7 Steps to Becoming an Expert in Anything

Unfortunately, I’m no expert in anything, But my dad and my great Uncle Arthur, those two were experts. 

Uncle Arthur on my mother’s side was a gardener of herbs who was well-known in our area, especially in Fisher, La. where he lived. His garden was a seemingly wild array of plants that looked like weeds to my untrained eye.

Such is life, I think, to the untaught.

Uncle Arthur would often come visit my dad, bringing gifts, most notably a bay tree that failed to thrive. My dad was enamored with the idea of herbs too. He was an expert on chickens, and he was always looking for ways to improve their health and vigor. Dad had the best chickens in the area and Uncle Arthur had the most prolific herb garden, and  both entertained visitors from afar regularly who came to buy or just to visit and perhaps glean some information. 

As their friendship grew, they each developed an interest in the other’s field and spent quite a lot of time together talking, sharing information and appreciating one another’s knowledge. I wish that I’d had the foresight to sit in on more of those conversations and really listen. 

I know better now, what makes an expert: years of research, experience and practice. It takes quite a lot of work to become an expert. My problem is that there are so many things I’m interested in, I don’t seem to have the time to become an expert in any one. 

Research done in 1993 indicates that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert. That’s 416.66 days of deliberate practice, focus and challenging yourself to know and do better in a particular field. 

When I start adding up all the things I have to do: sleep, work, eat, grooming, laundry, cleaning, errands, driving, family time, etc, I quickly realize I have only about 3-4 hours each day to devote to becoming an expert in anything. 

Work, then, becomes the thing you focus on: if you can align your work with the thing you want to learn about, well then, you’ve got it made. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to do that with a couple of things: I’ve been a paid writer, so I’ve spent many hours on that craft and consider myself well above average. 

The time I’ve spent at home raising our goats, cows and chickens in order to progress the farm and our food sustainability has lent me some level of expertise in their care. The same can be said of handling fresh milk and dairy products as well as growing, preserving and using vegetables and herbs.

In essence, then, becoming an expert requires that you devote yourself to a particular subject or activity. That’s an interesting word: devote; devotion. Has a religious ring to it, doesn’t it? In fact, it is religious. Devotion means “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause; religious worship or observance; prayers or religious observances.”

I might also add that devotion requires you to overlook your own discomfort in order to express it. Sounds a lot like sacrifice, doesn’t it? Why must it be uncomfortable? Why must we sacrifice our comfort to become experts in anything? 

It’s uncomfortable trying to become an expert in anything because it requires you to be in the zone of proximal development for a large portion of your time. Put simply, becoming an expert requires you to leave your comfort zone and exist outside of it for long periods of time. 

To get into the learning zone, you must first identify someone who is an expert, or is at least more expert than you, and then begin learning from that person: doing what they do and failing at it and then trying again. 

So becoming an expert also requires that you learn to cope with failure, which is itself a skill that requires some level of expertise. Here are some tips.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that becoming an expert in something often requires that someone else makes sacrifices as well. For instance, I could not spend time studying, writing, observing and experimenting, if my husband were not at work, earning the money necessary for us to live. 

A willingness to accept the sacrifices of others is an important element of obtaining any quest. That might seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to take that step. Primarily, if you accept the sacrifice of others for your own good, then you must also be willing to sacrifice for their good. And there is the rub. 

When someone has sacrificed for you, and you’re not willing to return the favor, you have little peace. Without peace, you can’t focus on those things you want to learn. In order to obtain peace, you must be united with the person who has sacrificed for you. The only way to unite is to sacrifice your own self-interest for the good of the relationship. 

It’s not just a quandary, it’s a paradox. And it’s where we get hung up the most. Jesus said it best, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, this is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:24. 

At a moment’s notice you must be willing and able to put all that you want aside, possibly to never attain it, for the sake of the other person. All that you want must always be in second place to the person who has sacrificed for you. Without that mindset, you will always be at odds, never at peace, and never able to focus on the quest. 

In human terms, always being willing to sacrifice what you want means you might not ever get what you want. So what’s the point? Many people conclude that there’s just no use, and they spend the rest of their lives in a state of turmoil, refusing to give up their quest, but also unable to move or be moved. 

But then there is the spiritual side of it. Realizing your quest also requires faith. 

Even though you don’t see how, you must also believe that loving another to the point of giving up what you want, is also the only sure way to get what you want. 

You must believe that your quest is NOT more important than the other person’s well-being; that your happiness, your own well-being is tied up in the other person’s well being, that, in fact, that person’s well-being is really what you want above all. 

You must believe the paradox. In short, you must accept, not just accept but be grateful that somewhere along the way, your quest became overshadowed by love.

So, to recap, to be an expert in anything requires the following: 

1. Time and devotion to the quest

2. Ability to sacrifice your comfort

3. Ability to learn from others

4. Ability to cope with and learn from failure

5. Ability to accept the sacrifice of others

6. Ability to sacrifice the quest for others

7. Faith that sacrificing the quest for love does not mean the end of the quest

Sounds like the plot of a good novel….

Or a good life.


Growing Plants in Water

I recently made the remarkable discovery that a number of herbs and other plants can be grown and rooted in water. This was fantastic news to me because it solved what seemed like a host of problems for me and provided other benefits as well. 

1. I’m cheap at heart. Rooting plants from current stock is a money-saving endeavour. 

2. Keeping plants in water saves me from remembering to water them and saves them from me forgetting to water them, a chronic issue. 

3. Keeping plants in water is an excellent use for the many glass jars from the grocery store that we cannot bring ourselves to discard, thinking they will be useful, when in fact, they only sit on shelves gathering dust and in boxes we trip over. They now have a use on window sills holding plants. They’re prettier that way too. 

4. You can use pond water to up your growing power, because there are many more nutrients in pond water than in tap or bottled water. 

5. If you use pond water and also make sure you capture a couple of snails, you have critters you can visit daily or several times throughout the day to see what’s happening without actually leaving the house. There will likely also be teensy, unidentified critters flitting around in there. If you’re like me and my middle son, this is endlessly interesting and entertaining. 

6. If you know other people who like plants (or who take delight in critters like my son and me), you also have a great gift idea.

7. If you’re really enthusiastic, you could create a self-sustaining aquarium garden

8. Growing plants in pond water on a window sill can help solve the winter time blues and give your spring and summer garden a head start. 

I’ve always known that some plants can be rooted in water. My mother got me started on this when I was kid.  We rooted pothos on the kitchen windowsill and also made terrariums with it. When I got married, I bought a pothos and used it for decoration in the wedding. The plant is still alive 20 years later and has several offspring, some of which I’ve given as gifts, always explaining that I’ve kept it alive since the day Kenny and I got married. It’s a commitment, but, like true love, a pothos is hardy: tolerant of neglect and nearly impossible to kill.  I’m looking forward to being VERY old one day, pointing to that plant for my great grandchildren and giving them a lesson in staying power. 

I also knew that English ivy could be rooted in water, as I’d given it a go during my single days, and shocked myself when it not only grew, but put out suckers and climbed my wall when I wasn’t looking. 

But who knew these other plants could also be rooted in water? Not me! In all, there are about 85 plants you can grow in water, many of them edible. This should keep me busy all winter!

Here’s a general guide: 

1. Visit a pond and take a sample of water, at least as much as you need to fill your jar. I use my garden pond, where I grow duckweed for my chickens. The pond is usually full of snails and other tiny creatures. In the spring, it’s home to lots of frogs and tadpoles, too. If a little duckweed gets in my jar, no problem. Just adds to the ecosystem.

2. Take several cuttings from your plant, about 3-6 inches each. Remove the lower leaves and put the stems in the water. Here is something I’ve learned, the fewer leaves (or surface area) the new cutting has to support, the better it can survive. So, go as small as you can. It’s a balance between cutting away the superfluous and keeping what is absolutely needed for photosynthesis. Set the jar on your windowsill. My first time around, I took cuttings from all the plants I had planted outdoors that I knew would die in the coming frost. I had lots of small bouquets from each plant, and even had several mixed bouquets of parsley, stevia, basil, and lavender.

3. Monitor the water level, adding more as needed. 

4. Monitor root production. Some of your cuttings might die. You should probably remove these. You might want to pot the cuttings that have vigorous root growth. 

5. You might also want to stick with the water system and simply harvest your leaves!

I’ll keep you updated on how mine’s going. 

Aquarium Gardens…oh my!

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I discovered the wonderful world of Aquarium Gardens. It’s a tiny world, with only a couple of people in it, I think, but there’s room for more! So far, I’ve scratched the surface, but as time and money allows, perhaps I’ll go deeper. It all began when I started wondering about what plants would grow in water. Turns out, quite a number! Here are a few that I had already been attempting to grow in soil:







Chili peppers

These are all plants of mine that would have died this winter had I not taken cuttings and put them in water. I’m not sure what made me do it, but I scooped up some of my pond water (where I’m growing duck weed) to use as the water. This has proven to be very interesting, as there are little critters in the water: snails, larva, and something that flits around that I haven’t identified. (maybe female rotifers?) The pond water is much more fertile than simple spring or dechlorinated tap water. 

I currently have stevia, ivy, basil, parsley and chilli peppers growing in water. All of them, after a couple of weeks, have tiny root hairs and/or little leaf buds. Hopefully, this spring I can replant them outside. It’s a nice little system: plant them outside for the growing season, harvest as necessary. Then bring in cuttings for the winter. 

I’m a sucker for systems. Make it sustainable and I’m all in. And that’s the great thing about this little project: it’s sustainable. Supposedly, the critters eat the algae that grows, and then the critters produce nitrogen (in the form of poop) that the plants (including algae) use to grow. The plants also put oxygen into the water.

A little research has revealed that with bigger jars, you can graduate to bigger critters, such as fish. Dwarf guppies and endlers can. be sustained in gallon jars, while a 2-gallon jar would suffice for a beta, from what I read. I haven’t gotten that far yet. My middle son and oldest granddaughter have expressed interest, so I may try to make one for each of them. I’ll keep you updated.

On the mend and finishing touches

My little red hen seems to be improving daily. Her limp is almost gone. However she is still a little weak. I integrated her with the flock for a few minutes and only the young rooster picked on her, I think because he though she was his best chance at mating. She set him straight very quickly, but it took a lot out of her so I separated her again. Will give her another week of recovery.

I also removed the splint from the doeling with the broken foot. She had begun to put a little weight on it and I’d set a time period of 10 days based on research I did. She too is recovering nicely.

I’m also putting finishing touches on the chicken run. The cross ties at the base of the run were not quite long enough, so Kenny made little bottomless boxes that I can put soil into and plant annual vines such as cucumber or gourds, providing summer shade.

I’ve painted the boxes bright colors with spray paint. If I were an artist or knew one who could do it quickly I’d have the coop painted as well with bright colors.

Chicken musings

The garden is coming up: mustard, turnip radish, buckwheat and carrot. Still waiting on spinach, chives and cilantro.

Hauled in more compost materials for the chickens this morning. They are machines. The run has a nice layer of straw now.

Last night Kenny switched the far doors around. They opened to the back inside, which made it difficult to open them once I started hauling in compost materials. We had to wait until the chickens went to bed so none got out. My five youngest chickens, four pullets and a cockerel hatched last spring, were the past to go in. They were very reluctant for some reason. The last two I tossed in because it was already so dark.

I find it extremely relaxing to watch the chickens scratching. And I’m not the only one.

Rainbow the kitty loves it too.

I moved the hen who was attacked by Sheba out into the open. Every time I checked on her she had moved to a different spot inside the tiny coop where I had her. Now she is standing nicely. I put her in the run with the other chickens yesterday to see how she did. She can move around okay, but she was having to run from the others picking on her so I pulled her back out and put her in a pen next to the run where she can visit and be around other chickens without risk.

Yesterday while I moved her new pen, she stood outside the run and communicated with one of the other hens, who would pick up straw and drop it and cluck at her. The little red hen alternated grooming herself with standing still and watching and occasionally talking back.

She has a pretty strong will to live and I think being around other chickens strengthens it.

She is a hen who loves to scratch in compost. Usually when she sees me with a pitchfork or shovel she is hot on my heels and very attentive to whatever I turn over. I hope that she regains the use of her legs.

Splinting a broken foot

Little black goat kid has a broken foot. I’m guessing Coco stepped on her. The goats rush to share the cow food every evening. She was fine before I fed. I heard her scream and went to check on her and her foot was floppy. I wrapped with self adhesive wrap, splinted it, and then wrapped again. I just hope it’s not too tight. I don’t really know how to tell. I gave her a bc powder and crushed up vitamin c, dissolved in water. Shot it down her throat with a syringe. She is able to move from one spot to another.

The injured doeling with her splint. She is hopping around fine by day three after the injury and the pain seems to have lessened.

Supposed to leave splint on 10 days.

I get all my info for goats from Pay Coleby’s Natural Goat Care. It’s an awesome little book.

I also have her book on cattle.

My favorite book for goat care.

I am still enamored with Fort Clux. I just hauled in a pile of ruined hay and the chickens are working it over, spreading and turning it, looking for food: insects and seeds mostly. As they continue to work it, it will break down into fertile soil for the garden, which I will plant directly in this run after I rotate the chickens out.

The chickens work over a pile of ruined hay. It keeps them entertained, feeds them and provides me with fertile soil for planting.

Today I broke up the opposite run for a fall garden: I plan on putting in mustard, turnip, radish, carrots, cilantro, chives, lettuce and spinach.

My fall garden spot.

The Turkey will find a new home today. He is quite the bully, probably because he wants a mate. He tortures the hens and hogs the roost at night. The new coop and runs are not ideal for him. So I’m taking him to the auction today.

The Turkey has to go. He is headed for the local auction today.

This is the first of several culling decisions I will need to make with my new set up. I’m not sure what the perfect number of chickens is, for eggs, compost, meat and replacement stock, but I look forward to figuring it out.

Loving Fort Clux

The new chicken coop/run is awesome. After hauling in some pine straw, cow manure, persimmons and kitchen scraps, I’ve sat and watched the chickens for a few hours.

Several thoughts have occurred. The enclosure simplifies making decisions about culling. I know who is the bully, who is at the bottom of the pecking order, who is stressed out and who is laying. There’s trick to that I’ll talk about in another post.

In addition, I can plant a fall garden in the extra run immediately. When the garden is done producing or I’m tired of eating from it, I can rotate the chickens in and plan a different garden for the space they’ve just vacated.

The chickens are currently in the south run.
Soon I’ll plant a fall garden in the north run. When I’m done eating from it, I’ll rotate the chickens into it and begin planning a garden for the south run.

As Dev pointed out, I can also use the extra space to raise chicks if need be. Or, I can use it for selective breeding.

The possibilities are exciting, for sure.

Dust to Dust

I picked up two wheelbarrow loads of compost material this morning. As I was working I pondered the nature of compost.

The word “compost” can be a verb meaning “to convert (a material, such as plant debris) to fertilizer” or a noun, meaning “a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.”

To me, compost is an illustration of how God works:

“By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19 | NASB

God is the father of composting. He is constantly stirring things up, repurposing, and making things anew out of that which is old, dying and dead.

Only God can make beautiful things from dust.

The song “Beautiful Things” by Gungor asks the question “could a garden come out from this ground?”

The answer is always yes.

I think, from God’s perspective, we are both the ground and the crop that He grows.

He allows the chaos, crap and mess of our lives, that decaying matter of life, to layer on top of us, to bury us beneath the load until we can’t breathe, can’t see our way clear, can’t survive, at least not the way we are used to, not the way we want to.

Think of any horrible situation: death of a loved one; loss of a job; financial ruin; betrayal; broken relationships. It really doesn’t matter what the situation is. It all becomes material that will condition us, fertilize us for the next season of growth.

It is both unbearably harsh and comforting at the same time to know that God will use the awful things of life to make us beautiful.

Scones anyone? 

Church this morning. Took Coco out on a rope and she enjoyed some grass in other places. She reminds me of a big puppy. She came up to me earlier and bumped me with her head and then hopped up, like she was going to put her hooves on my shoulders. I pushed her back and said no. Later I put a rope on her and led her around the yard, letting her sample grass. If she thinks for even a second I have food she will follow right on my heels, sniff my backside and lick my arms and hands. Really she is too big to do that. 

She and the goats are approaching a truce. They are hanging out closer together. She is drinking all their water and likely stealing some alfalfa pellets now and again. She likes the little pasture. 

She has eaten over a pound of calf starter for two days in a row. On Wednesday, she will be 12 weeks old. 

Took pics of Celine and Star’s offspring to share on Facebook with Anne, from whom I bought Celine and Star. 

During evening feeding Dev said he heard peeping from under a hen. I did not. Chicks are due to be hatched Wednesday. Some could possibly come earlier. 

One of the Buffs is laying. I caught her in the act today. There were six in her nest and the other game hen had four in a nest on the ground. I had thought the game hen had begun laying in the nest. Maybe she laid one or two there. I combined the eggs in hopes one will go broody and to prevent the ones on the ground from getting wet in the coming rain. 

How have I never made scones before? It’s basically a biscuit recipe with goodies added to it. Super simple. And you don’t even have to drop them, though you could. I baked a cinnamon pecan batch in an iron skillet like a cake. Yummy. 

I see this becoming a breakfast staple. 

We got a bit of rain today, close on the heels of me planting turnips and beets in the little garden. Kenny dug up most of the potatoes yesterday. I think there are about two rows left. I planted 1.5 rows of beets and 4 or 5 rows of turnips. 

That will make good food for us and the animals. What we don’t eat they will. They devoured the potato tops.