Kick Ass or Die

Well, shit. 

That’s about the only articulate thing I can say about 2020. To be fair, I’m out of practice. However, I’d also  guess I’m not the only person stuck in the space between “there are a lot of things that should be said about this year” and “dear god, I’m sick of people talking about this year.” A space that i believe can be most accurately described like this: 

Well. Shit. 

Sixteen years ago I started writing stories on the internet (about the adventures of renovating houses) before this was a thing. Just to put that in context, it was before YouTube existed, before Reddit existed, before HGTV was HGTV. A time where your best bet for finding information about how to DIY something on your house online was to delve into the fraught and contradictory advice on old contractor’s forums. 

It took a certain amount of courage, in those days, to put stories about your life on the internet. To say, authentically (as a 23 year old woman, who just bought her first house), “Hey, I’m not an expert at this, and I can’t find any goddamn information on it anywhere, but here’s what I tried and how it worked.” 

There were no rules. No real algorithms. A little money to be made (which, in fairness, I did), but not a whole lot of ways you could “sell out” even if you didn’t have a strong set of values around your platform. (And, let’s be honest, “platform” really is a generous word for it.) 

There were, however, a lot of stories. There was a little bit of magic about being invited into people’s lives online, and I still carry those stories with me. I remember when Rob “Acidman” Smith from Gutrumbles died unexpectedly. When Patti from OMT had her first grandchild. When Sara and Shaun from Russet St. Reno got married. When Sarah from Ugly Duckling House broke up with her ex and took on all her house projects single-handedly. When Julia and Matt from Home on 129 Acres bought a farm at the exact same time I did. When Alex and Wendy from Old Town Home bought their historic Foursquare. (This list could go on forever.) And it’s not just the highlights of these stories that have value for me, but the whole of them. The projects, the searches, the obstacles. The tragedies and the strength. The joys and the successes. 

Funny story (and something that almost never happens these days) I do not share religious, political, or lifestyle beliefs with everybody on that list. I don’t even share building philosophies with everyone on that list. (Although to be fair that’s because almost all of them are smart enough to wear PPE and don’t do electrical work while drinking… but whatever guys. To each their own.)  And yet, there was no vitriol in these spaces. Just general enjoyment, entertainment, and, also, appreciation for being invited to know these people as people (even if, from the other end of the keyboard, it sometimes feels like you’re just telling stories into a void.) 

These days, when I interact with people and the world via the internet, I don’t remember the stories (which, to be honest, are not so much stories as status updates.) I haven’t lost my curiosity, but it has very often been overridden by whatever dopamine hit scrolling endlessly through memes on instagram provides. And, in a lot of ways, I had been participating in that algorithm-driven machine, which we all know exists solely to sell us shit and waste our time, and yet can’t seem to quit. I participated through the way I posted, or didn’t. Through the way I branded this website. Through the way I monetized my “platforms” (seriously, every time I type that word I literally say “oh, go fuck yourself” to myself, out loud. It’s almost as bad as when someone unironically uses the term “influencer”… and now I’ve rolled my eyes so hard I think I pulled a muscle. Fuck.) 

Even outside of the realm of blogs and influencers, I have friends (who have also been kick-ass colleagues in the corporate world) who write posts on LinkedIn that promise “5 Tips for [insert whatever business buzzword is hot this week]”. And I get why they do that. Why they have to do that. But also, dammit, I want your stories. Your real stories. The ones that you tell me over a couple of beers after a long week about the real challenges you have, and how some of them you overcame, and some of them you didn’t, because goddamn it life is hard. Interpersonal relationships are hard. Work, when you’re challenging yourself appropriately, is hard. 

But that’s not how stories on the internet work these days. 

A year ago, what I said to myself was: It is impossible to participate in any of this authentically anymore. And if you can’t participate authentically, you’re not participating at all. (And, also, because I’m basically a grumpy old man trapped in a slightly less old woman’s body, and “kids these days” have ruined the internet, which is not like it was back in the glory days of my youth… I threw a year-long temper tantrum about it. Goddamn sue me.)  

And yet, even with a year of non-participation, some of you reached out and told me stories. Told me you bought your first houses (or farms!) Told me about the hard shit in your lives. About how you, also, were learning to tell authentic stories (and figuring out your personal boundaries for how and when to tell them.) About how your little girl was scrolling Instagram and saw a picture of me “working on trucks like daddy does!” and that may be part of why she believes girls can do things too. Build houses. Fix trucks. Put up fences. Drink beer and do electrical work. 

(Or, maybe not so much that last one.) 

It has raised a lot of questions for me about if and how I want to participate in telling stories online. In blogs, platforms, social media. And about what the value is. What the responsibilities are. There was a time I wrote stories about my life online just because I could, because it required a level of courage and authenticity I felt it was important to model for the world at large, and because I was goddamn good at it. But now, the courage isn’t in the storytelling. The value isn’t in being particularly good at it. 

Also, as an aside, I have an Actual Professional Life. If the only things you know about me are stories from this website, you may be surprised that I’m as comfortable in corporate america as I am on a farm. Even though there’s no sawdust, no hammers, no getting your hands dirty planting seeds and then watching them grow. (I’m not going to say “no swearing” because that would be a big fucking lie. I swear in a boardroom as much as on a construction site, and I think everyone else should too.) There are, however, other things I love about it. Systems and processes. Figuring out how things work, identifying things other people can’t… things that are broken (or might break), and then fixing them. Identifying things that could be done better, and then improving them. Or growing and developing people, which has always felt like just another extension of hearing people say “I can’t” and showing them that they sure as shit can. 

And, if we’re being honest, I’m not 23 anymore. At this age, and this stage in my career, there is a very reasonable question about how many stories about me drinking beer and almost electrocuting myself a prospective employer should be privy to. 

But here’s a very real thing I’ve told the people who work for me: If you refuse to make a decision because you’re afraid you won’t make the right one… you’re always going to be wrong. Not that I don’t understand why inaction is so appealing sometimes. When you make a decision– when you pick a path–things will change. They may get better or they may get worse (those of us who have started “a small project” in 100+ year old houses know exactly how much worse), and I know how tempting it is not to do anything. When you choose inaction it’s easy to maintain the status quo. 

Which is exactly why that’s the wrong answer. For me, at least. And for the teams I lead. Because in my life and in my work, I’m not here for status quo. I’m not interested in mediocrity. I’m here to kick ass or die. 

And as far as this website is concerned, it seemed like it was time to take my own advice. To make a decision, instead of just sitting in a place of unanswered questions around if and how I should participate. So. Here I am. 

Telling stories, old school. 

No branding. No ads. No sponsored anything. No social media. Even if I don’t know exactly what the value in these stories is, I know that it will never be monetary, or measured in likes or followers or traffic. (I refuse to be the reason people spend more time on any of the apps.) The algorithm, frankly, can go fuck itself. 

There will probably still be beer and power tools. There might be more about the ways I live a life that kicks ass (and sometimes almost kills me) outside of building shit. There will always be swearing. 

2020 has been a weird year (to say the least) and I genuinely do not know what the next phase of my life will look like. More farm projects? Maybe. A finished house? Unlikely. A big move? An off-grid cabin in the woods? Building tiny houses? Climbing a big mountain? Flying airplanes? Running death races? I do not know. 

But I do know there will be stories. And you’re welcome to join me for them.

81 Responses

  1. I have so missed your blog posts!!!! I look forward to hearing about how the farm is doing. Would love updates on the animals, buildings etc etc. AND any improvements to your mom’s place.

  2. I wanted you to know that I have missed your stories. I have a disabled husband, two young kids and an old farmhouse that has been added onto (four times!!! yikes!) and watching you do things over the years has encouraged me to do the same. I can do it, it’ll just take a while (looking at you weekend project that I’m still working on six weeks later).

    What I guess I am trying to say is, welcome back! It will be wonderful to hear more from you.

  3. OMG! Girl ~ you just made my day when I saw your post come through my email. I have missed your stories, your life, your home, your animals, the lake house….. everything.

    I’m not a stalker, I promise. Ha!! 😉


  4. Woohoo, glad to have you back! Really missed your stories. Happy you decided to go with the old fashioned blog post format too. Think I’m showing my age here 🙂
    Greetings from a German in Ireland

  5. First and foremost, seeing that you had posted in my RSS feeds was like Christmas in October – it’s great to see you back posting! Your humor, insight, and stories are absolute gems.

    I’m not handy enough to take on drinking beers and electrical work, but apparently we do share the utter disdain of ‘influencers’.

    Also, I am totally stealing this: “If you refuse to make a decision because you’re afraid you won’t make the right one… you’re always going to be wrong.”

    Looking forward to your stories … hope you’ve been well.

  6. Oh my gosh, you’re back! So glad to see this pop up in my feed today. You are definitely an inspiration since that long-ago seeming time we were all seeing you build your last house, break up, design a new one and then unexpectedly find your farm . I’m so glad you’re back sharing with us again. We need your honesty and determination more than ever.

  7. Thank you. As another individual slowly turning our home and property into the place I want it to be, I’ve truly missed your stories. I don’t have a farm (well, 8 chickens and a dog), but I do have 5 kids and a profession in the technology space where people depend on me. Between those responsibilities, I find that I spend more time away from my projects than working on them. It’s encouraging to hear your stories of, “I finally got back to the thing I was doing; I thought it would be done last year, but it wasn’t; oh well, at least it’s finally done and I’m pleased with it.”

    Also, I 100% share your sentiment about the state of story telling online. If nothing else, thank you for you authenticity. You’re either 1) incredibly good at affecting a persona that, oddly, doesn’t bring in advertising revenue, or 2) the kind of person I’d chat with at the hardware store for too long because tools and projects.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your posts showing up in my feed reader again (does any one else still use those?). Good luck, and welcome back.

  8. Love it, bring on the stories and the swearing. How is your mom’s lake house coming along? Miss the garden stories and chicken stories too. I will read your shit, and if others won’t, Fuck ’em.

  9. This year has been hard and, while I don’t usually swear much beyond “you little poop” when a little girl throws food off her tray, these days an explosive “fuck” feels good as it rushes out of my mouth. Welcome back; I’ve missed you. Now kick ass, woman.

  10. Like others have already said, I am glad you are back. I have truly missed reading your blogs. Thank you for wanting to share your life (on your terms) with us again.

  11. So happy to see a post from you. Your badassedness has definitely helped me to branch out, embrace my independence, leave a crappy marriage, collect a garage full of power tools and get ready to rip my roof off and rebuild my house. The lessons you have given me are less about “how to tile a wall” and more about how “I CAN fucking tile a wall if I want to” (or I can hire someone if I don’t). Cheers and thank you!

  12. This post was the highlight of a very crappy week. Thank you for putting yourself and your stories out there. I love figuring things out, and having your stories is like permission to try and make a complete hash of it, but still feel proud. I read your old posts whenever my husband complains that it takes me three hours to change out a light fixture with our crappy cloth-insulated wiring.

  13. Yay!!!

    (Also, I miss you! Let me know if you’re ever up for a good ol’ socially distanced firepit beer goat hangout! xo)

  14. So weird that today is literally the second time I’ve looked for you since you “went dark” online. I’m so thrilled to read this. Happy to read what you have to say, and you have every right to decide your terms under which you’ll do that. Wishing you the best, whether we get to read about it or not!

  15. So happy that you are back. You were one of the first people I started reading regularly in the 00’s, around the time when I was first purchasing a home with my partner (and then renovating parts of it). I waft between building-gardening-crafting spaces on the internet as part of my own distractions from work, and it’s been interesting to watch how these competing social media forces tear at all of them. There are always a few good story-tellers left, though!

  16. I was thinking about you earlier this week, sad I hadn’t seen anything from you in recent memory, hoping everything was ok in your world. And then BAM! You’re back! I’ve missed the realness of your stories. The gritty, warts and all, I’ll live life my way stories. In a pretty dark year, and an especially dark week, hearing from you made my world a little brighter. Welcome back.

  17. So happy you are back! Over the years you have inspired me to do things I would have never though possible without professional help.

  18. Welcome back! You’ve been missed. I tackled some electric today, but I waited to have a beer until I was finished. 😉

  19. I save your stories for when I have a glass of wine in hand and am relaxing at the end of my day. And I read and cackle and laugh out loud and furrow my brow and read excerpts to my husband. Thank you for your stories and I look forward to sharing your journey through them!

  20. I’m so excited to hear more! You have a gift for storytelling and I have gotten so much from your musings and general badassery. Thank you!

  21. You are bringing back old school blogging. Your blog is one of the ones that made me fall in love with reading stories, connecting to imaginary friends (or pen pals), and buy a home. I started painting walls at 10 pm, learning electrical and teaching myself skills. Thank you for coming back and bringing somehing I love.

  22. I have missed you and the way you tell your stories and the way you get me moving on that next “little project”

  23. hey just reading this.. YOU CANT STOP … I am going to contract soon on my first house. I NEED YOU!
    hows that for incentive ….

    Please dont stop… we come here for YOU !!!!

  24. So happy you’ll still be writing! I’ve been reading you for years, but never commented before. Yours is one of my favorite blogs, especially now that most bloggers are all sponsored posts all the time.

  25. I can’t say how long I have had you on my to follow list because when I found you I went back and read the earlier posts and now my chemo brain has cut some of the strings in my memory retrieval system (chemo did the job as far as it goes so worth, who needs to remember shit anyway) but it has been a long time, your first house, making stained glass, building porticos… the second house, and living in the garage, the fantastic crazy scheme that is your farm. I have read you pondering on whether to continue sharing and crossed my fingers that you would because you are real and I love that you are real. There are plenty of us who don’t really like where the online world has gone, I even put Face book to bed because I grew to hate it and to hate what it had become. So thanks for being you and being real and I missed you.

  26. Hello, i´m writing from Portugal, i don´t remembre how i found your blogg but i really enjoy it. I´m really happy that you are back.

  27. I’m glad you are back to your blog. I’ve stalked your IG hoping that I just missed something or that my email was dumb.

    You constantly remind me that I don’t have to wait for my husband in order to get shit done. I can hang the shelves, build the desk, refinish the table.

    Thank you for being authentically you.

  28. It’s so good to have you back! I was worried, in that “connected with an internet stranger and now I miss her” sort of way. I’m glad you decided to come back on your own terms; I look forward to the new stories, and the continued kick-assery.

  29. Appreciate this so much — have always loved reading your stories and I’m glad you’re still alive and kicking!

    Also, highly encourage the “flying airplanes” — it’s crazy fun!

  30. Hear, hear for good stories! I know I have neglected my blog of anecdotes for years now. But I have always been here for your stories and I can’t wait to read more of them.

    But no pressure!

  31. Hooray! I always look forward to reading your stories and this post has been a bright spot in what has been a pretty dismal year. Thank you for all the stories you’ve told so far, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that there are more to come at some point x

  32. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

    So pleased I’ll get to hear more of your stories.

  33. Long time reader here, though never left a comment. Really missed reading your blog this past year, and I regretted never telling you how much I enjoyed your stories. They have inspired me to much DIY – house, garden, workout room!
    Looking forward to reading more –

  34. Wow! I can’t believe you’re back. Your adventures, and even your misadventures were always a highlight of my week. Before you think “how pathetic your weeks must be”, let me tell you how wrong you’d be (just so you know this is a true compliment). My weeks, though not always fun, are always full and often quite exciting! Take last Thursday – that was the day I was whale-watching out at sea. For real. And that WAS fun. Welcome back. (Oh, and not that it really matters, I’m female, despite the name.)

  35. I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve missed your voice, your stories, your authenticity. I honestly don’t even read blogs much but I always check my feedly hoping one will pop up from you!

  36. This made my day. Everything else on the DIY corner of the internet feels like an ad (which it is) or an anxious attempt at conforming enough to qualify for an HGTV/Netflix show, with a thousand “swipe up!”s every week on things that have nothing to do with design or even DIY. It is so disingenuous and capitalist and gross. When one of the Idaho influencers spent 2,000 dollars ON [swipe up!] CHARGERS for her dining table for a single dinner, I gave up on humanity. We don’t deserve to survive as a species. Glad you are still here to show me why we do. 🙂

  37. I am so glad you are back! I have missed all of your wonderful stories, remodels, cat escapades, the farm, your animals and your kick ass attitude. I truly enjoy your stories! Welcome back, hope you are doing well, and know that you were missed.

  38. Looking forward to your stories.
    And just now realizing there are actually a group of people who exist that buy/fix one house, then another, and finally, apparently inevitably, a farm. We are looking at one now. And now I found my tribe.

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I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.