Lessons Learned as a Child

Jars of canned goods in the pantry.
Colorful Jars of Home Canned Vegetables

Most of what I learned about self-sufficiency was done while I was hanging around my mom, aunts and uncles.  My grandmother was one of thirteen children.  My mother had ten brothers and sisters.  I have 4 sisters and three brothers. It’s a large family, but it’s a close family.  We have always spent lots of time together. As a kid, much of it was spent gathering, gleaning, cooking and eating.  I didn’t realize I was learning self-sufficiency, I just knew that if I wanted to be in the kitchen I needed to make myself useful.

The earliest lesson that I remember happened while my mom and her sisters were canning concord grapes.  My uncle had a neighbor with an overabundance of grapes.  My mom had teenage brothers who needed something to do on a Saturday afternoon. So she sent dad with the boys off to pick the grapes while the women got ready to make jelly and jams.

Since I was only 8 years old and my sister was 11, our job was washing the jars.  There were dozens of jars that had been brought up from the cellar.  We worked in a back room of the house with two tubs.  She washed and I rinsed.  It was also the job for both of us to feel the top edge of the jars to make sure there weren’t any nicks or cracks that would prevent the canning lids from sealing.  Once the jars passed our inspection, they were taken into the kitchen where they were boiled to sterilize them and filled by the adults.  It may seem like a lot of work for an 8 year old, but I still check my canning jars this way because of the lesson I have always remembered.

Getting kids involved early is key to teaching life long lessons.  Kids are naturally curious about what the grownups are doing.  Kids WANT to be included in grownup activities. There are oodles of ways to bring your kids along on the road to self sufficiency.  It’s never too early.

  • If your kids are the kind who enjoy water, set them up washing jars to prepare for canning.  Let them help wash the dog or the car.  It may end up in a water fight, but those are great fun in the summer!
  • If they like making mud pies, teach them that making bread or pie crust dough is similar, and let them try it out. Even a preschooler can help roll cookie balls (and unlike PlayDoh, you can bake and eat the results).
  • If they like picking flowers, give them a small plot or row of their own in your garden and let them take responsibility for the tending, watering and weeding.
  • If your kids who are the kind that like to read and figure out things, introduce them to recipe books and let them choose what is going to be made for supper.  It will help them practice reading as well as teach valuable math and science skills.
  • Do you have an animal lover at your house? Let them take charge of the pet care and update you on the health of the critters – keeping records like the veterinarian.

When you include kids in your activities, at their skill level  and with ample encouragement, you are opening up a whole new way of communicating with your child. They learn that adults sometimes make mistakes or have failures and have to figure things out differently.  You are creating an environment where your kids can try, succeed (or learn that failure isn’t fatal) and grow.

As the harvest progresses and the canning/freezing season is upon us, there is an opportunity to teach the value of starting early to make a great Christmas.  By canning and collecting the summer fruits and vegetables, you can fill your cupboards full of basic things like corn, peas, beans and jelly.  You can also  try special recipes for treats like  green and red colored pears, spiced apple rings, green tomato mincemeat and peach pie filling.  Then when it comes time to put together a gift basket for a teacher or putting on a Holiday dinner, your child can proudly say “I helped to make that!”

Is there any greater feeling than “real” accomplishment?  I don’t think so!

If you have stories about your self-sufficiency lessons or any questions, please share them by adding your comment to this post or contacting John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Christmas, a Time for Family

It was about this same time last year that I was preparing to shut down for the holiday season. Every year I look forward to this time of unplugging myself from all of the technology that entangles me the rest of the year. In fact, I wrote about it last year in Learning to Unplug. Taking time off provides a change of pace, makes life more enjoyable, and gives you purpose.

I was also looking over the poetry I’ve published in my blog in the past. I hope that you’re able to take time to read Christmas Remembrances and that you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Christmas truly is a time of remembrance—a time to think of what is past, what is today, and what may come tomorrow.

For the first time in a long time, Rebecca and I will actually be able to travel a bit this holiday (day trips, but travel anyway) and we plan to see some of our family during the holiday season. It’s my sincere hope that during this time of Christmas that you’re able to spend time with family and friends—that you take time to reflect a bit and unwind from your work. If you’re traveling, as we are, please travel safely and don’t be in rush to get wherever you’re going. Your family will wait and will most definitely want you to arrive safely, even if it means arriving late.

I’ll be back online on January 3rd this year, which is a bit sooner than normal. If you send me any e-mail, please be assured that I’ll answer it as quickly as possible when I return. In the meantime, please be patient and check out the blog posts for your book. It may be that my blog already has the answer you need.

Thank you, one and all, for the support you’ve lent me this past year. Writing technical books wouldn’t be very enjoyable without caring readers. You’re the reason I continue to work as hard as I do. I look forward to working with you on some amazing new ideas this upcoming year!


Review of Telestrations

It can be hard to come up with a game that isn’t boring, that everyone in the family can play, and that doesn’t take forever to play. Telestrations is a game that fulfills all of these requirements and far more. My sister has said that Telestrations has turned into one of her favorite games and I must admit that I like it quite a lot too.

The basis behind Telestrations is simple communication. You get a word that you must draw on a pad that is issued to you. It actually helps if you aren’t very artistic. I don’t think the game would be quite as much fun with a group of artists as it is for those of us who are a little lacking in drawing skills. After you draw your word (not letting anyone else know what it is), you pass your pad to the next person. That person looks at what you have drawn and tries to guess the word. He/she writes the word down and passes the pad on.

The third person draws the word that the second person guessed. After creating this new drawing, the third person passes it onto the fourth. The cycle continues until you get your pad back. Because each person has come up with a different interpretation of your word, the results are hysterical. You go back through the drawings and guesses to see what sort of journey your original word has taken.

There is supposedly some means of keeping score and determining a winner, but we haven’t actually ever done that. The fun is in seeing what other people come up with. The results really are quite humorous at times. However, as far as I’m concerned, the best part is that everyone is talking to everyone else and everyone is having a great time.

Unlike a lot of games on the market, this one is completely reusable. Except for having to replace the drawing pens at some point, once you buy the game you have everything needed to have a great time. The pads are plastic coated and work like white boards. The kit even comes with some special swatches of cloth for wiping off previous drawings. If you’re looking for a good time at a family event where the event is held in the house, you really do need to check out Telestrations.


Dealing with Digital Addiction

It may sound odd coming from a guy who has written 87 computer books and over 300 articles, but I think the world has a severe technology addiction that’s going to cause us significant woe at some point (assuming it hasn’t already). Obesity, people who think cable television is a basic necessity, the need to have a cell phone constantly attached to one’s ear, and all of the other negatives commonly associated with a digital addiction today are only the beginningthings will get worse. Don’t get me wrong, technology definitely has positive aspects and it has a role to fulfill in the modern world, but I think we’ve gone way too far (and I’m sure we’ll go further).

One of the best ways in which technology can help is to level the playing field for those with special needs. In fact, anyone who knows me knows that I have a very special place in my heart for those who have special needs and can be helped by technology used in a positive way. However, it’s often the technology developed for people with special needs that seems to hurt us the worst (think of the television remoteit mainly started as an accessibility aid).

I read a PC Magazine commentary by Lance Ulanoff this morning about digital addiction and a book that will help you with it. Most people don’t need a bookthey need a reason and a plan. You can’t combat anything that you’re not convinced you need to combat. Some people are incredibly happy being addicted to technologyI feel sad for them because they’re missing out. If you make your entire world revolve around technology, you’re likely missing out on real friends and relationships with family. You’re also missing out on a vast range of experiences that have nothing to do with technology. However, unless you see that you’re missing out on these things, nothing that I or anyone else says will convince you of anything. So, you need a reason to deal with a digital addition.

If you finally do come up with a good reason, you need a plan. When I gave up smoking years ago, I had to find a way to fill the vacuum. I immeditately went to a vape shop an bought a 18650 battery for my e-cigarette. I knew that smoking was very bad for my health and using an e-cig seemed like a much better option for me. It made quitting smoking much easier, I have to say. The same is true for people who drink in excess. Some choose to go to luxury alcohol rehab to help resolve it. This is a great way to overcome any addiction, but especially things like smoking, drugs and alcohol. Of course, if things are severe and you have a particularly strong addiction to alcohol or drugs, you may need to contact the team at Enterhealth for professional help. But on a smaller scale, replacing what you crave with something much healthier is a great way of going about it. My way of dealing with the addiction is probably uniqueI bought some running clothes and a new pair of shoes. Every time I wanted a cigarette, I went for a run instead. For about a month, I actually ended up sleeping on the couch in my running clothes because it was easier than having to get dressed to address an urge in the middle of the night. After about six months I found I had lost 20 pounds and that I felt extremely good. So, something positive came out of getting rid of those cigarettes.

My own technology addiction came sometime after I left the Navy. It seemed as if my wife couldn’t pry me out of my office under any circumstance and that I couldn’t enjoy any activity that didn’t somehow involve my computer. I was constantly worried about missing somethingthat some event would happen and I wouldn’t be available to deal with it. (If this sounds at all familiar, you likely have a digital addiction too.) I’m not quite sure when it snuck up on me, but it did. As with my cigarette addiction, once I realized I had a problem (my weight skyrocketed and I felt terrible), I came up with a plan to deal with it. I started including daily walks in my regimen, spent time with my wife playing board games, going to shows instead of watching television, went on picnics, started working with wood, and took time to enjoy events at the park. My mother-in-law helped by getting us an annual pass to the zoo. All of these things are part of the plan that fills the void so technology doesn’t rule my life.

The battle to contribute in a positive way to the world and yet not let technology rule my life is ongoing. You’ve seen my posts on self-sufficiencythat’s part of the plan. I don’t carry a cell phone, don’t worry about the messages in my inbox or on my answering machine, and think about things other than writing. Twice a year I shut everything offthe computer doesn’t exist for that time intervalmy wife and I get reacquainted. As a result, I’m happier and healthier than I have been in many years. If you find that you can’t leave the technology at home, unplug, and not feel any remorse about doing it, then you have a digital addiction and I encourage you to find both a reason and a plan for dealing with it. Let me know your thoughts about digital addiction at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.