REAL TALK: How seeing our house survive the drive to Portland completely changed our outlook on life

As I sat waiting for the house to (finally) arrive in Portland, I found myself reflecting over the past crazy year. Next week will mark one year since Tish and I sold her house and left Richmond. Driving west, we were filled with optimism and excitement to start the next chapter of our lives; we were enthusiastic about the work we would have to put in to make it all happen. We were committed to living a healthy life with a good balance of work and play.

When we first arrived in Middletown, we settled in to the calmer environment quickly and loved how at peace we felt living outside of a city. Our fur babies seemed to love it too and looked more relaxed than ever. We began making plans for the house, designing a layout and framing plans. We ordered the trailer and all of the lumber and supplies we would need to get started. Tish quickly realized spending hours in the heat building a house wasn’t her ideal way to spend her time and asked me if I would rather pay someone to build the house for us. I told her no, that I really enjoyed the process and wanted to see it through. My determination when paired with my stubbornness can sometimes lead me to make reckless decisions. I think this was one of them, but I can’t say I regret it……yet.

The last twelve months have been filled with, well, life: hiking, health scares, travel, work, starting a new master’s program at a new school, finishing a master’s program at another school, pet health issues, moving across the country, moving again to the PNW, adjusting to a new town, and then a new city, rain, snow, unapologetic heat, friends, family, love. And I attempted to learn how to build a house and then actually do it in between. Learning how to build a house is a much more research-intense process than I gave it credit for! After several tiny house workshops, I knew there was a lot to learn, especially because I was coming into this project with literally no building knowledge or experience. What I couldn’t know until I got into it was how important it is to know what your plan is three (ten?!) steps ahead of where you’re at in the build process. I knew mistakes would happen and need to be fixed, but I didn’t anticipate creating more work for myself by not looking far enough ahead and having to go back and undo something because I did things out of order. For example, I should have made sure my window rough openings were cut out clean before wrapping the house in house wrap. However, when we got the sheathing on the walls I was so concerned with getting wrapped before a storm came in that I neglected to inspect the windows and had to go back through, recut the windows which tore the house wrap and I ended up having to replace a bunch of the wrap anyways. My point is, building a house if freaking hard and I need to remember that when I get frustrated. I wish there was an super detailed checklist of everything that goes into building a house so that I could just go through the list and check off each step as I complete them. Of course there isn’t, or at least not that I’ve been able to find, and figuring it out on my own is all part of the process!! Thank goodness for all of the DIY blogs and youtube videos out there and the support of my family (especially my dad and his friend Dan) or I’d still be staring at an empty flat bed trailer!

A year later, the enthusiasm is gone and our optimism is waning. We’ve been having many conversations about life these past few days, trying to figure out where we went wrong, what we would have done differently and what we should do going forward to not feel so defeated again. We’ve decided that the house needs to be a priority but cannot come at the expense of our happiness, and our happiness comes from seeing the world. We will do our best to do a BETTER job of balancing play with work, and to take more enjoyment in the work itself so that it almost feels like play. We will devote at least 4 long days per week on the house, and allow ourselves to get in the woods or out of town the other three days. We will try to remember to embrace the stress as self-constructed and therefore self-demolished. With all of these new goals and ideas I couldn’t help but have doubts. Will the house ever get finished? How the hell did I think I could do this? Will we need to just give up the project and do something “easier” (albeit more expensive) like rent an apartment until we are both out of school? Will I fail out of my PhD program because I am too concerned with the house? Or will I kill myself trying to juggle both again like I did while finishing my Masters? I think these doubts are a normal part of the process, a reminder to be humble and to take care of ourselves.


I wrote the above before the house got here. But now, seeing it here all in tact, a warrior of the road, I must say all I can think is “DAAAAAMN, I BUILT THAT SHIT!!!” In actuality, I designed it and then spent my “building days” doing whatever my dad and his buddy Dan told me to do. But still, I’ll take it. That beast conquered nearly 600 miles of highway and made it here in one piece; it is ready for anything. And so are we.

Amazing how quickly our outlook can change just by being reminded of what has been accomplished so far. Let’s do this!

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