Saturday, September 28, 2013

Borrowed Skills

When I was growing up, my mother made bread every week.  One week she would make white bread, the next wheat and the next French bread.  Every Saturday I could be found in the kitchen, chattering at her as she expertly kneaded our bread on the antique dining table that graced our tiny kitchen.  When the bread was supple and silky, she would have me wash my hands, flour them, and then push the dough around a few times, showing me how to use the heal of my hand to knead the bread well.  By the time I was 8, I knew how to make bread perfectly - or so I thought.

Many years later, I was a new wife, a young mother and a fledgling housekeeper.  Drawing upon my vast home economic skills, I proceeded to whip up a bread dough, knead it to perfection and set it to rise.  Imagine my surprise when I lifted the towel covering my dough, only to discover a dense, pale blob of cold, raw dough.  The dough was solid, having not risen even one tiny little bit!  I was thrust into the depths of despair.  This couldn't be - I had been baking bread since I was knee-high to a grasshopper!  Or had I?

The truth of the matter is that I had been hanging onto my mother's coat-tails.  A majority of my supposed home-making skills were not mine - rather I had borrowed them from my mother - and the funny thing about borrowed skills is that you have to give them back.

The next two years of my life were dedicated to transforming my home-making efforts into honest to goodness skills rather than an inherited legacy.  I spent hours talking to my mom, reading books and trying recipe after recipe.  I kneaded bread and kneaded bread and kneaded yet more bread.  I failed - tried again - failed and tried just one more time.  Finally, after more disappointments than I can count, I learned how to make a simple, lowly loaf of bread.  This wasn't my mother's bread, using borrowed skills - this was my bread - made from the hard-won wisdom of trial and error and perseverance -fresh from the oven and perfect!  I was officially a bread-baker in my own right.

Our children have grown up immersed in the self-sufficient lifestyle.  Most of them have never known grid-power, flushing toilets or store-bought bread.  They have grown up baking on a wood cookstove, canning venison and making soap.  They have survival skills that most people would envy - but are they really their skills?

For the most part, we have included our children in all aspects of our survivalist lifestyle.   They hunt with us, they bake with us, they cook with us and they shoot with us.  Everything we do, there are our children, right beside us.  However, just being with us doesn't guarantee that we are transferring our skills and knowledge.  Our children have to be actively involved - even to the point of being allowed to fail.  What does that look like?  It looks like an apple pie - hot and bubbling - being dropped onto the open door of a hot wood cookstove because a certain young lady didn't have a proper hold on it as she brought it out of the oven.  It looks like a pair of Kevlar saw chaps with a gaping hole across the thigh reminding a young man to always have a solid grip on a powerful chainsaw.  Teaching our children the skills of life means letting them get dirty and learn through experience.  It means that we have to be willing to let them make a mess, do things the hard way and yes, even fail.

We have some acquaintances who are striving to live a preparedness lifestyle.  Although not originally country-folk, they are making a Herculean effort to become self-reliant survivalists.  Their children were young when the family made the transition to country life and now, as teenagers, they truly believe that they are the ultimate survivalists.  The only problem?  The children have absolutely no survival skills.  They assume, since they have watched their mother (the father really isn't involved in much - other than physically being there) milk the cow, gather the eggs, grow the garden and make the cheese, that they know how to do all those things - but they don't.  In fact, they don't really have any skills of their own - although they believe otherwise.  These children have mistaken their legacy for their skill set.

It is really easy to forget our children's skill level (or lack thereof) in our earnestness to prepare our families.  We have to actively cultivate skills in our children rather than allowing them to borrow ours.  When the lights go out, the only skills your children will be able to rely upon with be their own - the ones you cared to instill in them.

Don't just assume that your children are learning alongside of you - give them the opportunity to learn for themselves.  Don't ever allow them place their trust in borrowed skills. Make sure they are equipped with the real thing.


  1. Waiting for a report on your trip to the preparedness expo...Don

  2. once again--you have spoken the truth. Shadowfaxhound

  3. Enola,


    I was not able to learn any survival skills from my parents. They believed credit cards, multiple mortgages, buying expensive things that have no resale value, etc. etc.

    I was the black sheep and hell raiser that learned how to fix dirt bikes in the middle of the desert when they broke down as a teenager. I joined the military instead of going to college (went to college later) and to this day I still do things that are' well opposite of what everyone else does like buying 23 year old Toyota pickup trucks instead of some new big fancy $50.000 American diesel pickup truck.

    I will never learn to cook (as a bachelor for life with no kids and no family I can get away with it) I will never have to worry about passing my skills off to to any offspring either.

    I have one family member left alive and that's my mother. When "the lights go out" I don't expect her to live very long because of the medications she's on. Im not being cold blooded, Im being realistic. That gives me the opportunity to move quickly and bug out to safer location and survive some very, very austere and harsh conditions that my mother could not withstand.

    In a nutshell the most important thing I learned from my parents is "not" to be like my parents.

    On a side note: We had a "patcon" This weekend (or Patriot Convention) down here in my area of Texas at a county part next to the beach. I met several interesting like minded individuals from around Texas. Several 3 Percenters were there. Lots of interesting stuff to talk about.
    I alternated my time between the "patcon" and surfing. The surf was up again, 90 degree air temperatures and 84 degree seawater temperature and Im enjoying it before a big cold front comes down and lowers the water and air temps (that 23 year old Toyota truck makes an excellent beach mobile)

  4. Whoopee you guys are back! We missed you.

    The world continued to get crazier while you were gone. But at least we can once again check in every morning and get a good cup of 'normalcy'. Life is good if you know where to look.
    Montana Guy

  5. I, too, am glad you're back!
    I learned basic housekeeping skills from my mother--baking from scratch, cleaning, sewing, etc. and I tried to teach these to my daughter, and wouldn't you know it, she cooks better than I do. We had nearly nothing when I was a child, and my mom taught frugality also.
    I wished I would have learned "masculine" skills also like hunting, changing a tire, basic carpentery. but back then girls took home ec and sewing.
    I taught my son basic housekeeping too, and it served him well as he never married until 38.
    You are soooo right, Enola. Parents have a duty to make sure the skills are learned. You did a good job!

  6. I learned to cook from my mother (hated it then and still hate it but do almost everything from scratch), learned to sew a little from her and a lot more from a book, learned to garden from my dad, and also learned a little about home maintenance. My daughter said she would NEVER garden since it was so much work but started her own garden as soon as she had a spot. She doesn't sew much, but she can check the oil in her car and change a tire, compliments of her dad. She can cook up a storm, including baking bread. She is very careful with money and has been teaching her husband, who came from a family who thought that if you didn't have a lot of money you didn't need to know anything about it. On the other hand he is a great cook also and can paint an surface you have with beautiful results. Both of their daughters cook well, and one them is already gardening.

  7. Enola Gay,
    You bring up a very valid concern that applies to adults as well as children - for those who haven't lived a preparedness lifestyle like you or Patrice, the rubber has not met the road, so to speak, and so they don't know what they will actually be able to do until they actually use those skills.
    As others have said before, just having supplies does not mean one is prepared - For me personally, there are a number of skills that I need to gain to be where I want to be as far as preparedness is concerned.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and keep up the good work!

  8. Great post. You said it better than I could, so I passed on the link on my own blog. Thanks and bless you.

  9. Ah, many of the lessons our children learn are not when we are making an effort to teach them, but when they see us doing our day-to-day tasks and interactions with others. Our children are but a reflection of ourselves, amplified by their attempt to duplicate what they perceive!

  10. The truth hurts - and you have spoken it Enola! I am figuring out things out of books - no help and feeling challenged while ON the grid. (Taught myself to bake bread in while in Jr. High - back in the (almost) dark ages.) Teaching myself to can is harder. Started with meat based stuff and haven't killed us yet! :-) My freezer is packed and I wouldn't want to lose it all of things go down..... Those with a teacher are truly blessed.

    Just a note - you mentioned the Kevlar chainsaw chaps. They saved the life of a young man on a trail crew I supervised years ago. He did nothing wrong, but his new chain BROKE. It made 4 full rotations before coming to a stop, laying open the chaps across his right thigh and cutting the leather toe cap off of one of his steel toed boots. He was fine, but would very likely have bled to death before we got off the trail to the highway and drove another 45 minutes to the ER. While they might seem expensive - they are a nothing compared to what an accident without them will cost!


  11. Great post!

    One of my main goals with my own blog is that my children can follow along and just know what to expect with their cooking, sewing, gardening, etc. With my own children, I find that even if they just watch me and help me, when they try it on their own, they still have a basic knowledge of what they want to do and the rest comes just like it did for me (and you as you learned to bake bread). Sometimes with a little failure here and there, but still, it comes. By doing these things we are also giving our children the confidence to do these projects. I'm afraid that so many children are growing up with a family who never bakes bread that they won't even know such a thing is possible or even that they should take a stab at trying to do it.

    I also find that when I cook - I tell my girls every little thing.. that in order to know the water is the right temp for yeast, it should be like "hot bath water - hot but no hurt". Little things like that which are sinking into their brains so that when the time comes and they are baking their own bread, even if it isn't perfect, they will know that success is possible for them (as well as they've had a taste of the GOOD STUFF so they will want to!).

    I also agree that so many children are never allowed to fail. I always say that reality, for them, will be a kick in the pants.

    My daughters are both now honing their cooking skills. Some failures, some successes, but they are cooking. In a world where some children only know how to open a box and stick it in the microwave, I'm so proud that mine are baking, cooking, canning, DOING!

    I think there is a lot to be said for INTENTIONAL parenting. And that doesn't just mean signing your kids up for a sports team...

    Great post, Enola! As always...

  12. After I read your blog today, I told my 7-year-old we were baking bread today. We used your French bread recipe from your Family Cookbook and she was tickled that her first attempt at bread baking was making your first bread recipe. She was shocked at how much work kneading bread was (kneading 11 cups of flour is a big job for a 7-year-old).

    BTW, the bread was delicious. When my husband looked through your cookbook he was tickled to death. He said that the fact that he can learn how to make pretzels, whitewash, and lice shampoo from one easy-to-read, and friendly cookbook was pretty darn nifty.

  13. I love this post. So timely. I saw this first hand. My Mother knew how to expertly tailor and sew. She didn't teach me much because it was so time consuming and she said it was so much easier to buy stuff. Now the tide has turned. I saw 8 children in another family grow up under a women who fed them and neighbors from her garden that quite literally grew like a jungle. Whenever you tried to get her to tell you how she did things she would just wave you off. Not a single one of her children has any idea how to do ANY of the things she did. Her vast array of skills (from growing up nearly 80 years ago on a primitive island) have passed with her.

    It takes one generation to lose hundreds of years of skills. One.

    Great reminder.

    How cool would it have been to enter adulthood prepared for it from childhood instead of a mad scrabble triaging skills and desperately trying to learn them?