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.


  1. Ben used to fence and may still have fencing equipment if you want to borrow it, in CHICAGO! Russia and Denmark are on my list...but I don't know if I can swing a trip with you this year.

    How about reading a book you have always intended to read but never got to...that might be an easily accomplishment to put on the list. I probably would recommend AGAINST say, Moby Dick or Ulysses, since those are rarely finished once started, but you could pick something else that is of interest.

    I love the list.

  2. This is absolutely fantastic! I think the best part in all of this is the list of friends you've described who love you so much to go through this adventure with you!

  3. If you take a car maintenance class, I want to take it with you!

  4. i love it. great stuff, you filled it out quite nicely. i want to do/be apart of 80% of it. im excited for your adventures, and to share in your joy (and to be occasionally alongside) we need to get together before you leave for seattle/nepal for a quick camera tutorial!!

  5. Trish,
    This is such a great idea! #34 Contra Dancing: I have helped organize a series of contra dances at the Elley-Long Music Center on North Campus this year. There are 2 more scheduled for the spring semester- watch for emails! Or, I would be more than happy to take you dancing in Burlington or Montpelier. I go all the time!
    ~Karri Makinen

  6. Thanks so much for all these great comments. I'm writing from the airport where (I hope, I hope) I'll be flying to Detroit and then Seattle. Cailey, assuming I make it, I'll be back for on the morning of Sunday, Dec 27 and then ship out again for Nepal on Monday afternoon. Any chance we can get together for a quick bit of camera tutoring?
    Karri, thanks for the contra dance offer, and Nicole, I would LOVE to take an auto maintenance class with you. Lilly, I know it makes me a freak, but I read Moby Dick for the fun of it twice last summer. I think I am the only person in the world that actually likes all the long involved descriptions of whales and whaling.
    Back to grading (yes, I'm so behind I'm bringing papers with me!), but thanks again for the posts, and I'm totally psyched that I'll be doing the things on my list with such great people!

  7. I can offer digital photogrphy lessons any time. Just email the make and model of your camera ahead otime so I can familiarize myself with its controls. As for the intimidation, the DELETE button takes care of anything creepy. I've used it many times.

  8. Thanks, John. I'll definitely be taking you up on the offer, and will remember the advice. Sorry I got the blog address for your photography site wrong in the initial post. I went back and changed it, so it should work now.

  9. Oh wauw!
    I am so amazed over the things you have listed!
    It will be a wonderful year! You are going to feel life!
    Jordan - I'll just say: go there! So beautiful!
    And Denmark - you are very most welcome in Aarhus!
    I will keep on following you!
    Love Solveig