Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

On Camp Fire Girls and “13 in 13”: Getting a bead on old fashioned, practical skills

camp fire girlsI adore perusing old books, especially those that give clues to vintage style, home life, work life, traditions, manners–all things vintage, really.

One of my favorite finds is a 1925 edition of The Book of the Camp Fire Girls, published by the national headquarters of The Camp Fire Girls, Inc. (now called  Camp Fire USA), Glancing through the manual, I’m amazed at some of the skills these young ladies were encouraged to accomplish. Flying in the face of the popular misconception that girls were trained for little but housework, Camp Fire Girls were encouraged to study state-of-the-art technology (“Construct a crystal radio set.”  “Be able to send and receive 10 words a minute in the International Morse Code.”), care of children and the sick, care of pets and farm animals, first aid, signalling and knot-tying, fire lore, outdoor cooking, camping out (“Pack a horse and tie a squaw hitch.),” map and trail making, weather lore, backwoods craft (“Cure the skin of a snake or of a furred animal”) and handcrafts such as basketry, dyeing, bookbinding, leather work, photography weaving, carpentry, and metal work. There were nature units (plant and bird identification, astronomy, wild animal study), business skills units (including thrift and what we would today call recycling and “green” living), citizenship and patriotism, and faith (“Attend any religious service ten Sundays in three months.” ) As a reward for fulfilling tasks, the girls earned colorful beads which were sewn onto their uniforms (similar to Girl Scout badges, I imagine).

How different this approach is from today’s emphasis on training for specialized careers and not much else. After all, with a good income we can simply hire someone else to take care of the practical business of living–can’t we? It may be time to rethink our outlook on self-sufficiency.

We’ve become a nation of incompetents, unable to fend for ourselves in such matters as repairing instead of tossing, making instead of buying, and relying on cleverness instead of cash.  To truly thrive, we would do well to restore a lot of the skills and knowledge our ancestors took for granted. With a dour economy and a volatile world situation, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to manual, practical skills like those listed above–some would say “vintage” skills–in order to become more self-sufficient and stretch my resources. These are skills our great-grandmothers and -grandfathers knew, like carpentry, sewing, baking, gardening–pretty much all of them easily recognizable by the Camp Fire Girl of 1925.

These useful, practical skills are not necessarily the doomsday preparations some folks make them out to be; they just make good old-fashioned common sense.  This very day in rural North Idaho we are being pummeled by a blizzard. Having the skills to prepare for such an event and not have to worry about an empty pantry or a cold house makes all the difference.

After moving to this rural area six years ago after a lifetime spent in a  major metro area, where all the conveniences of “town” were a short walk away, I’ve been slowly adding to my “vintage” rural-living skill set, sometimes with great bursts of enthusiasm. But what about those times when I’m less than enthusiastic about learning something new?

Back to the Camp Fire Girls and their beads. That got me to thinking . . . wouldn’t it be great if adults could earn beads or badges or some sort of pat on the back for learning new skills? The skill is its own reward, of course, but how much more fun would it be to learn how to, say, raise chickens or sew a skirt if we received tangible rewards that we could accumulate and brag about?

Hurrah! That’s where “13 in 13” comes in. “13 in 13” is almost like a bead or badge reward system for grown ups. Developed by the Survival Podcast, 13 in 13, according to the website, is “designed to help people learn skills and improve their independence, self-sufficiency and marketability in a society rapidly losing touch with such things”

After creating a profile at 13skills.com,you choose which 13 skills you want to work on (there’s a lengthy list at the site’ you can also suggest your own), then you report back throughout the year as you achieve each skill. When you do, the white stars on your profile turn to red. You collect red stars as a Camp Fire Girl collects beads! You’ll also be encouraged to participate in a forum of like-minded individuals and families, all seeking to add 13 new skills to their lives by the end of 2013.

What does “achieving the skill” mean? You get to set your own criteria. For example, to someone accustomed to eating fast-food meals “achieved”  might mean learning some basic cooking techniques. To someone else who already knows his way around the kitchen, it might mean taking cooking to the next level, experimenting with new techniques or ingredients.

There’s a lot more information at 13skills.com. Check it out today, and let me know what you think.

As for me, my thirteen skills will include canning, fitness, nutrition, home maintenance, organization, plant identification, foraging, sewing, gardening, carpentry, hiking, herbal remedies, and learning how to shoot a gun. I’ll say more about each of those areas as we go along, and keep you posted on my progress.

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