New Skills for a New Year

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on January 7, 2014

I’ve never had much luck with New Years Resolutions.  I tend to be wildly optimistic about what I can accomplish and set unreasonably high goals.  It’s a personality flaw.

What I’ve found in the last few years is that contrary to conventional wisdom (set a measurable goal)–I do better when I simply have a set of skills or an area of proficiency that I want to master.

Last year I wrote about the skills that I had worked on in 2012.  Things like learning to identify several easy to find local medicinal herbs, learning to make medicinal tinctures and oils, mastering both dehydrating and using dehydrated foods, mastering my canning skills, preserving more food, seed saving from the garden, long term food storage, learning to use cold frames in the garden and improve my photography.

My skill list for 2013 was quite ambitious:

1. Learn how to cook in a pressure cooker, my new solar oven, and a dutch oven.
2. Make herbal salves from the herbal oils I made.
3. Learn more about herbal medicines that can be wildcrafted in my area.
4. Learn how to make soap.
5. Make homemade mozzarella cheese.
6. Make yogurt using my dehydrator as an incubator.
7. Make my own wine.
8. Practice target shooting with Yankee Bill’s shotgun and rifle.

So how did I do? Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. Some I did, some I totally didn’t. Honestly I didn’t revisit my list frequently–so some of them sort of dropped off my radar.

1.  I did some cooking in my sun oven, but want to work with it more this coming year.  It’s a great “slow cooker alternative” in sunny weather.  I did not use a pressure cooker or the dutch oven.

IMG_9004

2. I did not make herbal salves from my oils. I did however make hard lotion bars as a Christmas craft–and it’s basically the same process. You just use the herbal oils and combine it with melted beeswax to have a more spreadable product.

Melting lotion bar ingredients in the double boiler

3. I did learn a lot more about medicinal herbs in my area. I am still not completely confident in my skills–but it’s an evolving set. I will continue reading and learning!
4. I took two soap making classes and Yankee Bill and I have been exclusively using the lovely soap I made. I haven’t shared with the kids because they tend to leave it floating in a wet soap dish wasting half of it. I don’t want that to happen to my lovely soap! I have purchased the supplies and intend this winter to make a few batches on my own without the “safety” of the class. I’ve also found a few friends and acquaintances who are interested in or already doing soapmaking. That means we can trade soap or work together!

Soapmaking Class
5. I signed up for two Mozzarella Cheese making classes this year. One was cancelled, and the other one was quite disappointing. Basically the lady teaching us actually failed at making Mozzarella in the class demonstration. So now it’s time for me to bite the bullet and make it on my own regardless (although I will check to see if the community college has rescheduled the cancelled class).
6. I still haven’t tried making yogurt. Which is just silly because everyone tells me how simple it is. Again, I just need to buckle down and make myself do it a couple of times until I am confident in my skill level.
7. I successfully made my first batch of wine from a kit, and have 2 more kits going (as well as some homemade hard cider) another kit in the basement and one on order. I guess you could say I’m a go, although still learning, on the wine making!

IMG_9164

8. I never did get around to target shooting with Yankee Bill’s shotgun and rifle–although I did attend the NRA Women on Target event at a local Rod & Gun club and have been to several women’s shooting events. I really do want to be proficient with what we have.

Women on Target Muzzle Loader

Of course there were other skills that weren’t even on the list that I wound up working on or improving.  I canned–a LOT.

IMG_9567

I improved my mending skills and finally learned how to “darn” a hole in something knit.

Darning

I made a sourdough starter and have been learning how to make sourdough bread.

Sourdough Starter

I grew a vinegar mother and made vinegar.

Vinegar Mother

I planted fruit trees, bushes and canes

Newly Planted Tree

(and mulched and mulched and mulched)

Mulching

I played with fermented foods and successfully made my own sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut

I continued to improve my photography.

photography class

I took a class on making homemade pasta (and got a pasta maker for Christmas!).

So what’s on my skill list for 2014?  Well, first there are the repeats from last year:

1. Learn how to cook in a pressure cooker and a dutch oven. Continue experimenting with the Solar Oven
2. Make herbal salves from the herbal oils I made.
3. Make homemade mozzarella cheese.
4. Make yogurt using my dehydrator as an incubator.
5. Practice target shooting with Yankee Bill’s shotgun and rifle.

And now the new:

6. Master sourdough bread.
7. Learn to alter clothing.
8. Make wine from scratch instead of using a kit.
9. Learn to knit socks.

I think that’s probably more then enough for one year! This year I promise to print out the list and post it near my computer where I can see it on a regular basis.  That should remind me to keep on it.  What skills would you like to learn in 2014?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelley January 7, 2014 at 9:54 am

Oh, funny! Your post inspired me to draft one of my own (referencing yours of course) and then I was thinking about what I wanted to work on in 2014. I hadn’t finished reading yours yet, but when away to capture ideas before they floated away. Dressmaking and altering clothes and knitting socks are on my list as well!

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Jenn @ Frugal Upstate January 8, 2014 at 10:13 am

Shelley–great minds obviously think alike eh?

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Ruth Hall January 7, 2014 at 12:20 pm

My list includes getting the veg garden productive this year, planting more fruit trees, learn to mend & alter clothes, use my slow cooker and do more scrapbooking. Here’s hoping !

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Jenn @ Frugal Upstate January 8, 2014 at 10:12 am

Good luck Ruth! The garden is a constant learning and evolutionary process. It’s amazing how much you can improve in a few years! I’m sure you’ll do great this summer. I’m going to continue to write about mending, so we can work on that together.

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Donalyn@The Creekside Cook January 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm

I’m totally jealous about the vinegar making – that is on our “to-learn” list.

I love the soap you made – my bar is next to the kitchen sink, so I use it every day. [yes this is a shameless plug for another bar :)]

Making mozz cheese is super easy – not sure if your commenting allows links, so I won’t put in the company where I get my supplies, but if you Google New England Cheese Supply you will find it. Their soft cheese kit has everything you need and it makes quite a few batches – the stuff you have to reorder is very cheap from them as well. The hardest part may be finding a farmer to sell you raw milk, because it is so much better made with that instead of store bought.

I make yogurt on the kitchen counter just using a regular drug store heating pad – works great.

I got a pressure cooker for my Birthday this year and it has been a revelation – still exploring what it will do for me. Unfortunately, it’s an aluminum one, so I have to replace it with stainless steel – I don’t like my food touching aluminum, ever, if I can help it.

Also, like you, I have been doing a lot of fermented foods – we love them and try to eat some every day because it is so good for you. In fact, I’m reviewing some products in a couple weeks that I have really enjoyed using.

Love your list for next year too – sourdough bread is so much fun and SO good!

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Jenn @ Frugal Upstate January 8, 2014 at 10:11 am

Vinegar is really easy if you start with alcohol. If you start with juice and have to ferment it first into alcohol then turn it to vinegar. . .that’s more complex.

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percilla January 7, 2014 at 2:39 pm

I cook with a pressure cooker almost daily. Love it. Need to start myself a list of new skills for this upcoming year!

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Jenn @ Frugal Upstate January 8, 2014 at 10:11 am

For some reason picking skills to learn just seems less intimidating then “resolutions” doesn’t it?

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Cici January 8, 2014 at 10:12 am

First of all let me say that what you have accomplished in 2013 is AWESOME! and INSPIRING!
I know that you will do most of what is on your 2014 list!!
I too have more of a to-do list than resolutions. Along with he usual “I will exercise” type of ‘wish’- my list includes buying a harp and taking lessons (anyone reading that has one for sale let me know!), learning to hit the clay targets with my shotgun, planning & planting my garden, learning to can, more kayaking this summer, and finally doing some of the craft projects that I already have the supplies!

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Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening January 8, 2014 at 11:02 pm

I probably shouldn’t be volunteering her, but my oldest daughter knows how to knit socks. Too bad I didn’t see this before we met today.

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