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Quote of the Day: Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 28th, 2011

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier,
not that the nature of the task has changed,
but our ability to do has increased.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It never fails that people often wonder how I know how to do so many different things. It’s not that I was born with the skills to do everything I do – I’ve spent a lot of time and effort learning. Just like you, when I started doing many of them, I had no idea what I was doing. It took much longer and I made mistakes. Sadly that’s where many people stop. They meet one failure or think that it will always take a lot of time and they abandon their efforts. The thing is, if you persist, eventually it will become second nature. It’s not that you won’t ever make mistakes, but you develop a proficiency for that task and you will be able to complete it with less effort, fewer mistakes and a better final product.

Cooking is a prime example. I’ve been cooking for so long that it’s second nature to me, I don’t have to think about what spices to add to the chicken I’m roasting. I know that thyme and lemon will be really great, or sage and butter would also work well. When I make beef, a healthy dose of freshly ground pepper and salt is usually all I add if it’s good pastured beef. When I’m cooking tougher cuts of venison, I usually braise them in wine or bitter beer to enhance the flavor. When I make bread I know what how the texture of ciabatta dough differs from regular sourdough or a sweet roll dough. It’s not that I always possessed these skills. I baked a few sourdough bricks and ciabatta with no holes until I got a feel for the dough. I had some OK chicken until I discovered what ingredients work best. It takes time, it takes persistence, it takes the willingness to try again and again after defeat, and it takes observation to notice the small differences.

The longer I persist in doing these things, reading and trying to learn how to do them better, practicing and learning from my failures, the better I will get. I will most likely never: take a photo with the skill of Ansel Adams, cook a meal as delicious as Ina Garten, paint something as beautiful as a Monet, bake a loaf of bread as good as Peter Reinhart, have a garden as beautiful at Longwood, or write as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson – but that’s not going to stop me from taking photos, cooking, painting or writing. I won’t let the fear of not being great steal the joy of the creative process, the growth that comes from learning and the contentment that comes from being proficient. I believe that our minds are like a pool of water, if we keep them active they stay clean, clear and able to support life, if we stop learning we become stagnate, murky and devoid of life.

What new skills have you been working on or what are you planning on learning soon?

22 Comments to “Quote of the Day: Ralph Waldo Emerson”
  1. Wanda on August 28, 2011 at 6:27 am

    The problem with having so many interests is that it’s hard for a distractable person like me to become a master of any one craft. I’m always wanting to jump in and try another new thing. This summer I took my first swimming lessons–I’m a grandmother. My instinct is to look for the next challenge. My wise side reminds me to continue to refine what I’m already doing–there is such pleasure in becoming better and better at what I can already do.

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  2. Sue A. Nugent on August 28, 2011 at 6:33 am

    Yes,and that’s why there are so many quotes on this topic. Practice makes perfect. If at first you don’t succeed,try and try again.And there are many more that come to mind. I,myself, will try anything once.If the end product does not suit me, I may not try it again,but if it’s something I really want to learn, I will. I’m trying my hand again today,at making fried apple pies. They are for my youngest step daughter’s birthday today. The pies are a big hit with everyone, but when I was working, it seemed like more work to me, but now that I am retired,I don’t mind putting in the time to make them.As a matter of fact, it seems calming to me now to make them .I guess back then, I was just too tired and stressed out from working at my job.Now I’m more rested and it’s not so bad.

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  3. goatpod2 on August 28, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Nice pictures and good quote, we’re working on canning right now.


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  4. Harold on August 28, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Learning to sharpen tools like axes, saws, knives, hoes, shovels, which work a lot better sharp than they do dull, which was their constant state of being before this summer.

    Just learning how to me more self-reliant and have the attitude that you talked about in your post – to be willing to work through my mistakes and be persistant about learning a new skill, instead of giving up when it becomes a little shall we say frustrating.

    Love your pictures


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  5. Tami on August 28, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Well said and beautiful photo’s.

    I’m a novice gardener and canner. I know that time and experience will take me where I want to be but I think the key is “willingness” as you pointed out. You’ve got to want to…it’s as simple as that.

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  6. KimH on August 28, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Wanda, Im much like you.. I have many many interests in Life as well. Jack of All Trades, Master of none.. ;) But thats Ok.. cuz I can do many things really well since I tend to have some perfectionist tendencies and am a fairly well rounded individual.

    Starting the first week in Sept, Im going to be taking a Wilton Cake Decorating class that is held once a week at a local craft store.

    I gifted my step daughter to go thru all the classes last year in Phoenix and this year I decided to gift myself with them for my 50th birthday.

    I thought it would be fun & probably funny too. I wanted to make cute cupcakes to sell at our American Heart Walk fundraiser, but I knew my cupcakes would be far from cute. Next year, I’ll be ready! I hope. Haha! ☺

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    • Susy on August 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm

      My mom took a bunch of those Wilton Cake classes when I was young so we always had super awesome birthday cakes.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  7. KimH on August 28, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Also, just wanted to say this is a perfect post for me to send to young friends of mine who have been asking for help in their life..

    They get frustrated when something doesnt work the first time and they decide it doesnt work.. when all it needs a little bit of time & practice.


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  8. Sincerely, Emily on August 28, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I am with Wanda and Kim H. I can get easily distracted, but in the end, I usually come back to finish what I started (eventually) I do become frustrated at times when trying something new. I am not an avid reader, I do however, learn very quickly when I am shown how to do something. Gram taught me how to crochet snowflakes butr never talked about the name of the stitch or read a pattern in a book. I still learn that way. Now with the internet, if there is something I want to know or learn, I just look it up there. Great tool for that. I like you analogy about out being a pool fo water (body too). I know as I repeatedly do things, the better I become at that task, making all the bread making, canning, outdoor things so much easier and quicker. People continue to tell me “oh if you worked (a job) you wouldn’t do those things” they are SO wrong. Thank you for a wonderful post.Emily

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  9. Konie on August 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Lovely post! I am in the process of learning photography. Physically, I am not able to take classes, but am learning by reading and trial and error. Lots of errors:( But I am learning. Because I am now gluten intolerant, I am needing to relearn how to bake without flour. Frustrates me because I made great pies, desserts and bread, but those skills are not lost, they are helping master gf baking much quicker cuz I took the time to learn baking in the first place. Again, great post

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    • Susy on September 9, 2011 at 8:45 pm

      That’s actually the best way to learn photography – I’ve never taken classes either.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  10. tj on August 28, 2011 at 10:44 am

    …I can so relate to this post. It makes me think of that quote by Henry Van Dyke:
    “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”

    …I think we are a bit hard on ourselves to be successful or master e-v-e-r-y little thing we do, when what really matters is being true to ourselves and becoming successful by our own standards and not by what society deems as successful, and doing so with what we are passionate about and truly love. Sure, I like to still dip my toes in the water and learn something new as I never want to stop learning but I am a bit more choosey in what I choose to take to the next level and truly persue. Like others here I can relate to that term, “Jack o’ all trades – Master of none” but honestly I would like to change that title to “Jack of all trades – Master of at least one, two, or three even!”…lol ;o)

    …Btw, gorgeous photos! And I must ask, is the recipe for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread here on your site? Annnd, do tell at what you are sewing, inquiring minds wanna kno’. :o)

    …Enjoy your Sunday!


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  11. Barbara on August 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I love that cooking comes as second nature to me, and that bread baking is also becoming that way. The skill that I really want to hone is growing my own herbs and veggies – I sometimes feel discouraged, but then I remember the first time I made gravy and it was compared to wall paper paste or how awful my first loaves of bread were. ;)

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  12. Daedre Craig on August 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    A couple years ago I started learning gourd pyrography (woodburning on gourds), but I haven’t worked on it in a while. Maybe this winter will be a good time to get back to it. I certainly have stocked up enough hard-shelled gourds over the last few years from my garden!

    Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

    • Sincerely, Emily on August 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Oh Daedre – it is fun (and addicting) Check out welburn gourds in CA – neat website with online classes and just plain fun to look at. I have gourds growing right now and many in the attic waiting to be played with. Emily

      Reply to Sincerely, Emily's comment

    • Susy on August 28, 2011 at 11:12 pm

      I have a woodburning tool and have been wanting to make signs of quotes – but I haven’t had the time yet. Perhaps this winter I’ll get into it. Love the idea of using gourds – must remember that and I have a few birdhouse gourds in the basement.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  13. Rip Van Winkle on August 28, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Lovely post- Solid. Encouraging.

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  14. Annie on August 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    The newest additions to my repertoire are more fermentation (veg and cheese… already do dough and yogurt) and, in a few months, diapering.

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  15. brenda on August 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I’ve just started making crockpot yogurt/cream cheese, and homemade pineapple vinegar. I’m about ready to try my first sauerkraut, and I have a bunch of other goodies on my list to try. I’m darn close to 60, so getting a really late start, but having a blast.

    Thanks for the great post.

    brenda from arkansas

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  16. Greg on August 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Great stuff, Susy. Well said. I do think we all have some things we can do better than other things, but too often we give up at the first sign of failure (which is really just learning how not to do it). :-)

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  17. Grace on August 30, 2011 at 8:38 am

    You have it exactly right, Suzy. If we try to do everything perfectly, we will never get anything done at all. We can achieve the most when we accept the imperfections and move on to the next task.

    I have spent the last two years learning how to can, not jams so much as meals. I’ve become rather proficient, although my first try with Tattler lids didn’t go so well. I will keep trying, though, until I get that right. This year I made pickles for the first time, which gave me another new skill. There are so many things I want to learn: fermenting, cheesemaking, basic wood working skills, how to drive a stick, pasture management, making decent bread, how to build and maintain fences, goat, donkey and horse keeping, etc. I won’t get any of that under my belt if I don’t dive in and keep swimming until I get it right.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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