Across the Lone Prairie

I did not get much done this week.  Hats off to anybody who did.

I rode my horse a couple times (slowly). I finished a draft of a Christmas novella, and I impressed my cats with my profound (and imaginary) wisdom as a constitutional scholar, and with my facility for fricative foul language (and alliteration).

Other than that… low rpms. And I realize that part of what took so much wind from my sails is that I have not bounced back from the pandemic, still, yet, some more. Skills I took for granted a few years ago faded during The Big Stay Home. One of those skills is ignoring the news, and just getting on with the next task. Oh, well.

I also once upon a time excelled at road-tripping. I’ve probably crossed the USA twenty times, and driven all the major east-west routes. Now, I’m out of the habit of driving long distances. To compound my new-found timidity, my previous road trips were mostly made in a nice, big (gas guzzling) Tundra pickup.

I loved my Tundra. I felt SAFE in my Tundra, and I had great visibility in my Tundra. Who needs sat-nav when you have a Tundra? Nah me!

Road-tripping in my twelve-year old Prius is admittedly a different experience than it was in the dear old (now morally untenable) Tundra. But more than that, I’m simply out of practice dealing with four-lane traffic, high speed merges, and unfamiliar terrain. My road warrior skills, which were formidable, have atrophied.

I want those skills back. I derived too much benefit from cross-country romps to allow that activity to slip from my list of recreations. I learned history, I developed story ideas, I enjoyed the scenery. I got a real break from the routine without getting into an airplane.

So this week, I took a little step toward rebuilding my long haul skills. I drove over to suburban Philly to see some family visiting in that area. I did this drive in baby steps. By that I mean, I stuck to scenic byways, better known as paved farm lanes. I did a carefully constructed (using paper maps, thank you very much) lily-pad route, county by county, that avoided I-95, and I drove only in daylight.

I made three wrong turns, but recovering from wrong turns is one of the skills a road warrior must have, especially if she thinks sat-nav is for sissies (or people who can stand that thing yammering at them while they are trying to drive).

And from this baby step, I take consolation. If I can manage to putter for hours along a cow path and only make a few wrong turns, then some fine day I might once again go barreling across Western Kansas with the Duke of My Next Story riding beside me. That is a cheering thought.

Have you ever had to reclaim a lapsed skill? How did you go about it? Are there any you’d like to brush up now?


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

19 comments on “Across the Lone Prairie

  1. For over a year, I’ve been taking piano lessons. Now I was a fair to middling pianist and I use my piano skills every time I lead a rehearsal–vocalizing, giving pitches, bare minimum accompanying–but my actual SKILLS of playing the actual instrument were rough to say the least. The last time I took lessons was in grad school, over 25 years ago.

    So, along with perfecting my banana bread recipe during the height of the pandemic, I began to take lessons from my son who had 3 degrees in piano performance. I found the thing I need the most work on is trills(shakes, turns–whatever and wherever they are–and certain types of grace notes–haha, Grace Notes!)and not as much the playing of the notes, which is something. I have been playing through Hanon and working on two pieces–a Bach 2-part invention and a Scarlatti sonata–and the trills are kicking my butt.

    I try to practice about 30 minutes a day, every day if I can. And do you know what? Every day and every week, I’m a little bit better. 🙂 I look forward to practicing, to spending time NOT thinking about the numbers, or the news or anything unpleasant JUST THE NOTES IN FRONT OF ME. It’s been a blessing!

    Have a lovely Memorial Day, Grace!

    • I applaud you Teenie Marie. You’re doing something I’ve always wanted but have kept putting off, and now have put off for too long I think due to my hands not doing for me what they used to do or making me pay highly for trying to do those old things. I love your story. You Go Girl!

    • Congratulations on enjoying playing! Pianos have such a beautiful sound, and I have always loved Baroque music. I took lessons for 7 years when I was in elementary and high school. As an adult, I realize my mother must have wanted to learn but never had the opportunity. I wish she had taken lessons herself instead of sending me and my sister. She probably would have appreciated it more, but she literally was always working except when she was asleep.

  2. Many, many years ago, I took a couple of German classes. But, since I only got to speak German in class, the words and skills faded away.
    Then, about 5 to 7 years later, I was passing through Germany. I didn’t refresh any German before I went on the trip because I didn’t know we’d be going through Germany at the end of the trip.
    I stumbled through as best I could and the German people I met were lovely and very helpful. I _wish_ I had been able to refresh, though!
    I’d love to take more language classes. I can hardly remember any German these days. I can “sing” much of the first verse of “O Tannenbaum” in German and that’s about it. But, I’d love to be able to travel overseas should the opportunity arise.

  3. I am glad I am not the only one with pandemic induced diminished driving skills!!
    I drove to and from work in traffic for years. I have to exit off the highway and cross over 4 lanes to take a left to our office park. Before the pandemic, this was a daily event. Last month, I went into the office to train someone and I asked to commute off hours to avoid the traffic.
    Last week, I drove to Plymouth (30 minutes each way – expressway), Duxbury (20 minutes each way back roads) and to Taunton ( 1 hour plus expressway) for dog classes. All daylight driving. I am showing Laci and Greg in the next few weeks and need to brush up on my skills.
    I have my google maps on as my safety net.
    At some point, I will be returning to work so I need to keep driving in traffic. There’s a dog show cluster in Vermont that I’d love to go to….so I need to make progress. Driving gives me a sense of independence.

  4. I too returned to travel this month ( business travel I work for a publishing company and attended the Medical Libray Conference) and I kept thinking of the concept of muscle memory. I had not used my travel skills for a while and things which came very easy in the “before times” were bumbling and fraought. Do I have my passport, why can’t I get to my boarding pass on the app? Do I have the correct size bottle for my contact lense solution…

    Your post resonated with me thank you for sharing! I love love your books they have got me some long days during this pandemic.

  5. I feel like my conversational skills have atrophied during Covid. I am planning on rereading The Art of Showing Up by Rachel Wilkerson Miller to get partially back up to speed. I sure do feel rusty!

  6. Driving for me, too. This is not just because of the pandemic, however. I never liked to drive and didn’t even learn until I was 30 years old and living in LA (Philadelphia and Chicago have excellent public transit systems). I did drive on my own to see the swallows at San Juan Capistrano, on the LA freeway to get from Santa Monica to my graduate classes at USC, and to work-related events in Orange County. But my partner likes to drive and so even when we moved to Florida, he drove the entire way (I did offer). Then for a while I drove back and forth to work on the interstate. Then I retired from work and from regular driving. But he had neck surgery last fall and couldn’t drive for almost 3 months. The worst part was his telling me what I was doing wrong when I was already nervous enough behind the wheel. But, no crashes so I consider it a win. Now he’s facing lower back surgery in a few weeks so I guess I’ll have to drive again. I’d like it a lot better if there weren’t any other people on the road with me (their behavior makes me nervous).

  7. Wow! I have never liked long haul road tripping, but I was fairly proficient at navigating strange places at required speeds and did well traveling with a companion. This last trip into northern VA/DC to visit my daughter I asked my other daughter to do the driving because I felt the same as you describe in this blog. Contrary to you I didn’t even do any of the off highway drives. One reason is that my daughter prefers to do the driving and mostly I was chicken. I would really like to get my confidence back.

    Maybe I will try a gentle (aka lots of stops) drive to Albuquerque) and visit my sister. I live in Phoenix so it is about 6 hours of driving… maybe take the dogs…

  8. It seems like road tripping is the skill many responding miss. I, too, was an accomplished road warrior. Having married for the first time at age 44, I had no fear traveling on my own. Most of my travel was by road for financial reasons. Now, post Covid, things I used to do without thought terrify me. Public bathrooms are a big one for me. How do you road trip without using public bathrooms?

    I have six weeks of vacation this year. My husband has two. In my mind, I’ve planned several road trips to visit historical sites and farms and other places I would enjoy by myself. Every time I go online to start the official planning, the fear seeps in. What do I really know about this area of the country? Can I get there in one day? Is it clean? I have yet to make any real plans and have started to think how nice it would be to have clean grout in my kitchen, and maybe I should paint the family room.

    The long term benefits of scrubbing grout or painting a room in my house are excuses I’m using to stay home in my safe zone. They’re winning the argument in my head and I’m giving up things I know I really want to do.

  9. Despite having a relatively “normal” work schedule for most of the pandemic (we shifted to online order fulfillment at the bookstore I work at, so I was not staying at home) I feel like I lost many skills. Social skills for sure, even though I was still interacting with my fellow booksellers throughout. But I think the dealing with novel situations muscle really atrophied, and that has been the biggest loss in relation to who I have always thought myself to be. I have been someone in love with travel, the more of a change from my own life, the better and alone, better yet. Now I have to push myself to do even familiar things, and though I want to see new things in theory, I find myself resistant and fearful. I’m still trying, and when we found ourselves in the wrong city overnight on a family trip to visit my daughter, we all loved it. I guess just like many things, I need to practice.

  10. Hi Grace
    I have lost my music. Not listening to but making music. No choir and shape note singing. My harpsichord sits idle since July of 2020.
    The singing is coming back, hesitantly, but the not the playing. I have a plan though, get back to lessons and go from there. First I have a string to replace and s lot of tuning to do.
    But blursday continues.
    I too used to cross cross the country but that will have to wait awhile.

    • Mary D, how wonderful that you can play the harpsichord. I have always loved that sound. I used to play a piano and now have only an electric one, which is just not the same as a stringed one. One day I may get back to playing the piano. Right now there is a dog crate blocking it from use. We have 3 50 pound dogs. They take space.

  11. I definitely concur about the driving. I used to drive about half the time, as my husband doesn’t really enjoy driving. I drove on the interstate, drove the kids around town, drive to work about 45 minutes each way on a parkway. No biggie. But somehow, now that we are both retired, over the past few years I have been driving less and less. The less I drive, the more anxious I am about driving. A few months ago my husband had cataract surgery and guess who had to do all the driving? For nearly 2 months, while the first eye healed, then the second eye was operated on and it healed, I was chauffeuring us around. It was extremely nerve wracking! But, surprisingly, that skill mostly returned (though I still don’t want to drive on the interstates!). I guess practice really does make adequate!

  12. I mentally raised my hand again and again reading through everyone’s comments to your post, Grace. Like someone called my name, I thought ‘here!’ Driving, communication, going to the gym, etc. I’ve always been nervous about picking up germs in public. And with all the driving I used to do for work and trips between big cities hours, sometimes days away to visit family my driving life has changed drastically in the past 15+years. Between an MVA in 2007 with close to a year for full recovery, then having my hip go south and needing replacement, and finally my husband retiring in ’18 my driving has gone to heck in a handbag. It’s great to have someone drive for you when you need them. But then at my stage of life I’ve just gotten to depend upon it so much I just let my hubby do all the driving. Which is completely the way he prefers.

    Post pandemic has made me change a handful of things and all for the better, but driving myself is kind of that last hill to climb over. I know I’m incredibly blessed, so it’s not a complaint. It’s more of a personal a__-chewing failure. Talking about it does give me a mental kick in the pants to set a goal. So, thank you Grace. You are a hero of mine. Knowing you have been going through some tough times makes me sad, and my heart goes out to you. Your little triumphs make me feel so happy for you, and as always give me inspiration.

  13. I plan my trips the same way that you do. I have the route written down with every turn (left or right) that I have to make. I still get lost, as I have never in my life had any sense of direction. I admire and envy people who do.

    Lapsed skills … a couple of years ago I had to write programs in a language I had not used (except to make small changes) in several years. I practically had to relearn how to code in it. If I manage to retire in the next year, I am truly looking forward to forgetting all of it!

  14. I’m sure I’ve had to reclaim more than one lapsed skill in the past – I just can’t think which ones and how I did it. I realize that I currently have lost the skill/ability to be comfortable in a large group of people and interact with them. I’ve become more used to small groups and more personal space. Being a big time introvert, I’ve always been good with not having large get togethers but I wasn’t uncomfortable in large groups as long as I didn’t have the spotlight. I’m flying to Georgia this week with my adult children to visit my family. The airports will be interesting.

    • I know how that feels! I am also introvert and it has become even more pronounced now after the pandemic and working from home for several years. Just being in a busy restaurent or walking down a street where people get way too close and there are people everywhere! I tend to get claustrophic.
      Good uck with the airport.

  15. In the middle of the pandemic where I had worked from home for about a year I started painting again after a 20 year hiatus.
    When I was an socially akward and introvert child and youngster, drawing and painting defined me, it was my way of communicating and understanding the world. Up until early thirties when I was too busy working, having small children and trying to make daily life work – then I stopped.
    And it was so hard to start again. When I looked at paintings I had done 20 years ago and then had to start all over learning again, taking babysteps – but also incredible awesome to paint again. It brought a happiness and creativity back in life that I had missed and simply forgotten the importance of. It is still hard sometimes, also just difficult sometimes to fit it into a busy work/family life, so I have to remind myself how important it is – that it is just as important as excercising or eating healthy. And also great stress-relief – when I have 5 hour long work meetings I take my watercolors to my desk (good thing I still work from home) and paint wildflowers meanwhile – great way to maintain tranquility during talks about financial IT strategies.
    And yes, my traffic skills and social skills have atrophied during te pandemic as well – now I find it quite enough to have to drive to the office once a week, and I even bought a bike because the morning traffic just drove me crazy – while a few years ago it was just the way Things Are.
    So yes, skill get rusty and it can be an effort to reboot the system – and sometimes I guess it is good to re-evaluate whether a certain skill or thing is important enough to take up again.