to See list, so if people have other ideas, I’m all ears.)
48. Take a flying lesson. This was a brilliant suggestion from my friend Henry. I love flying, especially in small planes. I know it’s bad for the planet (and also expensive), but if I can manage a lesson just once, I think this would be so very worth doing.
49. Watch a sun rise in Bar Harbor, Maine. This is actually stolen from Siham’s list. She pointed out that, from October to March, this is the earliest place to see the sun rise on the East Coast. So if she goes before March, I’m going with her.

So obviously, the list is a wee bit shy of 52 items, and almost certainly there will be a snafu or two (and/or a nasty financial reality – maybe I should look for a sponsor like the kid on YouTube who got the gum company to pay for him to do jigs around the world) to prevent a few of them from happening. But I think most of them will be keepers, and I’m open to suggestions for substitutions and topping up the list. Thanks to everyone who has already suggested ideas, or volunteered to teach me something or join in doing it, and I hope the offers and ideas will continue. Here’s to a year filled with many, many New Things.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

1. Start a Blog

When I first started thinking about 52 New Things I knew that New Thing #1 would be "Start a Blog". So even though it is patently obvious that I have already done that, the compulsive side of my nature requires that I duly note it, and now I have. I should also note that, as anyone who has ever made a blog knows (and now I do), it is very, very easy. I encourage everyone else who hasn't already to try it, since it's also fun.

There were two other reasons I felt compelled to make this entry. One is that I wanted to thank my friend Julia, who came up from Massachusetts to celebrate my birthday and assure me that making a new blog is very easy as she showed me how to do it. After it was done, she also gave me the funniest, though probably the most Vermont-appropriate, birthday present I've ever been given. I am now the sort-of-proud owner of my very own Snuggie (and the nite light came with it, too) in my favorite color (green). As you can see from the photo, Julia has her own slightly racier leopard print Snuggie.

The last reason I needed to make this entry was to do two other things I am going to try to do on all the numbered entries that follow as well. First, I plan to take my friend Matthew's excellent suggestion and spend the year learning to say four simple phrases in 52 languages. And second, I am going to post things that are tentatively or firmly on the agenda in the weeks ahead to see if others want to join in. So, first, the language, and of course, anyone who knows me would guess that I'd start with this one.

52 Ways to Say I Love You

1. In Kiswahili

Hujambo (Hello)
Kwaheri (Goodbye)
Ninakupenda (I love you)
Naomba bia mbili, tafadhali? (May I have two beers, please?)

Coming Attractions in January

2. Go to Nepal (December 28 - January 8): Sorry, not sure how many people can join me on this one, but did want to thank my friends Cliff and Nicole for inviting me to Kathmandu and making the whole thing possible.
3. Try Ice Climbing (Saturday, January 16): That is, assuming I make it onto the Wilderness Program list as soon as they open it. If I get wait-listed I'll go for the tamer snow shoe hike up Mt. Hunger that is also on my list. Any colleagues or students want to sign up with me?
4. Learn How to Make Fresh Mozzarella (Thursday, January 28): My friend Mark has offered to come over and show me how to turn milk into one of my favorite kinds of cheese. My kitchen isn't very big, but anyone who wants to come over and learn as well, please let me know!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

About 52 New Things

52 New Things started out as a Halloween weekend conversation at a wine bar, with my friends Siham and Leah. We compared notes about what an abysmal year 2009 had been, and shared some ambitious travel plans for 2010. When Leah followed up a few days later with a list of new things she wanted to see, the idea started taking on a life of its own and I realized that 2010 could be the year of not only travel but all kinds of new things. I started compiling a list and sharing it with friends and family, and soliciting their ideas and help.

The list is purposely incomplete because I'm still thinking of things I want to see and learn and do, and hearing from people who want to participate in different things on the list. But the plan is to try, visit or experience 52 new things or places -- one for each week of 2010. The list is focused on four main categories: travel (to countries and places I've never been); tackling things I'm terrible at or intimidated by (a long potential list including many things technological, mechanical, sports-related and creative or artistic); specific things I've always wanted to know how to do (everything from knitting mittens to baking croissants); and experiences I thought would be fun or have said for years I'd do (like ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City).

Some friends and family have made fabulous additional suggestions for the list -- everything from from fencing and falconry (thanks, Kimberly) to learning to say "I love you" and "2 beers, please" in 52 languages (brilliant idea from Matthew). And lots of people have volunteered to teach me things on my list or do them with me (or in tandem from a distance). My hope is to post things I'm planning in advance throughout the year to see if others want to join in.

The plan was to officially embark on 52 New Things on January 1, 2010. But since I'll be in Nepal (the first place on my travel list), and since my friend Julia had volunteered to help me set up this blog (the first "technological" thing on my list) when she came up for my birthday on December 10, I've decided to get a running start on the year and begin. Some people are compiling their own lists, and if anyone else is setting up a blog, please let me know so I can link it to this one. I'm still taking ideas and looking for people who want to do things on the list together, so feel free to write about either.

I thought I'd close this first post with a photo from last summer when I tried something else I'd never done, though millions of women around the world do it expertly everyday -- carrying water on my head. Turns out it's incredibly hard, and not mastered the day before you head back to the US. But my friend Tulia (featured in the picture) was very patient, everyone else who saw it was very amused, and I was humbled at the thought that here was yet another thing that any local young Tanzanian girl could do much, much better than a grown-up American.