Written by Kat Blaisdell
It all started when, a senior in high school, Karen Jasinski was inspired to learn about her grandfather’s marquetry. Her mother bought her a scroll saw, and her love for woodcraft began. Years later, as a stay-at-home mom, Karen and her toddler son made jigsaw puzzles together. She scroll-cut pieces from Baltic birch plywood; her son assembled them into colorful clowns, lighthouses, and whales.
When her son was three, Karen rejoined the workforce, leaving her woodworking and puzzles on the shelf. Fast-forward to a year ago. Her career in limbo, Karen found herself among the skeleton crew packing her work’s manufacturing plant and sending it all to Mexico. Gone were the pieces that made up her workday: filing cabinets, computers, spreadsheets, manufacturing machinery, and — most importantly — her job. As of December 2017, Karen was unemployed — a daunting prospect for anyone, but at midlife even more so. She felt like a lost puzzle piece with no place to fit.
When Karen’s unemployment representative asked her if she’d heard of Yestermorrow, an internet search filled her with hope: “That’s it,” she thought; “that’s me! Hands-on design and building.” Encouraged by that same unemployment representative, Karen created her own 13-course curriculum in Sustainable Housing and Design from Yestermorrow’s deep well of offerings.
During her “Year of Yestermorrow,” Karen has earned certificates in Building Science and Net Zero Design, Tiny House Design/Build, and Natural Building. She's also taken numerous short courses including Concrete Countertops and Solar Design. She has discovered that she likes “designing houses — the building science of it. That’s something she knows “that a lot of builders don’t know anything about! It kind of blows my mind!” It’s true, Yestermorrow prepares its students with knowledge that exceeds that of many builders!
Among her acquired skills, Karen’s proudest accomplishment (so far!) is the English tying joint she made during Timber Framing. Before that course, Karen thought Timber Framing was beyond her. To the contrary! Not only does she love it, but she excels at it, too: “It’s working with important and intricate joinery details on a huge scale.” At Yestermorrow, Karen’s discovered that she still likes making puzzle pieces and putting them together. The hidden gem of her time at Yestermorrow has been the sense of family and teamwork, and her realization that after a lifetime of thinking she “wasn’t good with people,” now knows that she is.
The flipside has been a challenge. Karen admits it’s been difficult “to say goodbye to friends made during each course and gearing up to meeting the new folks in the next course.” However, she’s learned that the trepidation of meeting each new cohort quickly turns to warm welcomes and new friends. Karen feels “more comfortable with people,” and says that teamwork and camaraderie made it easy to have “made so many friends here.”
Her journey nearly complete, Karen’s Yestermorrow experience culminates in a fitting finale: The 11 Week Woodworking Certificate
When asked what’s next, Karen chuckles and says, “I have no idea what will become of me.” The truth is, with all she’s learned at Yestermorrow and about herself, Karen is well equipped to fit almost wherever she wants, whether that’s in the world of sustainable design/build or anywhere else. As she says it, “that’s pretty damn good.”