Category Archives: working together

Lifting Heavy Things

by Sarah

I’ve noticed, both with building and with sheep ranch work, that many of the materials and tools we use are designed for people larger and stronger than me.  We bought the ultralight weed-whacker with the easy-pull string, and it’s hard for me to get it started.   The tubs of nutritional molasses that we give to the sheep weigh more than me.  And the impact driver twists my wrist, rather than twisting the five-eighths bit into the two-by-four.  I have felt small and weak in my environment before, but never more so than now, when I am spending much of my time on building and ranch care, and am working side-by-side with Joseph.

These tools were designed, and standard material sizes were determined, with a man’s dimensions in mind.  Like many things in our physical reality.  Those are very different than my dimensions.  Of course, many women are also strong enough to use the tools with ease, but I am not, and may never be.

Instead, I am figuring out how I need to use tools and move materials.  Sometimes it’s a little different, and sometimes very different, than how Joseph would.  I’ve gotten more playful about this.  It feels more like a creative challenge than a roadblock.  How can I “hack” these tools that were designed for people with larger hands, stronger arms,  etc., and make them work for me?

In the following video, I convince a sheet of plywood and a six-by-six piece of lumber to cooperate with me.

Occasionally, it’s been useful to be small, as in the photo at the top of this post.  Screwing the nut onto the anchor bolt inside the Simpson Strong Tie is work for tiny, tiny hands!

I wonder, have any of you felt that you are taking action in a physical space that was not designed with you in mind?


Noble Silence: Being Ourselves and Being Together

by Sarah

I wrote a few weeks ago about how Joseph and I are keeping our shared projects organized.  This time I wanted to write about something that’s often harder for us: staying engaged with the projects we are working on separately.

It is easy to prioritize the things that we are working on together–someone else is counting on it and it’s fun to discuss and update.  Even right at this moment I have prioritized writing for our shared website.  It just feels more urgent.  We know we need to carve out time for our own personal practices and work, but those are often the realms that fall off the bottom of the list.  I’ve noticed this before when trying to juggle shared work and individual work.  The shared work has a denser gravitational pull.

The gravity seems to be even stronger when the person I’m sharing the project with is Joseph, my love and partner.  Joseph and I have been together for more than a year-and-a-half now.  It feels like we’ve been together for a long time, but really we are still early in our journey of negotiating which life spaces we share, and which paths we each need to walk on our own.  We are each learning how to be ourselves and be together, even while those selves are growing, and are changing in response to the life we are building together.

One little piece we’ve been experimenting with lately is getting up earlier and keeping a “noble silence” for the first two hours that we are awake.  The term “noble silence” comes from the Zen Center where we both studied.  It’s is a way of protecting an inward-facing experience, even when you are with a group of people.  During the monastic practice period much of the day is spent in noble silence–no checking-in with your roommate or chatting with a friend over tea. I actually found it the opposite of restrictive–it was freeing not to have to make conversation or to process events out loud.  I could just settle into my own unmediated experience.

During our morning silent period now, we try not to interact, and we each do whatever we need to–whether stretching, meditating, writing, studying, planning, researching.  Actually, I’m not sure exactly what Joseph is working on (and maybe he’ll post about that soon!), because we are using privacy to protect the creative space of our mornings.  I’ve been working on getting clear on my new offer (see more about Sarah).

This noble silence is useful now, while we are sharing a space and projects, and I think it will only become more useful when we are sharing an even smaller (tiny house!) space.  Being able to be in the same space together without always interacting seems like a useful tool in our… how-we-are-together tool belt.

Even though we both know it is important, it’s so easy to skip the morning silent time.  Other more tangible tasks are written on our window to-do list.  And sleeping in is pretty nice too.  We usually only manage it about half the days of the week, and haven’t fit in a full two-hour period for a while now–even though we know it’s one of the supports that makes the rest of the projects possible!  After writing about publicly I hope we’ll be ever more compelled to actually do the practice more often…like maybe every day.

How do you make sure to prioritize the things that may not feel urgent but are actually important?  When you’re working closely with another person (especially a partner), how do you also keep your individual journey going?  I’d love to hear any of your reflections in the Comments.

Steep Learning Curves in All Directions

by Joseph

We’ve been planning for our tiny house, watching “how-to” videos, and thinking “this’ll be a breeze.”  Okay, not a breeze… but I have some construction/carpentry experience and Sarah excels at learning new things.  She’s got one of those sticky brains that will hold onto obscure, yet important information like what size nail we need to frame with (8d) or the R-value of denim insulation (???).  So, whether by blissful ignorance, or misguided confidence we totally thought we were going to figure this thing out on our own.  Not true.

As with all things, it takes a community.  During these past few weeks of construction, that’s been hammered home (pun definitely intended).   The following are some small steps on the steep learning curve we’ve started climbing.

I’ve used metal-tapping screws before.  I could even explain how they work to someone who’s never heard of them.  What I didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to use them with the pressure-treated wood and tempered steel of our new trailer!  Impact drivers sucking down 18 volt batteries and burning through gloves as I put my WHOLE WEIGHT into it, digging boots into grass and absorbing the shock with my arms, shoulders, and back.  After doing this a few dozen times on our trailer, it was time to do Meg and Dan’s.  After the trial and error on our trailer, I relaxed a bit, pre-drilled the holes and went slower (which makes a straighter, therefore more efficient, hole).  Our whole group did this together and we all learned how to be more efficient,  transferring our new skills to each others’ builds.

Another example of this transference:

With great difficulty, Sarah finagled the two tail-lights off our trailer (necessary before attaching the pressure-treated lumber, the lights will be put back on the outside of the house later), then did another trailer, and by the time she got to the third trailer it took her all of 10 minutes to handle the tricky wiring tucked neatly into the trailers frame.

And another:

Sarah and I cut the  tongue-and-groove plywood for our sub-floor, and when we placed it we found that we were 1/4” off on each piece because we didn’t account for the tongue.  The cutting, sealing, fitting, and attaching (more metal-tapping screws) took four of us all day to do.   But the next morning we cut the plywood to the right size and knocked Meg and Dan’s sub-floor out in 2 hours!

So, though the learning curves are steep, it has helped to remember “We’re not in this alone!”  Not only are we building with two awesome couples, but we have friends and family offering feedback along the way, and we have each other for balance and support when our sunburned arms are tired from impact-wrenching into steel.  And we have YOU, dear reader, allowing  us to fully process our journey.

Deep bows of gratitude to all those from whom we’ve drawn guidance, inspiration and knowledge.  The path has been cared for by those who walked before us.  May we also care for the path that others may tread safely to their dreams.

Impact drilling the plywood into the trailer