14 Awesome New Skills to Learn in 2024

With a New Year come new possibilities

As we move further into 2024 there are all sorts of opportunities to learn new skills.

Whether you want to become a sommelier or professional photographer there’s a world of new skills out there to master and I’m here to spur your imagination.

This is a list of 14 awesome new skills to learn in 2024.

Here we go!

Photographing birds at Whitewater Draw in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Learn photography

Photography is a lot of fun and it’s also a valuable skill.

Whether you want to start with just learning the basics of snapping better photos on your smartphone or are looking to upgrade to a professional camera, there are many wonderful resources to become a great photographer.

I recommend starting with this list of helpful articles:

2. Start a stamp collection

Nowadays it’s all about text messages and e-mails but back in the day people sent these incredible things called letters. And to send them they used stamps.

Stamps are actually very cool and collecting stamps teaches you so much about history, geography, and the world.

Growing up my uncle got me into stamp collecting and I just loved getting packages of stamps from him and fitting them into the stamp collecting book.

It’s easy to get started in just a few simple steps. You don’t have to buy expensive equipment to enjoy this hobby. Some simple stamp-collecting accessories will serve you well.

You’ll need some stamps to get started but it makes sense to spend more on stamps and a lot less on equipment than vice versa. The basic equipment I recommend includes:

  • A pair of stamp tongs or tweezers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Stamp albums
  • Hinges (small gummed strip that’s used to fix a stamp to the page of an album)
Wine tasting at Black Hills Winery near Oliver, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Become a sommelier

You know what would go down really smooth right now?

A nice, classy, delicious glass of wine! Red, white, rose, you name it!

If you want to take it up a notch, learn the art of being a sommelier, a professional wine taster who is also an expert in pairing wines with food and grading them.

Even if you don’t do it as a job it’s an impressive skill to have.

Are your taste buds tingling? I have some articles on wineries, wine regions, and wine tasting:

Truth BBQ in Brennan, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Start smoking

Another excellent skill to try out is smoking. I don’t mean cigarettes or cigars, of course, I mean food!

Smoking meat is a stupendous skill and the result is mouth-wateringly delicious meats. You will need a smoker but it’s well worth the money and the variety of flavors of smoke you can do is amazing.

You don’t need a decade of practice to get the hang of smoking but it’s more demanding than a round of grilled cheese. First, there’s the heat—you’ll want the temperature low over a long period. And then there’s the smoke—you need to keep it smoking for hours.

In addition to hardwood and charcoal, you’ll also want:

  • A culinary brush used to swab meat with sauce
  • A mop, a tool that looks like a miniature mop that is used to apply sauce
  • A rib rack (if you plan on smoking ribs)

I expect to be invited over later to share in the tasty treats.

Check this out to learn more: Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

5. Write a blog

Blogs are very rewarding and interesting and almost anyone can write one!

As for the subject matter think about what you love, hate, find funny, or what makes you unique.

Then write, video, and post photos about it on your blog. Readers will start coming and taking a look at what you’re up to.

6. Start journaling

Keeping a journal is something I’ve done for years.

But I will say that the journaling I have done has been rewarding and helped me get my thoughts in order. There’s just something about getting your words on the page that helps clarify various situations, thoughts, and even dreams.

Here are some tips for starting and keeping a journal.

7. Find inner peace

Inner peace is underrated. When you feel good about yourself many things fall into place and even those aspects of life which are kicking your ass stop crushing you so badly.

You get back in the driver’s seat of life refocus on what’s in your control and rediscover that inner peace that’s so vital to survival and thriving.

Inner peace is a skill we could all use more of, 100 percent.

Take up knitting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Knitting

Knitting is nifty and you can learn it in no time flat.

Whether you embark on an ambitious project like knitting a sweater or something simpler like a small scarf, knitting is an enjoyable and absorbing activity. Try out knitting and see how it goes.

9. Become a biker

One of the best exercises you can do is bicycling. For less than you think you can be outfitted with a mountain or road bike, a helmet, and a nifty backpack to go on short trips.

Then head out into the fresh air and enjoy our beautiful planet.

Get started with cycling today.

10. Practice better planning

Planning is a skill that ties all sorts of other skills together. When you get better at planning you get better at…well…everything.

There are simple things like keeping an agenda, various online scheduling tools, making a vision board, and more but there are also techniques and mindsets which will help you plan more consistently in your life.

Here’s an excellent guide on planning a cross-country road trip.

11. Pick up healthy habits for longevity

Having a few good days is enjoyable but having a life of healthy habits can add years to your longevity and make the time you have on our planet all the more amazing.

Picking up healthy habits for longevity isn’t just about exercise, a healthy diet, and breathing well, either. It’s also about healing and owning those difficult emotions and experiences that challenge us in life and optimizing our mental and emotional health.

Let’s call this self-actualization.

12. Learn to canoe or kayak

If you want to learn to canoe or kayak your best bet is to go to an outdoors or boating store and see if they offer lessons and rentals.

By the way, I have a post on Exploring National Water Trails.

Horseback riding in Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Learn to ride a horse

Equestrian sports are an excellent hobby although they can add up in price.

Having said that, going for a trail ride and learning basic horse riding is not necessarily that expensive. If you have a love of the outdoors and have always hankered to try out horse riding there are all sorts of opportunities to try it out and see what you think.

Look for a paddock near you that offers trail rides.

Spend time in nature © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Spend time in nature

There’s nothing quite as healing and spiritually revivifying as spending time in the great outdoors. Listening to the loons out on the lake and contemplating the horizon or walking a quiet forest trail as shafts of sunlight danced between the trees has a kind of magic that nothing else can match.

Nature has been linked with the divine and with spiritual regeneration since the earliest days of humankind and it’s still a place of refuge and peace every day for people all across the world.

As Taoism founder Lao Tzu put it: Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

An amazing insight for all of us to ponder!

Worth Pondering…

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.

—Les Brown

The Best Food Festivals in 2023

Food festivals are great places to fill your plates beyond the level you ever thought possible

To celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole.

—Josef Pieper

Food festivals are about community, cultural heritage, and putting copious amounts of tasty things in our mouths. From a chile festival in the Chile Capital of the World to a crawfish festival in the Crawfish Capital of the World, these fests are as notable for their vibes and photographability as they are for their food.

Allow me to present America’s best food festivals to look forward to in 2023. Roll up your sleeves and prepare to dig in. If anyone calls for me, I will be dressed as a cheese curd at the Cheese Curd Festival in Wisconsin.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

May 5-7

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival float © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The world-famous Crawfish Festival began in 1960 as a spin-off of the Breaux Bridge Centennial Celebration. The Louisiana Legislature had just named Breaux Bridge the Crawfish Capital of the World in 1959. The festival is now known around the country and even the world. Every May, thousands of hungry people flock to Breaux Bridge to be part of the festivities.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Crawfish Festival has also become one of the largest gatherings of world-famous Cajun musicians. All weekend long you can hear the sound of authentic Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop music rising from the festival. Whether your musical taste is Cajun or Creole, you can witness over 30 bands perform over the three-day event if you think you have the stamina. It’s a perfect opportunity to see our musical tradition passed from generation to generation. Watch the Cajun dance contests, and if you’re brave, join in. There’s no better way to learn. There are even Cajun music workshops held in the heritage tent.

Cheese © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cheese Curd Festival

Ellsworth, Wisconsin

June 23–24

Cheese making on display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, Wisconsin would be the only place appropriate for a cheese curd festival. Here in America’s Dairyland, these small squeaky bits of unaged baby cheddar are a ubiquitous snack, as magical as snowflakes with no two alike. And at the cheese curd festival in Ellsworth—the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin, mind you—there are 6,000 pounds of cheese curds in every batch: fried, dipped, melted on tacos, slathered on poutine, served sweet in a cinnamon dessert curd, or smothered in marinara sauce, pizza-style. Pair them with hard cider, take in a classic car show, or show off your skills at the cheese curd-eating contest. There’s nothing cheesy about it.

Hatch chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatch Chile Festival

Hatch, New Mexico

September 1-3 (51st annual)

Hatch chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hatch Chile Festival, held annually in the Chile Capital of the World over Labor Day weekend includes chile roasting, food and craft vendors, contests and fun for the kids, a carnival, and entertainment provided by local businesses along with volleyball, soccer, and softball tournaments.

Chicken festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World Chicken Festival

London, Kentucky

September 21–24

Chicken festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may not think you need to see the world’s largest steel skillet but what if it was attached to a chicken festival? That’s what you’ll find in Laurel County, the birthplace of both Kentucky Fried Chicken and the World Chicken Festival—four days of egg-ceptional activities like a Colonel Sanders motorcycle ride, a Rooster tail mullet contest, and plenty of cook-offs. While you’re there, make sure to check out the Sanders Café & Museum in Corbin where the original roadside restaurant has been restored to its 1940s layout and also where the magical 11 herbs and spices making up KFC’s original recipe were perfected. You still won’t find out what they are, though.

BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American Royal World Series of Barbecue

Kansas City, Kansas

September 27–October 1

BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America is not lacking in meaty barbecue festivals. From the Barbecue Festival (October 28; 38th annual) in Lexington, North Carolina specializing in the vinegar-dipped Lexington-style to Nevada’s Rib Cookoff (Nugget Casino, Sparks) to the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest (November 4-5; 14th annual) in Lockhart (the Barbecue Capital of Texas) and Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Invitational (October 13-14) in Lynchburg, Tennessee, you can get your meats dry-rubbed, slathered, whole-hog, boozy, smoked, ketchup- or mustard-based, and really, any other way you can dream up in all corners of the country.

BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But for the biggest barbecue bash—in the world, they say—head to the Kansas Speedway for four days of the region’s signature thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce, and western-style entertainment including a rodeo, equine events, and a livestock show. There’s a barbecue hall of fame ceremony and both an invitational and open competition where over 500 teams compete for meat supremacy. If that’s overwhelming then just maybe stop by the Kids Que where contestants aged 11 to 15 compete with steaks and little ones aged 6 to 10 go head to head with burgers.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna Oyster Festival

Urbana, Virginia

November 3-4 (67th annual)

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An evolution of Urbanna Days that began in 1957, the Urbanna Oyster Festival as we know it today hosts over 50,000 people in the square mile town over two days. Visitors flock from all over to celebrate the oyster!

In 1988 it was designated as the “official” oyster festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia and maintains that title today.

Urbanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come by BOAT or come by LAND! The charming Town of Urbanna closes its streets for this big celebration of everything OYSTER! It’s foodie heaven with over 50 food vendors and every kind of OYSTER! Raw, steamed, roasted, Rockefeller, fried, stewed, oysters in a pot pie and festival food fare like BBQ and crab bisque!

Arts and crafts, antique auto shows, children’s activities, and live bands are spread throughout the town.  The town marina offers historical boats and exhibits on the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, and the oyster industry.

Peanuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Peanut Festival

Dothan, Alabama

November 3–12

Peanuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama just goes nuts for nuts, it seems. Over in Mobile, you can hit up the Alabama Pecan Festival (November 4–6) to down pies and see the annual crowning of the Pecan Queen.

But if peanuts are more your speed, it’s about a three-hour journey to the National Peanut Festival which promises a week’s worth of legume-themed activities. Located in the southeast corner of Alabama, Dothan is known as the Peanut Capital of the World and is a prime location for growing peanuts. If you’re in Dothan you’re in the heart of peanut country, considering the majority of all the peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan.

Pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come for the nutty fare and carnival foods and stay for the chainsaw art, sea lion splash, racing pigs, circus entertainers, and live concerts. Dothan, too, hosts a Peanut Queen parade alongside a raucous demolition derby.

Cracklins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Barre Cracklin Festival

Port Barre, Louisiana

November 9–12 (37th annual)

It’s gratons galore at this festival, a fundraiser for the Port Barre Lions Club that also benefits all who love fried pork skins. And they definitely get into it: Not only is there a Cracklin Cookoff but a Cracklin Festival Queen will be crowned, complete with a court.

Crawfish pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s also a parade, carnival rides, music, and food to let you know you’re in Cajun Country, in case the zydeco wasn’t enough. Besides your cracklins (of course), you’ve got your regular boudin, boudin balls and egg rolls, sweet dough pies, crawfish bisque and fettucini, jambalaya, shrimp po-boys, meats on sticks, and cowboy stew, a simple and hearty concoction stocked with enough meat to fill up a herd of cowboys. And cowgirls.

Indio Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio International Tamale Festival

Indio, California

December 1-3 (30th annual)

Indio Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indio International Tamale Festival taking place every December is the largest festival in the world dedicated solely to the steamed savory treat. Visitors will see over 300 tamale vendors as well as live entertainment, interactive art spaces, beer gardens, craft stalls and, of course, the largest ever tamale. There is also a competition for the best tasting tamale.

Indio Tamale Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other bites available at the event include tacos, nachos, carne asada fries, funnel cake, ice cream and kettle corn. The festival is also known for its carnival rides and—since last year—the World’s Biggest Bounce House for kids and adults alike.

Worth Pondering…

Live every day as if it is a festival. Turn your life into a celebration.

—Shri Radhe Maa

Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

Everything you need to know about Texas BBQ

The American barbecue tradition is rooted in numerous ancient practices. Caddo Indians had a method for smoking venison and in the West Indies, natives grilled meats on a frame of green sticks. Indeed the English word barbecue came from the Arawak-Carib word barbracot (via the Spanish word barbacoa).

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When European colonists arrived in the New World, no doubt tired of all the salt cod from the long Atlantic passage, they found a local population that roasted fish, birds, corn—pretty much anything at hand. The newcomer’s contribution was to introduce a tasty new animal: the hog.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only was this beast a marked improvement over the previous fare, but its own habits proved well suited to the Eastern seaboard. In rural areas and colonial towns, pigs would roam freely, indiscriminately eating trash until someone decided to roast them, which was done in the local manner—a hole in the ground, a fire, and a split hog laid directly above it on a wood frame. 

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first recorded mention of American barbecue dates back to 1697 and George Washington mentions attending a “barbicue” in Alexandria, Virginia in 1769.

As the country expanded westwards along the Gulf of Mexico and north along the Mississippi River, barbecue went with it.

Barbecue in its current form grew up in the South, where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits to make them tender. This Caribbean style of slow cooking meat formed the basis of the Southern barbecue tradition that influenced Texas when some of its first American settlers arrived.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

European meat smoking traditions were brought by German and Czech settlers in Central Texas during the mid-19th century. The original tradition was that butchers would smoke leftover meat that had not been sold so that it could be stored and saved. As these smoked leftovers became popular, many of these former meat markets evolved to specialize in these smoked meats.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slabs of white bread.

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing the waist-high brick pits and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past a salad bar. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find great brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Luling Bar-B-Q, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Brenham (think, Blue Bell ice cream) I decided to check out a rising star, Truth BBQ on the west side of town. Truth looks too cute to be serving serious barbecue. The carefully curated interior—with its hand-lettered signs, Texas license plates, and Instagram-ready desserts—is a far cry from a no-frills meat market or a rusty roadside pit. Walking in we’re offered samples of brisket and a delicious side. The first bite announces the fact that youthful proprietor Leonard Botello IV has been an admirer of the handiwork of other masters of the craft, notably Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pork ribs are decadently moist and slightly sweetened with a glaze. The brisket possesses an intense meaty flavor, subtle but deep smoke penetration and a fine black-pepper crust. With every bite I liked my visit more. And the sides—can we talk about the sides? There is creamy mac and cheese with sizzling bacon crumbled on top; slow-cooked collard greens; rapturously buttery corn pudding; and bright, crisp slaw.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Somehow you must leave room for one of Truth’s five or so different monster cakes, which Botello’s mother, Janel, makes from scratch. And on the way out the “Love Texas” sign makes a perfect background for selfies. Truth BBQ is the real deal, get out there the next chance you can. If you don’t believe me, they have a 5 star rating on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a trip to the Coastal Bend we checked out Mumphord’s Place BBQ in Victoria and it did not disappoint. The minute we parked, I was drawn to the action out back where the pit master tends the glowing fireboxes and pits in the screened-in shed. This is “cowboy-style” barbecue, where the wood is burned to coals, then transferred to large metal pits in which the meat is placed on grates set about four feet directly above the heat.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The flavor is good, and in a part of the state where quality ’cue of any kind is scarce, Mumphord’s does a better than decent job. Part of the fun is being there, in the room with its red-checked tablecloths, sports photos, trophies, cow skulls, an ancient icebox, a sword, old firearms and cameras, beer cans, and heaven knows what else. 

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ