How I Strengthened My Homesteading Skills Wherever I’m At

This week I had the opportunity to visit my family in my hometown in the depths of Southern California and it’s quite a change from our quiet little life in rural Idaho! My family lives in a very large city, on-the-grid and buys most of their food from the grocery store (with the exception of a CSA box and some farm-fresh eggs from a family member)… how could spending a week in Southern California strengthen my skills as an aspiring off-grid homesteader? Well, let me tell you!

Hello LA! What could you possibly teach me about living on an off grid homestead? Quite a lot, actually!
Hello LA! What could you possibly teach me about living on an off grid homestead? Quite a lot, actually!

Let me start off by stating that living off the grid and building a home from scratch is difficult. It’s not the endless work that is hard, but it’s not having a foundation of this type of knowledge to make projects go smoothly. While Jesse has a great foundation in construction, home improvement, plumbing, electricity, water and mechanical stuff such as car engines, I didn’t know much of anything so to this day, seemingly small projects are a challenge for me.

That said, I choose not to be a victim of my lack of knowledge. Prior to a few years ago, if I was presented with the opportunity to learn a new skill that I likely may never use (like learning about how engines work), I would run the other way towards something I did like.

Working with Jesse to build a homestead is almost a daily challenge because my lack of foundational skills.
Working with Jesse to build a homestead is almost a daily challenge because my lack of foundational skills.

Since we decided to embark on this journey a few years ago, I have decided to rewire my brain to be a student of life, learn new skills, and more often than not be working on things that would help me to have a better future. For example, I quit rock climbing three times a week and traded it in for something that was still fun yet would open the doors to a potentially better future – making money online. In the end, I was still doing something enjoyable yet one only resulted in buff arms where the other eventually resulted in complete location-independence and ultimately self-employment.

Catch my drift? All activities are not created equal.

Finding Opportunity to Better Yourself Wherever You Are

What I really want to share about this trip is that I more than ever realize that there are endless opportunities to grow as a person wherever you are at. We frequently hear people say “I can’t wait until _______ so that I can live a simple life and maybe start a homestead of my own”. What not all may realize is that anyone can start today at working towards their dreams.

Believe it or not, I can learn skills in the middle of a large neighborhood in one of the most populated areas of the United States that help us on our sleepy little remote property in rural Idaho. The biggest discovery of all is that I could have been learning skills all along to help us on this journey and had I started opening my mind to new knowledge even earlier than I did, this journey would have even fewer headaches.

Whether we are in LA, on the road or even sitting by a river, we always find ways to learn and kill two birds with one stone!
Whether we are in LA, on the road or even sitting by a river, we always find ways to learn and kill two birds with one stone!

When you feel further from your goals than ever, ask yourself the question “What can I do TODAY, wherever I am at, that will help me take one baby step closer towards achieving my dreams?” You just may find that there is something you can do, big or small, to make progress.

Southern California Project #1: My First Canning Project

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for months is learn how to can food. We bought a Presto canner at Goodwill for $15 months back, but still have yet to use it. There are a few reasons why we haven’t started canning and they are as follows: We haven’t yet found a really awesome deal on bulk food that needs canning for storage, we don’t have an outside cooking station, we don’t have THAT much water to conveniently play with, and there are more important projects to worry about for the time being.

We bought a bunch of canning equipment a while back but it hasn't been convenient to practice at all!
We bought a bunch of canning equipment a while back but it hasn’t been convenient to practice at all!

That said, spending time in California is time completely away from our property with endless water, electricity, CSA produce and my loving mother that loves kitchen and food projects! Why not take advantage of the circumstances and take on my first canning project with my mom (and her second canning project I think)?

Spending time with family and learning a new skill - what's so wrong with that?
Spending time with family and learning a new skill – what’s so wrong with that?

We looked through some recipe books and decided to tackle blueberry jam together. Water bath canning really is straightforward, but it’s one thing to read about it and another to do it. It was as easy as I thought, we shared a lot of smiles and laughs, we made a couple rookie mistakes and in the end not only did I spend precious time with my mother, I learned a skill that will help Jesse and I to preserve food for our family!

Feels so good to have one canning project under my belt, even if it's done in the big city!
Feels so good to have one canning project under my belt, even if it’s done in the big city!

There is an endless amount of food prep to be learned and practiced just about anywhere you are, and some of these skills are probably easier to learn with endless water and electricity, hah!

One more canning photo because I'm excited. Can't wait to give these away as gifts!
One more canning photo because I’m excited. Can’t wait to give these away as gifts!

Project #2: A Fun Electrical Project With My Dad

The next opportunity I found to strengthen my homestead skills while in the big city was fixing my flat iron. I was using a flat iron to curl my hair when the cord touched my leg and shocked me – getting shocked by 110-volt AC electricity hurts! But I’m kinda happy that it happened because now I know what it feels like!

Who knew that such a small amount of exposed wire could hurt so badly when you accidentally touched it?
Who knew that such a small amount of exposed wire could hurt so badly when you accidentally touched it?

Instead of getting frustrated, I asked my dad who is an electrical engineer if he would be interested in helping me fix it. He loves electrical projects and I knew he would also love to teach me a new skill.

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My dad happened to have lots of cords lying around and he helped me use an electrical tester to figure out how to wire the new cord to the old, how to use an awesome new wire stripper that we may have to add to our homestead toolbox, how to twist and solder the wires together, and then how to use a shrink tubing to cover up our work.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to learn new skills while working alongside my dad.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn new skills while working alongside my dad. Believe it or not, fixing my flat iron in LA will help us to wire our house!

Even though small electrical work isn’t new to me, it’s still something that intimidates me so I look for small ways to practice and strengthen my skills. Electrical work big and small is surely something we will continue to do for years to come on our homestead and this one project boosted my confidence, even if just a little bit.

Project #3: Germinating Sunflower Seeds

Believe it or not, food is one of my biggest passions in life. Although I have spent an extreme amount of energy on food in the past trying to find the perfect diet for myself, we don’t spend a large amount of our energy on food at this moment in time. However, there are a lot of things I’m passionate about doing one day food-wise so when I’m visiting my family, I use that as an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen!

This trip, I happened to see the cookbook Nourishing Traditions on my mom’s bookshelf. I’ve heard lots about this cookbook as it focuses on a more traditional, old-fashioned, NOT politically-correct diet, so I decided to take a peak.

I was reminded how healthy sprouted nuts, beans and grains can be and also how easy it is to sprout things, so I started a science project in the kitchen since my mom already had a sprouting jar.

We continue to look and practice small ways we can enhance our diet, and when we're away from the property sometimes it's a great time to do just that.
We continue to look and practice small ways we can enhance our diet, and when we’re away from the property sometimes it’s a great time to do just that.

This is something I could do in Idaho on our homestead, but again, we have very little bandwidth for new projects at the moment. Being away from the property gives me time to focus my energy on different projects that may not help us today but may help us in the future.

Spend Time Wisely & Learn New Skills, Starting Today

I think many of us would agree that it seems we never have enough time to do what we want to do. Work gets in the way, chores, errands, eating, sleeping, relationships, exercise and even entertainment. What I really want to share is that it’s critical to be both a wise investor of your time and to continue to be a student of life.

Wherever you are, ask yourself “Can I learn anything from this? Can I benefit from this situation in any way?” and many times, the answer is yes. I’m not suggesting that we need to be learning new stuff 100% of the time as that gets exhausting (trust me, I know this more than anyone!) but for me, it’s critical that I be mindful of opportunities to learn rather than turn a blind eye to them otherwise great opportunities will pass me by.

No matter how far you are away physically or logistically from your own homestead or goals, look for opportunities to learn even if it means reading a book while you're waiting for your flight at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport)!
No matter how far you are away physically or logistically from your own homestead or goals, look for opportunities to learn even if it means reading a book while you’re waiting for your flight at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport)!

There is no better time than the present to take action because the future never gets here – it’s always the present! Don’t start learning new skills to help you achieve your goals tomorrow – start today!

Get involved!

What do you think? Do you look for opportunities to learn everything you can from whoever you can? Do you consider yourself an excellent student of life or do you feel it is a struggle to constantly learn new things? Is there a time when you’re really happy you took the time to learn a skill that came in use later on down the road? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

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Comments

  1. Anna says

    Just wondering if I am in the UK therefore need to use amazon.co.uk to purchase does that still go through to you or do you need two links one for .com and one for .co.uk? Loving the posts and want to help!

    • says

      If you’re in the UK then you’d need to use a UK link. We do have an account with the UK… if you click on any link on our “homestead tools” page, it should redirect to the Amazon for your country and we should get credit! We may update our support us page to make this option obvious even though most of our viewers are in the US.

  2. John Brunton says

    Canning – good for you! It teaches you to be resourceful. I put-up strawberry jam two years ago and was astounded by the amount of sugar going into it! Taste good though… The same experience when we put-up peaches (we froze those).

    My wife doesn’t share the same level of enthusiasm over canning but she is a good helper. I’m still learning – such as what to plant and when so as to be able to have enough produce at one time to fire-up the canning process. A hand-full of tomatoes or a small basket of green beans doesn’t cut it. You need bushel baskets of the stuff and have it come on all at once, and it totally consumes your time while doing it. Picking, snapping, canning beans can occupy hours and the more hands helping the faster the process. It was easier when the kids lived at home.

    Keep the progress flowing – truly enjoy the updates!

  3. Holly says

    Were you anxious to get back to the homestead after spending time in California? How did the change of pace feel?

    • says

      Yes! It’s lovely to spend time in family but in the end, we LOVE living where we do. It’s crazy to be in the woods for a year and then be dropped back into the middle of a big city where very few people have the desire or understand what it means to strive for self-sufficiency. The change of pace was nice to put our project in perspective and in the end, I’m happy that I don’t miss the city when I visit, but have a new appreciation for the journey we are on! I’m excited to put the work shoes back on and get dirty building ourselves a home!!

  4. says

    Enjoyed hearing about your ah-ha “life-learner” awakening…it’s my entire motivation for teaching children homesteading & domestic arts skills. I’ve been a life-learner since I was learning to crawl; in fact, at one time my parents were concerned that I would spend my entire life taking classes and pursuing degrees, LOL But what I truly enjoy is just LEARNING! In fact, I was gifted with my first Inkle Loom today and I will be teaching myself to weave some bookmarks, belts, etc. So exciting! Anyway, just wanted to give you a virtual high-five; KUDOS on optimizing your city visit! Blessings!

    • says

      That’s so awesome Tess! It’s great to be a life-long learner… I think many stop when they are out of official school because they think they don’t need to learn any more! Have fun with your loom, sounds like a fun project to immerse yourself in! High five right back atchya!

    • Karen says

      It starts with a small loom. Next thing you know, you’re getting a spinning wheel and re-learning how to knit! Seriously, though, spinning, weaving, knitting, and sewing are all good skills to have even if you don’t use it as a hobby.

      • Tess says

        It’s so funny you should say that, Karen…learned to knit and crochet at age 3 to 5, but just this summer ventured into sock-knitting, which I loved. HOWEVER, fiber has grabbed hold of me, so I taught myself to drop-spindle–at age 58, mind you, Alyssa…and am now awaiting delivery of my very first spinning wheel, due any day, whoohooo!! <3

  5. Ty Tower says

    Not much to learn in LA except stay out of it whenever possible . Good to visit the olds though and necessary too for mental harmony . They invested a lot in you that gets laid on the wayside of life but comes back on you as you grow older . They are the only parents you have and they taught you all the basics you know by heart but don’t realise as they are built in. Nice

  6. says

    I am 76 and I started learning homesteading skills when I was 3.
    I love to share the knowledge and skills with others. There are many times I could share if someone could spare the time when I need an extra set of hands but their life is to busy.
    Offer to help with others projects and extend your family and source of skills.

    • Ty Tower says

      Hans the first rule which it sounds like you have not learnt yet is not to expect something in return. Younger people could use your advice and probably need it but they want it for free. I have found that if you give it freely at the start they will feel obligated later to give some back . Well say 60% of them anyway. You will get a lot of satisfaction from them and the others , that’s just the way of the world isn’t it. I’ll listen , what would you like to talk about first.

  7. says

    I am currently in SoCal and we’re planning to get out. This was a great tip. I’m already into canning and gardening (food is my big things too) and working on passive income; but, I do have to admit to shying away from some jobs that could be helpful down the line. I’ll try to change my mind frame about that a bit. Thanks for the challenge to do so!

  8. lifgrenj says

    The canning jar lifter need to be reversed to be safe. The metal part goes around the part of the jar just below the lid ring. The parts with the black covering can then be held together with one hand, and jar is more secure. The way shown in the picture is likely to slip and is awkward.
    I would prefer it if this reply could be private, just to you, so delete at your convenience.

  9. Suzanne says

    Alyssa, you remind me of me a few years ago. Growing up in apartments, I never gardened. After getting married and moving into a house, I started with 3 tomato plants….now our veggie patch is 11′ x 70′. I was hesitant about canning, and confused about how to use the jar lifter……I’m guessing that is a staged picture. Have a pair of oven gloves handy. You can sterilize your jars in a 200F oven, this cuts down on some of the “steaminess” in the kitchen. We don’t have air conditioning, so every little bit helps.

    Your jam looks GREAT.

  10. Amanda says

    Hello! Watching your YouTube vids and Facebook, I feel like we are kindred spirits! lol My boyfriend of 9 yrs and I live in Los Angeles and are in the process right now of looking for land in rural Idaho (where he is from) to start the process of living off grid. Same reasons as you guys. Not preppers, just nature lovers and adventurers and wanting to be self sufficient. We should meet up for a drink the next time we are in Idaho! Thanks for your channel. It’s truly helpful and exciting!
    -Amanda Lynn Hills

  11. says

    That is great you got to get some learning opportunities with your family. Awesome your mom and dad had skills to pass on to you that can be useful in your homestead.

    Something a lot of folks forget, is having elders to pass on wisdom and knowledge is a big part of homesteading. If you don’t have elders on your homestead, look to your neighbors and the community to see if you can find an elder who can share some wisdom and knowledge in exchange for maybe some of your youthful abilities.

  12. Jessika says

    Hang in there (says a former So-cal girl who now has a small urban homestead in Oregon)! You’ll be amazed at what you learn in just a couple years. Feel free to email at any point with canning suggestions as well as other food storage needs. We’ve honed what we do over the past many years, and we have our needs pretty much down pat at this point. The new addition in the past year is a GOOD dehydrator (we previously had been using a cheapie one and the difference is astounding). The learning curve continues. :)

    (oh, and you probably realized this, but it looks like you are using the canning jar tongs wrong. Hold the tongs vertically over the jar. Then put your hand on the black handle part to open the tongs and slip the blue rubber part over the top of the jar. Then grip the black handles tight to make the blue part grip. The blue grips the part of the jar just below the ring!)

    • says

      Hey Jessika! Thanks for the tip on the jar grabber! I’ve since figured this out and YES the difference is wild! What brand of dehydrator did you go with? I parted with a cheapie about three years ago because I was moving and had to sell basically everything but I’d like to not get another cheapie… I’m all about investing in my kitchen and food prep stuff. If there is a Vitamix of the dehydrator world that would be an awesome one to buy! I’ll let you know if we need suggestions, but if we don’t reach out directly, feel free to leave us tips! We’ve already learned A LOT in a few weeks and I can’t imagine what one would learn in a couple of years. Canning is so addicting!!!

  13. judy says

    ?Why not go with a homemade dehydrator? I haven’t made one yet but seen them on An American Homestead.. they spent a lot of money but i really don’t think you have to spend that much. and also on Doug and Stacy they bought a solar oven… I want to make my own so I don’t have to spend the money. My sister has me trying to make a hougleculture garden… it is where you dig a trench and put sticks and old wood and then dirt and mulch and water it and then the next year plant your garden over it…it is very fertile and doesn’t take much water after the first year. I have a raised bed on an old wagon (with flat tires) and I had my husband help me put some re-bar over it so I cover it in the spring and fall and lengthen my growing season.. I also hang some old rain gutters over it on the rebar for strawberries…I live in Minnesota so I have to take the strawberries and put the gutters in a shed so they don’t get completely frozen out. Just a suggestion, but for me it works. I also stuff as many plants in it as possible and put strips of newspaper (with soy ink) laying different ways (wet is easier to handle) between the plants so I don’t have many weeds… that incorporates into the soil and fertilizer helps too. It also helps hold in the moisture. . which I have a soaker hose imbedded if I really need to water and it only takes a few minutes to water and not that much either. Good luck

  14. says

    I was born in raised in Compton, California. My grandparents farmed in what is now part of the huge Los Angeles sprawl. I learned about farm life and canning from her. I didn’t move off-the-grid until after I retired and had a lot to learn on my own. I don’t have any family left there, but we go back every year for college sports. I’m so glad I don’t live in that hustle and bustle any more. – Margy

    • says

      Hey Margy! I’m happy you’re not in the hustle and bustle as well! Wow, I’d love to see the early days of Compton! That’s great to have learned skills from your grandmother, and hopefully you have the chance to teach those skills to others as well!

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