The Competence Project

Sharon November 5th, 2008

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

I have an embarassing confession to make - I’m not handy at all, and I have absolutely no excuse for it.  You see, unlike my husband, who grew up in an apartment where a super handled any fixing, I grew up with two parents who were both extremely handy.  There was my Dad, who smelted his own bullets in our furnace, fixed things and taught me to handle a knife, an axe and screwdriver early on.  And, just in case I should try and get away with whining that I didn’t learn because I was a girl (total nonsense, my Dad would have had no truck with that), my step-mother is an extremely talented woodworker, who I got to watch renovate our home more or less by herself through my whole adolescence.  Sue is incredibly talented - I have beautiful bookcases, my sons have beautiful wooden toys and a gorgeous toy box - and whenever she comes to my house, runs about fixing everything that Eric and I are ignoring.  She tried hard to pass on her skills - and it didn’t take.  As a teenager, I was busy getting ready to live the life of the mind - the fact that even minds get broken toilets and funky wiring didn’t really register until after I left home.

Basically, the reason I’m not handy is that I’ve never bothered to really get the skill set in any coherent way - somehow when I was younger I wasn’t paying enough attention and didn’t realize what I was missing out on, and then I was busy getting other skill sets into order - busy learning gardening and farming, food preservation and mending (all, btw, skills I could have gotten from someone I was related to, but mostly didn’t - I sometimes wonder what the heck I was doing during my adolescence). 

Eric has the same lacks, with better excuse, although it is more embarassing for him, since he’s a guy, and thus “supposed to” know how to build stuff and fix things - particularly out in these parts where most of my neighbors pretty much could build their own houses from scratch with a McGyver-like collection of odds and ends.  We could probably make a plastic model of a house out of my son’s legos - but I wouldn’t bet on it not falling over.  We joke that there are two kinds of people in the world - the ones who have a window that won’t open and immediately rush over to fix it, because it shouldn’t be that way, and those who say “ok, I’ll just open the other window.”  We’re both the second kind, and there’s a price to that kind of laziness.

Now we’ve both been forced to learn some basics - we’ve gotten fairly good at small engine repair maintaining the ratty riding mower and the rag tag cars we’ve had over the years, and we can build simple, box shaped things.  They tend to look a little funny, though.  For a while I avoided most woodworking because I was pretty constantly pregnant or nursing and didn’t want the chemical exposure (and yes, I know there are ecological options out there), but that’s not been a good excuse for a while yet. 

And one of my New Year’s resolutions (yeah, I know it is only November, but we Jews get our New Year early) is to fix this gap.  Time for me to really understand how things go together, and get handy - at least enough.  I keep putting it off, though, because I really hate feeling incompetent. I remember when I first was learning to knit - I knew that eventually it would become as natural as breathing, but boy did I hate every single second of the period before it did - it was so frustrating, so maddening.  Why couldn’t I get good faster, dammit?!!  I don’t like to be bad at things - and of course, a period of being bad at things is required in order to get good.  It is easier not to try, to complain I can’t do it.

This was banged home to me the other day, when Isaiah, who is nearing five and in kindergarten, echoed my own internal whining.  You see, Isaiah is learning to read - and it isn’t his favorite thing.  He’s a natural at math and science, but unlike his big brother Simon, who picked up reading at 3 and never looked back, this language stuff is work for Isaiah.  Now don’t get me wrong - we’re in no hurry, and we’re not pushing him hard - he’s not even five yet, and we believe it is perfectly normal for him not to read for a while yet.  But we do require that he practice his letters and pre-reading activities, and do a little bit of practice sounding things out - maybe 10 minutes a day in total.

Well, yesterday, Isaiah told me that “I’ll do my reading work tomorrow.  Or the next day.  I’m not very good at it.”  I told him that I thought he was doing just fine, actually - that he was doing very well for his age.  And he told me that he liked math better, because it was easy, and he liked being good at things, so he didn’t want to learn to read if it meant not being good.  Well, out of the mouths of babes, as they say.

And I heard myself telling Isaiah that while it was ok that he didn’t want to read yet, that reading wasn’t one of that category of things that it matters much whether you are naturally talented or not - everyone needs to learn.  Barring some very serious disabilities, we pretty much accept that everyone is supposed to learn to read, and reasonably well (we’ll ignore the question of whether this happens or not).  I heard myself saying gently that there are certain things everyone needs to know, and reading is one of them.

And, of course, fixing things and being able to adapt your basic environment is too.  And of course, I don’t want my kids picking up the notion that learning how to do that isn’t just as important as learning how to read.  I want them to be as competent as they can be with language and with tools.  I was struck by my own cowardice - like Isaiah, I don’t want to be bad at it, so it is easier not to do it.  But the difference is that Isaiah’s only four, and he doesn’t really have to read right now.  We can let the whole thing go for a year or more, and be none the worse for it.  But the reality is that we might not have the money to pay people to fix our stuff soon - and I’m well past the age that I should be doing the work.

Periodically I hear others (and I do this myself) say “I’m not good at X” For X you can insert just about anything - growing food, sewing, cooking, repairing things.  Now sometimes this goes to a real physical disability that has to be overcome - or can’t.  There are things those of us with physical or intellectual limitations may never be able to do - just like there are people who will never master their times tables or learn to read.  But barring such disabilities, there are some things in life that the general consensus requires that we have a certain basic, minimal skill set in.  For example, children may come to reading or arithmetic with great difficulty or great ease, but the assumption is that they need to learn to read and do their times tables.  They may never do them naturally, but they have to be able to.  And the truth is that for most people who received an adequate education, they can read and figure, if laboriously.  

 There are large chunks of basic subsistence skills that we really need to treat as part of the same basic categories as reading and math - things that every adult person should have a certain level of minimal competence in, barring a true physical or mental barrier to them.  I’m not sure I’d use Robert Heinlein’s list quoted above, but you can come up with a decent one that isn’t too far off  and that prepares us for this new world where we can’t buy our way out of so many problems- all of us need to know how to cook a decent meal, handle an injury or illness crisis, tend a sick kid, fix a broken step, darn a sock, dehydrate a tomato, tell a story, grow a potato,  build a sun oven, bake a loaf of bread, put up fence, season cast iron, mend a rip, care for a dying person, sing a baby to sleep, clean a toilet, knit or crochet a sock, fix a roof, use a weapon, plant a tree,  immobilize a limb, make someone understand a counter-intuitive idea, save seed,  sharpen a knife, chop garlic, make beer, have courage, fix a bicycle tire, make soup, give a pep talk…

The truth is that for most people, with most things (and again, I know there are exceptions), “I’m not good at it” is a cop out.  The reality is that most of us aren’t going to be very good at everything - some things will always be struggle, and as long as we’ve got the time and money and energy to find alternative ways of dealing with it, it is perfectly fine to say that I want to reserve my struggling for things I care more about.  What’s not ok is telling our kids, or ourselves the lie that it is ok to use our fear of failure or our hatred of being bad at things as an excuse for picking up skills.

The other thing it isn’t ok to use as an excuse for this is division of labor, particularly by gender or class roles.  That’s not to say that there aren’t jobs that it won’t make sense to contract out to a partner or someone who needs the money - there’s nothing wrong with you saying “I have more money than time right now, I’m going to get someone to build in those pantry shelves.”  Nor is it bad to acknowledge that your 6′3, 200lb husband is probably better at hauling hay bales than a 5′1, 90lb spouse. 

But the reality is that spouses sometimes go away, and things happen when they aren’t around - and occasionally, they die or marriages break up.  Sometimes spouses are away just as the cattle need feeding, and the money dries up even though you really need those shelves.  The wrong attitude here is the “my wife does the cooking, so I don’t have to” or “I’m very important and I make lots of money, so I don’t have to know how to fix my bike.”  Instead, the idea is that all of us be able to handle the basics - we can hire our friend who is a talented seamstress to if there’s cash, but if rips need mending and there’s no money, we need to be able to make the clothes wearable.  All the men and boys need to know how to do “women’s work” at least to a competent minimum, and vice versa (and yes, I’m using the term ironically).  Everyone gets up on the roof, at least enough to be able to know how to keep the rain off - and then, if you are fortunate enough to have someone else in your life willing to go up in the rain and fix it, well, you can be grateful, but not dependent.

I’m going to bet that everyone one of us has a little guilty spot right now, a thing they know they should learn, a skill they’ve been avoiding picking up, something that they’ve already tried and put down in frustration because they sucked at it.  So I’m about to give you folks a bit of a challenge - I invite you to take a look at the holes in your own competence, pick one that needs filling, and get to work on filling it. 

My project is to get handy - I want to be able to build my own bookcases and fix my own plumbing.  I’ll be posting regularly about how it is all going, and I’m hoping for lots of support as I make plenty of stupid, incompetent mistakes. In turn, I really invite you to tell us about all your failures and inadequacies as you gain a skill you really need.  We promise, we aren’t going to let you fail.  And maybe you’ll inspire the rest of us to keep going, or to try yet another skill after we master the basics of this one. 

So who is in?


78 Responses to “The Competence Project”

  1. Devin Quinceon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:32 pm

    I am very good at fixing, building, and designing things, I cannot not sew, knit, etc anything, so that is one of the things I am working with my Wife on. I am also learning how to preserve, cook, and garden better.

  2. susan in nyon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:37 pm

    I have no brothers, so I often “helped” my father when I was growing up. Unfortunately, he was more of the “look at how I’m doing it”, rather than the “here are the tools, go for it” type of father. Therefore, I grew up thinking I couldn’t do it. Now I live on my own little homestead and HAVE to do it. Electrical work is one skill that I approached with trepidation, but I have managed to rewire two lamps and replace two light fixtures! Plumbing is next!! My building skills leave a lot to be desired, but so far nothing’s fallen down. What do they say? Knowledge is power!

  3. Nettleon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I’m in! I want to learn basic plumbing. If the faucet drips or the toilet won’t flush or the sink stops up, I want to be able to fix it myself. After that, wiring! But plumbing first. I want to know how my house works.

  4. Rosaon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I’m in. I’ve been in, a little, hesitantly, all summer - I HAVE to learn to fix my bike. I’ve always dated mechanics and engineers and felt like, why learn to fix the bike? So I helped change the second-to-last flat, and I’m installing new lights tonight, myself.

    I mean, if it’s my primary form of transportation, I need to be able to do it. I’m perfectly competent to diagnose (though not always fix) a car, and have changed car tires- a bike tire is not harder. I just need my own tools, and some practice.

    Part of this means getting through that hating to be bad at things, part of it is standing up to my partner and his perfectionism (he finishes most of my projects because he critiques the way I’m doing them until I put down my tools and say “Fine, you do it then.” And then he’s such a perfectionist it takes him forEVER)

  5. Meadowlarkon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Count me sort of in. I have to draw the line at electrical, at least with anything that could cause death. I seem to be a “lightning rod” for getting shocked. No thanks!

    I am going to learn to troubleshoot mechanical stuff. (I wonder what that means?)

  6. Cathyon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Count me in, too! I need to learn some basic electrical and plumbing stuff. What keeps me from doing it is a fear of starting a project and screwing it up beyond the point where it can be fixed (cheaply) by a professional.
    I also need to learn how to can fruits and veggies. I bought the “Betsy McCall” version of home canning kit from Ball this summer, but never got up the nerve to actually try it myself. So there it sits, mocking me as I pass by it.
    I can sew and repair clothing, quilt, knit, etc. but what’s the point if I am sitting in the dark with no water or food? :-)

  7. risa bon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Do we get a “challenge” logo to post? :)

    I’ve been handy most of my life, as it was something my mom and dad insisted on. But I’m only useful in a “macro” way, not “micro,” i.e. I can sew but the results aren’t pretty up close.

    But “troubleshoot mechanical stuff” does sound a bit like shooting your SUV when it breaks an axle, doesn’t it?

  8. Chrison 05 Nov 2008 at 2:05 pm

    I’m in. I’d like to widen my horizons and give fruit and nut tree grafting a try. I did some albeit very little grafting in college. It’s time I add fruit trees to my back yard nursery production.

  9. Joannaon 05 Nov 2008 at 2:07 pm


    There are some literal holes on my little homestead - in the chicken coop roof. And I was so miserably sucky at removing the old wood to put down new that I pretty much gave up. Not smart, since there are a LOT of other places the money to pay someone to do it could go in our preps.

  10. Kation 05 Nov 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Well, I could take the “easy way out” and say that “I’m not good at beading” but then I’d be lying. And I’d be talking about some crafty-ability that isn’t important or necessary to my life. (I can’t do native-american style beading like my middle sis can.) I already do half the picture hanging and minor repairs around here. I can unclog a sink or tub drain, I can cook, I can clean (though, not so well or so quickly, at this), I can craft (most things), I can garden, I can herb-craft….. I don’t have any means to gain husbandry skills (the hubby’s adamant against farm animals, and with our 2 dogs, I’m not ready to take on anything else).

    My problem is teaching (esp. math and science). And patience. And I’m really, REALLY not ready to start praying for more patience, because I know I’ve got all the time for practice right now, but none of the patience to deal with the practice. *wry smile*

    I’m going to have to think over this one, look around. See what it is I really don’t feel capable of doing. If I see something that needs doing, I generally don’t let the “I don’t know how” bit stand in my way. If I want it done badly enough, I’ll get it done, whether through nagging at the hubby (there’s no way I can wrestle the washer & drier outside to inspect the hoses, all by myself) or through finding a friend to help, or through just doing it (learning how to turn off the water to the bathroom, disconnecting the pipes below the sink, and fishing out a dropped hair pin, the reconnecting and turning it all back on).

    I’ll be thinking. Maybe everybody else’s posts will give me some ideas.

  11. Anion 05 Nov 2008 at 2:10 pm

    I’m trying to learn how to “purl”- I can knit a basic stitch but that’s about it- so a friend just showed me how and I need to work at it although I feel all-thumbs. I want to knit socks, which seems scary confusing to me.

    Also, I have zero plumbing know-how- in fact the toilet has been “running” for many months now so I just keep it turned off and use the “bucket flush”- I need to pull out the thingie that is having a problem- not the flap but the other thingie, and figure out what is wrong I guess- I hate plumbing…..

    You know one of the things that sometimes happens I think is that when there are 2 partners, often times one is skilled at something so the other partner doesn’t learn it either because they think they don’t need to or else they feel, or in fact do get ridiculed when they try. So a husband who is good at carpentry may not be supportive of his wife trying to learn woodworking, or a wife who cans might not be supportive of a husband trying to learn how.

  12. Chrison 05 Nov 2008 at 2:12 pm

    This has been on my list too. I’m curious to know what resources you’ll be drawing on to learn. Books? Internet? Friends? Neighbors? All of the above?

  13. Shiraon 05 Nov 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I always liked that quote. Ah, my poetry sucks and I am a landlubber living within sight of the sea. Not done too badly with the rest of the list, though. (Careful now, lest I blow my cover, an old soldier in the company of rootin’ tootin’ librarians..)

    Plumbing, now that is another matter.

    Sure, I’m in.

    Shira in Bellingham, WA

  14. Skippyon 05 Nov 2008 at 2:13 pm


    Thanks so much for this article! After moving to Alaska to work with sled dogs a few months ago (from Indiana) I was faced with a steep learning curve. Combine that curve with trying to learn from the first woman to win the Iditarod sled dog race, living away from my husband for 6 months, having no shul, and leaving my friends and family…I felt pretty useless and un-handy. I was very self-critical about my skill set, and yet also had the same feelings you sometimes do: “If I can’t be good at it, I don’t even want to try.”

    It took many months for me to feel even a little bit better about my skills (or lack of). I’m also embarrassed to admit that it took learning that my sled dog boss cried many times when she first moved to Alaska and things weren’t working out. She seems to have a very cool exterior and is capable of anything. That exposure to her “human” moment was very important to me. I have tried to stop comparing myself to the capable set of people I live near. I have also had to ask for help, teaching, and guidance.

    My competence challenge: learn to garden, can & preserve and how to tie knots. I’ve been an ice-climber for many years but still have my climbing partners tie my knots! Talk about dependence!

  15. Hausfrauon 05 Nov 2008 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve been adding skills steadily as we address this peak oil thing, but if I have a choice I tend to want to buy things, not make or fix them.

    I want to improve my food preservation skills (canning and drying) and learn how to change bike tires. We never ride our bikes because the tires have been flat forever.

  16. Lydia K.on 05 Nov 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Sharon, thanks for the post. The tendency to say “that’s too hard, I’m not good at it,” is one I’ve become aware of and been trying to tackle for a little while now. I’m in! I think my goals are going to be to learn to build and learn how to sew.


  17. Theresaon 05 Nov 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Dang. I’ve been avoiding learning to use the chainsaw, but I need to know how to use it. I’m afraid of it too, which means I really should learn how to use it. Dang.

    I also need to learn how to knit something useful, like socks.

  18. Roger Briggson 05 Nov 2008 at 3:00 pm

    This is great. I’ve had a similar list for some time, and actually done stuff on it, but I have now come up with a new list and some commentary in this, my shameless self-promotion.


    Wichita, KS

  19. AnnMarieon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Can we get out of the first aid/broken limb/etc one if we’ve just recently discovered we totally can’t deal with gaping wounds?

    My daughter fell and struck her head on the bed frame 10 days ago. Thank goodness my DH is terribly calm in emergencies. She had to have 3 stitches. I had to leave the room before it got stitched up, along with avoiding any look at the injury after the first glance. I was nearly in tears and close to hyperventilating.

    (I had to have 3 stitches myself 2 years ago and didn’t react this way at all, although I did NOT watch the stitching (or removal) nor look at it more than one brief glance when washing it out to see if I needed stitches.)

    I wasn’t able to watch those driver’s ed videos, either, although I was able to be in the same room. Funny thing is I thought about being a doctor for a while in junior high. I wouldn’t have made it through anatomy class I’m guessing.

    I don’t think I could make it through a real first aid course anymore….or I could make it through the course but I don’t think I could actually fix anything more than minor cuts, scrapes, and sprains…… Unless taking a course (or something else–any ideas?) would make this easier for me?

  20. To Darn a Sock « Seeking Simplicityon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:12 pm

    […] 5, 2008 by Shasha Cedar Today I read Sharon’s post and had a realization that although I do a lot, there are certain things that I do not know how to […]

  21. Rosaon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Ooh, Ani, too bad you’re not close to here - that’s one of my few plumbing skills (bf replumbed our entire bathroom last winter, and I didn’t help, but I have years of experience with leaky rental toilets.) if the toilet is running all the time, it’s usually because the rubber seal at the bottom of the tank (between the clean-water tank and the dirty-water bowl) is not tight.

    You can sometimes tighten it just by reaching in there and twisting it. Or you can buy a new one at the hardware store for about $4, if the old seal is worn out.

    Another partnership imbalance thing is that usually one of us is doing a project (canning, replumbing, tiling) and the other one is doing childcare - this weekend I’m taking the little guy visiting out of town while his dad starts replacing the kitchen counters.

  22. deweyon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Sharon - Your list is much better than Heinlein’s. It includes practical real-life things that we all really should know. His list asks for skill in multiple professions that cannot be done to an adequate standard without years of experience, which takes up time that cannot be used to learn other skills. I think there is some appropriate middle ground between being a jack of all trades (who can’t do anything fast enough or well enough to make a living at it) and a master of one (who is helpless to do anything else). Heinlein’s ubermensch heroes solved this dilemma by being masters of multiple trades - though it was never quite clear how they managed to accumulate such prowess. (Oh, well, one of them was 2000 years old. That helps.)

    Ani - I think we have a lot in common. I too have a miserable time with purl stitch, a drippy toilet, and a husband who likes to have sole responsibility for domestic tasks while not actually making haste to get them done.

  23. Crunchy Chickenon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Hmmm. In going through your list of suggested things to work on pretty much the only things I’m not proficient at are how to fix the roof (some things I just plan on leaving up to the professionals) and “use a weapon”.

    So, it looks like I’m gonna have to start packing some heat.

    I suppose I could also focus on plumbing work. I know how it all works, I just really don’t want to do it myself.

  24. Shambaon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:26 pm

    oh, dear, I’m so not up to being handy in the sense of using tools to fix things.

    I can sew extremely well, replace zippers in garments pretty easily (except for very heavy denim), I can weed out closets and shelves without pity, I can paint (but not move furniture) and I can fix holes in drywall, hang pictures, put up towel rack in bathroom, unclog drains, check chemicals in a backyard swimming pool, and know some simple vetinery (?) skills for animals, mostly cats.

    I can now cook better meals and much faster than I could but I have NEVER ever wanted to do electricity, plumbing or replacing oil and oil filters in the car.

    I’m not particularly garden inclined so can I just count repotting my neighbors aloes as a skill to practice and perfect?? It’s the only thing that seems remotely achievable out of “being handy” skill.


  25. steveon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Sharon, I read you everyday. Well, almost. Your blog is a psychological comfort when I try to project the possible sadness and misery that I see coming. Sometimes I just want to go crawl in a hole. I just want to say thankyou, thankyou for helping me cope. I want to scream from tall buildings to any that would listen, “The sky is about to fall, get off your denying asses, and start getting ready.” People at work think I am a half-baked nut job. I imagine how Noah in the old testament most have felt working all those years on an ark, ignoring his career, his friends talking behind his back. So anyway, besides being able to communicate Peak Oil (and it’s permutations), living a simpler life, and the coming environmental catastrophe, I really want to know how to sharpen a goldarn knife. Have a beautiful day, life is good. Ciao, steve

  26. Kathieon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:45 pm

    I want to learn to knit, if for nothing else than to knit our own socks. I tried to learn once before but it was right before I had some surgery on my wrists making it too painful. Its time to try again…

  27. AnnaMarieon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Hmmm… Like Theresa I don’t know how to use our chainsaw and I’m more than a little bit afraid of it. I do know how to use a cross cut saw and various other implements and I’ll reach for those first most of the time. I should probably learn how to use the chainsaw so that’s a goal for me.

    My second goal is my personal weapon. I don’t like it. I avoid practicing because I don’t like it. I’m going to trade it in for the one I really wanted, a .22 instead of a 9mm and practice so I can become proficient with it. Frankly anyone who says they’d rather get shot with a .22 than a 9mm is silly, they both hurt and if I practice and am actually good at the .22 I can do what I need to do.

    Great challenge and it gives me something to work on over the winter.

  28. Susan in NJon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Great challenge, I’m in though not quite sure where to start — basic house maintenance and weather sealing probably.
    Power tools kind of freak me out a bit — not a problem I guess for after the fall, but meanwhile it might be helpful to learn to use a circular saw. (I have, however, gotten over my childhood fear of the electric drill, dating back to a midnight emergency repair of my collapsed bed by my father).

  29. Sarahon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:56 pm

    I’m in!

    I’d like to learn basic plumbing skills and first aid. The Red Cross office is just down the street; I don’t really have an excuse for not learning other than a rather low threshold for schedule overwhelm.

    Where does one go to learn plumbing? Our neighbors seem like the sorts of people who might know; maybe I’ll ask them. Our landlord doesn’t want us doing repairs ourselves, but I can at least get some theoretical knowledge of how the showerhead is attached and such.

    I also may be learning to read and chant Torah trope, because I haven’t added to my Semi-Useless Anachronisms Skill Set in ages either ;-)

  30. Lisaon 05 Nov 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Oh…….that is one of my favorite quotes, read long ago, and often rising up when I least expect it.
    Thank you Sharon.

    Still reading your book
    “embrace the chaos” is echoing in my brain today, and I am quite thankful for that.

    This has been my goal for a long time (and you reassured me, remember, in the AIP group).

    My husband is very handy….rather a Renaissance man, actually.
    So I have to overcome the habit of waiting for him to do things.
    Recently I did complete a few projects that had been on the list.
    And it feels good… see them done.


  31. Green Hill Farmon 05 Nov 2008 at 4:33 pm

    I can knit but I want to improve so I begin a class tomorrow.

    There are some good how to knit videos on you tube, I learned to make a sock heel from one.

    I know how to do quite a few things involving food and clothing. I made two doors (alas not pretty ones) for my chicken coop, but I thought maybe I could feed someone or barter clothing for say some sort of machanical repair :).

    There are a lot of books at the library for basic home maintance ie how to fix a toliet etc.

    Beth in Massachusetts

  32. Lanceon 05 Nov 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Yeah, count me in

    1. I am learning about fermentation as a preservation and health-enhancing process. Never did any until about two weeks ago. I did my first batch of naturally-fermented sauerkraut (ala Sandor Katz), and it was great. Now I am fermenting batch two. I ordered a kombucha culture and it just came in today, so after work (I teach a drawing class until evening) I will cook up the tea and get that going. I also want to start a sourdough starter project. I am also working on some cider and will work my way through the Katz book. I never drank kefir before yesterday, so I bought some to see if I like it, and since I did, I will try that as well. Looking at making beer (especially some of the healing brews in Buhner’s book), cheese, etc.

    2. I have been interested in herbalism but haven’t taken any serious steps to really learning and USING it regularly. So I am going to learn about some of the stuff at and ordered their medicine kit to make tinctures, healing salves, teas, etc.

    3. Like others here, I am interested in knitting socks and maybe sweaters. I got my mom’s old needles and now gotta get some yarn. I don’t have anyone to teach me right now, but there’s a cool video on YouTube that seems like a place to start, to try it at least:

    I’ll start with those three for now.

    -Lance Foster

  33. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » The Competence Project I have an embarassing confession to make - I’m not handy at all, and I have absolutely no excuse for it. You see, unlike my husband, who grew up in an apartment where a super handled any fixing, I grew up with two parents who were both extremely handy. There was my Dad, who smelted his own bullets in our furnace, fixed things and taught me to handle a knife, an axe and screwdriver early on. And, just in case I should try and get away with whining that I didn’t learn because I was a girl (total nonsense, my Dad would have had no truck with that), my step-mother is an extremely talented woodworker, who I got to watch renovate our home more or less by herself through my whole adolescence. Sue is incredibly talented - I have beautiful bookcases, my sons have beautiful wooden toys and a gorgeous toy box - and whenever she comes to my house, runs about fixing everything that Eric and I are ignoring. She tried hard to pass on her skills - and it didn’t take. As a teenager, I was busy getting ready to live the life of the mind - the fact that even minds get broken toilets and funky wiring didn’t really register until after I left home. […]

  34. Lisa Zon 05 Nov 2008 at 5:17 pm

    There are just some things I don’t want to do. Woodworking, plumbing, electrical wiring to name a few. My husband is great at those things. I figure if he’s ever not around (heaven forbid), I’ll either hire it out or figure it out.

    I can knit well, sew reasonably well, make and prescribe herbal medicines, cook and bake well enough to not starve (esp. good at toast!), can and preserve foods, ferment healthy foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, garden and take care of chickens (well, so far–they haven’t had any problems to speak of), comfort a child, make love to my husband, sing a song and keep a beat, teach homeschool science to sixth graders even though I’m an English and Theology person, balance the checkbook and keep the bills paid, etc. Many of these things I’ve learned in the last few years. So ohmigosh, do I have to do more?

    I guess I’m not in for right now…But it’s a great project!

  35. Robyn M.on 05 Nov 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Oh am I ever in! I *suck* at being handy, and it’s absurd given how smart both I and my husband are (not really bragging, since it’s leading to pathetic-ness). I asked for and received a copy of Home Maintenance for Dummies for Christmas, which I promptly read, understood, and did nothing with. I got “You Can Do It! Car Maintenance” out of the library, read it, was fascinated by it, and did nothing with the information. I asked for and got an awesome circular saw for my birthday (June) which is still in it’s original box… it’s November now, isn’t it?

    Jeez, I’m pathetic. Help me Sharon! PLEASE post about your work and accomplishments! And maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually fix the dripping faucet upstairs in contrast to our current solution–having the shutoff valve closed. *sigh*

  36. sealanderon 05 Nov 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I would think knowing how to defend against an invasion would be a more useful skill and more widely applicable than knowing how to plan one ;-)

    My grandmother’s sewing machine has been following me from house to house for nearly 20 years, and appears to give me accusing looks anytime I spot it in the closet, so yes, it is high time I figured out how to use it and stopped paying someone $18 every time I buy jeans to take the legs up.

    I’m working on the carpentry skills too. I’m not very good at it but the chickens don’t complain. So far I have built an interior door for the chicken shed (the original ancient door doesn’t close and would most likely fall apart if I took it off to rehang it). Then I built a movable chicken coop, which is basically a box frame covered in chicken wire. You’d think that wouldn’t be too hard but it took weeks and for some reason I can’t fathom one end of the frame is longer than the other. I pretend that I did it on purpose to make it easier to carry ;-)
    Next step is a broody box for the bantams………

  37. clewon 05 Nov 2008 at 5:32 pm

    “Plan an invasion”?

    Heinlein all over: needs Athena, falls for Mars.

  38. Alisonon 05 Nov 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Ooooh, you hit a sore spot for me with this post. There are so many things that I rely on Handyman Hubby to do because he is absolutely leaps ahead of me at doing them. Back when we were first married he didn’t seem that much ahead of me, but I kept busy with keeping the kids out of his hair when projects needed done and now I’m a pretty low-level apprentice.

    My main excuse - I just can’t visualize how things should be in 3D. That is very frustrating for me because I can’t get my mind around making a plan for what something should end up like. I would love to plan my whole garden and I could do it if it were a flat square, but when I try to plan for run-off and slope I just get stuck. So, a skill I’ve been working on is growing green stuff for our diet in raised beds that Handyman Hubby built for me. It’s not something I’ve enjoyed a whole lot until this point, but I can see that I might enjoy it as I gain competence.

    If I were to choose something else to learn I think it would be preserving food. Some of the other emergency stuff I think I could manage because I’ve seen similar things done.

  39. yarrowon 05 Nov 2008 at 5:50 pm

    I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago and have been reading avidly since. My partner and I and another couple formed a small intentional community and bought a 3.5 acre farm in central New Mexico last year, and have been homesteading on it. and wow has the learning curve been steep! we all came to it with some of the right skills–i’ve gardened all my life, for instance, and alan and i both already knew how to can & dry food, while Tristan knows enough about electricity to do most basic and some complex things—but stuff still trips us up. we paid someone else to redo the plumbing when we put in our greywater system. and we are all learning carpentry beyond the putting-up-shelves level through trial and error, and it’s just as often error as success–we taught ourselves a lot by building a deck for my yurt, and then again when we built the rabbit hutches (which we’re completely redoing after 5 months of experience with them!). recently we put up a livestock fence that has both stayed standing, and successfully contained the dog, so that’s something tangible! we’re raising chickens & rabbits, and the rabbits have been one surprise after another, each event something we were aware would happen eventually but which was supposed to happen later, and we’ve been hopping to keep up with them!

    more comfort with building things is high on my list. i am comfortable with power tools, but don’t know enough about wood joining and structural things, for constructing a building like a goat shed from scratch. that exact thing is on this winter’s list, so i will have another chance to learn how to do it. i need more skill at fencing. i’ll leave knitting and sewing to the people who like it (i hate it); i can mend competently enough if need presses, but it bores me silly. fortunately, two of my roommates knit, and one is a good seamstress.

    this month, i need to learn to butcher a rabbit. we’ve had a practise run at this (one of the more recent rabbit surprises was a bun that escaped his cage and got injured by a dog and had to be put down and butchered). i am overcoming a deep cultural and personal bias in learning to do this, but i see it as essential to both my spiritual development and personal survival skills.

  40. kathirynneon 05 Nov 2008 at 6:04 pm

    I am in.

    I need to stop living in fear of my pressure canner. It sits in my fruit room mocking me. This winter, I WILL pressure can soup and beans. (Keep me accountable, here, folks.)

    And to learn to drive a stick-shift car.

    (There are several other things, but 2 is a good start, no?)

  41. TJon 05 Nov 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Can’t say that I am up for a challenge (at least not right this moment/year/century).

    I (think I) am quite handy with tools, diapers, computers etc.

    One thing that I can offer as an advice/perspective to people who [think] they are not handy - its all in your head.
    Seriously - I was always technically inclined, but when I wanted to impress a girl - I opened a french pastry cook book and did quite complicated puff pastry number from scratch.

    Yes, my dad could build anything and he did elctrical/mechanical technician work. But that’s ABSOLUTELY NOT the [important] thing that I learned from him, but rather this - whatever you want to do/be/learn - your mind and your mindset will let you do. If you are not afraid - go ahead take that SLR apart fix the timing mechanism so what it has 700 tiny pieces - you still can see how they fit together - just find the place where this screw used to be and put it back there.
    (20 years later that “Kiev 19″ still works - i did bring it with me)

    So don’t think for a split second that you CAN’T do something -
    yes you don’t KNOW how YET, or did not have enough practice, but if you need to - JUST DO IT (thank you Nike)

    Had to bandage a girls horrendos cuts once (no prior experience) just had to - the ER nurse said - “Good job, go sit over there until we have time for you’

    Open mind is all it takes ,

    just my 2cents of encouragement.

  42. Laureenon 05 Nov 2008 at 6:47 pm

    I live on a 47′ catamaran in San Francisco Bay. And on a boat, everyone needs to know how to do everything, because if you try to slide by, sure enough, that piece will break, or that person will fall overboard, or whatever, and the ocean is not the least little bit forgiving.

    But more important than knowing how to do things, is being utterly willing to improvise. As long as you have tape, you’re OK. (you can improvise everything in this world with tape, except, well, tape.)

    I’m with you, in that I’m not a plumber/electrician/navigator/communicator/meterologist/provisioner/chef/captain/carpenter/fiberglasser. But all of those things are utterly crucial to keeping the boat afloat and keeping us safe and happy on her.

    My husband is a general contractor, so he knows a lot of things. I’m a treehugger, so I know a lot of things. We spend a ton of time explaining each other’s strengths to each other, so that one of us has primary competence, and the other can guess which tools to fetch without being asked.

    it’s a journey, for sure. And I still haven’t figured out how to knit…

  43. Birdwellon 05 Nov 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Part of competency is also knowing equivalencies. For example, I can sew/tailor and crochet up a storm. However, for some reason, no matter how many times I work at it, I cannot get the hang of hand knitting. However, I can turn out a respectable knit with a small knitting machine and piece garments together. I can also trade/barter my sewing skills with a friend who can whip out the most gorgeous hand knit sweaters in no time.

    Also, if an electric rotary saw or chainsaw scare the wits out of you, get and learn how to use good manual tools and learn to sharpen them for their best efficiency. (Also greener!)

    Many communities through the parks and recreation department have “adult schools’ that sponsor evening classes in basic life skills: sewing, carpentry, basic home repair. I remember years ago when I lived in upstate NY the local BOCES actually had welding classes that anyone over 18 could sign up for with a modest fee.

  44. Judyon 05 Nov 2008 at 7:08 pm

    I’m fortunate. Both my hubby and I are pretty handy. I grew up on a farm and my Dad made sure I was able to do basic things like change the oil on the car, use a hammer, axe and chainsaw, and do basic electrical and plumbing.
    But I’m in. Santa has promised me a pressure canner this year. Pressure canning has always terrified me, even though my mother has canned all my life. But I’m ready to take the plunge.
    I also need to work on some crafty things- I can sew, either by hand or machine and I quilt in my spare time (HA HA). But knitting or crochet? My Mom tried to teach me once- I gave up. My teenage daughter has done better at it than I ever did. Now that I can’t tolerate…

  45. [email protected] the Frugal Lifeon 05 Nov 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Aright, aright. I’m in. Next year I will try (again) to learn the basics of sewing with a machine. I am NOT naturally inclined to sewing. I may also (if my husband drives this) become more familiar with and comfortable with firearms and possibly hunting. Keeping another species of livestock (probably meat rabbits) is on the agenda for next year too, but that’s not something I really need to motivate myself to do. Vermiculture is likely too. I’m looking forward to it.

  46. Chileon 05 Nov 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Okay, I’m in but I’m not going to specify for what. See, I married an extremely handy guy that can fix just about anything. I know I’m dependent on him, and I know I need to learn to do some of this stuff too. (Just this morning, I told him the sink trap needs cleaning out. I know how to do that, but not how to use the plumber’s putty to put it back together without leaks. I asked him to show me.)

    So, here’s what I’m in for. Every time I’m tempted to ask him to fix something, I will ask him to teach me how to do it.

    And, I’m currently learning Krav Maga. I suck at it right now, but then again, I’ve only gone to 2 classes and I am terribly out of shape from a bad summer. But, I’ll be sticking with it.

  47. curiousalexaon 05 Nov 2008 at 8:53 pm

    My favorite phrase is “I haven’t learned that yet”. Partly because I have WAY too many interests and need to rein some of them in, and remind myself not to try to learn everything immediately!

    I’m going to continue the project I’ve been stumbling along with for a while now - learning to cook actual food from scratch, rather than from a can or a box. My vague goal so far has been at least one scratch meal a week. I think I need to make a more specific goal, like 7 times a week within two years?

    Crunchy’s pioneer week has me totally beat on the food front - make my own peanut butter?? [blink]

  48. jerahon 05 Nov 2008 at 9:08 pm

    I HATE being bad at things. Really, really hate it. I want to be a badass expert at everything. :)

    One of the best ways to overcome that, I’ve found, is, yes, turning off the little voice in my head that has a running commentary on how badly I’m doing something and how I’m an amateur and everyone else is a pro.

    Also, preparation. When I first started running, I read up on it and read a few articles about starting off slow, starting with alternating bouts of running/walking, and sticking with it for at least a month, just to get over the initial hurdle. So I started with 1 minute run/1 minute walk intervals, gradually lengthening the running intervals so that I never got too out of breath. It worked, and by the time I got to the one-month mark, I was running 12 minutes at a time with 1 minute walks in between.

    But of course, since I wasn’t running marathons, I kept criticizing myself. Until finally I made some comment to a marathoner friend of mine about how I wasn’t a REAL runner. She kind of looked at me sideways and said “Um, you go running at 6:30 am in January. If that’s not a real runner, I don’t know what is.”

    So, that’s my little inspirational story. Now excuse me while I go figure out how to be a REAL knitter, sewer, canner, carpenter, gardener, electrician, plumber and (aargghh, gritting my teeth just thinking about it) bike mechanic.

  49. Heather Grayon 05 Nov 2008 at 10:07 pm

    The hay reference made me laugh — L’s 6′ and I’m 5′3″ and he’s definitely better at tossing bales around. I do pitch in from time to time though, because every bale I move is one less he has to deal with, and the work day can be a pretty full one sometimes. Plus his father W’s getting older and a bit less able, so sometimes he and I team up and share in feeding bales to L when we have a load going out to one of our customers.

    I guess I’m in, sort of anyway. Not interested in learning how to use a chainsaw though. Might practice with an axe next year, maybe…

    Have done handy work here and there over the years though and know how to use some types of power tools. Even done a little bit of electrical work (turn off all power!), mostly repairs but did replace a couple of light switches.

    Can sew but am trying more complex stuff this year, like making vests with pockets, and not simple squares stuck on the front of the body either. Can knit and purl but haven’t done anything fancier than scarves or ponchos, so hoping to make socks this winter — with help from my husband probably since he’s the real knitter. And hoping to learn to crochet this winter too, since I’ve never gotten past making a long spirally thing :D

    May pick up some other stuff in the coming months but not planned at the moment.

  50. margareton 05 Nov 2008 at 10:12 pm

    I spent some time in community with an amazing woman who never let the fact that she didn’t know how to do something get in the way of doing it. Her steadfast approach to her dreams and their accompanying challenges rubbed off on me a bit (I am a recovering perfectionist), and I have many new skills as a result. I can either sheet mulch or double dig a garden bed (depending on whether I’m in the mood for sweating and shoveling or curb diving the neighbors leaves). And I just made a wobbly little shelf for my cooking herbs (only plastic shakers on the top shelf). I dream of being a carpenter. One who can build something beautiful out of scraps of this and that. And I would love to learn to knit. I’ve had several people coach me, but it never stuck.

  51. Evaon 05 Nov 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Very interesting. I’m sort of in. But I’m also willing to do without for an awful lot of stuff I can’t do myself. Also asking neighbors for help keeps the community together. And they get to ask me, too.

    I remember a saying: a man who never asks for help or accepts a gift is selfish person. Anyone know it exactly?

  52. AppleJackCreekon 05 Nov 2008 at 10:32 pm

    I keep telling my kids “if you can read, you can do anything”. There are instructions out there for all sorts of things … and once you find the instructions, it’s just a matter of summoning up enough courage to try whatever it is.

    Sock knitting has been mentioned a few times … well, I had no clue, but I wanted to try it, and so I found instructions and followed them (I highly recommend Socks 101 as it has pictures to show you exactly what it all ought to look like at various stages). Voila … socks!

    For me, the ’scary thing’ has been caring for livestock. I was raised a city girl, and somehow acquired the idea that only ‘real farmers’ could deal with animals. Then we moved to the country and joined 4-H, where the motto is ‘learn to do by doing’. Everyone was very encouraging … just try it! And, sure enough, when you do try it, you figure it out. Sure, there are trials along the way, and you never get it right the first time (man, you should have seen that first fence we put up …) but start small, do a little at a time, try it out in a ’safe’ way, then … work your way up. You can do it.

    You can read (obviously). Google is your friend. So is your library. Learn to do by doing … it really does work.

    I guess I get to go learn how to deal with firearms now, eh? (It’s already on our list of ‘things to learn this winter’.)

  53. AngieCon 06 Nov 2008 at 4:31 am

    Can I join in too, please? There are two things I need to “hack” just now, as we say over here; spinning, because I spend far too much time & money hunting for just the right handcrafted-type yarns for various projects, and I have five fleeces just sitting in my porch which will go to waste if I don’t do something sensible with them. And small electrical repairs; the fear of getting it wrong, whilst not without foundation, just grows like a weed if I leave it, and I’ve ended up throwing potentially-useful things out because I’m too scared to even try.

  54. knutty knitteron 06 Nov 2008 at 7:03 am

    The handy part is not the problem for me. My problem is computers! That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I figured that the best way to get round it is just to do it. My next challenge is to get a photo on my blog by myself.

    We can’t do plumbing or electrics round here - you need a fully certified expert or you negate your insurance and get fined by the council. You can clear drains however (been there, done that) and fix appliances that aren’t wired in. Annoying but that’s how it is.

    Woodwork is my weakest point but I can manage simple stuff if I have to. It’s easier to swap for a quilt or a jersey.

    viv in nz

  55. Karinon 06 Nov 2008 at 7:11 am

    This is the proverbial kick in the Pajama Pants I need. I have the PJ bottoms pattern. I have cut them out and now I just need to (gulp) sit down at the sewing machine and sew them. Some emotional block prevents me from understanding what the purpose of a bobbin is.

    We have a serious division of labor here in our house. Usually because there is a wee one that needs to be looked after. It is easier for me to work in the kitchen while he bombs around the house. But, it would be nice to think I could help the progression of a project to completion instead of wondering how long it will take to finish the job.

    However, when I was pregnant with the wee one, I made a cookbook for hubby so he could cook dinners during the post- partum period. He had absolutely no cooking skills beyond boiling water when we met and now he cooks dinner a couple times a week and we live to tell the tale:o

    One thing I would really like to learn to do is chop wood. Hubby harvests the wood and then chops it and I am the one who stacks it. Hubby wields a big axe and that has always seemed intimidating to me.

  56. Rebeccaon 06 Nov 2008 at 7:45 am

    I come from a very traditional family, where girls where neither expected nor allowed to do any kind of mechanical/handy thing. To top it off, I have exactly no natural mechanical aptitude whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean I am not learning. Slowly, to be sure but I am.

  57. Rebeccaon 06 Nov 2008 at 7:47 am

    Karin, there are smaller axes. Start with those. I would never be able to wield one of those Paul Bunyan jobs! :)

  58. ctdaffodilon 06 Nov 2008 at 7:58 am

    This is a great post….I am going to become competent at cutting firewood. Not whole trees mind you - but the big branches that fall in the ice storms - Use em up! I have hand saws and and an ax.
    I also want to become really competent at canning (that will have to wait until next harvest time)

    Things I’m competent at now:
    Sewing I’m good enough at that nobody here would go naked. Clearance shopping for advance clothes for the boys. Mostly I look for sneakers, socks, warm stuff and undies.
    Making fire starters and candles
    Teaching (if I ever had to homeschool)
    Cooking with cast iron & dutch oven cooking
    Growing a garden, would like to move to true subsistance though, rather than supplemental like now.
    Raising chickens - need to get over the butchering fear/wigging out I have always had.

  59. […] a table where we talked about resource-sharing and “re-skilling.” Along these lines,Astyk introduces The Competence Project in this article. This is the newest in Astyk’s related series of challenges to her readers to become good at […]

  60. Wendyon 06 Nov 2008 at 8:56 am

    I have a long list of things I *need* to learn, although from people I know in my area, as far as self-sufficiency goes, I’m in graduate school by comparison (I met a woman the other day who had JUST learned to sew a button, and I can do that ;). The two things at the top of my “learn to do now” list are knit socks and split wood.

    But your “hay” reference was a good one, because that’s what plays here at my house most of the time. My husband does the “heavy” work (like splitting firewood), because he can do those tasks in about half the time it would take me, and because he’s busy with that other stuff, I do the light work, like cooking and canning. Things used to be split more evenly with both of us working inside and outside, but then when I got pregnant with baby #4, and wasn’t as physically able or available (baby care took up most of my time the summer following her birth), he just did it all himself.

  61. […] Categories: Uncategorized Sharon Astyk posted a new project on her website: The goal of this project is to develop skills you don’t already […]

  62. Traverse Davieson 06 Nov 2008 at 9:10 am

    Instructables ( are your friend for a project like this… some of the best how to tutorials around.

  63. Amyon 06 Nov 2008 at 9:12 am

    I’m in. I need to get on the knitting bandwagon. I can do basics, but the world only needs so many scarfs. Time to work on socks.

  64. Jillon 06 Nov 2008 at 9:52 am

    Okay, I’m in. I would like to polish up my knitting and sewing for starters. My SIL taught me how to knit a few years ago and I can do scarves. I’m working on my first pair of mittens right now (I admit, they probably won’t have thumbs…but my son is only 15 months, he won’t mind). I sewed a shirt for my mom for her birthday and I have pattern for some kids clothes I’ve been avoiding. Maybe I can get them done for Christmas.

    I would like to chop wood as well. I was getting good (’good’ means hitting the log frequently and it splitting occassionally) with the maul - not an axe- but some back problems have sidelined me for a while. So… I want to be better at maintaining the fire in the woodstove. My husband is good at these things - he’s handy and smart and good at everything he tries. He’s a handy-man, computer guy, mechanic, musician!! I’m the girl who tries, screws up, and figures it probably wasn’t worth the effort. I’ll try harder this time!!

    We’re getting chickens in the spring so I need to do a fair bit of research so they don’t die when we get them. I’ll even help my husband build the coop and put up the fence.

    This years garden and water-bath canning season were a first for me and I still have a lot to learn. We’re expanding and improving for next season. I would like to learn/use herbal remedies as well.

    knit mittens
    sew clothes
    keep woodstove fire going
    keep chickens alive - help build coop
    grow more, can more and do it better (now what’s in-season and not miss it)

    whew! thanks for encouragement to challenge ourselves!!

  65. Verdeon 06 Nov 2008 at 10:39 am

    My hubby is very handy but he tends to fix things when we aren’t around or even looking and then ta da! It’s done. I tell him I need to know how to do things but this doesn’t change behavior. I’ll have to sit him down and tell him how important it is.

    I just finished blogging about killing chickens - very new to both of us.

    I really think that this is an important aspect of the Independence Days challenge. This seems to be focusing on one aspect of that brilliant challenge rather than a new one in itself. I’m happy to focus here now that the garden is in and the livestock slaughtered.

  66. Verdeon 06 Nov 2008 at 10:54 am

    Oh, and things I am competant at:

    Making quilts
    cooking and canning
    attend the dying
    assisting in midwifing babies
    midwifing farm animals
    give livesotck vaccinations
    train a horse to saddle
    remove a horse shoe
    shear a sheep
    trip sheep hooves
    Basic veterinary ID and care and animal husbandry
    gathering, cutting and splitting firewood and heating a winter home with wood
    build a snow cave
    sharpen a knife, a chainsaw, an ax
    ID some wild plants - need more
    fishing and cleaning (fresh water mountain) fish
    preserving fish with smoking
    teaching rudamentary reading and math
    fix a copper pipe
    assist at carpentry
    basic first aid
    basic mending
    new: butchering and processing chickens
    hiring, firing, teaching, working alone and in groups

    Things I’m not good at:
    fixing things
    program a computer
    advanced math
    advanced first aid
    balancing accounts
    making clothes
    mechanical things
    other languages
    Wesley said all clergy ought to be able to preach, move or die on 5 minutes notice.

  67. Angel Bon 06 Nov 2008 at 11:30 am

    This past year I’ve tried to live by the motto “How hard can it be?” Thanks to that I’ve learned to fix a leaking bathroom faucet, replace a kitchen faucet, replace an electrical outlet, do small plaster repairs, darn socks, knit mittens, and dehydrate blueberries. (The last one turned out to be totally more work than it was worth. I should have frozen them.)

    I can’t sew. I have a huge stack of pants to hem, but I just can’t bring myself to do them. The kids might someday grow into theirs, but I doubt I will. For some reason, “how hard can it be?” just hasn’t worked for sewing. This will be my motivation.

  68. bridgeton 06 Nov 2008 at 11:40 am

    What a great kick in the patoot!

    I’ve made my list. I like to make lists of threes, since it seems doable.
    - Wiring/Electrical: Our house has such old wiring. I would really like to redo the entire thing, but it’s so daunting.
    - First Aid: Been meaning to do this for so long. Like since I was pregnant 4 years ago.
    - Fermentation: This will probably wait until after the holidays, but it would round out my food preserving skills.

    This year I am learning how to can. DH is has canned for a couple of years, but I like to be able to put my spin on it. He is more the pickle/condiment guy, I am more the sweets, straight up fruit and veggies gal.

    Offer your knowledge to someone else. I would love for a knowledgeable neighbor to show me the ropes on wiring. I have a couple neighbors that might let me assist with an upcoming project.

    Next spring/summer, I pledge to offer a canning session to my girlfriends. Maybe canning will be the new knitting circle!

  69. Ravenon 06 Nov 2008 at 12:05 pm

    One thing people ought to remember (re all the people who want to make socks): realize that you don’t have to only know one way to do something. In other words, knitting isn’t the only way to make socks, just the most familiar way (and comfortable, if you ask me, but there are other ways). So you may want to set your goal as “obtain socks” rather than “knit socks”. Why knit if you hate it, but know how to crochet and like it? Or if you are willing to wear moccasins instead?

    BTW knitting isn’t terribly hard, especially socks–they’re just tubes, you go round and round until it’s the length of your foot and there you are. You can learn to make heels later. :)

    To the lady who got queasy when her daughter had an injury: I’m an RN and it’s much worse when it’s your own family. I can watch surgery and the most atrocious wounds without anything more than a clinical, “hmm, look, it’s a femur” going through my head, but if my daughter so much as bumps her chin I get a coniption. You can handle a lot when you have knowledge, because your head clicks to the book. Don’t let your squeamishness keep you from learning basic first aid– it’s amazing how things crystalize in the moment and your mind goes back to the book. Knowledge takes away some of that horrible panicky feeling.

    How about midwifery? I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, through my pregnancies, but it seems like lay midwifery would be a useful skill. I’ve delivered animals before but have only been at a few human births. I’m not sure whether I want to go the whole way to get certified or not, but if MDs and hospitals become too spendy for most folks, it seems like a midwife who will help you for a quart of cream and a bushel of apples might have a lot of business. Not to mention all my friends are of childbearing age!

  70. Alexahon 06 Nov 2008 at 12:38 pm

    The quote from Heinlein is one of my favorites.

    I have gotten to the point where I am pretty handy at most things. Jill of all trades, mistress of none. But, when I need help I ask someone to SHOW me how to do what needs to be done.

    A friend of mine is a carpenter, and one day he showed me how to professionally cut in while painting. I now don’t mess with painters tape - and do a very professional job.

    When I first purchased my house I had new windows put in a few rooms. While the windows were being installed, I was working on another project. The person installing showed me how professionals apply caulking (which is backwards from the way most people do it).

    A neighbor of mine showed me how to safely use a chainsaw, and I feel like a pro now (so, Theresa, if you want me to walk through the use of a chainsaw, let me know.)

    There is a group of four of us - me and three guys - that formed a group to help each other on household tasks that need to be done. Each one of us has a certain skill set, and a few skills are shared by two of the group.

    Two of the guys sew, and when I split a seam or need something sewn back together, I take it to them and they fix it for me. They have the sewing machines. When a household wanted to landscape, or need the use of a chainsaw, they call me. When one of us needs plumbing or electrical work done, we call the person in our group that can comfortably do the work. We work WITH the person with the skills and learn. We all can food together, but there are two foodies in the group that show the remaining two of us with no cooking skills how to do what is required.

    We share tools and equipment and skills.

  71. tasterspoonon 06 Nov 2008 at 7:55 pm

    This is a wonderful project, and I’m going to poke through the comments more carefully when I have time to get some more ideas.

    This year I’ve been learning how to sail (if California cracks off into the ocean, at least I’ll still be able to get around), I’ve been learning a language, and I’ve been teaching myself to play the piano (I like the idea of being able to generate my own music rather than rely on the radio…though ideally I’d learn the guitar). None of these is particularly essential to my life, but they give it more dimension, and the process is fun even though I’m terrible at and get frustrated with all of them.

    I guess I’ll turn to more useful skills next.

    Oh, and to ditto Raven, I learned (refreshed) CPR this year and it’s very confidence building.

  72. Ailsa Ekon 06 Nov 2008 at 10:06 pm

    I’m in. I’m fairly handy and crafty, but I do have one big thing. It’s embarrassing, but I don’t have and have never had a driver’s license. I’ve had my permit for a couple of years now, and am actually a reasonably decent, if a tad nervous, driver. I can’t really parallel park, though, and I have to be able to do that to pass a driver’s test, and merging onto a highway terrifies me.

  73. Karinon 07 Nov 2008 at 8:54 am

    Alisa, I didn’t get my license until I was 38 and wanted to live in the country ( no public transit in the sticks). 3 year later I often think that it is no big deal. But other times I think it has added a while layer of complication to an otherwise simple life.
    Basically, the more you do it the easier it gets. I guess that is true with anything.

  74. Ravenon 07 Nov 2008 at 10:07 am

    Alisa, I learned to parallel park in an empty parking lot with two plastic garbage cans that someone kept moving closer and closer together. If you have a patient helper, just take your time and knock over the garbage cans as much as you need to in order to get the concept. And if people on cell phones, eating burgers and yelling at their children, can merge onto the highway, so can you! You’re going to do great!

    P.S. I hate driving too.

  75. Sarahon 07 Nov 2008 at 11:12 am

    Alisa, I still can’t drive :-) At this point, I’m kind of seeing how long I can go without needing to.

  76. Don 07 Nov 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I’m in (though a few days late - the election threw off my entire week, it seems)!

    I’ve been working for a couple of years on expanding on my skills, mostly because I think we’re all better off the more we’re able to do for ourselves, but more recently also due to peak oil and climate change concerns. Every year I’ve made a list of things I want to learn; so far I’ve gotten pretty good at knitting and sewing and other craft-related domestic chores, though that’s largely because I learned those things as a small child and am really just brushing up on them. I have soapmaking on my list for this winter, along with spinning, and I’m starting to learn the banjo too because I feel that being able to entertain ourselves and our families is just as important as being able to feed and clothe ourselves. But food production and preservation is super intimidating to me. It’s been years since I’ve seriously gardened due to a combination of problematic living arrangements and severe chronic pain issues, but it’s something I know I’ll need to do and something I’d really like to do as well, so having some support for that will be very welcome.

    And I haven’t read all the comments here, so maybe someone mentioned this already, but there are a lot of things I’d like to be able to do that I just can’t because of my back pain (things like building construction/maintenance or chopping wood). This makes me feel hugely vulnerable - I mean, it’s one thing to know how to do something even if it’s not your favorite or a thing you do poorly, and it’s quite another to not be able to do it at all, ever. I’m really curious as to what others who are dealing with disabilities of various kinds are doing to fill in those gaps. Focus on the things you can still do and try to make some extra income on those? Bartering or skill-sharing? Cooperative living arrangements? I’m actually thinking of starting a blog where these things can be discussed more specifically, because honestly, disabled folks have to have some sort of means whereby they are needed and valued so that we are not neglected when shit starts hitting the fan (and also just to give us more reasons to get up in the morning!).

  77. sweet marjoramon 07 Nov 2008 at 6:06 pm

    I’ve got to start learning from my kids. They’re not afraid to tackle anything. My 9 year old son looks forward to every issue of the Cub Scout magazine called Boys’ Life. I always suspect that he is up to something when he says “MOM! I need a shoebox! Where’s the tinfoil?!” and then he proudly shows me his solar-powered hotdog cooker or some such thing.

    If you go into a classroom of little kids and ask them competency questions, like “Can you sing? Can you draw? Can you cook? Can you build?” They typically will answer Sure! — and then look at you like you’re nuts.

    But if you ask a roomful of adults the same questions, you’ll see a very different confidence level. We grownups tend to complicate things so much by assuming it is embarrassing to be a newbie at anything. Kids approach new skills with a sense of adventure and giggling and unabashed screwing up. I want to be more like that. And I want to keep my kids thinking that way for as long as possible.

  78. […] post that I thought might be of interest is this one about the ‘gaps’ in our self-sufficiency skill set. It is an interesting challenge, and […]

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