I want to learn new life skills. Starting points?
July 24, 2014 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I am looking to learn or become better at skills that would make life easier for me (fixing a car, cooking, DIY, things like that). To that end, I'd like to learn of some starting activities for various skills which could act as training wheels so I don't feel overwhelmed by all of the things there are to learn. Enjoyable hobbies (like chess, drawing, etc.) are more than welcome as well. An example of what I am looking for plus some extra details inside.

For example: learning how to "fix cars" sounds a little intimidating to me. But if I can first learn some bread-and-butter activities from someone with experience fixing cars, such as "You should learn how to change a tire first, then move on to this, then blah blah blah..." it sounds a lot easier to digest.

Or for cooking - instead of "learning how to cook," I'd like to hear "focus on oven top cooking first, and try making this dish, then when you get that down, then try making this, then this..." slowly ramping up the difficulty.

I'm hoping this makes sense! I'm sincerely interested to hear of some starting points for skills/hobbies that I can pick up from MeFites. Useful, fun, unique, rewarding - any and all hobbies or skills are game for me. Thanks in advance.
posted by BuddyBoo to Education (15 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
Learn to tie knots. There are great apps for smart phones now, and a million how-to books, and it's amazing how useful it can be.
Start with simple hitches, bowline, sheeps bend, fisherman's (barrel), and the 8 knots. You won't be disappointed, and you will impress someone along the way with your resourcefulness.
posted by maleru at 1:30 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out Learn Code the Hard Way, and if you need to start smaller, The Command Line Crash Course.

Learn to bake a basic fruit pie. There's a million different recipes out there, but once you know how to make a basic pie, you can adapt it and improvise with different ingredients. Pie is also way more forgiving than other types of baked goods. I like this recipe, although I recommend swapping out half the water for unflavored vodka (keep it in the freezer too!)
posted by inertia at 1:34 PM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Fixing cars is getting pretty advanced, what with all the computerized gadgets and such. You can learn to change a tire, an air filter, oil, oil filter. But beyond that, unless you're working on a '72 Mustang, you'll need to be a technician. Anymore it's actually cheaper to go to an oil change place than it is to do it yourself.

I learned how to do stuff around the house. Go to Home Depot, every week they have different workshops that highlight different DIY projects. Learn to tile, or install a bathroom faucet, hang a light fixture. It's so empowering.

For cooking my mom always said, "if you can read, you can cook." We started out with The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, the modern counterpart is America's Test Kitchen Cookbook. Just pick out a recipe, read it, buy the stuff and follow the instructions. Really, there's no more to it than that! Both cookbooks have step-by-step instructions with pictures, you can't screw it up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Soup is a good "entry-level cooking" thing. It's pretty simple to grasp what you need to do to make it (99.9% of soup recipes involve heating up some chopped onion and vegetables in a little oil first, then dumping everything else into the pot and heating it until it's hot), it is more friendly to improvising when you get more comfortable ("ooh, I wonder what would happen if I put in a turnip instead of a potato here?"), and is forgiving if you space out for a few minutes (it's not like soup is gonna burn or anything).

And yet there are so many different kinds of soup that it's a good way to get used to all sorts of tastes and flavors and ingredients. And it can be a good healthy nourishing cheap meal - soup, a salad, and a nice roll on the side and you're good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:42 PM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

My husband is a great chef and I've been learning how to cook from him. He learned by hanging out with somebody who really liked cooking.

Chances are, if you make friends with someone who likes cooking, they're going to invite you to homecooked dinners. Offer to to show up an hour or more earlier, to help them, and then they can show you how to cut the vegetables. Or exactly how dark "golden brown" is. Or how to decide if a mango is ripe.

For me, the easy things to cook are various pasta dishes. The pasta is always cooked the same and you just have to worry about getting the sauce right. Pesto (if you have a food processor), marinara and caprese are the easiest versions. Alfredo is harder. Carbonara is very finicky. The great thing about pesto is you can make it ahead of time and then eat over multiple meals. Or remake, if you mess it up.

If you want to get fancier, add a side of fish or salad. For me, I prefer oven baked fish (rub on spices, wrap in foil, put in the oven). For salad, you can make your own salad dressing by mixing olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and just a bit of mustand.

Then you can make dessert (the chocolate souffle is actually pretty easy, if you have the right tools, but looks impressive). Or get a vitamix (or similar) blender and make sorbet from frozen fruits.
posted by ethidda at 1:44 PM on July 24, 2014

Learn to knit and/or crochet. Also, sewing. There are tons of websites and videos that will show you the basics. Once you have the basics under your belt, the world is your oyster because being able to mend and/or make your own clothing/accessories is a skill that is very helpful. Also, there are generally groups in most areas where knitters/crocheters meet and they'd be happy to help you learn.

Also, coding. It's a good skill to know. I found Code Academy a good place to learn the basics of how code.
posted by patheral at 1:44 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

For cooking, I'd say watch a few youtubes on basic knife skills first -- how to chop and slice and dice. Jacques Pepin is my personal fave. Being able to quickly prep ingredients is the key to incorporating cooking into a busy life, changes it from a slog to something enjoyable. It'll take some practice, but once you have it you have it forever.

Beyond that, I'd pick a recipe you like and start by learning how to cook that. As a new cook, every recipe will have techniques you're unfamiliar with, so you want to start with something where you're at least familiar with how it's supposed to look and taste at the end of the process. Learning how to judge "done-ness" for the various stages of a recipe is the toughest part of learning to cook, and unfortunately recipes can be a bit vague on this point for a newbie. Make sure you pick something simple, though ----
marinara sauce is a good one if you like Italian food at all.

Also, get a digital probe thermometer. Cheap ones are like $10, and it will help a hell of a lot if you're cooking meat especially.

Learning to cook well is all about learning techniques, but it's hard to say which ones will be most relevant to you because it depends on what you like to eat. So it's probably best to just start with a few recipes you know you like and go from there.
posted by maggiepolitt at 1:48 PM on July 24, 2014

Do you rent or own? If you own, why not look around your house for repairs you could potentially do a DIY basis. Google some of them or better yet, look them up on YouTube. One of the more familiar AskMe patterns I see as a regular reader here is "[Thing X in my home] is broken/needs repair and I am intimidated; is this really a thing I can do? If so, how?" followed by "Fixing it is pretty simple, actually, just do [A, B, and C.]"

Even if you're renting, you may have stuff that needs fixing. Look around. Whaddya got?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:58 PM on July 24, 2014

So, I've been living away from my cooks-every-meal, Thanksgiving-for-20, mega-star-planner of a wife for almost a year for work, trying to to figure out how to feed myself. I've slowly ramped up from really basic frozen meals 4 nights a week, baked potato 2 nights a week, etc... to making roasted brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and pan-seared pork chops last night (on a week night! Without really stressing about it! ... Until I realized I don't have a potato masher, but that's ok, just a bit more milk, and two forks worked). I have cook books and am able to follow recipes, but in my mind, the hard part of cooking isn't following a recipe, it's getting a meal together that makes sense and so that all the hot bits are hot and ready at the same time. I started with really simple stuff-- roasted veggies in the oven, microwave baked potato, overeasy egg -- because it's relatively straightforward (Veggies roast for 20min? baked potato for 5? egg takes 4? I can Do That). I've probably made this same basic pattern once a week for the last year, changing the veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale) and the potato (russet, yukon gold, sweet), sometimes adding onions and mushrooms I saute before or after the egg. Also, Williams Sonoma has free technique classes. These can be hit or miss, depending on how familiar the instructor is with the material, but overall the 6-8 I attended were useful and gave me ideas on how to expand my cooking repertoire.

Learning how to talk to people is another useful skill I've been working on lately (Again, living alone, away from my sociable wife, so trying to make friends without a wingperson for the first time in 8 years). This is mostly being friendly, smiling, and listening well. I've talked to people at the bus stop, and yeah some of them hit me up for cash, but most people just seemed to want someone to talk to for a little bit.

Self sufficiency in general-- be confident in reading a map, know how to use the mass transit in your area, removing stains from clothing, sewing minor tears or hems... also makes life easier. I'm naively confident with a needle & thread, so am willing to tackle tears and hems I probably shouldn't. Lately, the underwire in an Expensive Bra keeps popping out, and I keep trying to darn the hole shut so the underwire stays in its home. Even if I do this every time I wear it, the $.01 in thread I'm using each time (and the satisfaction I get in not throwing out a should-be-perfectly-good bra) is totally worth it to me. (Although darning athletic socks is a fool's game, use them as dusters and toss 'em out)

I knit, and I like the idea that I take some yarn and turn it into something more. It's easy to start with a simple scarf. At this point, every project I add to my queue will have at least one new technique-- next up is lace! -- either included in the pattern or a new join method or cast on or bind off I intend to use, but you can make totally functional scarves or potholders or hats or fingerless mitts without delving too far too fast.

Choose one or two of the software applications you use every day, and google '$SOFTWARE tips' or '$SOFTWARE howto' or something. There are probably things you could be doing in a more efficient way, or ways you could be using your tools you haven't thought of.

I'm no mechanic, but my wife & I are now comfortable changing tires, replacing wipers, replacing headlights, checking fluid levels, adding air to tires, jumpstarting ... these are all minor things that are easy to learn.

Bike maintenance is another thing you can ramp up slowly. Check tire pressure and brakes every time you ride, lube chain every week or two (or after wet), learn how to remove the wheels and change the tubes... I still take my bike to a shop for a checkup and to true my wheels about once a year, and paid for an expensive fit when I started riding more.
posted by worstname at 2:40 PM on July 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

I also came on here to recommend learning how to sew. I took a class through a local fabric shop and really enjoyed it. It's not as easy as it looks, but I ended up being able to make a really nice tote.

You could also learn some public speaking skills through an organization like Toastmasters. I've always wanted to try that, but haven't yet taken the initiative.

And if you want to learn vehicle repair on a simpler vehicle than a car, buy yourself a motorcycle! They're still pretty simple to learn to drive (driving well takes more time to learn though) and do most repairs on. I loved working on my bike as well as riding it.

As a wild card, I also would recommend learning how to throw or handbuild pottery. I took a class 15 years ago with my SO that has led to a career in pottery, so I'm a little biased, but it was loads of dirty, dirty fun from day one.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 2:45 PM on July 24, 2014

For cooking, it's helpful to have a basic reference on hand. There is always Google, but I still sometimes consult my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for basic recipes or skills. My mom gave it to me when I moved out bcause she didn't want me to starve, and it's been pretty useful. (I'm a pretty decent cook now.) The dishes might not be all that exciting, but as someone mentioned upthread, it's good to start with dishes you know.

America's Test Kitchen is a fun way to learn more about the science of cooking. The schtick: Pick a classic dish, and then try to discover the way to get the best results. This often involves kitchen science! And each recipe they feature gets a long explanation, so there is basically no mystery in how it's prepared. There is also a segment on comparisons of kitchen gadgets.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:01 PM on July 24, 2014

When my oldest son was little, he thought cooking was really scary and complicated. In his teens, I taught him how to make baked chicken and he was shocked at how easy it was. When I later had a corporate job, he ended up taking over all the cooking (and chased me out of the kitchen -- he didn't want me touching anything anymore except for doing vegetable prep).

He says "Cooking is just heating food. That's it. And if it wasn't poison to begin with, it probably won't be after you cook it."

Things made in a deep frying pan on the stove top are usually a good beginner place to start. So are baked recipes that allow you to do 5 or 10 minutes of prep work, stick it in the oven, and basically forget about it for an hour.

For baked chicken, you can put a little water in the bottom of the pan, put pepper and paprika (or whatever other seasonings you prefer) on top, add a bit of butter and stick in the oven. If you want a super easy side dish with it, you can add a few baby carrots and new potatoes (cut the larger ones, if necessary) about thirty minutes before you expect it to be done. My son used to only deal with the baked chicken part and I would add potatoes and veggies halfway through. One day when I was really sick and deep asleep, he added the potatoes himself by just adding all of the smallest new potatoes we had. They will cook in the butter and drippings in the bottom and have plenty of flavor.

My son does not deal well with timers. But he has a better sense of smell than I have. I taught him to smell the food. If it smells good, it will probably taste good. He stopped worrying about his lack of sense of time and he just keeps track of his cooking based on what it smells like. He is a better cook than I am (though he sticks to less complicated than recipes than I used to make -- still, it is all delicious).

He also learned to pick fresh ingredients in the produce department based on what smells good. He doesn't know all the tricks I know for determining what is ripe, fresh, etc but he has learned to trust his good sense of smell. It has worked well for him and it helped him develop confidence.
posted by Michele in California at 5:21 PM on July 24, 2014

If I were you, I would look around to see what kind of extracurricular classes were available in your area. The things you sound like you want to learn are all pretty hands-on. Try adult schools, arts/crafts places, whatever extension classes your local colleges might offer.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:54 PM on July 24, 2014

I learned so much from Good Eats. It currently runs on Cooking Channel if you have cable. It might be available other places where old time ship robbers lurk. *cough* Alton Brown is awesome. He also has a web series on YouTube now.
posted by kathrynm at 5:59 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Buy a Haynes manual for your car (this series has photos of the engine and step by step instructions) and practice checking the oil and other fluids.
posted by yarntheory at 2:56 AM on July 25, 2014

« Older How to de-mold an air conditioner?   |   Why did Google stop working? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.