Are you in a hole in your life (career, tasks, relationships, money, credit cards, debt)?  You should stop digging right now!

We learn a lot through trial and error, and as I have said on many, many times here on the Small Scale Life Podcast, we learn more through catastrophic failures than wild successes. Julie and I have a great example of this from our failed stair project at Eagles Ridge.

In this Episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, I talk about 5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project Failure that can be applied to our lives: relationships, jobs, money, tasks, DIY projects and even social media.  The key lesson learned in all of this is if you are in a hole, stop digging!  You will have less of a mess to correct if you stop digging that hole deeper and deeper.

Ask me how I know….

Not all is doom and gloom, dear friends. We have had some great times and great successes out at Eagles Ridge, and you will hear about them as I provide an Eagles Ridge Update: Community, House Project and Stair Project.  Two exciting updates are that I planted the first homestead plants on the property AND the Old Trapper caught the first fish from our shores this weekend (a smallmouth bass)!

April has come and gone, and we had a lot going on gearing up for constructing our Eagles Ridge Barndominium. The machine is MOSTLY in place, and the weather had cooperated; however, we hit a delay. We are in a holding pattering until some things get sorted out, and that gives us time to do other things.

Some things…go better than others!

You’ll see what I mean in this post and podcast episode.  I mean, what were you expecting?  All unicorns and rainbow farts? Life doesn’t work like that, my friends.


What is Eagles Ridge?

Eagle's Ridge Homestead, Hitching Post, Fall 2020

Before we go far with this podcast, video and post, we need to define what Eagles Ridge is for all the new folks.

Eagles Ridge is our 1.8-acre homestead in Western Wisconsin on the banks fo the Apple River.  Close to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, it is far enough away to be in a different world!  We have the convenience of the Big City (which is great for newbie country mice like us) and the quiet of the rural life.  It really is the best of both worlds.

Julie and I are creating a new home, a new garden, a new community and a new Small Scale Life in Western Wisconsin.  We discuss finding Eagles Ridge on a recent Small Scale Life Podcast here. You can listen to the episode by clicking this text.

Even though the prices of lumber are spiraling out of control, Julie and I are working hard to construct a new house and pole shed (maybe) and move into this magical place in 2021! Stay tuned for more of that story in future Small Scale Life Podcast Episodes, YouTube Videos and Odysee Videos. 

Eagles Ridge Stair Project

Tom and Dan; In a hole? Stop Digging! 5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project Failure; Homesteading; Mindset

In November of 2020, we started the Stair Project to provide a safe way for people to access the Apple River from the top of Eagles Ridge, which is about 50-60 feet above the river.  By using a widened deer path we call “Billy Goat’s Gruff,” we get about half way down the Ridge.  We just needed a way to get from the middle of the Ridge to the river!

In a hole? Stop Digging! 5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project Failure; Homesteading; Mindset; U stair from 4x4 posts

As seen above, we decided the best approach was using 4″x4″x8′ green treated posts.  The Old Trapper had the facilities and equipment, so he cut the posts down and created steps.  Using lots of lag bolts, he created “U” shaped stairs that we would dig into the hill and secure with 24″ rebar and other long lag bolts. These stairs are all connected together and incredibly sturdy.

Things were going well last Fall, but we ran into some serious issues, especially in the past two weeks.  The main problem is seen in the photo with most of the 4″x4″ U steps in place.  We could only climb 7″ with each “U” step, and the ground is steep.  We couldn’t get high enough fast enough: we were losing to the slope.

I did come up with a design to turn the 4″x4″ U steps across the face of the slope. That would allow us to get up to ground level while not losing more ground due to the severe slope.  We would turn twice and get to the top of Billy Goat’s Gruff.

Stair Stringer Big Dig

In a hole? Stop Digging! 5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project Failure; Homesteading; Mindset; Stair Stringers After the Rain

Two weeks ago, we decided to make some drastic changes with the stairs.  As a shortcut (less work, so we thought), we decided to use manufactured steps from a Big Box Store. We would attach these stair stringers to the highest 4″x4″ U step and build a platform or landing to secure the top.

It seemed reasonable.

We just had to remove “a little soil” to make that happen. To get the stair stringers to work, we would need to remove a soil from a 60″x40″x24″ block.  Using simple volume calculations, that translated into removing about 1.1 cubic yards of soil, roots, and rock.  In the end, that was not insignificant amount of material (especially when we had to replace it)!

The main problem with this method of stair construction was the disturbance of the natural soil. The roots and rock held the native soil in place. Removing the rock and, more importantly, the roots weakened the soil.  When soil like sand is free to move, it will move when a force is applied. I watched in horror as the soil and rock fell from the undermined Billy Goat’s Gruff and as Julie and her dad worked the area we were digging out. With rain on the way, we left Eagles Ridge on April 25th very concerned.  I was sure we would have a massive landslide on our hands.

Fortunately, the soil held with the rains and animals walking over the trail.  The picture above shows the scar on April 28, 2021, after the rains.  It is hard to see from this angle, but the trail on the upper left side of the stairs was starting to collapse and would have fallen in that day.

Based on the safety issue and potential erosion issue we just created, we decided to reverse course on this project.  We were in a hole in a bad way, and we decided to stop digging and repair the hill.

Stop Digging: Healing the Land

In a hole? Stop Digging! 5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project Failure; Homesteading; Mindset; Shoring, Baffles and Hugel Mounds

I started restoring the hill by shoring up Billy Goat’s Gruff with 3 4×4’s and a 2×6 stacked on each other. We had underminded the trail by that much material!  I secured everything with stakes and screwed everything together.  The trail seemed to stabilize and not be on the verge of collapse.

Next, I essentially built three walls and two Hugel Munds on the hill (see the photo above). I wanted to resist water running through the repaired scar and washing the soil away.  To do that, I built three walls, “baffles,” using 2″x6″x3′ boards. Each baffle is staked into the ground and is screwed together with 3″ deck screws.

The Old Trapper and I filled the voids with timber and rock before adding sand, natural soil and topsoil.  We tamped down the sand and natural soil before adding topsoil.

Once everything was in place, Julie and I spread grass seed, topsoil and erosion blanket over the scar.  We staked down the erosion blanket, burned some sage and prayed for steady but gentle rains to soak the seeds and help with germination.

Time will tell if our repairs took and held the soil.

My fingers are crossed.

Learn, Do, Grow and Be a Little Better Everyday

As I sit here in Superior, Wisconsin, and think about this overall project and how we could have done things differently, I came up with 5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project.  Now, these lessons can apply to all aspects of your life because we often find ourselves in a rut, a ditch or a hole because of our decisions and actions.

So many times we look up and realize how deep we are into trouble because of a decision or what we did, and we think we can muscle through the situation, doubling down on the mistake and creating an even bigger disaster.

Ever find yourself in that situation before?  Here are some examples:

  • One little white lie turns into a series of white lies or even a bigger lie, and eventually the truth comes out as your House of Cards collapses around you.
  • Spending compulsively depletes your savings and checking account, but you continue to spend without regard to your budget. Then, Murphy comes knocking: your car breaks down, you job gets outsourced, some unforeseen tax bill hits or you have a health issue that racks up debt.  It can be a horrendous spiral.
  • Dealing with a toxic friend or family member can rub off on your and infect your mindset, language, and actions. You can alienate good friends and family members with your toxicity.
  • Taking shortcuts at your job can help you get the project done fast, but eventually the shortcut will fail. You will have to do costly and time consuming rework to fix the problems and do the project right.

I have done all four of these things at different points in my life, and it has cost me.  

5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project

Stop Digging Infographic

Upon reflection, I developed these Five Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project are so important.  Here are the Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t let the momentum of the situation or event take you along for the ride. You have to engage and guide your way through the situation. Just going along to get along might not be the best option for you.
  2. When you are digging a hole, rut or ditch, STOP and ASSESS the situation often.
  3. It is ok to stop and start over. Pay the “Stupid Tax” (time, money and/or effort) and move on a new path.
  4. Reassess the plan and the situation and ask “why.” Continue forward if it seems reasonable, otherwise pivot and follow #3 above.
  5. Trust your intuition. If it doesn’t look right, feel right, sound right or smell right, it probably isn’t right. Trust your logic, reason and intuition.

While these Lessons Learned will not prevent you from making mistakes or following the wrong path, at least you have a recipe for taking stock of your project, decisions and actions and adjust.

Remember: it is ok to stop digging.  In fact, you might save yourself a lot of work and heartache in the process!

Watch the Stair Project Progress

This isn’t the first glitch we had with the stair project. I documented the evolution of the stair project on a Small Scale Life YouTube Playlist.

You can watch the videos below. There are 8 videos.

Watch this Episode on the Small Scale Life YouTube Channel

You can watch this Episode on the Small Scale Life YouTube Channel:


Hall of Heroes – Gratitude

hall of heroes, gratitude, practicing gratitude quote

“It’s hard to have a bad day when you START your day with gratitude.”

As part of intentionally Practicing Gratitude, I am starting this podcast episode by recognizing some folks who have been active on Small Scale Life.

These folks have reached the Hall of Heroes for this episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast:

  • Brian and Kori from Happy Hills Homestead and Baby Walter Company for coming from Onamia, MN, to visit us at Eagles Ridge!  They brought comfrey, compost and rabbit poop.  Now that is what I call a gift!  We now have a comfrey patch growing at Eagles Ridge, which is really exciting.
  • Sue and her dog Otis for visiting us last weekend. She made the drive from the Minneapolis’ Far Western Suburbs and joined the conversation and fun last weekend.
  • My son Danny and his girlfriend for visitng last Saturday.  I might have barely lost in bags, but we will have a rematch.
  • Old Trapper Dan and Sue for helping and being there most weekends.  Special shout out to Dan for his help on the Stair Project, especially for the in a hole and  stop digging portion!
  • Finally, a special thank you to all of you for listening to this podcast episode, and if you want a shout out in our next Hall of Heroes, get active and participate on Small Scale Life.

What are you grateful for?  Maybe you should tell that person or that organization (or favorite podcaster).  Give it a try!

Listen to this Episode!

Erosion Blanket; In a hole? Stop Digging! 5 Lessons Learned from Our Stair Project Failure; Homesteading; Mindset

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