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Things I Wish I Could Do

By: Everett S
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Napoleon Dynamite Skills

There are a lot of things I wish I could do, or at least wish I could do better. We will skip over the more obvious ones: flying, moving things with my mind, remembering everything I’ve ever read or learned,  mind reading (on second thought, that would suck)… Instead, I’d like to focus on some self-sufficiency skills, artistic abilities and more practical Things I Wish I Could Do – or at least do better:

  1. Remodeling my house or doing anything involving wood and math at the same time.
  2. Fixing our plumbing, which I would use to replace all that PVC
  3. Doing anything electrical, which I would use to run electric to the outbuildings (safely), and play with DIY renewable energy like solar panels and a micro-hydro turbine.
  4. Fixing our worn-out or broken machinery – especially vehicles, but someday a tractor and not excluding water pumps, lawn mowers, and various turbines
  5. Identifying all of the plants growing on our property. I would settle for identifying the ten most common trees… or weeds. I can do about five of each so far.
  6. Playing an instrument, preferably something portable with strings (i.e. banjo or guitar)
  7. Singing – this is one of those “do better” things. How about: “Sing better than a sick cat”.
  8. Singing while playing an instrument, although I’d settle for either.
  9. Remembering things, including dates, names, numbers, factoids, tips, tricks, quotes… Sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten 98% of everything I’ve ever learned.
  10. Writing creatively on one project. Sometimes I can write. Most of the time I feel like a hack. Either way, I wish I could do it better and I wish I could stick on a single topic long enough to get a book out of it.
  11. Building things is something I’ve always wished I could do better. You could lump this with the second part of #1, but it goes beyond working with wood. I wish I could do more with my hands, especially when it comes to “creating” or “fixing” things. This type of skill is always going to be needed. My “computer skills” are good for today, but if the feces was ever propelled forcefully at the rotating blades – my skills wouldn’t be worth the words it took to type this wish.
  12. Creating any kind of visual art, including drawing, painting, sculpting, welding, carving… NONE of which I can do… well enough to enjoy doing. Am I too focused on outcome here?
  13. Butchering animals sounds gruesome, especially if you’re a vegetarian reader. But it just happens to be one of those things that I wish I was better at. I have a freezer that could be full of deer meat (venison) but I don’t want to take a doe’s life until I’m ready to get all the meat I can out of it. Same goes for chickens (which I can do, but want to be better at), sheep, goats, cows, pigs…
  14. Gardening is something that I can do. Anyone can. But all of us can do it better, and I have a long way to go before I am as good at gardening as some of the people I look up to: Eliot Coleman, Anna H., Sundari Kraft, Mark Schonbeck. And yes, I did put you in that category because you came to mind as I typed. Deal with it. ;-) I’m not sure where this one ends and the next one begins, but probably somewhere between plant propagation and fruit-tree grafting…
  15. Farming is something I can’t do… yet. I am working on it. I feel that my gardening studies, experience and experiments will gradually lead into more farming skills, but no amount of weed pulling is going to prepare me for castrating sheep, orchestrating biologically-diverse-carbon-sequestering-intensive-rotational-grazing livestock on a grass farm, or even just building fences. I like to think I have the marketing skills to sell our products when the time comes, but we’ll see about that. Also, I don’t know if putting “farming” on here is fair. It’s sort of an all-encompassing concept around here.
  16. Speaking another language fluently would be nice. I used to speak pretty good Indonesian and could hold a conversation easily enough, but haven’t had to speak it in about six years or more and can’t for the life of me remember a fraction of what I once knew. Anyway, I’d much rather know how to speak Spanish. We’re all going to need it soon; not being political; just a fact.
  17. Food preservation is important to us, but I’m by no means an expert. I’ve canned some, dried some, put some away in sawdust… But I always feel nervous about it and am always checking, re-checking, and triple-checking every step in the process (especially with canning) to make sure I’m not going to give us all food poisoning.
  18. Surviving in the wilderness isn’t something anyone can ever be fully prepared for, but I would like to be more prepared than I am now. This includes short-term survival skills in case of an accident or getting lost, as well as more long-term skills that I just think would be cool to know, like making lye out of wood ashes (no, not the theory, but actually DOING it – more than once or twice), tanning leather, firemaking… and all of the great things I’ll be learning at the Firefly Gathering next summer.
  19. All of the old-timey crafts and skills that are close to being lost in time, such as soap making (I’d like to be better), cheesemaking (better), blacksmithing, beekeeping (better), apple-cider making, beer and wine making, moonshine making, leatherworking…

I’d better stop here before this list gets to be a mile long. I hit on some things that aren’t so self-sufficiency focused, but tried to stick to the topic all the same. I guess I should add “sticking to the topic” to the list.

How many of those things above am I going to learn in my lifetime? How many CAN I learn? Do you think we’re all capable of learning anything, or are some of us just never going to be artistically inclined, good with numbers, good with our hands… ? Personally, I think we can all improve, but I’ll never be a good portrait painter. As they say around here: “hIt just aint gonna happen”. But I bet I can accomplish a lot on that list before I return from whence I came.

Tag, you’re IT! If you’ve been tagged below, it’s your turn to ponder the wish list – and share on your blog if you would. Feel free to keep the ball rolling and tag some other folks:

… I’d better stop before I list every blog in my feed reader! I’d love to read everyone’s list, so let’s get a party started. It’s just too bad we can’t swap skills as easily as you can swap music collections. Everyone else, feel free to post on your blog (and let us know in the comments where that post is) or just leave your list as a comment below.

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Category: DIY Projects, Rants, The Transplants

Comments (25)

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  1. Michelle says:

    I’d be curious to read the opposite list: “Things You Can Do Better Than the Average Bear”

  2. Mr. Simpleton says:


    Let’s see… Here are some things I can do better than the average bear:

    • Get websites to show up highly on Google
    • Customize WordPress PHP code to tweak blog designs and site architecture
    • Good all-around knowledge of word processing, image editing, movie editing, online marketing, spreadsheet data manipulation, analytics, html, php, css that makes me a jack of all trades, master of none
    • I read very fast
    • I can write about topics that don’t even interest me (wait, is that good or bad?)
    • I can work and work and work and work and work without passing out
    • I can hop on a jet and start over just about anywhere in the world, and am comfortable being in other cultures or stepping out of the norm
    • Had I been in a debate club, I think I would have done well
    • Even though I’d like to be better at things like making cheese, soap, gardening for food… you asked about being better than the “average bear” and since the average American doesn’t know how to do any of this, we can add it to the list.
    • I can surf and snowboard, although not well enough to brag about. But I have fun.

    Needless to say, I think there are more things I wish I could do than things I can already do.

  3. Anna says:

    Aw, that’s so sweet! I get to be listed with Eliot Coleman?!

    I love lists like this, but I think I look at them from a different point of view than you do. “Wow!” I say to myself, “Think of all of this knowledge just waiting for me to consume it! I have so many passions, and since I live on the land, I have time to pursue them. My life is pretty much perfect.” Remember Mark’s lessons in positive thought…

    It’s funny how many things on your list are on my “Wow!” list too. Since you tagged me, I guess I’d better post about them on my blog instead of yours, though. :-)

  4. Mr. Simpleton says:


    I think about this list in much the same way. With a few exceptions (noteably things like painting and having a better memory) I am confident that my skills will improve now that I have this 15-acre playground and enough time to pursue those goals. Hey, I’ve already learned a lot since moving here!

  5. Laura Jeanne says:

    Oh, this is fun…since you tagged me I’m going to do a post about this very soon. Thanks–I have been feeling very uninspired this week, now I know what to talk about. :)

  6. LadyA says:

    Just wait until you’re a parent.. then the list of stuff you’d like to be better at exponentially explodes ;)

    It sometimes feels like we’re racing to catch up to knowledge that used to be common. While some of the ol’ timers are doing it all.. this morning in Target an 80+ yr old woman told me how to make $$ online. And she had some damn good ideas, too.

  7. Great post! Go to my blog ( to see my list. For those of you who want to learn more of the old-time, simple ways, I recommend you pick up copies of the Foxfire books.

  8. Leigh says:

    Oh gosh, where to begin. Give me a few days and I’ll get my list up too. :)

  9. Laura says:

    Thanks so much for the idea! I had a lot of fun thinking about this one. I created my own list on my new blog ( if you want to check it out. I am a newbie to the whole simplifying journey, but love how I have already been challenged in so many ways. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your journey, wonderful inspiration!

  10. Mogul Myra says:

    This is a good comprehensive, yet diverse list. I can’t even begin to imagine what a list like this would look like for me.

  11. Dave says:

    Identifying all of the plants…

    Sounds like a job for Google Goggles.

  12. Rob says:

    You’d be surprised how easy some of the stuff on your list actually is, if you’re able to learn from a book.

    There’s a series of books you can pick up “Black & Decker complete guide to … ”

    Plumbing, Electical, ceramic tile, etc.. Good basic books, and if you’re at all clever you can expand upon the knowledge you gain.

    Languages stuff – get books in the language(s) you can speak and keep up your vocabulary. I haven’t lived in Sweden for 25+ years, having learned Swedish while there in the early 80s. Reading has kept up my vocabulary and the occasional trip keeps me 85% as fluent as I was then.

    And there’s always the intertubes :)

  13. Roland Smith says:

    As for the DIY stuff, there is just one thing for it. Do a bit or reading about it and then Just Do It! It’s not that hard, and practice makes perfect. However if you want to do structural work on your house it’s best to contact a licensed engineer to have him make a suitable plan.

    Check out nearby community colleges. They might offer vocational training courses.

    WRT replacing PVC plumbing; if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. PVC is a lot easier to work with than a lot of other materials. And the hard PVC used in plumbing doesn’t contain the nasty phthalates as plasticizers that soft PVC does. It’s better to have it being useful under your floors than sitting in a landfill.

  14. Mr. Simpleton says:


    The new water pipes that are either red (hot) or blue (cold) that plumbers are beginning to use seem more flexible, which makes me think they have been softened with phthalates. Have you seen these types of pipes?

    Rob – thanks for the tip. Having read every book I can find on many of the subjects above, I’m inclined to agree with Roland that sometimes you just have to “do it”. I’ll get there. I may not ever bee “great” at all of this stuff, but I’ll at least try and learn enough that I can take care of simple things myself.

    I’ve done some things like insulate the crawl space, fix a few leaking pipes, running toilets, dishwasher lines, etc… I can probably figure out the plumbing if I try, but the electrical stuff is what scares me away from trying much. I guess if there’s one thing I should be happy to leave to the pros, it’s electrical.

  15. [...] Everett, of wrote an intriguing post where he listed most of the things he wishes he knew or could do better and tagged me to get my [...]

  16. Eric says:

    Thanks for tagging my Everett!

    My list is now up and ready to be viewed by some awesome people. Is that you?

    You can find it at:

    Take care Everett!


  17. Dave says:

    “Creating any kind of visual art”

    Give pottery a try. You’ll love it.

  18. [...] might be great fun.  No, he’s talking about more practical things.  Go on over and read his post…it’s a good one.  And, if you are curious, here are some things I wish I could do or [...]

  19. Lani says:

    Thanks for the tag. I wrote my list and posted it on my blog.

  20. Jason says:

    While there’s a book or internet site for just about any topic nothing beats good old fashioned dabbling for decreasing the learning curve…experiential learning I believe its called. Go forth and fail…that’s worked for me in the past and in fact I think my singing and tree naming has improved mightily as a result :)

  21. Roland says:

    WRT water pipes, flexible pipes can also be PE (polyethylene, ) or PEX (cross-linked polyethylene). Sometimes aluminium tubing with a inner and outer PE liner is also used.

    It would surprise my if softened PVC was used for water pipes; the softeners leach out over time.

    Over here in the Netherlands, water lines are still mostly red copper, at least in existing houses. I’ve never seen anything else in the houses I’ve lived in. Hard PVC is only used for drainage and sewage lines.

    Copper water lines have the advantage that they do not form a biofilm on the inside.

  22. Mr. Simpleton says:


    Over here in the US you can’t have copper pipes in most neighborhoods. People will steal the pipes out of your wall and sell them for scrap.

  23. Andrea says:

    I just found your site! Love it!!!

    Hmmm. Things I wish I could do–
    First on this list is pay off all my debt. Second, convince my family I am not totally crazy for wanting to live a simpler life and to be environmentally respectful. I live in a small Texas town, and the reason I hang out my clothes outside is that in summer they dry in less than 30 minutes (faster than the clothes dryer).
    Third, I wish I could move to the homestead I want now.

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