New Year, New Adventures (That Might Kill Me)

January 11, 2016 — 39 Comments

I am exactly where I want to be … at least, that’s what I tell my daughter. One of the neat side effects of being a parent is that I have a daughter that asks me a lot of questions and she will not accept “because I said so” or “that’s just the way it is” as a response. My daughter is going through some academic adventures on her own right now and whenever she feels uncertain about what’s coming next, I typically tell her that this is the most exciting thing about being alive – not knowing what’s about to happen. As those words come out of my mouth, I start to thinking about the cabin project I am working on, which is getting built in a climate that is completely foreign and unique to me. When I use this as an example to my daughter, she asks me “Aren’t you scared that you’ll make a mistake?” The answer back is easy – “Of course I’m worried that I’ll make a mistake, but that’s true about everything I do. Doing a project like this is tremendously exciting and its an adventure I wouldn’t want to miss.”

Flying in to Wisconsin Hope I survive

Until I thought I was going to die when we were coming in to land. Seriously … I suppose the pilot thought to himself, “Let’s do a super tight bank for no apparent reason and see if we can make someone scream back in coach!”

North Woods in the snow

I’ve been around snow a few times but I haven’t ever built a house in this sort of environment. I flew in to Madison Wisconsin, rented a car, and then drove North for 4+ hours to get to my project site. Everything was cold and gray, and there was snow everywhere. In the picture above, this is the “driveway” to my project. From the main road, this driveway is about 420′ long and there are approximately 2.3 bajillion trees on this site. It makes for a beautiful approach to the project site, but if you’re – oh, I don’t know – walking this driveway at night, by yourself … it’s kinda creepy.

More on that later.

The cabin where I stay

One of the very convenient things about visiting my project, which is located in the middle of nowhere (part of the reason this is an awesome cabin site) is that  rather than stay in a hotel that’s located in town (about 20 minutes away) is that I stay in the cabin that literally located right next door! If you look at the picture above, through al the trees, you can see the cabin where I stay. It’s red … like the color of blood.

Snow Shovel the most important tool on the job site

When I got on site, I noticed this weird scoopy looking thing. I’ve never seen anything like it on one of my joists before … I wonder what it could be?

cleaning snow off

Apparently it’s only the most important tool on the job site (according to me). For those of you that are shaking their heads right now, I know what a snow shovel looks like – I’ve just never seen one actually being used before. Every day (and up here, it might even happen a few times a day) the snow has to get pushed off site. In our case, they were snapping lines and preparing to start laying out the walls for the ground floor level … can’t do that with snow on the deck.

construction equipment covered in snow

In fact, there was snow on everything. You can’t really tell from these photos but it was snowing as I was walking around the site documenting progress and evaluating the current state of affairs.

exhaust for the heater

One of the challenges we are working through is that we missed our easy window to pour concrete slabs and we are now in the “hard window” of pouring concrete slabs. This is why you see a giant plastic tent on our site … this is to warm up the ground and keep it from freezing. You can see the metal ventilation flue sticking out of the plastic in the picture above. So while the temperature outside routinely exists below freezing, it is nice and comfy warm inside the tent.

inside the tented area

I stuck my camera through a hole in the plastic tent (we’ll say it was there for “ventilation purposes”) to look inside and see what I could see.

Nothing too exotic … a gas furnace and some construction supplies.

Heating the tented area

When I found the secret entrance, I went inside to take a closer look. It’s pretty low tech but seems to do the job quite nicely and without filling the tent with mind-altering fumes. It was actually pleasant inside and considering the snow and freezing weather outside, I thought “this is where I would want to be working.)

Workers sitting in the tented area

Oh look, it’s the working guys … actually they weren’t currently working, they were on their lunch breaks (which makes even more sense why someone would be in here.) These were 75% of the guys who were on site this particular day. The guy on the right, his name is Travis – which I only really know because I met his wife (who was my bartender) that night at dinner.

But again, that’s a story for later.

Job Site Meetings

So while I’m walking around the site taking photos and documenting progress, all the inside the office contractors were standing on the deck of the progress talking about what happens next, which is actually what they should be talking about. We had spent the previous several hours back in the contractor’s office, going through the drawings, and discussing what happens next.

Topography towards lake

I thought it would be interesting to show a little of the typology of this site. Other than the 2.3 bajillion trees, the cabin sits about 30 feet above the level of the lake. While the entire site undulated up and down through its entirety, once you get about 50 feet from the water’s edge, the site drops sharply. This is about the only angle that shows this condition … unless I walked out onto the frozen lake and took a picture looking back. Considering I heard a news report driving in that said a guy died this last weekend because he and his snowmobile went through some lake and he sadly died. I’ll stay off the frozen lake for the time being, thank you very much.

View to Lake

This is the view that the cabin faces out onto – quite beautiful really but that’s not why I took this particular photo. It’s because the lake doesn’t look like a lake anymore … it looks like a big snowy field. I’d say “take a look a the water” but unfortunately, everything is covered in snow.

View of cabin from lake side

This is the cabin … at least, what they’ve managed to build so far. So I’m still walking around the site, taking pictures and documenting progress and it dawns on me that I am the only one a) not in the heated tent structure, and b) mid-calf deep in snow … and I’m the only person from not currently living in Wisconsin.

Are they scared of getting in the snow?

Architect throwing a snowball color

That’s when I had the genius idea that I would reach down, into the 8″ of perfect snowball making snow, and (I bet you can guess what happens next) I made a perfect snowball. Nobody would think that a Texan would make such a perfect snowball, one that wasn’t so big that I would have to lob it, or one that was too loosely pack as to fall apart mid-flight. It was perfect.

I need to make sure that I don’t find myself standing to close to the frozen lake any time soon.

burning wood scraps from the job site

This was a new one for me. There was a fire going on site that was using the scraps of lumber as fuel. When I asked about it, the contractor told me that this was fairly common because it is really difficult to get a dumpster up on to these job sites, and the snow doesn’t make things any easier. I cautiously asked “is this legal?” Turns out that it is legal and after a certain point (when there is snow on the ground) you don’t even have to get a permit to do this.

I asked if I could get a full-time job up here as a fire builder – all that was missing was a brisket or some ribs.

PortAPotty in the snow

Do I even have to say it? While it might not smell like a port-a-potty that’s 110°, I don’t even want to think about the nightmare that would involve me pulling down my pants for any length of time when it’s like 7° or something. Have you heard what happens when you get frostbite?

I need to let you know that I am a grown man and I don’t get scared too easily. When I was a kid, that was a different story but there were always some special circumstance. Like most kids, I didn’t like being outside in the dark – who knows what sort of creepy terrible type things are out there just waiting to attack you?

One of my chores as a child was to take the trash out. I didn’t mind walking from room to room collecting all the trash, it was taking it out to the alley that I didn’t like. Of course, I would always put off collecting the trash for as long as possible but eventually I would have to cross the gap between our well-lit carport, and the dark abyss known as our driveway. I knew for a fact that there wasn’t a werewolf (yes, werewolf) at the end of the driveway, hanging out in the alley, just waiting for me to bring the trash out, so that he could try to take a bite out of me – duh. I totally knew that werewolf’s didn’t exist … however … wouldn’t it suck to be the first person to ever get bitten by a werewolf while taking the trash out? I mean, someone’s got to be the first, why couldn’t it be me?

At any rate, I told you all that so this next part would make a bit more sense.

When my wife asked me how it was staying by myself, out in the middle of nowhere, with no one around, I told her “the murderers could take their time”.

The Bear Trap restaurant

The last night I was in town, I went out to eat with the owner of the construction company and his top guy. The restaurant/bar we went to was called “The Bear Trap” … exactly the sort of name a place in the North Woods of Wisconsin should be called. The food was good, the drinks were good – and our bartender is the wife of Travis (remember Travis?). Basically, she was serving her husband’s bosses and the architect of the project where her husband is currently working. So yeah, the drinks were terrific.

So when the night had ended, I had the contractor drop me off at the end of the driveway to the cabin where I was staying. The evening was pretty crisp and I felt like getting in a short walk. The important part of the story is this: A cabin that’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s night-time and there are zero lights out, and there is absolutely no sound.

It had been snowing the entire time that we had been at dinner and as I was walking down the driveway, my shoes making a crunching sound with every step I took. It was so dark that I had to pull out my phone and turn on the flashlight just so I could make sure that I didn’t wander off the path and fall into a ditch. I’m walking down the driveway, light pointed at my feet to see where I’m walking –




… and that’s when I saw a fresh pair of footprints in the snow. What the $%&#!! Why are there footprints out here?! There’s not supposed to be anyone out here. Why are there fresh prints in the snow. WHY!! I stopped waking and listened.


Mysterious footprints in the snow

I started following the footprints because according to every single murder story ever written, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. The footprints led to the side of the barn and disappeared behind a pile of firewood … naturally. Now I’m thinking, if I was a werewolf and I wanted to change in to my animal form, I wouldn’t want to do it out in the open, like a common animal. I would want some privacy … like behind this pile of wood.

Parked in the Woods

Luckily, there was no werewolf, or any murderers waiting for me that night. As it turns out, the contractor had sent someone over to this cabin because they are doing some work here and they are going to build a wood deck to lift all the firewood off the ground and someone needed to come by and take some measurements. It seems perfectly reasonable to do something like that at night, what was I thinking?

It’s only January 7th at this point and I think I’ve already avoided getting killed about 8 times. New Year, and New Adventures (that just might kill me).


Bob-AIA scale figure

I’d like to dedicate this month’s ArchiTalks blog post to my friend, Rusty Long, who is dealing with a family tragedy. Rusty is an Architect based out of Portsmouth, Virginia, whose son Matthew is fighting for his life. Here is Matthew’s story, as told by his Dad:

Matthew Long was born May 29th, 2013, happy, and seemingly healthy. Less than two days later his mother and I found ourselves in an neonatal intensive care unit waiting room, listening to a rushed intensive care doctor explain how our son needed immediate dialysis to save his life. The disease, he briefly explained, was one of a group of disorders called Urea Cycle Disorders, which impact the way the body breaks down protein. We later discovered that Matthew’s particular variant is called OTC Deficiency, a particularly severe form of it in fact, which results in a rapid rise of ammonia in the blood, called hyperammonemia, resulting in devastating neurological damage. This form of OTC is so severe, Matthew has virtually no peers who have survived it. Once the immediate crisis was arrested, we came to find out more about the disease and the impact of this initial event.


The disease is inherited, and the damage is permanent. Treatment consists of a combination of medications, low protein medical diet, and ultimately a liver transplant. Matthew was fortunate to experience no additional hyperammonemic events in the following fifteen months of life, and had a liver transplant on August 24th, 2014. The cure for the disease, a transplant, isn’t so much a cure as trading one condition for another. While we will never risk the chance of another ammonia spike, Matthew is on a half a dozen or more medications at any given time to avoid rejection. Despite these challenges, intensive daily therapy for cerebral palsy (a result of the initial damage), limited motor function, and various other challenges along the way, our son is remarkably happy and has changed all our lives for the better. He’s taught us to be stronger than we ever thought possible, to have faith beyond human understanding, and the immeasurable value of life.
The #ArchiTalks community is hoping to raise $5,500 to help Rusty and his family reach their financial goal on If each reader of this post contributes a small amount, our impact will be massive and we can make a difference for Matthew’s family. Click here now and donate $2.00

You can also read the other members of the ArchiTalks community who are also dedicating this months blog post to help Rusty and his family. I doubt any of them will be like mine (thank goodness).

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
New Year, New Goals

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
New Year, New Adult Architect

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A Little Premature

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
new year, new [engagement]

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
New Year, New Business

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@simplybrinn)
New Year, New Perspective

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)
New Year, New Business

Nicholas Renard – dig Architecture (@dig-arch)
New Year, A New Hope

Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@anth_rich)
New Year New Desk

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
New Year, New Goals

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
New Year New Office

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
New Year, More Change

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
New Year, New Office Space

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
New Year, New Reflection

Rusty Long – Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)
New Year, New Direction

Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
New Year. New Gear.

Cindy Black – Rick & Cindy Black Architects (*)
New Year, New Casita

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
New Year, New Underwear

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
New Year, New Community on Business of Architecture

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
New Year, New CAD

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
New Year, New Adventures

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
new race new year new start

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
New Year. New Budget.

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
New Year, New Era

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“new year, new _____”

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
New Year, New Plan

Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
New Year, New Adventures

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
New Year, New Life!

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
New Year, New Home

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
The New New

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
New Year New Reality


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  • Faith

    Hey, I’m only in eighth grade and I’ve decided that I want to be an architect. I’ve been reading some of your stuff and I’ve realized that I know next to nothing about architecture. Could you tell me what I can do now to prepare for when I get to college?

    • Hi Faith,

      This is the wrong place to ask this question. You should go to the FAQ page and scroll through some of the typical questions and answers I have there. You are years away from having to make a decision on what your future will hold for you and in the meantime, there are all sorts of articles in my “Do You Want to be an Architect” series. Look for the more popular ones on the FAQ page.

      Cheers – and good luck.

  • Justin Gehr

    You must be pretty close to Land O’ Lakes if that the same bear trap I’m thinking of. Next time your up there check out the Black Oak, Its west on the same road as the bear trap inn. My family has land and cabins maybe 20 minutes west of Land O lakes, so I’ve been pretty interested in this project, looks very interesting.

    • It is the same Bear Trap. If your family has cabin up there, you mist also be close (unless you moved away).

      • Justin Gehr

        We’re mostly from the Milwaukee area. We’ll actually be up there early February to do some snowmobiling.

        • I will also be up there in February and the contractors are asking me to add a day on to my schedule for the sole purpose of snowmobiling. Since it will be my first time on a snowmobile, I’d say you better keep your eyes peeled in case I am on the same trail as you.

          • Justin Gehr

            That’s great! I wish you good luck and no accidents. Its a lot of fun.

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  • robertswinburne

    I should probably call you a wuss but I won’t cuz that would be mean. It does take some guts to go from balmy and temperate Texas north into snow country in the winter unless you are a downhill skier. Downhill skiers are wusses though. You could however go ice fishing in an authentic bobhouse!

    • That would be mean … and for the record, I was unaffected by the cold and frankly disappointed by the lack of snow (I expected far worse). Of course, I probably would’t suggest to the guys who are outside all day working in 10 degree weather while it’s snowing, that this is no big deal – but until you’ve spent part of your life installing an asphalt roof during a Texas summer, you don’t really understand what hell truly feels like.

      • robertswinburne

        Just stopping in Texas once on a flight transfer and looking out at the heat waves on the tarmac caused me to suffer mild heat stroke and dizzy spells.

  • Michele Grace Hottel

    grew up in pittsburgh, (it is a nice city full of culture!!!) but moved to san diego, ca at 17, except for one cold year in denmark (also a beautiful city!!) i have lived here but i am always asked by people who still live in my home town, “don’t you miss the seasons? don’t you miss the snow???” and i tell them, i miss the seasons (autumn is my favorite) but if i want to see the snow, i can drive 45 minutes to see it, then drive home again 🙂 i don’t know what to say about the werewolves…

    • there is literally nothing to say about werewolves … they won’t stand for it.

      • Michele Grace Hottel

        i didn’t see the twilight series in that list of books that architects should get for christmas…

  • Solange Guaida

    Oh I chuckled while reading this post… I went from studying and practicing architecture in Mexico, to moving to Canada where we have the same winter conditions you’re experiencing in Wisconsin (except I’m in the city, no werewolves here!). It’s been a learning curve to see how construction details, schedules, and project deadlines are dictated by the weather. I sometimes still yearn for the simplicity of designing for the year round temperate climate of Mexico City. And 10 years later, I’m still working on my snowball skills!

    • when it comes to snowballs, I think you either have it or you don’t. Maybe your just like Michelangelo and your should focus on designing and building the fortifications?

  • Lora

    The site looks beautiful. Did you help shovel? You should have, just to do it once.

    • I actually did offer but since there were only two shovels, and there were 7 of us, I didn’t want to rob anyone of their livelihood. My true winter skill lies in lobbing snowballs over fortifications with deadly accuracy. It must be because I’m Norwegian.

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  • Quizshow

    I too have an unreasonable and slightly unhealthy fear of werewolves. Just the idea of going into those woods after dark – summer or winter- would prevent me from ever working on a project like this. Bravo, sir!

    • There is something about walking around the woods, at night, in a remote location, that makes for a creepy set of circumstances. Finding a rogue set of footprints is a legitimate cause for being on edge.

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  • Gene

    Bob, Welcome to the joys of building during real winter weather. It is amazing what a nice warm place some 6 mil plastic and a propane heater can make.
    Did you check out the basement light wells assuming that you could find them ;-).
    Now about those footprints. Did you notice that they only went in one direction? There are no werewolves up there; everyone know they don’t like cold weather. However, bigfoot is another story. Also, the creatures wandering around walking like mummies are just workers outside the comfy plastic room.
    With an eagle eye and some good luck you should end up with a nice cabin.

    • all of your comments make for excellent observations – clearly you have some experience in these matters. Any tips for using the port-a-potty?

      • Gene

        Take care of any sit down business at home. You will only forget this rule once.

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