Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: A Fun Project I Recommend

Over the fall, after what had been a tumultuous year both personally and globally, I decided I would make some old school goals to break myself out of a rut.

Instead of the kinds of goals or resolutions I make for a new year, which tend to focus around making good habits or breaking bad ones, these goals would be centered around learning new skills. Specifically, I wanted to learn how to cut Jackson’s hair (I already cut Drew’s and Joanie’s but Jackson’s hair texture and the style he prefers challenged my very basic skills) and to shuck oysters. I figured the former skill would continue to help save time and money, and the latter would let me indulge in my oysters craving in a more budget-friendly – and hopefully, fun! – manner while also giving me a party trick I might be able to bust out at future gatherings (I imagined arriving to a friend’s party, dozens of oysters and my fine shucking skills in tow, and quickly becoming everyone’s favorite guest, which I guess is more important to me than I realized?).

Long story short, thanks to two friends – one a very in-demand hair stylist who works at a fancy salon in the west Village and another who’s an award-winning private chef and restaurant owner – I learned how to cut Jackson’s hair and shuck oysters this fall. I also became the owner of some cool new tools – a guarded razor and a shucking knife and gloves (I’ll let you guess which tools are used for which new skill). I have since saved at least dozens of dollars perfecting and enjoying my new skills at home. (I have not yet been invited to a party where I can stun and delight everyone with oysters, but maybe now that my secret is out, the invitations will begin rolling in and soon I will have so many new friends and invitations to more parties that I might even start a new side business. But I guess I am getting ahead of myself…).

Anyway. What I’m saying is that my little goals project was a success, and so I’m doing it again for the winter, which has historically been the hardest season for me to get through and it’s not like I think making a couple goals will change that but maybe it’ll make things a little less awful. So! My first goal is to learn some basic ice skating skills. I hate ice skating! As a kid, I enjoyed it fine, but as an adult, after many, many years of absence from the rink, I find the activity nerve-wracking and frustrating. I can’t get my balance, I worry about falling (and the toll a fall could take on my middle-aged body), and it’s cold. But my kids like ice skating and there’s a rink that is walking distance from our place that we take them to, and it’s an activity that gets them out of the house on winter days when so little else actually entices them to leave the comfort of our couch. It would be nice if I could participate with them instead of sitting on the sidelines, watching and sipping bourbon (although, frankly, that’s pretty nice, too, but maybe just for me). It would be great if I enjoyed participating with them instead of feeling like it’s just one more chore to tackle. So I bought some used ice skates on eBay last night and my plan is to maybe take some lessons and to practice once a week or so during the day while the kids are at school and the rink is empty and I have lots of space to skate – and hopefully not fall – around.

My second skills goal is still undecided. I am leaning towards learning to make a ramen recipe. I love ramen and ramen is especially delicious in winter months. My kids recently re-discovered ramen and they love it, too, and considering how challenging it can be to find a dish the whole family enjoys, this is a big deal. But… will this particular skill be fun to learn? Will it make me friends at parties? Will I feel accomplished and proud of myself afterward? Will people stop me on the street and tell me how great my skin is looking (oh wait, that’s the water-drinking resolution I’m thinking of)? Possibly. But maybe there’s a better winter goal? Let me know if you have suggestions? (Ideally, I want something that improves my quality of life by some measure even if it’s a tiny measure, breaks me out of my comfort zone a bit, and can be achieved within a three-month season if not one or two classes and then perfected with practice.)

Now, I’m not saying everyone should adopt this project and make it your own, but if you did, what skills would you want to learn this winter and why? Also, have I mentioned I have an oyster knife (three now, actually, thanks to Hanukkah and my husband) and I know how to use it?

47 comments… add one
  • ktfran December 8, 2021, 12:10 pm

    If you’ll be in the Windy City for new years… you are invited to my very small NYE party. All patrons are vaxed and boosted. Bring your shucking knife and gloves! Actually, one of our friend’s who’s coming shucks oysters. He and his wife had a monthly oyster subscription they started at the beginning of the pandemic. So fun!! What a great skill.

    Just this morning, I was telling a co-worker I was burned out, despite taking a 10-day trip at the beginning of the Nov. I think it’s a combo of work and the pandemic finally taking its toll. I need like a month+ break. Or, something different. I need to explore this more. I have no answers yet.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 2:53 pm

      Ha, I won’t be in Chicago for NYE, but a small party with boosted friends sounds pretty nice.

      I think we are all feeling the effects of a pandemic that just won’t quit and the negative ways it’s affected our daily lives, even if we’ve been lucky to not get sick or lose anyone to the virus. My kids just finished their third – well, Joanie’s third and jackson’s first – quarantine of the school year. I know some kids who finished their quarantines yesterday, went to school, got exposed on the bus, and are immediately back on another quarantine until next week. Parents are really starting to lose it.

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  • anonymousse December 8, 2021, 12:25 pm

    Shucking oysters is hard! It’s good you have gloves. My son loves oysters and he is still mad that our local Whole Foods won’t shuck them for him at the seafood counter like they would before the pandemic.

    I’ve forced myself to break out my art supplies and paint again, even if I don’t especially like what I make. So I’m painting again. I’m also sewing a little. Mostly stuffed animal injuries and small mends but it reminds me of learning with my grandmother. I have her special sewing kit now, with her scissors. It feels a little sacred to me to have her things. I’ve also been writing. My son and I write letters to each other in a note book. I started it because he’s really smart and thus has horrible penmanship after a year of working on an iPad via zoom. I’ve also taught my daughter cursive at six(!!!) just because she likes how fancy it looks. Using my hands helps me feel more at ease.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 2:55 pm

      Jackson taught himself cursive at 6 too! He downloaded templates from the internet and practiced, practiced, practices. Then with the pandemic, he also did everything on zoom and lost his handwriting skills and is back in OT at school to help get him back up to speed. I should have stayed on him last year with handwriting but… you know, so many things to keep on top of.

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      • anonymousse December 8, 2021, 5:16 pm

        Wendy, are there cool NYC oysteries? I think I read that oysters or another bivalve were being used to clean up the water.

      • Dear Wendy December 9, 2021, 9:00 am

        You know more than I do; I have not delved into oysteries or anything. I get my oysters at the local farmers market ($1 each) and occasionally at the super market. I don’t know about oysters being used to clean up the water, but that sounds cool!

        One thing I learned in my shucking is that many oysters have little pea crabs living inside them. I’ve discovered a few in my shucking and they’re apparently considered a delicacy, but I have yet to try them because they gross me out. It’s also considered good luck if you find one in your oyster.

    • anonymousse December 8, 2021, 4:41 pm

      I cannot get my son to patiently write normal letters. He is a funny guy so when I do ask him to write neater, he exaggerates it even more.

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  • Moneypenny December 8, 2021, 12:45 pm

    Wendy, I’m so excited for your oyster shucking skill! I learned myself while visiting an oyster farm where you can picnic, get a bag of oysters, and shuck them yourself. And maybe bbq them (so good).

    One of my goals is to get back into sewing for myself again. I have done a lot of sewing in the past but in the last few years it’s been on the back burner. Over the summer, I made a couple of outfits and a blanket for a friend’s new baby and it was so fun to sew again and get into that mindset. I have been buying a lot of vintage patterns (1960’s-1970’s vintage Vogue designer patterns via etsy!) and I am really excited to make something for myself.

    Also! I have been feeling in an exercise rut lately and have wanted to add something to my routine. I used to swim (just for exercise, in college and at public pools after that) and I ordered myself a new suit and found a local pool that is open in the morning for lap swimming. I’m going to try it while I’m off for xmas and see how it goes! (I will probably not last very long the first few times I expect!)

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 2:56 pm

      What happened with ballet (am I remembering right that you dance ballet?)? I feel like that would be such great exercise. Swimming, too!

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      • Moneypenny December 8, 2021, 6:10 pm

        I still do ballet! 2-3 days a week. I’m just looking to do something else too to mix it up. 🙂

  • Kate December 8, 2021, 12:51 pm

    My project this year was to lose my Covid 20. I hit a bit of a plateau recently at 16, but will make some adjustments and keep going. The first 10 were fast.

    I honestly don’t have the brainpower or energy for much else except trying out tweaks to the Dyson Airwrap to get the technique just right for the look I want.

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  • Miel December 8, 2021, 12:56 pm

    Ice skating is scary! I also was ice-skating as a kid, but now I’m so afraid of falling, just like you. A few years ago, a tiny kid hit me right in the legs while skating, and we both fell. The kid was up in two seconds, but I my knees were hurting so much! Like, I was actually crying on the bench outside the ring because of the pain! Anyway, we went ice skating a few weeks ago (my husband really misses playing hockey, but the pandemic is relentless…) and I didn’t fall! No one skated into me either! That was my greatest achievements. (I got a few bad blisters though, rental skates and all).

    Two goals right now: learning to row on a rower, and knitting the project my mom sent me. We got a used rower for a good deal, but it made me realize I don’t have the right rowing technique at all, and without good technique it’s just not a very efficient workout. So now I’m watching youtube videos and practicing, and the workouts are getting progressively more intense! I need to keep going though, it requires a lot of concentration to do it right…

    I learned how to knit at the beginning of the pandemic, and I’ve progressively moved to harder and harder projects (scarf, hat, headband, finishing a shirt right now). I asked my mom for my birthday to get me the supplies for a project of her choice and she sent me a pattern + all the wool necessary to make her a proper cardigan. I think it’s do-able but it’s going to require a lot of careful instruction-following, and I’ll probably learn a lot along the way.


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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 2:58 pm

      Dumb question, but what does rowing on a rower mean? Like, an old school rowing machine for exericise? Do you own one and are learning how to use it? And if so, how did you end up with a rower in the first place?

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      • Kate December 8, 2021, 3:08 pm

        Lol, we have two – a regular one and a hydrow that’s like a pelaton with instructors on the screen. Who are kids my husband knows from the sport. Rowers use these machines when they can’t row on the water! Rowing is a great total body and cardio workout and easy on the joints. You can row your whole life. There are 90 year olds who are the only one in their race!

      • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 3:11 pm

        Ok, I knew your husband had one but hadn’t really heard of like non-rowing folks using them for exercise, like a peloton, in a few decades. I don’t get out much though.

      • Kate December 8, 2021, 3:10 pm

        Not that I’ve ever rowed!

      • Kate December 8, 2021, 3:14 pm

        A lot of the celebs have the Hydrow. I think there’s an indoor rowing chain of gyms too. It’s catching on 🙂

      • Miel December 8, 2021, 3:16 pm

        We have a Row-erg from Concept 2, but yes, it’s a very modern rowing machine for exercising. We wanted one because “it’s a great whole-body workout,” and I had seen people use them in gyms before. (We also had a lot of space for working out in our basement, but the ceiling is too low for a treadmill or an indoor bike.) It’s a bit difficult to get started. You have to push with your legs, not pull with your arms! And don’t hurt your back!

      • ktfran December 8, 2021, 4:04 pm

        The husband loves rowing for exercise. Pre 2020, he’d row at the gym. We loved our condo when we first bought it in and moved in. Now I wish we had one extra room. He’d buy a rowing machine and I’d buy a reformer.

      • Kate December 8, 2021, 4:16 pm

        @KTFran, they do fold up. He’s got his standing up in the corner of his office and sets it up daily in front of the TV to row. So it’s doable.

        He also didn’t pay for these machines. People gave or permanent-loaned them as like an industry thing, so he could recommend and help sell.

      • ktfran December 8, 2021, 4:22 pm

        Thanks @kate! I think the husband is looking into a fold up reformer that he could also use as a rowing machine?? I’m not sure though. I’m not sure he’d get the full rowing capabilities, but maybe we could both get something out of it. We def need to look into it more.

        Let me know which one he has! Or recommends.

      • Copa December 8, 2021, 4:47 pm

        Rowing is great exercise! My old gym (small group classes) used rowers. If you go to Orange Theory, one of the stations is rowing. I learned at my old gym that strong rowers are people with strong legs, long legs, or both because you get your power from your legs. I liked it for warming up to do other exercises, but not for any prolonged exercise. But I also prefer weights and strength training over cardio.

      • Kate December 8, 2021, 5:45 pm

        @KTFran, he recommends Concept 2 rower, but he doesn’t know about reformers.

        The frickin Hydrow thingy is $3k, lolz, but has all kinds of fitness classes besides rowing.

      • ktfran December 8, 2021, 6:05 pm

        Thx @Kate! I think the husband is good with a regular rower. He doesn’t want the hyrdo one.

        I wish I could row, but it’s not advised w/ my lower back problems. I’m prob one of the few types of people who shouldn’t. Both PT and my pilates instructor advised against it. Or if I did, I’d have to be super careful/make sure I do it exactly right… so it’s not worth it.

      • Ange December 8, 2021, 6:24 pm

        Rowing is awesome! It was one of my favourite exercises before RA ensured my hands wouldn’t actually release the handle at the end if I kept it up. The ones with water in them are the best, they add just that bit of unpredictability that makes it exciting.

  • Copa December 8, 2021, 1:02 pm

    So I grew up moving every couple years, which was traumatizing, but as an adult still get the urge to blow my life up every couple years. I usually deal with this by rearranging furniture or trying a new hobby/skill.

    In 2020, I got super into cocktail-making, which was a little too much fun sometimes, haha. In 2021, it was cooking and baking. I made gyoza and okonomiyaki, two favorite dishes from when my family lived in Japan, at home and both were so good! I also got into baking, which I always said I hated, but it turns out it’s a great way to get my Type A energy out.

    Looking ahead to 2022, I want to rebuild the strength to do five pull-ups, which I used to be able to do. Right now I’m at one since I stopped going to my old gym. I have also wanted to sign up for trapeze classes for years because why not? There’s a company in Chicago that offers indoor classes in winter and has a huge rig by the lakefront in the summers. I think it looks fun but I could very well be one and done with that. I’ve also thought about signing up for a workshop or class at an art center nearby. I’m not terribly artistic, but find the occasional arts and crafts project soothing.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 2:59 pm

      I moved every couple of years, too, and also found it traumatizing and also have an urge every couple years to blow my life up. I am in the process of selecting some new furniture. Which is much cheaper than moving. 🙂 (And gyoza was also one of my favorite dishes, living in Japan, and still is today.).

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    • Miel December 8, 2021, 3:23 pm

      I did circus arts classes, including trapeze, every week for a few years when I was a kid/teenage. Lots of fun, felt a lot more artistic than just plain working out. However, it hurts the first few times! Like, muscles you didn’t know existed are sore, or blisters, or bruises… After a while your body gets used to it and it doesn’t hurt as much, but still. I loved trapeze.

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  • MaterialsGirl December 8, 2021, 3:19 pm

    the oyster gloves are key! Radiostar also envisioned himself the center of the party as the official oyster shucker.. he was practicing this skill during st patrick’s day and … well let’s just say it took 9 months to grow the nail out again.
    I 100% love your idea to learn small skills to improve your life. I am frequently gifted new kitchen tools during special occasions that have pushed me into such skills as making a mean tagine, bread making, pasta making, soufflé-baking etc.

    Ramen would be pretty cool, kinda like pasta-making but with the “make your own ramen bowl” option for the kids turns it into a fun dinner-time activity. And also pairs with sake.

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    • Dear Wendy December 8, 2021, 3:24 pm

      I actually haven’t used the gloves yet. I’ve been shucking glove-less this whole fall (I practice every other week or so with oysters I pick up at the farmers market). I guess I’ve been lucky not injuring myself yet! Anyway, Drew gave me a whole oyster-shucking set for Hanukkah that came with a towel, glove, a couple knives and some rubber thing that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with (haven’t googled it yet).

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    • ktfran December 8, 2021, 4:06 pm

      I finally had to buy gloves for my mandoline. I nicked myself once and that was enough. Best decision.

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      • LadyInPurpleNotRed December 8, 2021, 4:42 pm

        My mandoline came with a glove and I’ve been too terrified to use it without. the internet has scarred me. I’m glad you got one!

    • bondgirl December 15, 2021, 9:55 am

      I was cool with shucking oysters glove-less until the first time I accidentally stabbed myself…..LOL lesson learned.

      Like Wendy and many of you, I also LOVE ramen. I got a ramen cookbook as a bridal shower gift and while the recipes for the different types of bases are delicious (!!!!), they do require lots of ingredients and a number of them I can only find in an Asian specialty grocery store. It was pretty labor intensive although it resulted in a terrific broth base that could be mixed with whatever broth you prefer (chicken, beef, veggie stock, etc.) and it made plenty to freeze for future use.
      Assembling the toppings was easier. The noodles absolutely matter. Luckily, our local grocery store sells fresh (frozen but still top quality) noodles so they have the taste and texture of restaurant quality.

      I applaud Wendy and anyone else who wants to take on this culinary endeavor, it’s definitely not easy and for someone like me who loves cooking, it was honestly intimidating.

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      • MaterialsGirl December 15, 2021, 10:05 am

        Had to attend a funeral in the ‘burbs last week.. the bonus of this was stopping at Mitsuwa!!

  • Ange December 8, 2021, 6:27 pm

    I’m literally in the middle of an interstate move so I guess my newest goal is to not lose my mind over the next few weeks of hotel living, border shenanigans and getting into the new place. I don’t know why but this move has been so hard, both mentally and physically.

    Once that’s done I guess the big thing is to try and sort out some of these pandemic pounds. I have grade 4 chondromalacia in one of my knees and RA so I’ve had to give up all my favourite exercises and haven’t had the motivation to find my new normal yet. All I know is swimming and cycling are the most recommended for people with bad knees and I hate them both with a passion, I’m sure it’s hampered my motivation.

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    • Kate December 8, 2021, 7:46 pm

      Can you walk? Literally all I did to lose the weight from the pandemic was start walking 10k steps a day (and keep my calories below what I burned). You burn hundreds of calories walking 10k steps. Or is walking too hard on your knees? If so then maybe a bike you can use indoors while reading or watching TV?

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      • Ange December 8, 2021, 10:05 pm

        Not for very long, it puts too much pressure on my kneecap. Out of swimming and cycling I’d be more inclined to cycle, I just wish there were more fun options.

    • Dear Wendy December 9, 2021, 8:56 am

      What about bikram yoga maybe?

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      • Ange December 9, 2021, 5:01 pm

        That’s an interesting idea. I used to love weight work but ongoing movement or weight resistance would set off the RA because it’s in my tendons and tendon sheaths. The heat could help with that though maybe, it’s worth a thought for sure!

      • Dear Wendy December 10, 2021, 8:57 am

        Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking about the heat. Think about it!

      • Kate December 10, 2021, 9:33 am

        My dog had immune-mediated arthritis for years, was on prednisone etc… He would get up and stretch for 10 minutes and he LOVED heat. He’d lie out in the direct sun on a 100-degree day. Obsessed with swimming too.

  • allathian December 9, 2021, 3:42 am

    I must say that I really admire all of you who have the energy to spend on self-improvement. I need all of mine to simply live day to day and I’ve decided to be gentle with myself instead. I don’t want to fall into the trap of feeling like I have to perform and improve all the time in my leisure time as well as at work.

    We’ve had a lot of very positive changes at work recently, mostly completely unrelated to Covid, and I feel like I need all the energy I have for learning new things for learning at work.

    Thanks to omicron, we’re back WFH full time, just as I was getting used to going to the office once or twice a week again. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to celebrate the holidays with my family this year. All of us have had at least two shots, and my parents and in-laws have had their boosters as well. I’ll be eligible for mine in January.

    My son’s been able to avoid both quarantine and getting sick with something other than Covid, so I count that as a win. I haven’t been sick either, but everything just feels so blah at the moment, although at least I’m looking forward to Christmas, so I don’t think it’s depression.

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    • Dear Wendy December 9, 2021, 8:55 am

      It’s important to meet yourself wherever you are, especially “in these times we’re in.” For the first year of the pandemic, I was just in survival mode; I couldn’t even get through a single book for six months, as I mentioned in this post. After I was vaccinated, there was a shift, then there was a huge shift once my kids were back in school after being at home full-time for 18 months, and now there’s another shift since they started their vaccination process a few weeks ago. I don’t have a full-time job, so my focus and energy level will be different than someone who does, just as someone who doesn’t have young children would have different demands than someone who does. (Speaking of kids, my two have had four quarantines between them in the past seven weeks, so that’s been pretty disruptive and stressful; hoping now that they’re fully vaccinated – well, tomorrow will be the official date – that we can avoid quarantines going forward).

      Anyway, you didn’t ask for advice so I’m hesitant to give any but because you feel so blah right now and don’t have much energy to spend on “self improvement” and don’t want to feel like you have to perform, etc., you might find some relief in getting outdoors every day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, going for a walk and getting fresh air and a little vitamin D. If you can look at it as leisure and mental health management instead of self-improvement, you might find it helps give you a little oomph during a time you’re feeling kinda blah.

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    • anonymousse December 9, 2021, 12:16 pm

      I would say everything I am doing is me in survival mode. I’m not looking to improve myself, except in ways I need to in therapy to build better coping skills, which have been incredible for me. Building tools to cope is like a light bulb went off in my brain. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve had a great time and perfected my sourdough recipe. Nope. I think I’ve been in a state of mild panic for a long time.

      This pandemic and my own past have just hit me especially hard this year. I have also lost an enormous amount of weight- 1/4 of what I weighed before the pandemic. I was not overweight beforehand. As nice as it is to hear all the compliments at being back to my very unhealthy, rail thin, avid cyclist, pack-a-day-smoker body of my twenties, it’s alarming. I’m just surviving, if that’s what surviving is. Barely making it and saying no to most things.

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  • Bittergaymark December 9, 2021, 1:53 pm

    Keep shucking oysters Wendy. An acquaintance of mine who does this for reasons similar to yours says that once you get it — you really get it. But it can take a good while to master this skill.

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