Stories

Single Mom of Four Builds a House from the Ground up Just by Using YouTube Tutorials

After escaping an abusive marriage, single mom of four, Cara Brookins, was prepared to do anything she could to piece her family back together. She was no longer willing to let herself or her children live in fear and she was ready to take action.

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Image: Carabrookins.com

Cara knew what her family really needed was a safe place to call home, however she did not have the means to buy one. As a solution, she decided to take matters into her own hands and build a house from the ground up. What came from this decision was a life-altering experience beyond anything she could have ever imagined.

Meet The Brookinses

All grown up now, the Brookinses were only young children when their mother decided to build them a house. Hope, Drew, Jada, and Roman, ages 17-2 at the time, stood by their mother’s side the whole way through.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

The project was a family affair that came about while they were all still recovering from years of living in an abusive household. After Cara got them out, she was willing to do anything to give them the life they deserved.

Discovering the Land

During Thanksgiving in 2007 when Cara and her kids were driving to a cabin in the Ozark Mountains she spotted a house that had been destroyed by a tornado. She stopped her car and went to investigate the area. What was once a house now lay as a pile of wood and nails.

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Images: Instagram / Cara Brookins (left) Vimeo / Cara Brookins (right)

Cara knew in her heart that this was a sign and that she would be able to put this house back together again. “It made me think, ‘what if we bought some 2’x4’s and sheetrock and put that together? What would our dream house be like? Would we want to build it?’” She recalled.

They Needed Something Big

“My kids and I had been through a really bad domestic violence situation and during that time I was looking for some way to feel safe and stronger so I started just dreaming just fantasizing what if I had a big pile of lumber and we just started from scratch to build a house.”

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Image: Carabrookins.com

The struggle that Cara and her kids had to face was what motivated her to find a way out. And she was ready to think big. “We were pretty beaten down and destroyed. We kind of needed something big and we also needed a place to live.”

Sharing Her Dreams with The Kids

Cara relayed her dream of building a home to her kids and they were completely on board. “During the course of just a few days, it turned into this mindset for all of us that ‘of course, we are doing this.’” That was all Cara needed to take the plunge.

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Image: CNN

The family all put their heads together to envision their perfect home. The kids, as young as they were, began to draw plans on their little notepads and were completely on board with her vision. “After years of feeling like they had no control, they jumped at the opportunity to literally build themselves a better life.” 

The Loan Had One Big Condition

Within days of having this idea to build their own house, Cara bought an acre of land and secured a construction loan. The loan allotted her $150,000 in order to complete the project. But it came with one big catch, they only had nine months to finish the project before they risked defaulting on the loan.

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Image: Carabrookins.com

Instead of getting stressed about these constraints, Cara rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Just like that, with no experience or know-how whatsoever, Cara and her four children began to build a house from the ground up.

Cutting Costs

The loan that Cara took out only covered supplies. Which meant all the labor had to be either paid for by her or she had to do it all herself. In order to cut on costs, Cara decided that she would teach herself how to build the house on her own.

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Image: Carabrookins.com

This would be especially difficult since Cara was also a full-time working mom. On top of that, she also had zero house-building experience. In order to learn these new skills, she turned to YouTube. “One search at a time, we learned how to build a house,” she recalled.

YouTube Was a Not Like Today

Everything that Cara learned when building the house she learned from using YouTube tutorials. However, the video-sharing platform back then was not like we know it today. Back then it was unorganized and most of the videos were uploaded by amateurs.

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Image: Life Daily

“This was the tail end of 2007, so YouTube was a lot different,” said Cara. “It was really grainy videos and they weren’t well organized. You couldn’t just find a channel that said ‘here’s how to build a house from start to finish.’” Despite this challenge, Cara made it work.

No Smartphones

When Cara and her family began building their dream home, it was a time before smartphones. So they did not have information and tutorials ready in their pockets at all times. But just like any other challenge that is thrown her way, Cara found a way around it.

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Image: People

Since the information was not on hand at the site, instead they had to study the videos the night before and then try to mirror what they learned the days following. “There was a lot of ‘Do you remember how to…?’ the next day,” Cara said.

Getting The Whole Family Involved

When talking about the project, Cara recalls that building the foundation was by far the biggest challenge. “We were so weak then. We were carrying around these blocks and slugging through mud. We didn’t have proper work boots so we put plastic bags on our feet with old tennis shoes. We were completely unprepared.”

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

Learning how to work together was a learning process that came with time. And although it was difficult at first, the Brookins family was getting better and better as they went along.  With no experience, and with the guidance of a collection of amateur YouTube videos the Brookinses learned how to pour concrete, frame walls, lay down bricks, and in turn, rebuild their broken family.

Everything Hurt for Nine Months

Although the Brookins were highly motivated, that doesn’t mean the job was easy. On the contrary, Cara describes them as being on survival mode. “We had been through so many tough things…We were just bruised and scraped and sore everywhere, everything hurt for that full nine months.”

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Image: Carabrookins.com

The construction project gave the family a new lease on life. “I felt ashamed and I was worried that they had no self-esteem and no confidence,” Cara recalled when talking about her family before taking on this project. Building their house was just the restart that they needed.

A Bonding Experience

More than anything, building their own house was a huge bonding experience for Cara’s kids. “We gained muscle. We gained confidence. We learned how to laugh. We learned how to communicate,” Cara celebrated. “Someone could hold their hands up and basically grunt and get the tool they wanted,” she said.

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Images: Today.com (left and right)

Prior to this, Cara had never even built a bookshelf. However, she knew if she wanted to get her family out of their rut, she needed to go big. “I kept hearing advice, like ‘just get out of bed, just make a pot of coffee.’ If my goal is only to get out of bed, I’d never accomplished anything.” Instead, Cara advises that we should all “Set goals impossibly big.”

Full-Time Working Mom

While Cara was building a house for her and her family, she still had to continue making money in order to provide for her kids. She was working full time as a computer programmer throughout the whole nine-months of construction. Her schedule, as you might imagine, was beyond hectic.

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Images: Buzzfeed (left and right)

“I had a full-time day job. I went in super early in the morning so I could get off at 15:00 and get my kids from school. We would change into construction clothes and head out here to the job site and then of course after they were in bed, I headed back out to work,” Cara relayed.

3 Hours of Sleep a Night

After getting the kids to bed, Cara would return to the work site and would continue working until 1 or 2 in the morning. She recalls having to angle headlights at night so she could see what she was doing.

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Image: CNN

After a hard day’s work, she would allow herself only three hours to sleep before she had to wake up the next day and do it all over again. Cara describes these nine months as being “grueling and absolutely brutal.” Thankfully, her four kids were there to offer a helping hand throughout the whole process.

Hope, The Pseudo Mom

While Cara was working on the house at all hours of the day or night, she relied on her eldest daughter Hope to help take care of the other kids. Hope, who was only 17 at the time, acted as a pseudo mom during the course of the nine months so that her mom could have one less thing to worry about.

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Images: Today.com (left and right)

“I’ve always taken on kind of the second boss role in the family,” Hope explained when talking about her role.”But its a different level of pressure to keep everything calm and peaceful and running orderly so that she [Cara] doesn’t have another thing to think about.”

Drew, The Heavy Lifter

The family relied on Cara’s oldest son Drew to do a lot of the heavy lifting involved in the construction process. Drew was 15 at the time and was always ready and willing to offer a helping hand.

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Images: Inhabitat (left) Country Living (right)

“He was on the other end of every piece of ply wood I carried,” Cara recalled when discussing how helpful her son was. It’s clear to see that Cara’s children have adopted her strong will and hardworking personality.

Jada Saved Them a Ton of Money

It was not only Cara’s oldest children that were involved in constructing the house. 11-year-old Jada also found an amazing way to not only help with the labor but also help cut building costs. For Cara, being a single mom of four growing children, every penny counted.

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Image: lovePROPERTY

“Jada was also in charge of doing things that saved us a lot of money,” Cara explained in an interview with The Today Show. “She was gathering bent nails as we worked and taking her little hammer and straightening nails so we could reuse them.” 

Roman Duty

When we say the whole family involved, we mean it. Even Roman, the baby of the family was around and helping whenever he could. But don’t worry, he was always being well supervised. “Somebody was always assigned to Roman because he was two,” Cara assured.

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Images: Parential (left) MyModernMet (right)

Luckily the Brookinses were also able to have fun through the grueling hard work. Especially with Roman around. “He was of course a blast on the site because you get a two-year-old rolling through mud puddles,” Cara recalled.

Working Toward a Common Goal

Here is two-year-old Roman running around on the construction site. “He didn’t care for one second how small he looked running up against the mountains of mud, stacks of lumber or pallets of nails and screws,” Cara recalled about her youngest son.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

“He just knew he was surrounded by people all working toward the same goal. And he knew anytime he tripped—because of course he would sometimes—those same people would give him a hand up.” What a beautiful sentiment. It sounds like they really grew as a family during those nine months.

Teaching Others to Take Action

After taking on this huge project, Cara urges others to also do what she did and think big, saying that “There’s nothing more powerful than building something larger than yourself.” And according to Cara, the sky is truly the limit and the possibilities are endless.

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Image: Architectural Digest (left) Vimeo / Cara Brookins (right)

“Taking action with results you can touch is the most powerful mind boost. Plant flowers. Mow your yard and three of your neighbor’s yards. Paint a room, an office, or your local homeless shelter. Clean litter off the street. Make a paper mache pinata.” Cara has dedicated herself to passing on that message for others to take action in order to better themselves and the world around them.

The Plumbing was The Hardest

“So many of the projects were completely overwhelming,” Cara admits. According to her, out of all the challenges that their huge project offered, the plumbing was one of the biggest. We don’t know where we would even start if we had to install the plumbing of our own house.

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Image: lovePROPERTY

If there’s one thing that Cara and her family proved however is that no matter how challenging something is, anything is possible when you work together and put your mind to something. The Brookinses were able to use their struggle to empower each other and make the impossible possible.

All Eyes on Cara

Throughout the project, Cara felt a lot of pressure to never show her kids if she felt defeated. “I could never show that something was going to be hard. All of my kids were watching me and if it was like, if I showed fear or if I showed doubt everything would fall apart so I had to constantly play like ‘ya we got this, no problem.'”

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Image: People

No matter the challenge, big or small, Cara never let it get her down. She pushed through all the hurdles and in turn taught her kids that anything is possible. And this empowerment proved to work both ways. The same way she motivated her kids to never give up, they also gave her the boost she needed to get the job done.

A New Home

After nine months of painstaking hard work, sleepless nights, and around the clock manual labor, the Brookinses were finally done building their home. Not only did they complete the home within the nine-month deadline but they also managed to pass all inspections on the first try.

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Images: Inhabitat (top) / Country Living (bottom)

And as you can see, this is not just any old house. Cara and her family were set to live in style in their beautiful brick home. “Every day, my kids and I wake up surrounded by proof that our minds and our bodies can do incredible things,” Cara proudly exclaims when discussing their new home.

Welcome to Inkwell Manor

After building the house was complete, the Brookinses decided to name their new home “Inkwell Manor.” Now, all grown up the Brookins family is still brimming with pride as they pose outside the house that they built with their own hands. And understandably so, as this project provided them with much more than a roof over their heads.

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Image: Carabrookins.com

“It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to be wrapped in a house you built with your own hands,” Cara explained. “To know that you and your kids touched every inch of each 2’x4′, pipe, and nail in those walls. But a place to live in the least important thing Inkwell Manor gave to us.” More than anything, Inkwell Manor gave the family a new lease on life.

Their 3,500-Square-Foot Home

The 3,500-square-foot home features five bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, and a three-car garage. Although the family did the majority of the work themselves, they did leave a few things to the professionals. To comply with state law, they left the electrical and HVAC work to a licensed professional.

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Image: Today.com

A professional also came in to lay the bricks on the exterior of the house. In addition, a friendly firefighter also helped them out with some of the manual labor for just $25 an hour. Cara’s father, who initially told Cara she shouldn’t go through with the project also showed up to lend a helping hand.

The French Country Kitchen

Now let’s take a tour through the interior of this beautiful home. It truly seems unbelievable that the Brookinses did this all on their own. Here is the kitchen, or as Cara puts it on her website, the room “where we gather to trip over our cat.”

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Image: lovePROPERTY

After finishing their home and moving in, the Brookinses immediately began to create memories just like any other family. From big Christmas dinners to weekend pancake breakfasts to simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich snacks, this kitchen would come to some great use through the years.

Cara’s Favorite Place in The Entire World

One of Cara’s favorite things to do is snuggle up to a good book. Not only that but she is a great writer too, which she would later put to good use. When designing their home Cara wanted to make sure that they would always be surrounded by things that they love and to “make sure they scream of your biggest goals,” as Cara elegantly puts it.

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Image: Pinterest / Cara Brookins

The Inkwell Manor library, which is filled with books from floor to ceiling has become Cara’s favorite place in the house as well as in the entire world. “Design your space so you bump into your dream in every corner, and your enthusiasm will never waver,” Cara advises. And she certainly put that ideal into practice with this room.

A Cozy Reading Room

“Every room in my house has reminders that my long game is all about books,” Cara said. Even the name of the home, “Inkwell Manor,” is dedicated to Cara’s love for reading and writing. She even designed the interior to have cozy reading areas throughout the home.

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Image: ABC News

These areas will not only be utilized for reading and relaxing. Cara would eventually start using those spaces to begin writing her own book. Although she did not initially plan to put her experience into writing, she later decided that it was worth a try. This would eventually become another life-altering decision for Cara.

The Den with an Important Message

The decor in the Brookins house centers on an elegant, French country style. The colors are soft and subtle, making for a calming place to relax at the end of each day. The house also features a collection of family-centered pieces such as items passed down from Cara’s parents and grandparents.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

The den holds an especially significant piece of decor. Framed above the couch is a hand-painted quote, which reads “In the end, the most important thing learned is that this story, our story, was never about a house.” This quote also happens to be the last sentence of Cara’s’ book.

An Energy Efficient Home

When looking through the interior, it really feels like the Brookinses thought of every little detail so that the house would reflect who they are as a family. “We overbuilt a lot, making sure everything was done in the most sturdy way,” Cara recalls.

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Image: lovePROPERTY

“I was also very aware of being energy efficient,” she assures. “My goal was to have a house that was very inexpensive to live in.” As we said, it seems like they truly thought of everything. Now the Brookinses not only had a place to lay their heads after a long day but also to come together as a family.

A Heartwarming Mosaic

When building a heat barrier behind their woodstove that would help ensure their home would stay warm all year long, Cara wanted to build something that would keep her and her family’s heart warm as well. So they created this beautiful mosaic, which is made up entirely out of things that warms Cara’s heart.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

“I made a mosaic with tile from the last home my mom lived in, and the first home I bought. Shells from an ocean trip, fools gold from a nearby river, crystals we dug together, glass stones and beach glass from my mom’s collection, and stones found while building Inkwell. Hidden in all of this is a penny for me and each of my kids made in the year we were born,” Cara explained.⠀⠀⠀⠀

Cara’s Cubby

In addition to the library, Cara also included this cute little reading cubby under the stairs. Her initial plan was to build this for the kids. However, in the end, the cubby turned out to be more for her. She finds it to be the perfect space to lie down, relax, and escape.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

“I love tucking away in a hidden place that makes the world and all its problems feel small. Probably a throwback to tiny childhood forts.” Cara wrote on her Instagram page. And who didn’t love hiding away in our self-made forts when we were little? No one ever said we had to outgrow that joy.

Passing On Her Message

Looking back, Cara says that the idea of building a house on her own from scratch sounds crazy. She says that “It felt like a natural progression. And I think anyone who has been through any sort of a difficult time, find something big and do it.”

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Images: Facebook / Cara Brookins (top and bottom)

Cara urges anyone in need of a change to think big. “It might not be building a house, but find that thing and do something so big that It changes the way that you see yourself,” she advises. Sounds like great advice if you ask us.

Going Big Means Going Home

Cara believes that everyone has their own house to build, in their own shape or form. Anyone facing personal struggle can find their own way out as long as they set their goals high and never give up. “I was ready to stop being the type of person who says, ‘I’ll do this someday,’ and become the person who says, ‘I’ll do this now.'”

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Image: Carabrookins.com

Cara was determined to take action and get herself “unstuck.” She writes that “Sometimes going big means going home.” And advises that we should all “Close your eyes. Plug your ears. And set YOUR massive target where you know it should be. For me, that big thing happened to build a house.”

Making Your Mark

Here we see Roman holding his now-teenage hand up against the handprint that he made back when they had built the house and he was only two years old. Cara shared this image with the hope to encourage others to “Not only make a profound change in your life but to make a mark on the larger world around you.”

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

She wrote, “Yes, your eyes should stay fixed on your target. Yes, it’s important to look forward, not back. But if we don’t take time to celebrate our growth on this journey, the target feels far less sweet when we arrive.” And what better way to celebrate growth than having the work you and your family put be literally etched in stone.

Learning to Laugh

According to Cara, one of the most important lessons that her family gained on the construction site was learning to laugh. Together they learned that “It wasn’t about ignoring tough stuff or pretending everything was ok, it was about creating a future where things really were ok,” as Cara put it herself.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

She continued by saying, “Some days it started with Roman catching a fat frog in his boot, others with Drew accidentally dying our fingers black. Together we built a family where laughter bubbled under the surface of every mistake and every success.”

Writing Her Memoir

Cara had learned so much through her house-building adventure that she decided to pass on her lessons by writing a memoir. The memoir is titled Rise: How a House Build a Family. In the book, she talks about her struggle to escape her abusive marriage and the inspiring story that came out of her decision to build a home using YouTube tutorials with her kids.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

The book took Cara six years to complete. She says writing it was another huge journey of trial and error for her. However, once she finally got it all down on paper, her life would once again change for the better. Cara always seems to prove to herself that hard work and dedication always pays off.

The Auction That Changed Everything

Cara decided to write her memoir after she realized that her story was a source of inspiration for others to “find their big thing.” She said she originally had no intention to write about her experience, however the story “absolutely insisted on being written,” as Cara puts it.

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Image: Journalistate

She worked for six years to put the story together. However, she had no idea just how successful it would become. Her book, Rise sold in a big New York publishing auction and from there, her story went viral, touching people from all over the world.

Critical Praise

After its release, the book received praise by the likes of New York Times bestselling authors John Grogan, Martha Beck, David Morrel, Laura Lippman, and more. It has since been translated into Chinese and Russian with more languages still in the works.

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Image: Carabrookins.com

Rise was even selected by President Clinton for his recommended reading list saying it “reminded me of the power of a truly good book…to raise ideas, stir emotions, and bring the reader to a place he or she had never been before.”

Media Attention

Like most good stories, after the word got out of the Brookins family and Inkwell Manor, media and news outlets were racing to get the inside scoop. Cara and her family made appearances on Fox News as well as the Today show.

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Image: Facebook / Cara Brookins

Cara also had her very own TEDx talk where she once again used her story to inspire others to get out of their comfort zone in order to build the life that they want. “I love motivating a room full of people to look beyond all the tough stuff in the past and take an enormous leap toward their future,” she writes on her website.

Becoming an Inspirational Speaker

After writing her book and seeing how many people found motivation in her story, Cara began to realize her destiny of becoming an inspirational speaker. She has since signed an exclusive contract with the prestigious Kepple Speakers. And although speaking in front of others used to bring her to tears, she has overcome her fear to embrace her true calling.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

It’s through experience that Cara has learned that your biggest. passions are hiding in your biggest fears. “I’m afraid of heights. I’d rather dive 130 ft under the ocean than climb a 20ft ladder. But I climb ladders all the time. And tall walls, and even some cliffs and bluffs. WHY? Because the only way we can stretch into a bigger life, and a better self is to do the tough stuff,” she wrote in an Instagram post after going rock climbing with her kids.

Cara’s Team

None of this would have been made possible if it wasn’t for Cara’s four hardworking children, who were right by her side every day of that nine-month construction process.”From squabbling toddlers to work crew, business partners, and my best friends. These kids are incredible,” She writes.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

Understandably, Cara does not see her kids as just kids anymore. They have been through way too much and grew so much in the course of just nine months. As Cara puts it, “Ignore the fact that they’re just young children because they already accomplished the impossible.”

A Constant Reminder

Lucky for Cara and her family, the roof over their heads or the home that the now grown-up kids can come back to stands as a constant reminder of their dedication. “The amount of power that you feel walking through a house, remembering the way that you were crawling up in the rafters trying to figure out how to place them and that you are literally wrapped in something you made yourself, it’s an incredible feeling,” Cara says.

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Image: Twitter / Cara Brookins

No matter how far they go or the amount of success that they find, they will always be able to look back at the house that they built together. And for Cara and her kids, their adventure was really just getting started. Soon Cara would receive an even bigger opportunity.

A Major Motion Picture

Cara’s book Rise, How a House Built a Family is currently in the works to become a major motion picture. It was optioned by Hollywood-based producers Escape Artists. These are the same people that were behind films such as The Pursuit of Happiness, Seven Pounds, The Equalizer, A Knight’s Tale, and The Upside.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

They even have an a-list actress attached to the film. Although they have yet to announce who that will be, Cara did post this photo with her and megastar Nicole Kidman along with the hashtag #RiseMovie. So all we can do is assume with the rest of her followers.

More Big News To Come

With her book a success, her kids growing up to be strong, independent and hardworking adults, and her story soon to become a major motion picture, Cara is floating on cloud-9. And it’s safe to assume that we can all agree that she deserves it.

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Image: Carabrookins.com

Leave it to Cara to put it in perfect words. She writes “The best projects give you more than what you want, they give you what you actually need.” What Cara and her family needed was a restart, something to get their family back on track. Well, building their house was just that.

Her Story Made It to Japan

Hollywood is not the only one that has noticed Cara’s beautiful story. Recently, she also invited Fuji Television into her house. The network filmed a feature on Cara, her family, and the story of Inkwell Manor that later aired on the Japanese series, Amazing Stories.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

The cast and crew of the series were at the Manor for a whole nine hours of filming. In addition to this feature, Brookins was also selected as the voice-narrator for the documentary Good Luck by producer Jonathan Salemi which is currently in post-production.

Finding Peace Under Your Roof

Having this house is not something that Cara takes for granted. Still today, over 10 years after building the Inkwell Manor, and all the success that has come her way since, she is able to appreciate just how much the project saved their lives. “There is nothing that brings a bigger sigh of relief and comfort than stepping through my door. But it wasn’t always that way.”

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Image: Carabrookins.com

However, coming home did not always come with relief for Cara. “Home was an uncomfortable–even scary–place for many years and it still is for too many,” Cara shares. She is ready and willing to provide support for any who share her struggle. “That’s one of the big reasons we still welcome storytelling camera crews into our home. Until you find peace under your roof, you can virtually hang out at my house wherever it pops up.”

Learning to Embrace The Struggle

Cara also learned a lot about herself and who she was as a parent. “I spent too many years thinking I had to show my kids that I had it all together. Shielding them from worries and my own mistakes. Then I realized that showing my authentic, flawed self was actually the best way to help them through the reality of their own tough times.”

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Image: Carabrookins.com

As it turns out, parents don’t have it all figured out, and Cara stresses that letting your flaws show can only bring you closer together.”We don’t have to pretend we’re perfect. We don’t have to shoulder it all alone. And when you let people know you’re struggling, you’ll be shocked to learn who’s strong enough to give you a boost.”

A Proud Mom

Cara attributes all her success to the support of her kids. She advises that anyone taking on a massive project should “Surround yourself with people who have the heart and muscle to give you a boost when you need it.” Thanks to thiss project, the Brookinses are able to now confidently rely on one another as a family.

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Image: Instagram / Cara Brookins

Now, her kids are able to take on any goal. “We learned that each one of us is bold and fearless enough to reach any goal we set for the rest of our lives,” Cara writes. Thanks to these lessons learned, Cara is proud to say that there’s nothing that her kids can’t do.