Sewing is one of those skills I learned as a kid that turned out to be unexpectedly helpful.

Nov 13, 2019–I can roll perfect dinner rolls with either hand. At the same time.

It’s a skill I picked up as a prep cook at a fancy restaurant where I worked in college. They were known for their delicious dinner rolls, and it was my job to turn them out by the hundreds. It was slow going at first, with most of my attempts lopsided or undersized. The lady who had worked there for years laughed at my output, then patiently taught me the technique.

This lost skill came back to me when I attended a Native Plant Society of Texas class on making seed balls. Basically you dump a wildseed mix into mud and roll it into hail-sized balls. Once dry, you put them out to slowly breakdown and germinate. As I deftly turned out a dozen perfect seed balls, I contemplated what other inconsequential skills we learn that later turn out to be consequential.

My favorite example is typing. Back in high school, I was faced with an empty slot in my schedule where I needed an elective. I carried a very full load, so decided to take touch typing. My thought process was that when I went to college I would be typing lots of papers. I didn’t realize there would be word processors, then computers, and that I eventually would do writing for a living. Every day I am thankful I can type 80 words a minute. If only I could think that fast.

Another elective I took for fun was Spanish. I say fun because this was in Iowa. The only Spanish speaker I knew was Maria on Sesame Street. Little did I know I would end up in South America teaching school. That Spanish 101 came in handy, although for the first two weeks I survived on “arroz con pollo” because that was the only food phrase I knew.

Some of the skills we resisted learning turned out to be the most handy. In our junior high, all the girls had to take a shop class, and all the boys a homemaking class. With a surprising minimum of shoulder punching, we learned to make tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and to sew our own aprons, complete with pockets and belt. To this day I can sew on a button that won’t fall off.

In college, to fill that pesky PE credit, I became quite adept at bowling, badminton, and paddleball. Some of my favorite electives were the dance classes, including ballet. Who could know one day I would do a turn as Herr Drosselmeier in The Nutcracker (happening this weekend at Fredericksburg Theater Company, by the way).

Some skills came from working our first menial jobs. That is the real value of being waitresses and fence builders and house painters and manure scoopers. You not only pick up handy tips like how to crimp barbed wire, use a paint roller, or drive a manual transmission, you learn to put up with mediocre co-workers and abusive bosses–all handy in whatever field you eventually enter.

Sometimes the learning happens “while doing something else.” As a road musician, I learned how to change spark plugs and set the timing on my ’68 Ford Station Wagon, sometimes while standing on the side of a highway in Tennessee (thank you, Bill Smallwood).

Of course there are those skills that never serve any purpose. I have yet to capitalize on my ability to ride a unicycle.

Everyone reading this can think back to similar situations that as a youth taught you a basic skill that turned out to help your career or improve your life in ways you couldn’t anticipate. I guess the lesson is to not stop learning new things.

Life is just a stack of useless skills, until you use them.

John Davidson: Exposed

Nov 6, 2019–Back in my road band days, a singer I knew was accepted to attend John Davidson’s Singer Summer Camp–a place for young entertainers to learn how to perform on stage. It was exciting to know someone who knew John Davidson. After all, John Davidson was “a star” in the 1970s–a Broadway leading man,Continue Reading

Wrangling Worms

Oct 30, 2019–Get along, little wormy. Now you can be a real Texas rancher, and all you need is a plastic bin with a lid. Your livestock? Mealworms. Crispy, juicy, squirmy morsels that chickens can’t resist and lizards leap for. Hill Country worm herder Janell Reyenga will be teaching a class on how to raiseContinue Reading

Diagon Alley: Lighting lives

October 22, 2019–As with many a Halloween decorating scheme, this one started with a simple idea that got out of hand. In five years a few floating candles have blazed into a full-blown reproduction of the magical Diagon Alley from the world of Harry Potter books and movies. Amanda Pace, a colleague from my TexasContinue Reading

Communitas: Restoring the lost art of civil dialogue

Oct 16, 2019–So much of our daily communication is cocktail party conversation without the cocktails: shallow ramblings about the weather, recent medical procedures, or political rants. The words may serve to lubricate the hub of the social wheel, but seldom set any wheels in motion. Quite the opposite happens at Communitas, a monthly gathering ofContinue Reading

Will’s Creed

Oct 9, 2019–If I asked you to write your Creed–to make a list of 25 things you believe to be true–what would you write? That’s the assignment Fredericksburg Middle School teacher Kacey Forks gave to her Pre-AP English students. She had learned of the idea at a previous district, Clear Creek ISD. “I was drawnContinue Reading

Just Do It. Or Don’t.

Oct 2, 2019–One of the great aphorisms is “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” I hew to my own version: “Do it, or let me do it. But don’t help me do it.” When someone is performing a task, I tend to step back and let them get on with it. While thatContinue Reading

Things that sting

Sept 25, 2019–In one 12-hour period I was stung on the bum by a scorpion, zapped on the forearm by a red wasp, and stepped barefoot in a trail of fire ants. It was exhilarating, in a hurty sorta way. And it’s not like I was Indiana Jones-ing. The scorpion got me in bed, theContinue Reading

The Third Thing

Sept 18, 2019–At the risk of being obvious, my topic today is avoiding the obvious. Let’s begin with comments on social posts. Why are most of them “obvious?” (my live-in editor said don’t use the word “lame”) Because they are literally the first thing you think of. The post usually contains a word that triggersContinue Reading

Picture imperfect

Sept 11, 2019–Photography is dead. With today’s technology, you might think it would be the opposite. Because, for the first time in history, with the advent of smart phone cameras, every single human being holds in their hand the ability to take a perfect photograph. Yet rather than raise photography to an art, as itContinue Reading