Patchwork Process

(Written by Jake Egelhoff)


One can’t escape metaphor while building a house. Houses are many things. They are nests. They’re forts, shelters, and caves. They can be personified. They can be skeletons. They can be cosmic. They can be like writing an essay, or starting a family. They can be an animal, or a castle, or a car. They could represent the building of a community, goal setting, or something as simple as erecting a tent in the woods. In other words, houses are symbols to learn from. The more we understand the processes of building a home, the more we understand patience and faith in process, as well as our natural desire to create shelter and preserve our species. Amidst this culture enamored with instant gratification, it feels nice to harken back to more basic, time consuming, principles that lead to a desired end. Building a home teaches us more than just building.


Photo by Mia Krakowski

Photo by Mia Krakowski


Each day I wake up groggy, stumble my way to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and navigate my way through the bustle of my thirteen roommates preparing their meals for the day. Smells of curry, cumin, onion, and garlic hoover at nose level as I dig into the fridge for another morning gulp of milk out of the jug. I envy their culinary prowess and motivation at this early hour of the day. I slowly stuff a sack full of the usual items—sausage stick, cliff bars, apple or banana, bread, and knife. I mosey into the dining room and delicately apply another generous layer of almond butter atop my toasted bread. I eat around the same faces, some of them illuminated behind the screens of laptops, some drinking coffee or tea, some of them reading news papers or books, and some of them, like myself, still coming out of their sleep induced hypnosis. As 7 a.m. approaches, we filter out of the house in the usual fashion—Chloe, Austin, and Sen often walk to the site, the Mias and Tomas bike, and the majority of us carpool. We arrive in various states of wakefulness, yet all know one thing as we sit behind the shadows of Little Mexico: We are building a house today.


An old friend of mine used to always repeat this line to me: “You are what you do everyday, you are what you do everyday,” meaning that how we choose to spend our time is directly correlated with who we are as human beings. It’s a pretty hearty phrase to digest when you really think about it—the notion that how we spend each waking second is a concrete indication of who we are as people. I sometimes wonder if that’s a fair claim to make. While I think that much of this statement is noble and full of integrity, I struggle with the idea that we can be summed up completely by our occupations. It seems like such a small snippet of our essence and entirety, yet a very important claim to consider. How do your actions align with your own core values? What should you do if they don’t? What if your life situation doesn’t permit you to be a steward of the earth? Is that your fault? Too often it seems that harsh accusations, or an unwavering adherence to your own cause or ethics, can be a damaging trait insofar as it reinforces your opposition and creates more conflict than resolution. It seems that Ghandi may have been on to something when he stated simply that we must “be the change that we wish to see in the world.”


Photo by Mia Krakowski

Photo by Mia Krakowski

Some of us spend a lot of time discussing how we want to live our lives in ways that are congruent with our own values, as well as how to find ways to make those lives lucrative enough to support ourselves. Our stances vary, needless to say, and some are more willing to operate under our current system than others. Positions are sometimes dichotomized and represented tacitly, or more overtly through utterings from interns like, “I’ve got dreams and they all cost money,” compared to “There should be no money, only gift economies.” Coming into this program I was weary of the “herd mentality,” or “group think” that sometimes manifests within organizations that challenge the paradigm of our modern industrial complex. What I’ve encountered, though, has been quite different—a messy mix of differing views and backgrounds cooperating and operating toward a similar end goal. Though we don’t always agree, I feel grateful that we’ve been able to unify under our common aim—building a house.


Photo by Mia Krakowski

Photo by Mia Krakowski


As the weeks glide by, I feel perplexed by the rapid progress and development I see around me. The past three weeks have shown us a little more about what it means to build a straw bale home. We have poured our foundations, set our J-bolts, fastened our sill plates, constructed our columns and box beams, and assembled them all to form the skeletons of our home. We’re now able to walk around the perimeter of our box beams and gaze down at the site from above, which is an empowering feeling, really—looking down from a structure that you helped construct. We’ve moved on from the digging and moving dirt phase of the project, toward one more centered on nailing, assembling, screwing, leveling, measuring, cutting, and cooperating. We’ve learned that it’s better to measure and cut long than short. We operate chop saws, nail guns, levels, skill saws, and drills with confidence. If we didn’t know the definitions of “plumb,” “flush,” and “true,” before starting the program, we definitely do now. With each new week my hands grow more calloused. Our back, neck, and shoulder muscles are growing more defined with time. We work hard and earn the fruits of our labor with bumped shins, splinters, and sun-reddened noses. There’s camaraderie forged in building. Though we may not always agree, and rarely reach consensus on how to pursue a task, whether laborious or domestic, we find common ground in our ultimate goal—building a house.



Photo by Mia Krakowski

Last week a meal was prepared for us by the board members of Community Rebuilds. We ate chili, drank some delicious home brew, and talked about our reasons for coming to this program. It was nice to share some time with the individuals who help make this organization possible, as well as getting to hear about their own stories and genuine interest in our progress. As we put the nail in the end of our first month, and get to see the structure of our homes take shape, I’m eager to put together more pieces of this puzzle. Each day brings a new lesson and requires a renewed faith in our building process. It feels pretty rewarding to now have a tangible structure to show for our time…


Photo by Mia Krakowski

Photo by Mia Krakowski

One Response to “Patchwork Process”
  1. karen krakowski says:

    I can only imagine what building these homes means to each of you, bringing all that energy, feelings and thoughts together has got to be as big a challenge as building these homes. But remember the final HOME is all that energy, feelings and thought from each of you. They will be beautiful and so loved by the new occupants. I truly enjoy the stories and pictures that you find the time to post, makes me feel part of your project. I look forward to seeing them in person…keep up the good work.

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