2017: Calendars and Basic Life Skills

I have forgotten what I came in here to write about. Oh! I remember! I chose two of our calendars for 2017: the one for my kitchen, which will be Smithsonian Seed Catalogues, and the one for next to my computer, which will be Cats in Color. I’d been hoping they’d go down in price after Christmas but they did not, and then I started getting anxious about wanting to have the kitchen one all set up before January 1st, and also I was worried they’d go out of stock, so even though I didn’t know which one would be for which room, I went ahead and ordered both. I made my final kitchen vs. office decision based on square size: the Smithsonian one has bigger squares with more writing room, which I need for the kitchen calendar; the one next to my computer only rarely needs anything written on it. I also impulse-bought this page-a-day calendar called It’s Different Every Day: A Non-Boring Calendar for 2017.

But! A further complication is that Elizabeth still has the option to choose the Cats in Color calendar for HER room, in which case I would order something else for next to my computer. …This story is less interesting now that I see it typed out. ONWARD ANYWAY.

I have seen a lot of talk about how awful 2016 was and how people can’t wait for it to be over, but I have been increasingly anxious as the final days run out. I’m returning to some of my inclinations to shop ahead and stock up. There are a few large purchases we’ve made recently, such as a new dryer to replace the one that had to run each load twice to dry it, which make me feel happy to have reset the timer on when we will next need to replace those items. I’m not likely to get rid of clothes right now, despite the usual New Year’s urge to clean things out. In general I’m making purchases now rather than delaying them, and keeping duplicate items rather than donating them.

My friend Miss Grace was asking on Twitter about solid life-skills for hard times. Like, her husband is a chef who can take a pig from alive to bacon, and her brother is a doctor, so both of them would have useful skills even if things suddenly got a lot more primitive. Blogging would not be so useful. Nor would Target end-cap clearance shopping. Those are my main skills. Can I build a shelter? No. Can I hunt? No. Can I garden? No. Can I even start a fire without matches? No. Am I quick-thinking in an emergency? No. I do know what to loot from a pharmacy, is that a skill?

Awhile back, after I’d quit my eldercare job, Paul suggested I might want to take the 6-week nursing assistant course ANYWAY. My first answer was of course I didn’t want to, what would be the point of that NOW? But then I was thinking more about it, and one of the main things I wanted from that job was EXPERIENCE and KNOWLEDGE, so in that context it makes sense to take the class: I’d still like to learn the correct way to do the things I struggled with (boy, I still resent my employer for not training me but putting me in those situations anyway), and now that I’ve tried them WITHOUT the education, I think the education would be much easier to understand/incorporate/apply. I’d anticipate a lot of “Oh, so THAT’S how I was supposed to do it!!” light bulb moments.

Also, that course would add to my Basic Life Skills—not a lot, but some. I’d learn the body mechanics of supporting/helping another person without hurting myself, and I’d learn to be a good assistant to a nurse. I may not be good at quick thinking, but if someone else is thinking quickly I’m good at taking orders from them. If a clinic were set up and needed help, I could be useful doing the bathing/changing/moving, to free the nurses to use their higher training on other things.

Well. The whole life-skills thing is interesting to think about. Long ago I used to make jam, and I believe I remember enough of the basics to do that again. I said above that I don’t know how to garden, but I did work in a plant nursery for a year so I know some basics about planting things and propagating from cuttings/seeds (but in an artificially sterile/controlled environment). I can take care of children from newborns on up. I’ve made some of my natural anxieties work for me by channeling them into the acquisition of useful books (survival manuals, edible plants, basic first-aid) and supplies (camp stove, matches, water purifiers). I can do basic haircuts. I can…sew a button back on.

Paul can work with metal and wood (and has a lathe and a bunch of other tools/equipment), and can weld, and is learning to be a ham radio operator, and has attempted a garden several years in a row and is learning from that (and one year we got a MIGHTY crop of butternut squash). He’s a computer guy, so if there are computers to be managed/fixed/networked/firewalled/secured, he can do that.

What basic life skills do you have? Were you a Scout? Do you have medical knowledge/experience? Can you manage livestock: milk cows, care for chickens, etc.? Are you good at gardening? Do you know how to preserve food by drying or canning? Can you sew and/or knit and/or patch and repair and alter? Are you good at finding ways to stretch supplies or make things work in creative ways? Are you good at building and/or repairing? Can you fix/maintain machines? Can you use weapons? Can you hunt/trap animals, and process the meat? Can you build/maintain a fire, and/or cook over one? Can you speak other languages? Can you teach? Can you think of other things that seem like useful life skills?

41 thoughts on “2017: Calendars and Basic Life Skills

  1. Anne

    My first thought is that I would have no useful skills for a suddenly primitive lifestyle. My iPhone game skills would be mighty useless. (Okay, my iPhone game skills are already mighty useless.) BUT, I am very, very good at managing, tracking, organizing, delegating, etc. I’m the person you would want in charge of the supply hut to keep track of everything and who has what and who needs what. I am good at organizing groups of people and assigning them tasks that are the best fit for each of them so the group as a whole works well. I’m good at seeing the big picture and moving people and supplies around like puzzle pieces to make it all work. If I wasn’t such an introvert I’d be a good leader with these skills. As-is I think I’d make a good second-in-command, standing slightly to the side and a little behind someone that everyone else could look at while I actually got shit done.

  2. Emily

    I thought I had nothing, but I can crochet! Nothing fancy, but I can do hats & scarves & blankets.
    I can bake. And best of all, I’m married to the handiest guy alive. He worked as an electrician through college. I would put a newborn baby in anything he had built or fixed.

  3. Wendy

    I can do basic knitting (squares and rectangles only, but that would make blankets, so that feels useful). I can garden but only from seed packets, so that is limited. I was a lifeguard for about 5 years so I have some basic first aid knowledge.

    I generally assume that I am zombie chow in that kind of apocalyptic situation. My best skill is organizational administration and I’m not sure if/how that translates when the monkey overlords come.

  4. Ms. Key

    I feel I am calm in crisis and I have a high level of empathy/emotional awareness that can be good to help people through difficult mental health feelings. I am usually good at the soothing voice, gentle hand-hold, active listening that can help someone calm down in panic. Especially with children. I’m an elementary school teacher, and work well with students who do not speak English as a first language. I have some knowledge of ASL. I am probably not good at anything hard labour, cooking, fire-related, medical other than band-aids, but I think I can be a calm presence when someone needs one.

  5. Erica

    Smithsonian Seeds was my first runner up but I went with Midcentury Modern Wallpaper and Feathered Friends.

    My life skills are limited to easy-level canning and candle-making. I could probably cook over a fire if pressed. I can constantly remind people about how worried they should be about everything, thereby possibly preventing someone from being consumed by a wild animal.

  6. Alison

    What a calming exercise, Swistle!

    I can:
    Crochet pretty well and pretty fast, hand sew sturdily but NOT neatly, execute a number of clothing repairs (buttons, patches, unraveled hems, basic making it shorter/longer alterations) and if there’s still a sewing machine, make very basic garments and larger items like tote bags and quilts.
    *You would be surprised how much you can make if you can sew a semi-straight line on a machine or by hand! I have extremely basic skills and have made baby quilts and a bajillion tote bags. Even pajama type pants could be essentially four long rectangles sewn together. Add a pocket hem at the top and a drawstring, boom. Ugly but serviceable pants.

    Cook without recipes and make yummy things from shelf-stable plant products like rice and beans. Note to self: read up on how to tell how hot a fire or wood stove is without a gauge. I remember Laura Ingalls Wilder saying something about holding a hand towards the fire and seeing how hot it felt.

    Be decently handy with basic tools. Think of it as a puzzle! To do: read up on basic shelters for our climate.

    Use basic first aid skills from being a teacher. Knowledge of child development pre-natal to age 5, including special needs and genetic disorders.

    Share nutrition knowledge from my undergrad degree. Very useful if one is suddenly limited in the foods available. Stockpiled beans, grains, and a small variety of vegetables/fruits could take you a long way with zero electricity for refrigeration. Scurvy is real and can set in fairly quickly. Make sure you get some vitamin C, as tablets or as dried fruits.

    Consult a small set of survival books. We don’t have to memorize all the knowledge if we can access it in book form!

  7. Jean

    Oh dear, my useful life-skills are very limited in an apocalyptic scenario. I can vegetable garden, but only successfully from transplants. I can pretend everything’s alright when it really isn’t?

  8. Sarah!

    This seems like a fun project for the year- choose a “life skill” each month and learn how to do it/learn about it! One month could be fire building, another month could be reading up on edible plants in your area, another month could be building a shelter in the yard. You could even make some of them contests with the kids (which team can make the best shelter, get a fire going fastest, etc) if they are interested.

  9. Ess

    Oh man. I have very few practical skills. I can do basic, if sloppy, mending. I am not a great cook, but I know how to make basics without recipes. My husband is a king camper and seems to be do anything, so that’s reassuring. My ace in the hole is that I live in a small rural town with awesome neighbors and my parents live close by. I’ll just get supplies from them :)

  10. Kirsty

    I always feel that I have few truly useful life skills, but I can speak fluent French and Spanish, I have basic getting by knowledge of Portuguese and Italian, and a smattering of German and Russian. I can also bake, look after kids (heh), type really fast, and…errr… that’s about it. I can draw quite well, and I guess I’m reasonably creative. But I doubt that I’d be good under stress, I probably don’t have quick-thinking aptitudes, and I pretty much hate interacting with people… Hmm… Not much use, any if that, in a zombie apocalypse I suspect!

  11. Ruby

    I can knit, sew, and crochet well enough to make entire articles of clothing.

    I’m a substitute teacher, and I feel like that lends itself to quite a few Important Skills: I can teach. I can corral large groups of children who are not my own. I’m good at being thrown into new situations, in a place I’m not familiar with, with very little advance notice and preparation. I can think on my feet.

    Most of the jobs I’ve had have involved childcare in some way, which means I’ve had a fair amount of first-aid training. I’m not CPR-certified, but I do know how to do CPR, should the situation arise.

    I can…climb a rope? I don’t know, I feel like that would be more useful in a movie about a disaster than an actual disaster.

    I can grow food! It wouldn’t be very much, since the climate I live in makes most things (except for, like, lettuce and radishes) difficult to grow, but I CAN!

    I can cook without a recipe, and I’m pretty good at figuring out what to make with the foods I have on hand.

  12. Maggie

    I’m doomed. I grew up in the close in suburbs so I can garden but don’t know how to can or preserve anything. Neither of my parents are handy or crafty so I can’t knit or sew (except a button). I think the only marginal skill I have is that I can shoot a .22 fairly accurately (not under stress or while running or anything really useful and frankly, I have no desire to shoot anything living so turns out this “skill” is crap). I’m good with people and languages – not sure how helpful that is tho. Maybe my best skill would be cheering people up/settling them down when they are freaking out about the apocalypse?? Sigh.

    My kids, however, regularly go to outdoors camps so they know tons more than I do about edible plants, building fires, making and shooting bows and arrows, making shelters, etc. H grew up in the country so he shoots most guns very accurately, can gut/clean animals when dead, and is a good fisherman (he’s the only reason I’ve ever even fired a .22). Looks like I’m going to have to hang with the family and hope they cover my butt…

  13. Jen

    At first this made me anxious, thinking I don’t know anything, really. I know how to Google. But I do know a few plants that are edible and their look-a-likes that are not edible. I think I could garden though I don’t currently have one. I generally know how to dry foods and I make kombucha, which sounds a little silly but it’s basically fermenting so it feels…like it could translate. My husband and I actually talk about this a lot and we have a survivalist type friend that lives nearby. He’s our first stop. Lol.

    1. Alison

      Fermenting foods is a great skill! You could easily leap to sourdough starter for bread or making old fashioned pickles. :)

  14. Hannah

    I think about this all the time. I do not have much to contribute, but my husband is a doctor and an eagle scout, and I plan to ride his coattails to safety. One thing I do have is a masters degree in counseling. Its school counseling and not MFT, but I at least have a basic understanding of counseling techniques, and human development. Oh, also, I have an encyclopedic memory of Friends (the series), so if we lose television I could act out the episodes to entertain the neighborhood.

  15. Jesabes

    I love to cook for large groups of people. I do not necessarily like to clean my house in anticipation of large groups of people, so I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like. But if we’re off in the woods, and other people are handling food acquisition and fire building, I would LOVE to do the cooking. I like to be creative with the ingredients I have and I like quantity. I’d bring a suitcase with the contents of my spice cabinet and make some fantastic stews. Also, I know how to make bread, but I should probably brush up on that. The good news is that the way I like to make it is in a dutch oven, so that seems like it would work over a fire.

  16. Maureen

    I do have some skills, I was an animal science major in college and worked on a farm after, so I do know how to raise livestock. I know how to kill and dress a pig for roasting, although I would really prefer not to do that unless it is an absolute emergency. I haven’t shot a gun in years, but I can do it in a pinch. I can garden, but live somewhere the growing season is extremely short.

    My husband on the other hand, was in the military-he can shoot well, clean guns, build a fire from a few sticks, fix engines. He fishes every summer, and used to hunt when he was a kid. He is an excellent cook and doesn’t need a recipe. He keeps calm in a crisis, actually we both do-we work really well as a team when under stress. Oh, he can also use a sewing machine.

    I need to give that guy a big hug and kiss when he gets home today, he is definitely a keeper!

  17. Alice

    i’ve often told Chris he has complete permission to leave me along the side of the road the instant we find ourselves in a zombie apocalypse as I will be total dead weight. I do have some skills (good in a crisis; can knit; know what poison ivy looks like; can possibly make a fire) but they all go out the window the first time I lose a contact, in which case I become instantly blind. Also I break VERY EASILY so I would be, like, blind with a sprained ankle about 30 seconds into a zombie attack.

  18. Salome Ellen

    I can make serviceable garments out of whatever fabric is available. Obviously faster if a sewing machine is handy, and better-fitting if I have at least a similar pattern. I also can cook whatever is on hand into a nourishing (emphasis on complete protein) and reasonably tasty meal.
    I know the theory of spinning and weaving, and can knit fairly well. I am also a dab-hand at unraveling, which is quite useful if you have a torn sweater but need a shawl!

  19. e

    I hope this is soothing, it tends to soothe my nerves to think about: there is very unlikely to be a primitive, apocolypse scenario. If things go bad, they will probably go bad while life continues around them. We will probably still have food and utilities and things.

    1. e

      What I mean is that, for example, food prices are more likely to go up than that you will be suddenly called upon to slaughter a chicken.

  20. K8

    I’m an advanced practice RN, specializing in pediatrics, so I can diagnose and treat lots of childhood illnesses/issues, and a bare minimum of adult issues. I can sew a little bit, and can some stuff (although I’m not sure how helpful jellies and pickles would be). I was a Girl Scout and can probably remember how to build a fire and cook over it. I know to put a tarp underneath a tent so dew doesn’t get in through the floor and soak the inhabitants of said tent. I really, really hope not to put any of these skills to the test in an apocalyptic scenario.

  21. Gigi

    Oh dear God – I am SO screwed…and now have to worry about my lack of preparedness…lucky for me, I have a short attention span, so I’m bound to forget to worry soon.

    In all seriousness, I AM screwed, if I were left to my own devices. But judging from everyone else’s responses there will be plenty of capable people who will need minions who know how to roll up their sleeves and get it done. Now, let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that…

  22. Rebecca Colbert

    I can sew by hand. I can teach. I can cook, particularly breadstuff, fruits, veg, grains. Meat not so much. But in the event of a zombie apocalypse, no meat will be had anyhow. I think I will learn how to filter water this year and call myself useful.

  23. Lynn

    Clicked through to comment that I have no survival skills whatsoever, and will be the first to die when the zombie apocalypse comes, but then I read Hannah’s comment about knowing the entirety of Friends, and I do too (!!), so I can join her acting troupe. WHEW.

  24. Matti

    I can also cook and bake well without recipes. Cook over a fire or wood stove from pantry basics. I can build a shelter. I know how to make my own yogurt, buttermilk, sourdough. I can sew. Do basic carpentry. Basic auto repair. I can use a compass. Forage. Garden. Start a fire. Read a map. There’s more, but just when I was feeling good about my skills I googled “10 best skills for survival,” and, now I feel woefully ill-prepared.

    Interestingly, my parents, and even my in laws, seem better prepared than I am. My mom can garden without buying seed packets, knows a ton about medicinal plants, can sew and crochet well (she even still owns a manual sewing machine). My dad could build a house from scratch, including the furniture. Do electrical and plumbing work. Has extensive knowledge of forestry and tree identification. Can service motors. And so much more. Even my FIL can hunt, fish, and dress the animals. My MIL is a nurse. In short, the useful things I know how to do, they pretty much taught me and can do better. Luckily they live close by.

  25. Anne

    Lynn and Hannah should read Station 11 to confirm that they really will be useful. Or maybe none of us should read it because the Zombie Apocalypse that we are preparing for is NOT what that is about and it could freak everyone out (as it did my 14 year old son who will no longer play the game Pandemic).
    My skill is coming up with the book that people should read in every situation which I do not think is helpful in a survival-skills-needed situation, but can be comforting. My plan is to head to my sister’s who knows how to garden and has a huge one along with her husband and son who can hunt and fish. For ages my donation would have been that I’d take care of the children but now they are almost all big enough that they will be taking care of me so I’ll have to use my good-in-a-crisis skill and sense of humor so they’ll want to keep me around.

  26. Jd

    I have thought about this since reading Outlander a few years ago- if suddenly transported back in time how would I survive? 200 years ago is sort of like a current day apocalypse. I’ve often thought it was good that Claire was from WWII era since she had more convenient skills than someone from 2016. Like sewing and bread baking.
    I have some skills but mostly I’m tenacious and have courage. I’d like to think mindset may be more important than skills.

  27. Kristin H

    I am good at being in charge of other people. This used to be a serious liability when I was younger and this skill manifested only as ordering people around who didn’t want to be ordered around. But now I have learned to channel it into supervising/organizing people, especially when people are aimless but there are things to be done.

    Hm, I see, in writing this, that it still sounds bossy. Okay then.

  28. Suzanne

    This is semi-soothing to think about, semi-panic inducing. My skills aren’t what I’d call HARD skills, but I think I can be pretty practical about things, which could be calming to others (and myself). And I can be a pretty creative problem solver, which comes in handy more often than you think. Also I could drag my husband (and daughter) out west to live in the woods with my parents, who can do things like make a forest healthy and chop firewood and snowshoe and rebuild cars and resolve electrical/plumbing issues.

    Favorite bit: “This story is less interesting now that I see it typed out.” (It was NOT less interesting, by the way.)

  29. Lilly Handmade

    I can bake and cook. I can take wool from fluff to sweater – can’t shear a sheep, maybe should look to that – via spinning and then knitting or weaving or sewing. I can knit and sew without a pattern. I have a good memory for small details. I’m a pretty decent story teller, I suppose?

  30. Lindsay

    I feel short on life skills especially in the kitchen department. In a bad situation I would be a good laborer as my build is very hardy and not susceptible to injury. I have really good endurance at plodding along at monotonous tasks. My husband is pretty good in the kitchen so hopefully he would look after us there somehow.

    Currently though , I do have the cleaning things out feeling and am enjoying that on this last day of 2016.

  31. Alison

    Former lawyer turned SAHM. This is not a good place to start from survival skill-wise.

    My hobbies aren’t much better. Embroidery? Photography? Cake decorating? I doubt the apocalypse needs cute fondant figurines.

    I garden but feel like this skill is heavily augmented by access to a nusery (seeds, seedlings, knowledgeable staff). I can cook and bake. I could get by without recipes if needed.

    Eh… At least I live with a very handy person?

  32. Phancymama

    Hmmm. At first I felt very dismal about my skills, because I am currently a master at buying things for the family and reading the internet. BUT! I used to know how to start a fire from sparks, and to cook over a fire and on a wood stove. And I know what food truly needs to be refrigerated and what survives without. (Most is ok without!) And I can build things and carve wood and I used to camp and backpack. So I feel confident I could be of some use. Like many other people, my husband is very handy and knowledgeable and can hunt and turn animals into food and grow vegetables for food.

    We live in a town (and state!) where the local religion is very prepared for emergencies and has large storage capabilities, so I feel good about surviving in this area. Although I would probably need to convert religions. And we have emergency food rations of our own.

    Also: this is making me realize that survival skills and hard skills are invaluable and I need to teach my daughters these things.

  33. DrPusey

    I can cook and I can garden (though I need to relearn how to save seeds).

    Mostly, though, I’d have to be like the guy in Station Eleven who wound up being the airport’s librarian/archivist. I’d have to be the community’s archivist/librarian/historian. Oh, I can also teach.

  34. ccr in MA

    I too am going to be zombie fodder; I have faced this. However, if someone else saves me from the zombies and gets me to a safe place, I have a few skills.

    I am a knitter, so I can make blankets and scarves and socks–although I don’t spin, so once the yarn runs out, that skill won’t help. Although-although, if our safe place doesn’t have sheep or other fiber animals, the spinners will be lost too. :)

    I am also really good with babies, so if any of them are around, park them with me and go work on actually saving us, skilled people!

    And … that’s about it…

  35. Hil

    I liked reading these comments because it seems like a lot of us THOUGHT we didn’t have much for useful skills but once we thought about it we had quite a few! Also they reminded me of things I can do.

    I have a lot of very-very-basic beginner knowledge of a lot of things that wouldn’t make me an expert but could save my life, like I know how to shoot a gun and use a bow and start a fire, but I am certainly not adept at them.

    I DO know how to build, though. I can build basic furniture and structures, I could probably build small huts and definitely could make simple shelters. So that’s probably my most useful skill. I know how to sew, nothing complex but I can make basic articles of clothing and do repairs and altering. I know how to rear children and care for infants. I know how to fish, I could make a hook and line from household items and know what bait any local fish would take, and can take a fish from live to food. I can clean and skin animals, and I know how to harvest and cure pelts, which is super useful, living in the north.

    A lot of stuff I luck out on my partner knowing. They know all of the edible and poisonous local plants, plus the medically useful ones, in addition to how to prepare them to be medically useful. They can also cook and bake, sew much better than I can, knit and crochet, teach children, and are reasonably fluent in Spanish. I feel like I can do a lot of coasting on her knowledge. :)

  36. Shawna

    I’m practical, inventive, have a strong will to survive, have my first-aid certification and a B.Sc. in Biology and an M.Sc. in Botany/Mycology, grew up on a hobby farm raising chickens and pigs and milking cows by hand (and a wood stove was our main source of heat, so I’m a dab hand at fire-building), and have a vast store of theoretical knowledge related to survival (I went through a phase of reading a whole lot on the subject when I was young). Give me a knife and some string and I’m pretty sure I could do fairly well in at least warm-ish weather in terms of keeping myself fed and sheltered (it’s much harder in the winter). I feel I would do quite well in the zombie apocalypse, especially if I could team up with someone who sews/knits (I can repair clothes at best), someone who hunts (I can shoot things if I must, but am not so sure I’d find much to shoot), and someone who can ruthlessly defend what resources we manage to put together.

    I also speak French, but I’m not sure how useful that would be in the situations I’m envisioning.

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