Changing My Story: Week 5 at Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity

In our last week of building with Mesilla Valley Tom and I mostly worked on more shingling: finishing up Cindy’s house while helping to get paper on Amorette’s roof. The goal had been to get all 5 houses dried in, which includes shingles, but we were ultimately foiled by high winds that kept us off the roof towards the end of the week. Though the roofing crew was unable to complete the job, so much was being accomplished below us – noticeably on Amorette’s house, which went from being a skeleton to a a closed in structure after the roof was decked, complete with windows and doors!

Many of the tasks were things that had been done on Cindy and Luis’s houses during the past few weeks so I’ll spare you the reiteration of those procedural details, but I did have the opportunity to participate on the wholly new task of adding exterior accoutrements. Plus, I got to work directly with both homeowners Cindy and Amorette helping them work out how they wanted to personalize the appearance of their homes – which was an amazing, fun experience. These houses will be stuccoed which means that its possible to add three-dimensional accents now such as trim and sills to the windows, moulding to the porch columns, and decorative bands on the front face. Though both Cindy and Amorette largely had an idea of what they were looking for, I got to help them create some different options and assist them in leaning how to cut the wood and such. I wish I had an “after photo” to illustrate what the finished product will look like, but hopefully the photos of the trimmed windows and porch columns below will help explain what I’m referring to.

Because Tom and I had no immediate plans after the end of the build on the 17th, we stayed into the following week in an effort to shingle Amorette’s roof and put up the fascia and soffit before colder weather and potential snow arrived. Tony and Mary, who were already staying over the 3 week break because they were signed up for the next build in January, joined us as did Rick a local volunteer. Tony and I spent the first day putting up drip edge as Tom, Rick, and Pete worked on getting the fascia up; following the shingle delivery the next morning we all got up on the roof. Despite the fact that we were hand nailing, we got more than half the shingles on and were feeling confident we’d be able to finish the following day but unexpected rain stymied our efforts the following morning after we’d only been working for an hour. Luckily Pete and Tony would be around to finish after the few days of forecasted rain, but I Tom and I were sad not to see Amorette’s house all dried in, particularly because we were so close to being done. It was a bittersweet ending to our time in Las Cruces though we were thankful for having had the extra days to spend working and socializing with some of our favorite people.

In addition to feeling disappointed not have finished Amorette’s house, I was also struck last week by a lot of conflicting emotions about leaving Las Cruces – regret that the build was over and sadness at the thought of leaving Pete, Dyana, Tony, and Mary, yet a sense of looking forward to a couple weeks of relaxation and also an eagerness to move on to our next build in January. As I reflected on my experiences building there I came to realize how I have felt so richly rewarded over the past year as I’ve spent more time volunteering with Habitat and how I feel so grateful to have this opportunity to help create decent, affordable housing for all of the partner families I’ve worked with. Building houses is not something I ever thought I would do in my life but I’ve now been considering that I’d have a difficult time imaging life not doing it. It’s a bit unexpected to have come to that realization since I didn’t have any construction experience prior to volunteering with Habitat. But more than that, I always had a deeply-held, unconscious belief that doing something like that was beyond my capabilities: It just ‘wasn’t what I did,’ and it as something I thought would be impossible for me learn. I used to joke that I was the least-handy person I knew. But as time has passed I’ve become more and more aware that this particular deeply-held belief about what I can or cannot do – and what “kind” of person I am – is just a story, something I adopted that has no actual basis in reality.

So somewhere during this past year I committed myself to changing the story, changing the narrative that exists (only) in my head. This honestly hasn’t been easy because I get frustrated with myself constantly for not being able to understand when things are explained to me, for not having the skill to use a tool to produce the desired result, for letting myself be ruled by fears – such as standing on trusses, for not meeting standards of efficiency and/or quality. And when I get frustrated I will quickly fall back into being wrapped up in this narrative wherein I just can’t build stuff. But I try to remind myself that this is not objective reality and is just my opinion; fortunately I have people like Tom, along with Pete and Dyana in Las Cruces, to give me both support and practical help when I get stuck.

To be fair, I will likely never be as good as hammering 2x4s as I am at baking cookies but then again, I know it is impossible to actually make that assumption until I spend a lot more time hammering 2x4s. All I know is that the more time I’ve invested in building, the more proficient I’ve become, and that a belief that I don’t have the aptitude for something doesn’t mean I can’t do it at all. This has been proved to me just by watching the people around me: the willingness to try (and fail… and try again) is something that I see in each of the amazing Care-A-Vanners I’ve worked with, and something that’s been truly inspiring to me over the past year. Pretty much all of the Care-A-Vanners lack a background in building anything and have learned what we know from previous Habitat experiences rather than from formal instruction. We also all believe in the power of helping each other and accept that we’re likely going to need guidance during any given day in order to complete what needs to be done. With the exception of one person who is former contractor, none of the Care-A-Vanners I’ve volunteered with have worked in home construction; we’re all “normal” people. The majority are former educators, health care workers, and engineers. Other professions represented include accountant, minister, salesperson, veterinarian, farmer, secretary, FBI agent, masseuse, highway transportation worker, farmer, BLM resource specialist, and engraver. I, for those readers who don’t know me in real life, worked as a financial analyst. And yet together, with help from each other and from constructor supervisors such as Pete and Dyana, we manage to build (good) houses – homes that will provide shelter and stability for the families that live in them.

And so looking at these real, tangible houses I can’t help but to note that I helped accomplish what I was once so certain I couldn’t do at all. Unlike the doubt, frustration, and feelings of inadequacy that don’t exist outside my skull, these are real structures, proof that as long as I continue to challenge myself in a myriad of small ways, my life will continue to be full of gratitude and happiness – and hopefully a lot more homes will get built.

Tom and I nailing the first few rows of shingles

Tom and I nailing the first few rows of shingles

Tom shingling the fourth house

Tom shingling the fourth house

Me. Obviously the internet needed another picture of my butt.

Me. Obviously the internet needed another picture of my butt.

Rick nailing

Rick nailing

Pete and Kit sheathing the roof

Pete and Kit sheathing the roof

Tom and Rick nailing down the ridge cap vent

Tom and Rick nailing down the ridge cap vent

Me posing while hammering down the hip and ridge shingles over the ridge vent

Me posing while hammering down the hip and ridge shingles over the ridge vent

Tom shingling the front gable

Tom shingling the front gable

Porch accoutrements on Amorette's house

Porch accoutrements on Amorette’s house

Tom adding porch column accoutrements to Cindy's house

Tom adding porch column accoutrements to Cindy’s house

Trimmed out windows on Cindy's house

Trimmed out windows on Cindy’s house

Tony, Kit, Rick, Tom and I trying to paper the roof before the wind picked up

Tony, Kit, Rick, Tom and I trying to paper the roof before the wind picked up

Paula, Brenda, and Lee installing windows

Paula, Brenda, and Lee installing windows

One of my favorite blessings, written by Doug and Chris

One of my favorite blessings, written by Doug and Chris

Tom trimming OSB before we put up drip edge

Tom trimming OSB before we put up drip edge

Tony putting up drip edge

Tony putting up drip edge

Pete fitting soffit to the bird boxes

Pete fitting soffit to the bird boxes

Pete shingling

Pete shingling

Homeowner Amorette adding accountrements to her house walls

Homeowner Amorette adding accountrements to her house walls

Awesome sweatshirt picked in gift exchange! Merry Christmas! Shitter's Full!

Awesome sweatshirt picked in gift exchange! Merry Christmas! Shitter’s Full!

Finally, I leave you with some of the most spectacular, dramatic sunrises yet from our morning dogwalks:

Another magical sunrise over the Organ Mountains

Another magical sunrise over the Organ Mountains

Pink pre-dawn drama

Pink pre-dawn drama

Full moon at sunrise

Full moon at sunrise