Learning New Things

They literally stopped me on my morning walk – the yellow daffodil blooms vibrant against a deep green hillside.  I pulled my cell phone out of my jacket pocket to take a picture.  I’ve wanted to take a photography class but haven’t made it a priority yet.  In the meantime, I’ve been playing with the settings on my phone.  Changing the “Exposure Level,” I’ve learned, changes the amount of light – though I don’t know what setting this would be on my actual camera.  Today, I learned I have both black-and-white and sepia options.  Playing around, I got some shots I’m actually quite proud of!

I came home and decided to tackle the leftover roasted chicken in the fridge.  The book I just finished (Kitchen Counter Cooking School) inspired me to make my own chicken stock for the first time in my life.  It’s very simple, and a whole lot cheaper than buying chicken broth (much less sodium, too!).  I yanked the leg to separate it from the rest of the chicken and stopped cold – look at that knee joint!  Glistening cartilage at the end of the femur, the ACL I just tore staring me right in the face.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being fascinated by anatomy.  Anyway, my stock now cools on the front porch and smells delicious.

Learning New Things

Is it just me, or is everyone as stimulated as I am by making things?  Whether it’s cooking or crafts, I’m just “in my element” when I’m making something.  And if it’s something I’ve never made before, well that’s a whole other level of fun, mystery, and sometimes frustration.

In the last three days I’ve made at least three new things.  I’m not telling you this to brag.  If anything, I hope it will inspire you to try something new yourself.  Maybe you’ll want to try one of the things I’ve done, or maybe you have something else you’ve always wanted to try – well, there’s no time like the present!

On Monday, I mastered the purl stitch in knitting.  This is the third time in twenty years I’ve tried to learn to knit.  This time it may have stuck, thanks to:

  • Eve Hildebrant – Master knitter and my co-host at the Folk School who has taught plenty of people to knit – even people like me who’ve tried twice before without success….
  • Sarah Bennett and Dorothy Wilkins:  Work study students at the Folk School who learned to knit while there and progressed quite rapidly in just six weeks!
  • A Knitting instructor from England who was at JCCFS while I was.  Her name escapes me at the moment, but she sat with me one evening and helped me perfect my technique.

All of those folks believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself (which, in my eyes, makes them all excellent teachers).  I saw Eve on Tuesday night and showed off my work.  She smiled a knowing grin – she’s believed in my knitting abilities since day one.  Maybe I’m pushing a little too much, but I found a sweater pattern yesterday that I want to work on for my next project….

Stockinette Stitch

On Tuesday, I made sugared pecans.  They’re one of those things that, when I first sampled them at my friend Tara’s house, I thought would be hard to make, but Tara assured me it was easy – and she was right.

Last night, I started work on making a new journal.  I took a miniature books class at the Folk School.  Then, my friend Sarah expanded my horizons and helped me make my first book with pockets.  After a couple of those, I now have the confidence to try a book I’ve never made before.

Making a mini-book at the John C. Campbell Folk School

A book with pockets on one side and....

a notebook on the other.

Picking the papers

Making the Covers

Ready for gluing and sewing

So if you’re feeling kind of “blah” lately, I recommend trying to make something new – it’s a high quite unlike any other:)


All levels welcome

The class is called “Building a Garden Shed.”  I don’t have a garden.  Nor any property on which to put a garden.  In fact, I’ll be living “on the road” for the next year, so it’s inconceivable that I will need to know how to build a garden shed anytime in the near future.  Despite all of this, it is one class I’ll definitely be taking during my four months at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

Why?  Well, because I still have it in the back of my mind that I may one day want to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  And I may just want to build it myself (well, with help of course).  There is just one small hurdle here: I have zero home building skills.  You might think building a garden shed is quite different from building a tiny house.  In which case I ask if you’ve seen a Tumbleweed?

My class covers use of hand and power tools (the only power tool I’ve every used is an electric screw driver thing), framing, trusses (I think those are the things that hold the roof up?), shelf building (I imagine this could be useful even if I never build a house), and window and door installation (because just about any house I live in will have windows and doors….though now that I think about it, maybe not…)  And when it’s all done, we’ve built a garden shed for the Folk School to use for years to come:)

Building anything is so out of my element that I just love the idea.  I mean, how else would I learn all these things?  You might think JCCFS would want only experienced builders on such a project.  And you would be mistaken.  Because one of the things I love most about JCCFS is that so many of the class descriptions, including this one,  end with the words “All levels welcome.”

The Mother’s Day Shrimp

There is definitely some sort of brain growth that happens – almost palpably – when you’re learning new things.  I don’t mean things you find in books – though perhaps you can feel it there as well.  No, I mean things that you experience that you’ve never experienced before.  And the great thing is that you have the opportunity to learn something new nearly every day if you just keep your eyes open for it.  Such was my experience on Sunday with shrimp.

On Mother’s Day, my father and his best friend prepare a meal for their wives.  Gary picks out the recipes and serves as head chef.  Dad and us kids are sous-chefs.  I’m usually amenable to preparing whatever needs doing.  As a child helping mom prepare for holiday meals, however, I steered away from tasks that involved food I didn’t like to eat.  Namely, mayonnaise and mustard.  Deviled eggs?  Nope – someone else can do that.  Stuffed mushrooms?  Nope.  Shrimp would have also fallen into this category.  I have only come to like it in the last five years.  And that was only because the guy I was seeing cooked it for me and, not knowing him too well, I felt bad telling him I didn’t like it.  So I tried it, figuring how bad could something be that was cooked in butter and garlic?  I’m half Italian, after all.  Now, shrimp scampi holds a special place in my heart (though they guy doesn’t!).

So when dad’s friend Gary asked me if I’d peel shrimp, I hesitated for a moment.  The only thing I’d ever had to do in the way of preparing the little guys was taking off the tails in order to pop them into my mouth.  These ones had legs!  But I’m more cognizant now of the fact that a lot of what I eat once had legs (or once was a leg) and I think it’s good to know what your food goes through from farm to table (or from water to table in this case).  So Gary showed me how to peel them – which I must admit is much easier than peeling garlic.

Once I was done with that, the next line in the recipe instructed you in deveining the shrimp.  I’d heard of this, but never done it.  Gary came over and together we figured out how to do it – or so we thought.  But our first two shrimp didn’t appear to have their “vein.”  Family members debated as to if the shrimp had already been deveined (which I didn’t think was the case since it seemed silly to do it without peeling the little guys first).   Our third one finally showed us what it had – and as an Anatomy instructor I had a feeling it wasn’t a vein.   Human anatomy was my favorite course (no pun intended).  And I could definitely identify the veins of any dead animal – human or otherwise.  I commanded my brother who was sitting at the family computer to google “deveining shrimp.”  He one-upped me and found a you tube video.

The instructor from Epicurious told us, first of all, that deveining wasn’t necessary but that the shrimp sure looked prettier peeled open like that.  She confirmed that my technique of making a shallow groove along their backs and peeling it open was indeed correct.  Then, she explained that what I pulled out was not a vein at all, but their digestive tract.  Ha!  I knew it!  I figured our first two shrimp had done me the favor of clearing their digestive tracts prior to being pulled from the ocean.  I went back to the process of deveining our future meal, carefully pulling out digestive tracts filled with – well, I knew, but no need to dwell on it.

After coating the shrimp in oil, tossing them in the rub my sister prepared, and skewering them, I thanked Gary for expanding my culinary horizons.  He gave a jolly laugh and went to find the ginger root my father needed to make his recipe.  “What the hell is this?!” my father, definitely not the culinary expert, asked upon seeing the stalk of ginger.  I guess I didn’t get my appreciation for learning new things from him:)