Tuesday, May 3, 2016

THE USEFUL BOOK :: David and Sharon Bowers

I was intrigued by The Useful Book, which has a simple yet neat premise, summed up by the subtitle: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop. It's sadly true that practical classes such as shop, home ec, auto repair, and the like have suffered from school budget cuts, right along with many art programs. But in this day and age of Google and, particularly, YouTube, I wondered how the authors, who market this book for ages 8 and up, might attempt to package their material to win over the internet crowd.

I think they did an admirable job. With simple, straight-forward language, lists, drawings, and diagrams, they present more than just how-tos about practical, every day to every-so-often tasks in the following categories: cooking, sewing, laundry, 'domestic arts' (mopping, hanging curtains, getting ink out of carpets), life skillz (tying a tie, setting a fancy dinner table, writing a thank-you note), domestic repair, metal and woodworking, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical.

While providing clear instructions for each task, the book goes a few steps further. Each section starts with a list of items, including images where helpful, one might need on hand to make life easier. Items to have in the pantry, go-to pots and pans, what your basic home tool kit should include, etc...

Additionally, most tasks are then grouped with other relevant information one likely won't find without another internet search. In the "How to Hand Wash" section, the book includes related hints on when to dry-clean and dry-cleaning myths. In the "How to Vacuum" section (easy peasy, right?) you also get good tidbits on trouble-shooting your vacuum, how to vacuum blinds, and whether your vacuum can be used as an air-freshener.

I put the book to two tests. First, I looked at the woodworking section, since that's the area where most of my skills in these areas exists. The toolkit list was fairly extensive, and included items past the beginner level. They were all handy items and not many required much storage space. This section offered sage advice on lumberyards. I was also impressed the authors included the vitally important information that lumber sizing is wonky. Although we all refer to a 2x4 as a 2x4, a 2x4 does not measure 2"x 4". Yeah, as if working with wood wasn't complicated enough. So, well done.

The second test was my favorite nightmare issue: folding the dreaded fitted sheet from the Seventh Circle of Hell. I have watched countless videos on this bastard of a task and unless I lay the sheet out on a hard surface I'm doomed. Even then, I'm fairly inept at it. The videos all go too fast and really don't explain things well. Which corner is corner 3? Does that corner stay inside out or  not? Hell if I can tell.

In any event, The Useful Book presents the process in five steps, each with a small diagram and instructions. Here is my result using the book.

This is after putting all the corners together, which I'm fairly certain I did correctly. The directions aren't bad, and I think I was able to follow all the steps correctly. It thankfully explained whether the corners were supposed to be inside out or right-side in while proceeding. But in the end, this is what I was supposed to lay on a flat surface and "straighten":

Which quickly became quite a confusing task. Where do I begin straightening this pocketed mess? 80% of the sheet is up in one "corner":

 After some "straightening" ( i.e., semi-randomly pulling on stuff):

And some folding:

I don't necessarily call this a win. It's not as good as the result I had from the last video I watched. However, in defense of the instructions, (1) I was using a fitted sheet that for some god-forsaken reason has elastic all the way around and not just in the corner pockets (wait til I find the sadist who came up with this manufacturing gem), and (2) this really may be the thing I am worst at in life. I think if I had a normal fitted sheet with only elastic on the pockets I might have been better off.

Overall, I thought this was a fun book with lots of good, sensible information. It would be a great gift for kids just heading off to college or someone moving into their own apartment/house.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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