A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.
Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
OK, so Home Ec 101: Skills for Everyday Living doesn’t teach you how to do ALL of that, but it comes pretty darn close, and this was the quote dancing through my head as I read through it.
Those who know me have heard me go off, at beautiful length, about how I think all high schoolers should have to take a Home Ec course that goes beyond how to sew a skirt and roast a chicken. (I also think they should require a basic course in car maintenance, FYI. All women should know how to change a tire.) Teens should learn how to do the practical, everyday things that we really need to do as adults with households to upkeep: how to fix a running toilet, how to remove wallpaper, how to diagnose what’s ailing your dishwasher, how to get the dog pee smell out of your couch. Heather Solos addresses all these issues in her awesomely retro Home-Ec-in-a-Book, and does it with a style and verve that makes for an enjoyable read as you’re being totally schooled.
Now, I knew I was going to love this when I came across a passage early on in the book discussing what to consider when choosing cleaning products, and Heather footnotes:
The three Rs of environmentalism are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, not Run-Out-and-Buy-New-Crap.
YES. Sing it, sister.
The book is divided into four major sections: Clean It, Wash It, Fix It, Cook It, with a handy-dandy appendix for reference and (double YES) an index. It drives me batty when info-heavy works like this don’t provide an index.
For someone that isn’t writing from a strictly green perspective, Heather is surprisingly eco-minded. I love that she touts green methods like vinegar and water for the toilet simply for being practical and effective. (Triple YES.) I also love how she doesn’t encourage super-sterilization; often these sorts of titles cater to germaphobes. Nope, Heather Solos says,
Back to wiping, next up is the rim. Any cleaner that has splashed up from the bowl will make this job easier. Remember, it’s just cleaner and water from the bowl, not actual body fluids, don’t be a baby; hands wash.
That’s just awesome.
Heather explains what different cleaners are and how they work, which I thought was crazy useful. She gives pointers for delegating household chores. She addresses real-world questions like how to clean diarrhea from a carpet (dude, it happens), how to properly clean pillows and how to care for a butcher’s block table (this was something I’ve wondered about). I have read a lot of cleaning books doing research and this one is really fantastically thorough.
Extend the life of your clothing! This section includes a table of common and not-so-common stains and how to remove them, deciphers care instructions, gives tips on repairing and altering your clothing, offers advice for conquering the laundry mountain, and answers questions like, “Does an extra dirty load of laundry require extra detergent?” A veritable treasure trove of little-things-I-wish-I-knew-offhand-but-don’t.
Well, in this department I have a confession to make. On our first date my now-husband unclogged a shower drain that my roommates and I had been battling unsuccessfully for days, and that was when I knew he was a keeper. (We were 19. At 19, the ability to take apart plumbing is like magic.)
So, I don’t fix things. Jeff does. But if you don’t have a Jeff, you might find this section detailing vital tools to keep in your toolbox, troubleshooting a troublesome washing machine, vacuum maintenance, leaky toilet seals, picture hanging, fixing small holes in your walls, and yes, unclogging drains, to be useful. It’s not comprehensive by any means, but hey, this is Home Ec 101. Check out your local Home Depot for more in-depth titles.
When did cooking become a lost art? It’s a shame. I find that a lot of people buy cookbooks about comfort foods or French foods or whatever, and they’re doomed from the start: the recipe will ask you to braise something and you’re like, huh. What’s braising? Confidence shot, you make chicken fingers again. (I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything.)
This section starts with the basics: terms, necessary equipment, techniques, pantry staples, and my favorite, the answer to the question “How do I get everything done at the same time?” It then moves into meal planning, substitutions, and recipes. (The Home-Ec 101 website has TONS of recipes. It also offers cleaning schedule reminders, sort of like the FlyLady but without! all! the unnecessary! enthusiasm and punctuation!) Quadruple YES.
Specialization is for insects, folks. We should always aim to learn to do those things that will put us on a path to self-sufficiency, if not for the simple reason that it’s nice to feel capable, then for the cost-effectiveness of the thing.
Think of how many times you’ve hired a plumber for something you’re pretty sure you could do yourself, if you only knew how. Think how many take-out meals you’ve eaten because you’re tired of the meals in your repertoire or because your grocery-shopping trip didn’t stretch you through the week. Think of all things you’ve thrown out because you figured it was irreparably stained or because the zipper was broken. This book can help you become a jack-of-all-trades and quasi-master-of-some. That’s a good deal in 200-some-odd pages.
Home-Ec 101: Skills for Everyday Living is available on Amazon for a mere 13 bucks or so. I whole-heartedly recommend it, it’s fantastico and Heather’s sense of humor is adorable. Gift it for your favorite graduate! Tell ’em how much money you’ve saved them in the long run. They’ll thank you when the dog pees on the couch.
Disclosure time! I was provided a digital copy of Home-Ec 101 from the One2One Network for the purpose of review. It was in PDF form and I could not get it onto my Kindle to save my life, if anyone can help me please let me know.
I received no compensation for this post, and as always all long-winded opinions are mine alone.