When a pile of junk becomes inspiration

I guess it really is true what they say. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” or in today’s case, it’s another man’s business.

Today, I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting a local kid who brought so much inspiration to me, and I don’t think he has any idea that he did. No, I didn’t ask permission to write about him, so in the off and unlikely chance he comes across this post, I hope he likes it.

Hidden junk

So far on this blog, I’ve only told you about the beauties and wonders of our dream-like property. But now stuff’s about to get real, real fast.

You see, like perhaps most large areas of personal land, it would appear that a portion of ours was used as a personal dump. Somewhat hard to see at first glance, and hidden off behind some trees on the west side of our pond, you’ll find rusty metal galore. Junk for us, treasure for some. Everything from an ancient pontoon, riding lawn mower, multiple push lawn mowers, barrels of some sort, an old metal mattress spring, and a slew of other unidentifiable metal objects. Many of it partially buried from its 60+ years of being there.

Hidden treasure

Today, when I got home from picking up the kids from school, an unidentifiable young person was at our house with a truck and large trailer.

Turns out it was the “kid” Nick told me about a week ago. He met this “kid” at the brush dump while dropping off crap wood from the many trees he cut down for the garden. The “kid” asked Nick if he could have the wood. Nick was like, “you want to come haul thousands of pounds of wood off my property so I don’t have to? YES PLEASE!” And so he came, and with a broken hand, hefted large tree stumps and branches into his mini van. The “kid” made an impression on Nick that day. This was a kid not afraid of hard work.

Today, he made an impression on me. He showed up and started clearing out our dump pile of metal scraps. He was going to recycle it for cash. This is what he did for money. Not a job, neigh, he doesn’t call it that. What I call it is business, and good business. It’s good for the environment, great for our property, and he just made our lives a heck of a lot easier, all at no cost to us.

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The scrap metal loaded up on his trailer. He’s coming back to pick up the rest tomorrow. (Ryker thinks he’s helping.)

Awestruck

There was a brief moment as I was watching this “kid” heft incredibly heavy and sharp rusty objects, without gloves, into his trailer, that I thought, “wow, he works really hard not to have a job.” The thought sounded like judgement, but felt like awe. Here was this junior in high school working his butt off and making good money without getting stuck in the grind of what many jobs offer. Security? Yes. Freedom? No. He told Nick that he makes more money doing this than his brother ever did with “real” jobs. I was, am, impressed.

He saw a unique problem, that likely no one else was solving, and went for it. Now he even has special permission from his school to do pick-ups during the day, and they give him their leftover scraps from their auto shop.

This “kid” at 17 years old knows more about running a successful business and working his butt off than I do, a 35-year old with a masters degree in business. And the clincher of it all, I don’t think he even knows that’s what he’s doing.

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Here he is stopping to pick up some of the wood on his way out. (This is a glimpse of where the garden will be, well, at least part of it. Nick took out about 20+ trees)

Inspired

Although I am always a proponent of learning, no classroom can come close to life experience. This kid taught me more about business in the 15 minutes of chatting with him than my six years of business classes. What he taught me was, like Nike, you just do it. Don’t worry about the perfect business plan, like I have been, finding the right audience first, like I have been, doing all the right marketing, like I’ve been trying to do, but just do it already.

Now, that’s a lot easier said than done. I have 35 years of fear I’m facing, a family I’m supporting, and a lot of self-doubt I’m trying to overcome. But I really want to be like that “kid.”

 

 

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Every house has its quirks. Mine is no exception.

Like every rose has its thorns, every house has its quirks. And my house is definitely no exception.

Purchased from a frugal elderly couple in their mid 80’s, our house, though from the 40s, was remarkably clean. And remarkably weird. Not at first glance, but within our first few days in our new home we got acquainted rather quickly with our house’s quirky ways.

The house

My beautifully quirky home

When hot is cold and cold is hot

My first shower in the new house was a plethora of surprises. Aside from the petal wilting, nose scrunching, eye tearing rotten egg smell (see this post for why) that overloaded my senses, I also got showered in cold water, EVEN THOUGH the faucet knob was clearly on HOT. So I did the only rational thing, I turned the knob to COLD. Yes! Hot stinky water!

Nearly five months later and we still haven’t fixed the faucet. I’m getting quite used to it now.

Bath of horrors

You already saw the sludge water bath experienced by more poor boys in this post, but there’s more.

You see, we have this decent sized jet tub in our basement. This absolutely thrilled my mom. So, moving weekend she took the liberty of being the first to try it out. All was relatively normal during the bath itself, but when she drained the tub it all drained out onto the floor. Was that supposed to happen? Maybe it was like a two for one kinda thing. Clean yourself and wash the floors all in one go.

This did get fixed. Now everything drains beautifully, but we did have several terrifying experiences of either sludge water or sewage back up into our downstairs bathroom. Ew!

Pond water

Playing in the frozen pond. Looks a bit like the bath sludge water.

1940s septic, grey water system, and dirty toilet paper

Prior to moving into the new house we knew one thing for sure, we’d have to replace the septic. The septic was original to the house. We had no idea how the heck it lasted so long. Well, we soon found out.

  1. The former owner had redirected all the water from the house, except the toilet water (thank God) out into the front yard. Now, this can be kind of a cool thing if it’s done appropriately as a grey water system. Unfortunately it was running directly into the front yard without any filter. Not cool.
  2. We discovered several plastic bags of dirty toilet paper in the garage. And now we get to the heart of it. THEY DIDN’T FLUSH THEIR TOILET PAPER. Turns out they burned it but didn’t get around to burning the last dozen or so bags. We uneccessarily go through a roll of toilet paper a day in my household. The septic simply couldn’t handle that and it’s nastiness started seeping up through the ground while we waited the three weeks to have our septic replaced. Life can be so cool sometimes.

I’m happy to say that we got a brand new septic and Nick was able to redirect the plumbing into it.

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Digging for the new septic

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Placement of the new septic

Mildew and mazes

As if the rotten egg smell coming from our water wasn’t enough, but now all of our “clean” clothes were smelling like mildew. Nick thought maybe it was his deer clothes causing the smell (he had picked up a deer processing job at our local meat market and came home covered in deer blood each night, which meant those bloody clothes ended up in the wash every night). It wasn’t. It was the washer.

It also didn’t help that an 80-minute cycle in our dryer wasn’t getting our clothes dry. At first we thought that was because of the whacky dryer duct work. It coursed through our downstairs ceiling like a maze twisting at 90 degree angles every few feet. It wasn’t. It just needed a new hose.

So, we got a new washer and a new hose for our dryer and no more stinky clothes. Yay!

There were other quirky discoveries upon moving in, like the three foot pile of saw dust in the basement workshop, but, although they caused loads of stress at the time, they also make for good story telling, and that I can appreciate.

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Easter family photo. For your enjoyment 🙂

 

 

Snowed in, sludge water, and rotten eggs

Moving to the country has definitely been an adventure, to say the least. And there have been, well, adjustments to learning how to live out here. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but it is kind of fun, even when it’s not, and even when it makes you want to puke.

Snowed in

Let’s talk snow for a minute. Snow in the city is a nuisance, snow out here is, “OMG! I’m totally, no, seriously, I’m trapped in my house!”

With 600+ ft of driveway roughly 9-12″ inches deep in heavy wet snow last week, shoveling the driveway was out of the question. So how have we been handling the ridiculous amount of snow we’ve been getting? By hiring a legit snow plow to plow us out. But what happens when your hired snow plow is broken? You wait until another can come plow you out. And in the case of last week, we waited two days. Which means, unless you’re going to walk to town in 3 ft of snow, you’re S.T.U.C.K. A big bummer when you’re out of groceries. Let’s just say we got real creative in our meals.

Lessons learned:

  1. We need a truck with a plow
  2. Stay stocked up on food in the winter
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Part of our 600+ ft driveway

Sludge water

Now this is my favorite least favorite longstanding issues since moving to the country. We have well water. NEVER have I experience well water like this before. And before I continue, yes we did have the well inspected, and yes it passed inspection.

Two weeks into our new home, our perfectly clear water turned yellow and started tasting like a bloody mouth (e.g. iron) — just trying to paint a picture with your senses here — you’re welcome. Then, sludge water happened. Ew!

Here’s how it all went down. The boys needed a bath. As the tub filled up with yellowish water, the boys started blaming each other for peeing in it (hey, it definitely wouldn’t have been the first time). Then something really gnarly happened. It turned into murky brown water that can only best be described as diarrhea water. Are you gagging yet? I even have photographic evidence, if you dare to take a peek.

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Sludge water

The water did the same thing to my whites in the laundry, turning them all a disgusting brown. More grossness.

Lessons learned:

  1. The water filters we were having changed out twice a month weren’t cutting it
  2. We need a more permanent solution for our water – which we’re still trying to fix
  3. The rust will clog up the drip lines for the garden, so unless we can get the rust out, we can’t use our well water for the garden

Rotten eggs

Yep, you guessed it, or maybe you haven’t, but this is another paragraph on our well water.

Don’t you just love the way you smell right after stepping out of the shower? Like lavender soap, rosemary shampoo, and maybe even rain. But definitely not rotten eggs, right?

Well, that’s how WE smell when we get out of the shower. Like rotten eggs. In fact, that’s how our entire house smells when we shower. Which doesn’t bode well for the girl with the sensitive smeller (e.g. me).

Now imagine you’re about to take a big gulp of ice cold water and just as you do you catch a big whiff of, what was that, oh yeah, rotten eggs. Yum!

That’s my life people. And I’m okay with it, for now, but gosh darn we better get this water thing figured out soon.

Lesson learned:

  1. The water softener we got just ain’t cutting it

This is just the start of all the fun things we’re adjusting to out here in the country. Stay tuned for more.

To Be Continued…

 

“What have you done so far?”

Asked the host at a local happy hour event I was attending. This question was enough to send me into a mini tailspin of panic. What have we done so far? And has it been enough?

As I share this adventure we’re on with others, I get all sorts of questions. Some, like the question above, are out of excitement and genuine interest. While other questions are asked with an undertone of “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” which in response I assure them, “I have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.”

In either case, I appreciate the interest and the opportunity to tell people about this adventure. But holy crap am I scared.

Paralyzed by indecision – what we haven’t done so far

  • A name – we still haven’t picked a name. Turns out it’s super hard. Plus, pretty much this whole shebang hinges on a name. You know, important stuff like a website, an LLC, a business checking account, marketing, and this very important thing called branding.
  • Tools – a UTV, ATV, walk-behind tractor, truck, plow, riding lawn mower. Do we need it all?
  • Infrastructure – a hoop house, green house, wash house, propagation house, chicken house, walk-in cooler, fencing, water, garden plot. What do we start with and where do we put it?

Seriously! How’s a person supposed to know which to get, how much to spend, and when to get it? That’s the thing. We don’t know. And we don’t know anyone who can tell us. So, at some point very soon, we’re just going to have to take a leap and make a decision.

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Building momentum – what we have done so far

  • Bought seeds – see the complete seed list here: Seed plots & schedule – Seed order
  • Got nearly all of our smaller garden tools
  • Started four flats of micro greens
  • Cleaned out our entire back shed to be used as either a propagation house or wash house or both
  • Measured and remeasured and then measured again about two more times where the garden will go (the sun is our biggest determinant and as the days get longer it keeps changing direction, meaning what once had sun has shade and vice versa)
  • Started lots of spreadsheets for seed plots and harvest time tables, etc.
  • Research, lots of research

So, have we done enough at this point? Probably not, but we’re learning. And through that, we’re also learning to have patience with ourselves and to not be afraid to fail, which clearly we are since we can’t make a frick’n decision.

But we’re getting really close to jumping – or at the least, pushing each other off the edge into the unknown and the scary world of decision making.

 

 

 

Moving day – a time for tantrums

November 3, 2018

Closing was in Cumberland at 11 am. The final walk-through was at 10:30. All we had to do was get the cashier’s check for the 20% closing costs and then make the 1.5 hour drive to our new home. We were so close!

Nick, driving my dad’s truck towing a borrowed trailer and me in the van filled to the brim with all the stuff from the house that wasn’t in storage and didn’t fit in the trailer. Plus, two kids and a dog, who had to squeeze between the kids’ seats and all the stuff. We left our house in St. Paul at 8:30 am and headed to the bank. I had slight anxiety, but nothing too obnoxious. I was pretty darn confident that things would run as smoothly as could be. Boy was I wrong.

“Sorry, we can’t accept this check”

8: 40 am

We arrived at the bank. It was closed. I thought banks opened at 8 am during the week. Guess not. So we sat in the parking lot waiting. I texted my mortgage broker, “who do I make the cashier’s check out to?” “Yourself” she said. “Weird,” I thought. But she’s the expert.

9 am

I considered having the teller leave the cashier’s check blank in the “to” section, but didn’t. Mistake. Always go with your gut.

11:15 am

After a couple of detours and 15 minutes late, I met Nick at RE/MAX in Cumberland for our closing. He’d gone ahead for the final walk through.

12 pm

“Can we get your cash to close before we get started?”

“Yep! Here you go. The mortgage broker had me make it out to myself. Hope that’s okay.”

It wasn’t.

There weren’t any TCF banks in Wisconsin either. We called some local banks to see if they’d be willing to cash my check and reissue a new one.

They weren’t.

We called TCF to see if they could wire the money instead.

The couldn’t – at least not without me there in person.

12:15 pm

I loaded the kids back up in the car to make the 1.5 hour drive to the nearest TCF Bank in Stillwater, MN. Ryker (my 5-year-old son), at this point, was in tantrum mode. He’d already been in the car since 8:30 and the prospect of spending another 3 hours in the car sent him over the edge. I couldn’t blame him. I wasn’t far from a tantrum myself.

“The sellers aren’t moved out yet”

Right after arriving at the closing, Nick quietly informed me that the sellers, an 80-something-year-old couple, still had “a ton, and I mean a ton” of stuff at the house. What! What does that mean? Were we going to have to push off closing? Where would we go? We were already moved out of our old house.

While I headed back to the twin cities, Nick headed back to “our new” house and helped the sellers pack up and move out the rest of their stuff – sort of. They had to come back the next day for a few remaining things.

Thankfully, Ryker fell asleep almost immediately after leaving RE/MAX. I did throw my tantrum. It lasted about 10 minutes on the road on the phone with my parents.

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The third time’s a charm. Or is it the fourth?

2 pm

We arrived at TCF Bank at the Cub Foods in Stillwater. I woke up Ryker and hurried the boys out of the van and through the busy parking lot, rushed them inside (the closer needed us back around 3), got up to the teller – I forgot the slip of paper in the van that had the name I was supposed to make it out to. You’ve got to be kidding me!

I rushed back out with the kids and back through the busy parking lot, grabbed the slip of paper and ran, dragging Townes and Ryker behind me.

Back at the teller window I slipped the teller the slip of paper and he proceeded to create the cashier’s check.

1st attempt – he printed on the back of the cashier’s check.

2nd attempt – he spelled the name of the recipient wrong.

3rd attempt (and by now my fourth issued cashier’s check) – he got it right.

7 hours in the car

I sped through the winding roads to get back to REMAX before they closed.

3:30 pm

Arrived. We closed without anymore hitches.

4 pm

The sellers were all moved out. After spending 7 hours in the car that day going back and forth, we only had a 5-minute drive to our new home.

The rest is history, or I guess the future.

Looking back, perhaps it really wasn’t all that bad, but in the moment, it was a time for tantrums.

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Why Cumberland, WI?

That’s the most frequent question we get, at least from the locals here in Cumberland. How we ended up here was somewhat arbitrary. We’d actually never even heard of Cumberland, Wi before. But here we are.

Choosing Cumberland…

It fit our search criteria

When we decided we wanted to buy land and start a small-scale farm our dreams extended as far as Northern California, Oregon and Colorado, maybe even the Carolinas or Florida where the growing season was particularly long. But alas, what we value most, family and friends, became our main determinant for choosing land. And so we set our sights closer, MUCH closer, about 1.5 hours from the Twin Cities, because that’s where all our loved ones are.

Aside from being just 1.5 hours from the Twin Cities, we also wanted land that was affordable and beautiful to hike and explore, which ultimately meant, non-traditional farmland — hilly and full of trees.

So, although our land is zoned agriculture, it’s not ideal for farming, which presents its own challenges, but it also made it more affordable to attain. The fact that it’s farther North with a shorter growing season (another challenge to overcome) also made it more affordable.

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We fell in love

After seeing many properties in our price range that were, frankly, unlivable, unfarmable, and unbeautiful, we, to quote Alanis Morissette, “fell head over heels” for this property (yet to be named).

It was a warm and sunny September, Saturday afternoon and our now home was the third of three we looked at in Cumberland that day. It also happened to be the one we were least excited to see of the three (one reason why good pictures are so important). The first two properties we saw were, let’s just say, disappointing. The first was a clean and VERY small home, good farmland, not good for recreation — I wasn’t in love. The second was downright disgusting, and pretty much all marshland, but surrounded by a breathtaking view. By this point our expectations were low. We had already seen so many houses before these.

Maybe that was it, low expectations often equate to pleasant surprises. And so we were more than pleasantly surprised. It didn’t happen all at once but the excitement grew and grew with each step across the property, each new breathtaking view to behold: the pond, the apple orchard, the pine plantations, the rolling hills, and my absolute favorite, the butterfly garden (picture to come this spring).

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Let’s take a quick detour to the butterfly garden

Now, bare with me for a second. The butterfly garden was the most dreamy thing I’d ever seen. It was bursting with colorful flowering perennials overflowing a winding zen-like walking path that led to an old twisted tree — perfect for the most romantic tree fort. And then there was the screen house with a wooden swing in it overlooking it all. But it was the butterflies at the koi pond that got me most of all. That’s right, butterflies and a koi pond. Take that every Disney-princess-dream-land ever to exist!

I stood there at the point of combusting with the overwhelming beauty of it all. As I watched the tiny golden koi fish dart between Lilly pads, that’s when the magic really happened. No less than 15 Monarch butterflies flittered boldly all around me. I hadn’t seen so many butterflies at once in the natural world, maybe ever.

Still on that detour — Chasing butterflies

You see, Nick says this thing when I get distracted, along the lines of, “You’re chasing butterflies again.” This inspired my first ever published piece (as an adult) called “Chasing Butterflies.” It was published in Moon Magazine just barely two months earlier. It felt serendipitous. It was meant to be.

Chasing Butterflies

Now…back to our regular scheduled programming

We looked inside the house next and relief shuddered out of us. My excitement grew. I could actually live here! It wasn’t the prettiest, nor did it have the most character, but it wasn’t gross and I could do something with it. Yay!

Nick and I were positively jittery with excitement and fear. He turned to me and said, “I don’t know how I can farm here, but I don’t even care, I want to live here.” Me too. Me too.

And so began three days of trying to decide if we purchase on emotion. It didn’t work in the past for us and we definitely didn’t want to repeat past mistakes, but we felt that in the case of chasing your dreams, you must always lead with your heart, not your head. And so we brought my parents back three days later, explored the possibility of how we might farm here, checked out the town (which is adorbs, btw) and made an offer a few days later.

The End  Beginning.

 

Our 7 steps to “here” — finding courage, fighting fear

I remember exactly one year ago when Nick and I started seriously discussing buying land to farm and homestead, we had no idea how to do it.

We heard about other people doing it, but they had money – capital if you will – to get started. Their land was given to them. They had a job they could do from home. They knew how to farm or knew people who knew how to farm. They were different from us. They had it easier.

So, for nearly a year we talked and brainstormed about how we could make this work. How could we purchase land, have jobs that allowed us to live in a rural location, and afford to fund a small business? And on top of it all, where in the heck would we find the time to do it all?

These are the seven steps we took to get here. There are a million paths to any destination, this is our path.

1. Getting started — where there’s a will there’s a way

What we eventually discovered was, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And so we started to set things into motion, having faith that we’d be okay. But what to do first? Find a new job? Sell our house? Pay off school loans? Save up more money? What we eventually learned is you just have to start somewhere. So somewhere is where we started.

2. Living on half as much

A year-in-a-half ago Nick quit his full-time job as an MRI technologist to take care of the twins and run the house. He took this time while at home to discover what he wanted to do next. It was a year of growth and discovery for him, and an important year for our family. Through this decision we were brought to this dream of where we are today. And, although our household income was nearly cut in half, we barely noticed a difference. This, we discovered, would set the stage that would allow our family of four to live on one income and enable Nick to work full time on the farm.

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3. Liquifying assets — selling two houses

It’s amazing how the universe will accommodate you when you start putting things into motion.

We were currently living in a beautiful home in a rural suburb on the eastern border of Minnesota (Afton, MN). We also owned a starter home in St. Paul that we had been renting out the last four years. (This was the first house we purchased as a married couple and hadn’t been able to sell it since buying it during the housing boom in 2004.)

We sold our house in Afton first. It sold in 24 hours at nearly $20k over the asking price with 4 bids. We were gobsmacked.

Next step, move into our rental property and get that ready to sell.

We lived in our St. Paul home from August to November. We spent August and September repainting everything, updating the kitchen, gutting the bathroom, and carpeting the attic. Then we listed that house. It sold in three days at $7k over the asking price with three offers . Again, we were shocked and incredibly grateful. Things seemed to be working in our favor.

4. Paying off debt

This section deserves even more of a focus because this is where we get into how we funded our soon-to-be farm/homestead/business. For that reason, I’ll provide a brief overview in this post and do a follow-up post later with all the financial details.

We haven’t yet decided if paying off all of our school loans was truly the best financial approach (instead of keeping a majority of cash earned form the sale of two houses to fund the business), but I have no regrets — at least not yet. We wanted to enter this dream with zero debt so we would have the flexibility we’d need in our jobs and our new, courageous and adventure-filled lives.

We made a substantial amount of money from selling our home in Afton, which I’ll share in a follow-up post. We used this money to pay off our school loans, credit card balance, and our 20% down payment on our new house. The money we made from the sale of our rental property is what we’re using to fund most of the start-up costs for the farm.

5. Working from home — you don’t get what you don’t ask for

That was probably one of my most valuable lessons learned in 2017.

I worked at a fairly traditional 9-5 job managing a small team in marketing at a large corporation. Though we had lots of workplace flexibility on the team, working from home full-time hadn’t yet been explored. So, assuming this wasn’t an option, I was too scared to ask. It took me months to muster up the courage. When I finally did, though it wasn’t an enthusiastic, immediate yes, it was definitely a supportive “I’m going to do everything I can to help you do this,” which did eventually turn into a “yes.”

I now work from home four days a week and make the two-hour commute into the office one day a week. Though it’s been a bit of an adjustment, it’s also been a dream come true for this desperately-needs-to-be-free girl.

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6. Downsizing — spending less on the next house

We know that starting a new business in farming is going to be financially straining and physically exhausting. We know it will take a lot of time and money. Which is why we decided that the next house we purchase would cost even less than our previous house. This would continue to allow us flexibility in our jobs, but also in our lives. So, we bought a smaller home on a few less acres than we originally anticipated but that cost less than our last house. (Again, I’ll go in more detail about the financials in a subsequent post.)

7. Letting go

The summer of 2017 was probably one of the hardest, scariest, most stressful times of mine and Nick’s life. Moving three times in less than four months (and with a new puppy and two five-year olds) challenged us like never before. But we learned another really important lesson last summer — let go.

Let go of fear. Let go of desire. Let go of how we think things ought to be and instead follow our hearts and let the universe take it from there. Continuously letting go, or at least being present and aware of our fears, desires, and insecurities, got us through one of the most challenging times of our lives and it gave us the courage to get to here.

 

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