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A Freak-Out Kind of Day

by Tara
Lately, building a home feels impossible. Even so, I keep slogging along, not out of hope or excitement or joy, but because I feel shackled to the task. It doesn't feel like I'm living out my wildest dreams, it's more like my life is being held hostage by them.

I've all but forgotten there was a time when I didn’t subsist on cereal and pickles, gas station ice cream, cherry-flavored booze, ramen and cold hot dogs. I used to have a life where I cooked delicious things, had hot running water, a bathroom, and a washing machine at my disposal. It's hard to remember that there was a time in my life that wasn't based solely upon construction.

I miss Tyler. He's busy most of the time with his 9-5 (or 8-6 or 7-7), unable to join me until the end of the day. Trying to build a house without him makes me feel incredibly lonely and intimidated. Not to mention ineffective. When we work together, we get so much more done than I can alone. Not twice as much, more like three times as much. I miss my team.

This morning, when I headed up to the house, I was paralyzed by the never-ending list of things that needed to be done. It was all I could do to be in the space, let alone get anything done. I just stood and stared at the shaggy, uneven walls of our house while my brain assaulted me, listing everything we need to do in an un-ending stream of worry. My heart began to race and tears began to well up in my eyes.

Breathe Tara. Focus on one thing at a time, Tara.

And so I grabbed the weed wacker we’re borrowing from Charlie and trimmed the straw bales on the upper eaves and the upper gables of the cottage, spots I had missed during a previous trimming session. As the loud buzz of the machine filled the air, sending with it a flurry of straw bits…

Tara Trimming Strawbales With Weed Whacker

All I could see was uneven framing.
The rafter I accidentally got too close to while weed-wacking, and thoroughly fucked up.
The door whose paint is peeling already because I didn't know I should sand it before I painted it.
The door trim that needs to be put on. (Affix it before or after plaster? Paint it before or after plaster?)
The box under the eaves that we’ll have to finish sealing with foam before we blow in cellulose. (How does that even work?)
The countless holes that need to be filled.
The thousands of tasks I don’t know how to do.
I’m worried about everything.
The work seems endless.
We will never have a house.
The bales will get wet and will rot away before we’ve even moved in.
It was foolish to build with straw bales in this climate, on this ridge.
We will live in that camper forever.

As I was working, my heart started to race and my breathing became rapid, anxious and desperate. When I realized I was hyperventilating, I let the flying straw settle to the ground, took off my mask, and walked away from the weed whacker fumes so I could force myself to calm down. My rational, focused mind was no longer on the winning side, but it managed to rally for one last battle.

No. Dammit, Tara. One thing at a time. Just keep weed whacking.

I picked up the weed whacker again to finish the wall I was working on. After another few minutes, a fleck of straw made its way under my safety glasses and into my eyeball. This was the same eyeball I recently had a chunk of metal in (from cutting blood lath) that had to be removed by patronizing doctor wielding a miniature ice pick and a tiny drill. Thank god for Tyler’s job with insurance.

While cursing and blinking furiously, I set down the weed whacker and headed down to the camper to flush out my eye with the drops that have become a routine part of my life now. “What’s the matter?” Tyler asked immediately, somehow sensing my upset despite the fact that he hadn't taken his eyes off the screen and is generally oblivious to the entire outside world when he is programming.

In response, I burst into full-on sobbing, and collapsed to the floor of the camper, its crappy linoleum cool against my back. “I just can’t bear to be up there." I said. "I hate it. I hate this project. I hate our house. We’re never going to finish it, and it’s going to be all fucked up before its even finished, and…

Tyler held my hands and kissed my face and looked so concerned for my well-being that I burst into tears all over again. "You're doing an amazing job," he said. "Learning so many new things is hard, but the house is going to be great!" For a few minutes, Tyler sat with me and comforted me, and then he left to clean up the work site a little so I could bear to return.

Building a house is really fucking hard.

Previous Entry
June 2014, in Photos


Oh, my sweet dear, I so wish I were in Vermont and able to come help you out right now. I understand EVERYTHING you're relating in this post on a visceral level.

I barely had the energy to put together our videos and posts at the time of our building, much less to navigate and relay in an intelligent way all of the things that Kai & I were feeling and experiencing on the "rough side" of things. We actually reflect upon these things in our upcoming book but I do not know how you're keeping up on the blog and being so honest and reflective WHILE building.

Know this. You are AMAZING. Seriously, seriously amazing.

A fact you may not have realized: When you came to visit us during our build, we were in major crisis. Stressed. Overworked. Depressed about how long it was taking us to build. Worried about money and timelines. Fighting a lot with each other (adding a whole other kind of stress to the situation). All these things can add up and seriously affect a person's ability to focus and stay positive. We were barely getting anything done on a daily basis with all the time we were spending on thinking about all of it. Soon after you left we took a break and went to visit Kai's parents to try to "reset" ourselves. It helped. A little. But it's rough going while building a house on your own.

Looking back, I wish we would have taken more time to take care of ourselves and each other and to be able to view our progress more objectively. We look at our videos now and laugh at our deteriorating state of mental alertness and wonder why we were in such a hurry at the expense of our relationship, our health and our happiness.

It's definitely VERY DIFFICULT to build your own house. Most people don't do what you're doing! And I really admire/respect you both for living your values and walking the talk, despite the enormous (but temporary!) difficulty of it.

BIG BIG HUGS to you both.

Posted by Sheila on July 16th, 2014 at 12:18 AM
It's not probably worth much, and hopefully you're feeling better about all this now anyway, but what I see is amazing! You have a house. Four walls. A roof. Windows. A door. You have a shelter. I know there are thousands more things to do and worry about and those don't need to be ignored/forgotten/etc., But you have built a house! That's kind of fucking amazing. And just up until now in your project, you have learned more things than I will probably ever know.
Posted by Nick on July 16th, 2014 at 10:31 AM
I'm in awe of all the things you have figured out. I have wanted to build my own small home for years but the thought alone is overwhelming. I wanted to share a trick I use with my boyfriend. I like having a precise, prioritized mental list of everything I need to do, but he gets quickly overwhelmed. The trick, I've learned, is that no matter how long my to do list is, his is always one item. I may need him to do three things, but I only ask him for one at a time. Maybe you need a one item to do list?
Posted by Rene on July 17th, 2014 at 12:41 AM
Wow, wishing you both some rest and time together and away from the house! From the reader's side of your blog, it looks like you two are making amazing progress, despite what it feels like on the ground. Can I send you a mini care package from the two-person crew here at Earth Morning v.1.0?
Posted by Christine on July 19th, 2014 at 5:44 PM
Sheila, I cannot tell you how much your comment meant to me. Know that I deeply appreciate it. I appreciate your encouragement, and your honesty, and the fact that I know you know exactly what I'm talking about.

You are so right on about the needing to take care of yourselves/ourselves while building. It's a tricky balance of desperately wanting to have a house by winter, and also not wanting to go crazy in the process. Things are going much better now, but we still need to work on the whole balance thing.

It is difficult to keep up the journal, but writing helps me process my thoughts and emotions, so it's always so cathartic when I make a point to do it.

Anyway, thank you again. I can feel the love, good vibes, and hugs all the way from Mexico. Sending them right back to you.

Posted by Tara on July 21st, 2014 at 9:27 PM
Nick, it *is* worth much. Thank you for leaving me an encouraging comment! And I am so glad that what you see is amazing--It's hard to see from my vantage point sometimes, so I appreciate your perspective.

And just up until now in your project, you have learned more things than I will probably ever know....
I don't know about that! Don't sell yourself short. You know a lot of fucking things. :-)

love to you and JesseMcJJ and baby H!
Posted by Tara on July 21st, 2014 at 9:38 PM
Rene, thanks for sharing your trick! Prioritizing and sticking to one task is often difficult for me with so many things that need to be accomplished. Your one-item-to-do-list is a great idea! :-)
Posted by Tara on July 21st, 2014 at 9:41 PM
Christine, thank you for the encouragement! And hell yeah to a care package! If you contact us via the contact button, I'll send you our address. Can't wait! :D
Posted by Tara on July 21st, 2014 at 9:43 PM
HOLY MOLY. I came back here after reading an old post of mine where I linked to your post, and... THIS. This is where we are with the tiny house, and no bathroom and no hot water and no sink. Any words of advice from the other side? Le sigh.
Posted by Christine on March 16th, 2017 at 6:56 PM
Hi Christine! Oh god, I have all the sympathy in the world for you. I know what it's like to be mid-build and living in total, seemingly unending chaos, strapped for cash, and overwhelmed beyond belief. I cannot even fathom adding a baby into that mix! (Congrats, by the way!) I really have no idea how you do it.

I can say that life will indeed get better once your little house has the amenities you need. And one day in the not so distant future, you will look back on this time in your life and you will realize you made it to the other side, and you will shake your head and wonder at how in the world you survived. But you will survive, I promise.

Honestly, I wish I could be more encouraging. But from where I sit on "the other side" there are other immense challenges we face and seemingly impossible tasks to take on. And the never-ending battle between having time or money rages on. But still, nothing will ever be as awful at that camper-living-house-building period was. Now, at least our basic needs are met, and we're able to face future challenges with a modicum of grace, thanks to being cozy in our little house.

Anyway, I hope that was at least slightly encouraging. I wish I had magical things to say to make everything better! Can I send you a care package??? (and if so, do you have any dietary restrictions?)

Posted by Tara on March 21st, 2017 at 7:20 PM