Monday, April 23, 2012

Why Does This Man Sew, Cook, Quilt, and Bake?

...The short answer is: because I want to. I like to make things, and I want to make things I can either eat or use.
   I'm good at sewing, cooking, quilting, and baking. Damn good, actually.
   Many men who like to make things work their magic with tools. They build things out of wood, or stone, or metal. I think those things are cool: wood thing, stone things, and metal things. I've made chess sets from molten lead, but that's not the same as using power tools and things that make sparks in order to create things with metal.
   Believe me, I would if I could, use wood. Wood just isn't my medium. I've never made anything successfully with wood. I even managed to screw up my pinewood derby cars when I was a kid. Wood is unforgiving. If you cut off too much, you have to punt. Metal is worse. The tools guys who work with metal use can mess a feller up pretty good if he makes a mistake. I'm good with mistakes. I'm good at covering mistakes...but not if I can't find my fingers.
   Besides... My wife won't let me play with tools. I'm not complaining about that. I married a smart woman, and that's probably one of the reasons I've lived as long as I have. She'll let me play with tools, but only because she's good at first aid and knows how to laugh when I scream.

But this isn't about that. It's about what I'm good at doing.

I'm good at sewing, cooking, quilting, and baking. I have the touch. I make dresses for her sometimes, and other garments too. When I make something for her, it fits her like it was made for her. Know why? Because it was made for her. Needles don't care whether the person pushing them is right-handed or left-handed. Sure, I had to learn to make the stitches the opposite way the books said to make them, but any left-hander worth his salt can do that.
   I find cooking just about anything to be pretty easy. I think talent comes into play. Some folks just can't cook. I don't know what they do wrong, or what I do right, but I'll tell you this (without fear of bragging as those who eat my food can attest), when I cook something, it's going to be good. That could have something to do with the fact that cooking, sewing, baking, and quilting are about the only activities in which I participate where I follow directions until I know what I'm doing.
   Through the Boy Scouts, I learned to cook over open fires, campfire stoves, grills, and on one notable Zippo lighter. I didn't learn how to use a stove and an oven until a long time after I learned how to make a pizza in a dutch oven in the middle of a forest.
   I didn't learn how to use a sewing machine until after I sewed many, many patches on my uniform by hand. I learned how to crochet (and made a blanket or two) before I learned how to thread the bobbin on a sewing machine. I made my first shirt by hand, and didn't make one by machine until about ten years later.

   Baking came after I quit drinking, and I was looking for short-term projects. I suppose baking bread by hand counts as a short term project, compared to writing a novel, or making a quilt (by hand) of over 4,500 squares of fabric. I've only ever screwed up one baking project--which turned into a weird sort of soup in a pie crust that was supposed to be banana cream...but I've learned since then.

   I'm a believer in knowing what you're good at, what you want to be good at, and what you'll never be good at. A lot of it has to do with what you want to be good at, but not all of it. I can say with certainty I'll never be a good woodcarver. Part of it is that I'm unskilled with wood, but the bigger part of that is that I don't want to be skilled with wood. I admire woodwork, but I don't really want to create it.

   Know what I do want? I want a good cherry pie. One made from scratch. One I make from scratch. I want a fancy-pants lattice crust on top, to hold the cherries in. I want to taste that tart cherry pie, smack my lips, and think about how to make it better. That's what I'm going to do tomorrow. I've never made a cherry pie in my life, but I predict the one I make tomorrow will be worth bragging about.
  ...and if it isn't worth bragging about, I'll keep trying until I make one that is.

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