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No Backup Plan


First World Rural

June 24 · Issue #11 · View online

First World (Rural) Problems - Bringing the 21st century past city limits.

Sometimes the only way to succeed is to commit 100%, without a Plan B. Exhibit A: our house.

The chimney of our house viewed from the roof peak.
The chimney of our house viewed from the roof peak.
We live in an amazing house, surrounded by forest and farmland. We bought this land in 2007 and started building the house in the spring of 2008. When we got here, our neighbour was ahead of us - he had scouted out the water situation and was preparing his build site. We built our house in parallel with his - but his is just an empty shell, while ours has been our home, all four levels being usable since 2011.
Living in a house doesn’t mean the house is ‘done’. This spring my wife Debby got a chance to get the stonework finished on a couple parts of the exterior that we didn’t get to the first time ‘round: the basement walk-out wall and the chimney.
Now, putting up cultured stone on an exterior wall at ground level is lots of work; it can be unpleasant when the mosquitoes are out, and it’s always a multi-step process involving cement, water, metal mesh and heavy stones. Doing the same thing on the chimney means repeating the process while 35 feet above the ground. Still, it was on the agenda, so it got done.
There were four scaffolding sections, then a jerry-rigged walkway out onto the roof.
There were four scaffolding sections, then a jerry-rigged walkway out onto the roof.
My part has been to help lift heavy things, but the spider-monkey work up on top of the scaffolding fell to my wife and my daughter Sharaya (for whom climbing comes as easily as walking). There were safety harnesses involved, and the platform they put together was actually quite stable, but as you can see in the first picture, the platform only got to the bottom side of the chimney. The chimney is quite large, as the enclosure protects the metal chimneys of both our fireplace and our wood stove. It had to be covered in tar paper, then metal lath to hold the stones better, then a scratch coat of masonry cement, and finally the cultured stones themselves. The last step is the application of grout (more cement) to smooth the appearance between the stones.
All of those materials, along with the necessary tools, had to be carried or hoisted up to the top of the scaffold, approximately 24 feet above the deck. Ropes and five-gallon pails were in use throughout.
This was a small project. The completed view of the chimney is very satisfying, even if it’s kind of difficult to see above the extensive overhang of our roof.
Here's a view from the yard - I had to crop the picture because I was a ways away.
Here's a view from the yard - I had to crop the picture because I was a ways away.
This house is made up of hundreds or thousands of those small-to-medium sized projects. They all needed to get done, and now most of them are done, and we have a home.
We really gave ourselves no alternative. We took the equity we gained from the California housing boom of the early oughts (we owned a home in Oceanside from 2003-2005) and the equity from the oil boom in Edmonton (2005-2009, although we sold a little bit late) and we bought a little camper trailer and moved our four school-aged children out here and started to build. We were gifted a larger camper during our first fall, and we had to rent a cabin that first winter when the cold got too intense. We moved back into our trailer in the spring of 2009 and into the basement of the house in December of that year. Construction on the upper floors of the house continued for the next two winters, and we moved into the bedrooms and kitchen upstairs even before we got the stairs installed (which was around February 2012).
I believe that the reason we now have a house is because we gave ourselves no option. We had no backup plan, our money was dropped into a construction project that is would have been very difficult to sell, we sold our home in the city before we moved into the basement of our log home, and on top of all of that, I quit my job at the end of June 2008, so we were living on our savings and my wife’s part-time job as a nurse.
My career had been in neutral for a couple of years at that point, but I remember being told (as I left my consulting gig with EDS) that I’d be back in the comfortable world of large consulting contractors - lots of people try to set up a company on their own, only to give up and go back to the steady paycheck. Well, I’m still, still available for data integration projects for clients around the world. I haven’t gone ‘back’ yet.
Not everything works out as planned - my father-in-law was killed in a construction accident 10 years ago this month, and so we lost a lot of wisdom, experience, knowledge and love from Papa. (The accident didn’t happen here, but he was planning to come back here to help me install the plumbing and heating systems the next week).
But despite the risks, the challenges, the high ladders and near-vertical learning curve, we’re here, while our neighbour, who built his log cabin as an escape, a hobby, a diversion - he didn’t have to finish it, and he didn’t finish it.
It’s been a busy few weeks for me, and I apologize for the long silence. I think that maybe I’m getting back to where I have enough energy and control over my schedule to commit to this newsletter again, so thanks for hanging in and waiting.
We are certainly feeling blessed and thankful this year. We had May with all the kids home, and we got a chance to go to the mountains together.
Sulphur Skyline Hike with the clan
Sulphur Skyline Hike with the clan
I have a couple of decent projects on the go with very good clients, my kids are almost all employed (praying about a job interview tomorrow for my daughter), and we continue to be blessed with health and good relationships with family.
The next issue will come sometime in the next week. In the meantime, do you have projects that are stuck because you hedged your bets and gave yourself an out? Would it make sense to dive in 100% and give yourself no option but success? It’s a scary way to live, and my wife is better at it than me, but we are enjoying the benefits of what we’ve finished.
Until next time,
Dave Block
North Creek Consulting, Inc.
Living at 12-56110 Range Road 13 since 2008!
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David Block RR 1 Site 1 Comp 271, Onoway, Alberta, Canada T0E 1V0