2020 Boundary Waters Family Adventure: Day 2 — Fishing & Exploring

It’s Saturday, late morning, and I’m bumming because we’re missing our second market in a row, or is it third? It’s hard to keep track. All these days in quarantine are starting to blur together. I’m hoping that at least Nick will be able to go to market with a few veggies next week, but man do I miss my market peeps. Just under two more weeks to go and the boys and I are in the clear.

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my last post about our trip to the Boundary Waters. We were on day two and had just unloaded our gear at a campsite before setting out in the canoe to explore the rest of the lake (in case we found a site with better fishing. Spoiler alert. We didn’t. The only two other campsites were taken.). Read about Day 1 here and Day 2, Part 1 here.

Fishing on Ham Lake near our campsite on the point.
Nick and Townes fishing near our campsite.

Exploring Ham Lake

After we unloaded our gear and loaded ourselves back into the canoe, we set out across the lake to a small section of rapids near the next portage. Ryker wanted to explore the rapids, so Nick pulled the canoe up to the rocks and Ryker and I disembarked to embark on a little adventure of our own while Nick and Townes fished.

Ryker and I exploring the rapids while Nick and Townes fish.

We hopped, jumped, and balanced our way across the rocks to the other side of the rapids where we shimmied along the shoreline to discover a still, peaceful area of lake flanked by a tall cliff rock. Now, all of the Boundary Waters is breathtaking, and not to say this was more or less so than the rest, but it was like coming up on a scene in a fantasy movie or novel where you discover this secret, magical place. The water was like glass and the rocky cliff to the left and the woods to the right created this winding channel that widened into a larger section of lake and sky, reflecting one another.

A still, beautiful channel on Ham Lake in the Boundary Waters.
Our magical place on the other side of the rapids.

We had reached as far as we could go without taking a swim or boat to explore the rest. So we made our way back across the slippery rocks, Ryker taking less care than before and basically wading through the shallow bits, soaked up to his knees. We met Nick and Townes on the other side and loaded back into the canoe and headed back to camp.

Once we got back to our campsite, the boys explored while Nick and I set up camp. By this time it was only about 11 a.m. Can you believe we did all that before 11 a.m.? To recap, we packed up from our night at the bunkhouse, made our way to an outfitters to rent our canoe, then paddled across three lakes and portaged two trails, unloaded our gear, fished and explored the rapids, then set up camp. It’s 10 a.m. here now and all I’ve done so far is scan my social accounts (which was pretty depressing — as usual), make myself a cup of instant coffee (coincidentally, what was left over from our trip), kiss my hubby, and make my bed, then settle into my favorite rocking chair to write this post.

Admiring the view of Ham Lake from our campsite.
Admiring the view of Ham Lake from our campsite. Photo credit: Townes McMillan

Catching Dinner

Throughout the day, we snacked on an Italian sub sandwich I bought the day before at a gas station, French bread, a block of cheese, summer sausage, and some Cliff bars. But for dinner, we needed to catch fish. Nick and the boys were able to catch a few fish off a rock cliff from our campsite, but then we headed over to our favorite little channel we camped on the year before, and caught just enough for dinner. I steadied the canoe using a paddle lodged into some rocks, while the boys fished away. When we had what we thought was a enough fish for dinner, we paddled back to the site.

Fishing in Ham Lake.
Fishing off a Southeast rock from our campsite without a whole lot of luck.
Bass fishing.
Ryker’s 19-inch Small Mouth Bass.
Bass fishing
Townes with his catch of the day right off a West-facing rock at our campsite.
Fishing on Ham Lake
The boys had a lot more luck fishing on the west side of our site rather than the Southeast side.

Eating Our Catch of the Day

While tinkering at the campsite (collecting and sawing wood, etc.) Nick and the boys heard a bit of commotion by the canoe. They ran down to see what they described as a giant snapping turtle demolishing off the last bit of one of our five fish. Nick picked up the line of fish and the snapping turtle just hung there for a bit before finally releasing our spoils and dropping back into the water. We were one fish down. It was time to clean them before the turtle came back. Nick cleaned up the fish while I readied the fire. Fried up in cajun batter, drizzled with fresh-squeezed lemon, we ate that deliciously fresh fish (small mouth bass) with a bit of ramen soup, rinsed down with dry red Bota Box wine for Nick and me, and lemonade for the boys (made with a dried powder mix).

Nick cleaning what was left of the fish we caught.
Townes and Ryker prepping/battering the fish.
Fish fry.
Ryker even offered to do the dishes.

Playing in the Rapids

After dinner, the boys wanted to head back to the rapids. This time, they wanted to swim in them. So they changed into their swimming suits. Once they were ready, we headed back over to the rapids. At which point, Townes and Ryker jumped across the rocks fighting to maintain their balance, before deciding to just dive right into the current of water. They slid down a mini waterfall while Nick and I laughed hysterically (something we realized we hadn’t done a lot of lately).

Townes slides down the mini waterfall first.
Townes and Ryker swimming in the rapids.
They had such a blast.

The kids played in the waterfall and rapids for about 45 minutes until they were shivering and chattering. We didn’t bring towels with us, so made a b-line back to camp so the boys could dry off and warm up by the fire. Once they were dry and in their Jammies, they did a bit more catch-and-release fishing from the campsite. Before it got dark, I read from “Little House on the Prairie” by the fire while the kids sipped hot cocoa. Then I made the 100-yard trek into the darkening woods to the latrine with Ryker so he could commence with his nighttime poo routine.

Ryker doing a dab for our awesome campsite.

The boys and I got ready for bed, while Nick finished his wine and put out the fire. Three of us slept on a full-size blow-up mattress (Nick, Ryker, and me) and Townes slept on a single sleeping pad at our feet in our Kingdom 6 tent (a heavy and large tent to be bringing into the Boundary Waters). As usual, we were asleep by the time the sun had fully set. Being outdoors all day, and the swarm of mosquitos that come out to feast on you at night, will do that to you.

Nick finishing his wine at the fire.

We knew the next day would likely bring some rain, but we got much more than we bargained for. But that’s for another post. In the meantime, enjoy these adorable pictures of my boys posing on a rock at our campsite.

It was a fun and event-filled day.


2020 Boundary Waters Family Adventure: Day 2 — “Portaging & Canoeing”

Would you believe that four days later I’m still doing laundry from our trip? Aw…I suppose if you knew me, you would 100% believe it. It would likely be harder for you to believe if I had all the laundry done by now. But let me say, my washer and dryer has been going non stop since we got home. I mean, you can only fit one sleeping bag in the machine at a time. So…yeah.

Before you read any further. If you haven’t already, you may want to read the first post of Day 1.

Day 2 of our adventure started early, though maybe not as early as Nick would have liked. (This time of year it’s a race to get a campsite, especially considering the BWCAW is seeing a 100% increase in permit purchases this year.) We woke up around 6 a.m., packed up and headed out to our next stop, Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters, stopping at the Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters office on our way out to square up. At which point we watched the owner’s two adorable English Setters obsess over an itty bitty chipmunk that kept eluding them up a tree or under a bush. Also, the owner gave us each an awesome Rockwood sticker — you know, the kind you tattoo all over your laptop or other such things.

Anyway, I’d say we pulled into Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters sometime around 7 or 7:30 a.m. It was just a few miles up the road from Rockwood. This is where we rented our canoe from. We have a canoe, but it won’t fit all four of us plus our gear, so the last two years we’ve been renting a four-person kevlar canoe from Tuscarora. It’s great, they load it up and bring it to the entrance point for you.

This is Ryker hanging at the end of our second portage waiting for us to make it back with the rest of the gear.

When we pulled up at Tuscarora, it was teaming with teenage boys. I can only guess it was a Boy Scouts’ trip, but not 100% sure. I did appreciate how one of the boys had a pink Nalgene water bottle and wore a fanny pack. I think I may need both of those for our 2021 trip.

After paying for the canoe, we drove to our final destination, Point #50, where we loaded all of our excessively heavy gear into the canoe, parked our van, and paddled our way through Cross River. This is a very short paddle and a stunning river!

Paddle & Portage #1: Cross River

As soon as we got in the canoe, despite our advice to be silent so we wouldn’t scare off wildlife, Ryker decided to test out his echo — loudly and consistently — throughout our paddle. We still got to see the most adorable family of otters though. A mom, dad, and four babies. They were swimming right toward us with their little heads bobbing above the water, before they dove under at the sight of our canoe coming toward them.

This was right after we saw the family of otters on Cross River.

We reached our first portage within about five + minutes. It really was a short paddle. Nick and I have paddled for hours on just one lake in the BWCAW in the past (mostly because of the wind). Thankfully, the day was partly cloudy, warm, and windless, making canoeing super enjoyable.

Nick pulling the canoe out of the water at our first portage.

The first portage was at the base of some rapids and was a giant pile of rocks with a few sharp edges to keep you on your toes. We all piled out, our feet getting soaked immediately, slipping across wet rock, and Nick handed me all the gear: Three packs, the largest weighing about 80 lbs, one tent pack, weighing about 30 lbs, two paddles, two Nalgene water bottles, maps, three fishing rods, and a leech caddy. We loaded the boys up with the fishing rods, water bottles, paddles, maps, and leech caddy, and sent them ahead down the first portage, which was 66 rods of uphill, muddy, narrow, and rocky terrain. (Quick side note: rods are how they measure the distance of portages. 320 rods = 1 mile. So the first portage was about .2 miles.) We were able to do this portage in just two trips (three passes). Nick followed shortly with the canoe hoisted above his head and then I came with the first and heaviest pack. Once we got to the end of the portage, Nick set the canoe partially in the water and tasked Townes with holding it while he, Ryker, and I went back to get the rest of the gear. When all was said and done we walked the portage three times for a total of 198 rods, or .6 miles.

This is the first portage, third pass.

Paddle & Portage #2: Cross Bay Lake

Next up was our paddle across Cross Bay Lake, which was about a 20-minute paddle. (Quick side note: we chose this trip, short portages and paddles, to keep the trip fun and light for the kids — and I guess us too.) Our next portage was just 30 rods, half the distance of the first and was a much wider and flatter trail, making it loads easier to trek across. And so we unloaded, carried all our gear across, and reloaded, again in just three passes, totaling 90 rods or .3 miles. Portaging for a total of about 1 mile the first day, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you’re carrying heavy gear on your back across ankle twisting terrain, it feels like A LOT. This was our last portage into Ham Lake, where we would stay for the next two nights — hopefully.

Carrying the tent on my front and a pack on my back for the second portage.

Paddle #3: Ham Lake

Next we reached the lake we’d be staying on, Ham Lake, assuming there were campsites available. Despite it being 119 acres, there are only three campsites on the entire lake. It’s not an overly huge lake, nothing compared to Brule, with about 17 campsites, or even Cherokee Lake that’s 880 acres, but large enough for our purposes.

Townes looking out at Ham Lake from a cliff.

We really hoped to stay at the same campsite as last year. It was the first campsite on our way into Ham Lake. It’s not much to look at, and we were actually pretty bummed when all the other sites were full last year and we were stuck with this one. It was small without much of a view or a place to hang a tarp over the fire, or even a hammock, but we quickly discovered it was perfect for fishing, on account of the small channel it was located on, and a great place for the kids to go swimming.

This was our campsite from last year. Not much, but the kids loved it!

Alas, much to the disappointment of the kiddos, this site was taken, though it looked rather empty aside from a handful of clothes drying on a line, and a teeny tent or tarp in a small space between a few trees. It reminded me of how my uncle David would camp, with not much at all.

Ham Lake.

So we paddled into the open water heading to the next campsite to see if it too was taken. On our way, we saw four other canoes heading in from what looked like one of the larger campsites located on a point in the middle of the lake. So, we headed that way, and sure enough, they were leaving. Watching one, then two, then three, four, and then five canoes leave from one site reminded me a bit of watching dozens of clowns piling out of a tiny clown car at the circus. Where did they all fit?

Townes and Ryker exploring a sandy beach off a trail from a campsite.

So we parked our canoe, hopped out, and started exploring the now abandoned campsite. And, despite the absolutely stunning 360-degree views, the sweet little sandy beach, and the absolutely fabulous fire pit, we were hesitant to start unpacking. We were worried the kids wouldn’t enjoy it as much since there wasn’t a rock to jump off into the water safely, nor a guaranteed fishing spot. So, we unloaded, but didn’t unpack, and set out to canoe the rest of the lake in search for a “better” site. What we wouldn’t realize until the next day, however, was this campsite was by far the best site we could have asked for given the impending rain. But that’s for another post.

The campsite.

To be Continued…

2020 Boundary Waters Family Adventure: Day 1 — “On the Road”

It’s Sunday, late morning, the boys are at Grandma and Papa’s at a sleepover. I’m relaxing in my rocking chair, feet up on my favorite footstool my dad secretly fixed (thanks, Dad!), coffee nearby in my favorite mug, and Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, playing in the background — all while I balance my laptop on my fleece-covered lap. This, all coming on the heels of my new kitties destroying my house plants, getting dirt all over the carpet, and my older kitty having none of it — meowing and hissing for 1.5 hours straight until the rain stopped and he could go back outside.

Moving on…

We Went to the Boundary Waters

Four days ago we got back from a three-ish-day, impromptu, trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Though Nick and I have gone several times before/without the kiddos, this was our second time going with our twin boys, who are now eight years old.

Townes and Ryker loved their first trip to the BWCAW so much last year, we decided to do the same trip this year, changing it up slightly with a stay in a bunkhouse the first night.

This photo is from the boys’ first trip to the BWCAW last year. Here they’re jumping off a rock right at our campsite on Ham Lake.

Hitting the Road

Sunday afternoon, we loaded up all of our camping/backpacking gear into our crappy mini van (with no air) and hit the road around 3 PM, just an hour after our intended departure. On a time crunch, and with very few options, and hungry bellies, we hit the drive through at McDonald’s in Spooner, WI.

Just an hour into our trip, with loads of daylight left, Nick started nodding off. So…we pulled off in Superior, WI and I hopped in the driver seat. Then we were off again. Me, listening to the Office Ladies podcast, Nick, trying to get a few minutes (hours) of rest while the boys peppered him with a million questions about anything and everything. (Side note: As annoying as it is, don’t you kind of wish as adults we were in the habit of asking more questions?)

Just a few minutes later, Nick, with eyes clenched, most likely, I couldn’t know for sure because I was watching the road, breath held, door handle gripped, we past over the MASSIVE bridge from Superior, WI, to Duluth, MN. (Nick hates bridges, and though I know he was actually starting to fall asleep, I think a major incentive for switching to the passenger seat is so he didn’t have to look while going over that bridge.)

Four hours later…

About four hours after leaving the house, we drove into a Holiday station in Grand Marais to load up on leaches, sandwiches for the bunkhouse, and a couple of kid ponchos. 45 minutes after that, around 8:30 p.m., we pulled into Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters off the Gunflint Trail. We stayed the night in a bunkhouse so we could get an early start the next morning. We ended the day, all in lower bunks, with me reading a chapter out of “Little House on the Prairie.” The night was a bit sleepless for me, but I think Nick got some much-needed rest.

A Sleepless Night

Right as I was starting to drift off into what would be a “wakeful night,” Townes asked if he could sleep with me. So, he shuffled in the dark from his lower bunk to mine and shimmied into the same sleeping back as me on a tiny single bed.

Then, about “who-knows-what-time” in the night, Ryker found his way over to my bunk saying he was scared. So I stumbled my way from one crowded lower bunk to another, and fumbled my way into Ryker’s sleeping bag. From that time, every time I started to drift into some variation of sleep, Ryker would reach out for me saying “Mama, where are you?” Proceeding to rest one limb or another on some part of my body to ensure I didn’t evaporate into the bed itself.

And that’s how I spent my first night on our adventure. With very little sleep, but lots of excitement and optimism for what the day would bring tomorrow.

To Be Continued…

Remember When I Quit My Job Last Year? What Happened Next?

It’s Saturday morning, still dark outside, and STILL snowing. I woke up just before six, not on purpose, and felt rested — or antsy enough — to actually get out of bed. The boys are still sleeping and the house is quiet, especially now that our stir-crazy indoor/outdoor cat, Turnip, AKA: The Stray-that-Came-to-Stay, has been put outside. So, sipping dandelion tea and listening to The Highwomen album (best. album. ever.), I figured it’s about time I write. I mean, the ambiance is perfect — time, quiet, and inspiration…


Our goofy, adorable, feisty Cutie Cat, Turnip

So let’s ease into it, shall we? (It is early after all)

You may recall from my post last year, that I quit my job November 2018 with no known or determined plans for the future. Just faith that it was the best thing for my mental and emotional well-being and that our family would be just fine. And you know what? I was right on both accounts. It took time, but I’ve recovered to my same optimistic self and we’ve been thriving financially.

So what have I been doing since quitting my job?

The short answer is consulting. The longer answer is…

After leaving my long-time corporate gig November 2018, I took the rest of the year off to do farm business planning and just enjoy a bit of time off before jumping back into another gig. I cleaned my house and kept it clean — mostly. I volunteered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Barron County. I hosted 24 people for an entire weekend for Christmas. I finished our business plan. I hung with my kids. And most importantly, I gave myself a much needed mental and emotional reprieve. I had been operating under such a high-level of chronic stress for so long, I was suffering, in a way I’d never experienced before. And I needed to get better.


Hosting 24 people Christmas 2018. My cousins and their children.


Everybody using their new sleds on our super awesome sledding hill

During my time off, I reached out to a consulting agency December 2018 that I’ve hired from in the past and been courting for the last year. They had an opportunity for me within 10 days for after the New Year. A REMOTE opportunity. Friends, I had been looking for a remote gig for like two years with no luck, then this opportunity came to me after I let go –stopped worrying so much about the future and started trusting it instead. I interviewed and was hired for a four-month contract at a global healthcare tech company after just one, 30-minute interview.

Quick side note: one of my professional goals was to get experience in the tech industry. Check!

I started February 2019 and have been extended four times since. My current contract, with the same company, is set to end May 2020. They even let me work three days a week during the summer so I could help Nick with the farmers markets and sent me to Vegas to attend Adobe Summit.


Here I’m eating gelato at the Venetian


And here, I’m getting my serious face on with by bud, Bruce on the Vegas strip.

Friends, I want to restate something for you. I left a good-paying, great-benefits job trusting that I’d be okay, and I was. I got a contract gig that pays me more, lets me work remotely, let me work just three days a week in the summer, and is in tech. Where I come from, that’s practically unheard of.

So what’s next?

Now that my confidence has been restored and I’m in a much better mental and emotional state of well-being, Nick and I have actually been discussing the possibility of me going back to work as a full-time employee. Now, I feel a bit like a sell-out saying that, so let me explain the reason behind this possible course of action…

One word — STABILITY. Nick and I have been through so many changes these last two years with both quitting our jobs, selling our houses, moving to a new state, starting a business, and helping our twin 7-year-old boys manage their own feelings and emotions (on top of our’s) through all this change. A bit of stability might be in order.


My sweet boys and me on my 37th birthday this December

Though, I still don’t consider myself a corporate girl, I am discovering there are jobs out there that can offer me the creative freedom, flexibility, salary, and intellectual stimulation I so desperately desire.

Our hopes is that by me moving to a consistent, decent-paying salary we can hire a part-time, temporary employee for the farm to help Nick out this season. ‘Cause let’s be honest, as much I don’t like to admit it, I’m not exactly the braun this operation needs. Plus, we’d like to throw as much money into this farm now so we can keep growing it to the scale we want.


Testing our our new seeder the first year on the farm

Making a work transition takes time, so things could remain the same for awhile, or we could decide on a completely different direction. But in the meantime, I’m allowing myself to be open to exploring all that’s out there with a whole new perspective.



Two Years in the Northwoods

Today is a mini-monumental day. Two years ago, to the date, marks our two-year anniversary living in the great Northwoods. Can you believe it’s been two years already? Two years since we packed up our family of four and moved from the Twin Cities to small town, Cumberland, WI.



Nick working on the farm this summer.

It’s the stuff dreams are made of. But let me assure you, fulfilling dreams, going after what you want, your heart’s calling, is not all rainbows and butterflies and glitter and sunshine, though according to my sweet hubby, that’s the world I live in, and what a wonderful one.

Finding purpose, fulfilling dreams, chasing your heart’s calling is not a one-and-done, but a continual decision, continually facing fear, conquering it, and then preparing yourself to face it again. It’s accepting failure as a given and renaming it learning. It’s reminding yourself that you’re not perfect (and rationalizing with yourself that you don’t want to be perfect anyway). It’s feeling lost and overwhelmed and being unsure if you’re capable of really making it happen. It’s allowing yourself to be your most vulnerable, and putting it out there for people to speculate your shortcomings and share your successes. It’s living a life without regrets, because at the end of this life, it’s the things you don’t do that take up the most space of regrets.


The farm after the worst thunderstorm of the summer. One that leveled farms in nearby towns.

As you may recall from one of my first posts ever, nearly two years ago now, there were many things that brought us out here. So, how has this life transition stacked up against our expectations?

A glimpse into the last two years living in the Northwoods…

Community & Connection – Check & Check!

One thing we were desiring prior to moving is becoming part of and building a community. We hadn’t heard of Cumberland before moving here, so weren’t sure what to expect. Well, this small town of less than three thousand people has exceeded our expectations. They have not only welcomed us, but embraced and supported us. They have made this place feel like and become our home, so much in fact, most days it feels like we’ve always been here.


Near the end of our growing season this fall harvesting the last bit of our herbs to dry.

We have also had the opportunity, through our Farmers Market in Spooner (a slightly larger town about 25 minutes North of us), to build a second community that we could have only ever dreamed of with the vendors and our customers. We have found a group of people who have chosen a life similar to us, who share our values of community, connection, and purpose, who are redefining the norm and following their passions and dreams, giving up big corporate gigs in the city to settle into a slower, more meaningful life. It’s. So. Cool.


Celebrating our 17-year wedding anniversary at Spooner Farmers Market this summer, where we sold out of our lettuces nearly every week by 10:30 A.M. (Pictured here is our curly kale)

Adventure, Courage, & Purpose – Yup, Yes, & Work In-progress!

Living this life, small, regenerative farming, homesteading, building a small business, is an adventure and takes courage every day. We’re out here doing stuff we’ve never done, building a business we don’t know how to build, and trusting God and the Universe in a way we’ve never tried.

As for purpose, that’s a bit tougher right? Finding and fulfilling purpose is something that never feels complete, and perhaps never is. And if my purpose is people, which I believe with every cell in my body it is, then everything I do needs to align with that. But then there’s also creative passion that’s constantly ablaze in those cells and needs a productive, and God-willing, a financially lucrative outlet. So the ongoing question is this, how do I merge and manage my purpose, innate talents, and creative passions in a meaningful way? Like I said, work in progress.


Relaxing on the farm after a busy Saturday farmers market in Spooner, WI this summer.

Joy, Freedom, & Family – Getting there, Pretty much, & More so Than Ever!

Joy’s a tough concept, I think, to define, but I think when you experience it, you just know. I used to think Joy was knowing everything will be all right. And perhaps that’s it, and perhaps it’s much more and simpler than that. What I can say is that I’ve had moments over these last two years, usually when I’m in mental, emotional, and spiritual turmoil, where sudden awareness hits me and I become overwhelmed with a gratitude that fills my entire existence with sunlight – warm and pure, full of hope – knowing that I’m exactly where I need to be and exactly who I need to be. It’s momentarily removal of all doubt and a connection to God and the Universe that’s beyond explanation – that builds and swells and reaches through all the spaces and says I know you. It’s pure love and acceptance. My goal: to live in a constant state of joy. Until then, I’ll take the few-and-far-between experiences and cherish them exceedingly.



Freedom, now that’s an interesting and evolving ideal for me. We’ve experienced freedom from our past 9-5 jobs, freedom from the city, freedom from the expectations of others, mostly.  And the freedom that comes with spending time in nature. But then there’s freedom from self-doubt, freedom from judging yourself against societal norms, and freedom from those societal norms that is so much harder to achieve. Not sure we’ll ever get there, but feel we’re heading in the right direction.

Family, now that’s a BIG important one. Our family of four is closer than ever – and possibly leaning towards co-dependent – maybe – don’t worry, we’ll pivot if need be. Since Nick and I both work from home, we’re practically omni-present with our kids, though not always engaged – working on it. We spent our Saturdays at the farmers market this summer together, read chapter books nearly every night together, travel together, work together, and play together, and I like it. My husband and boys are my FAVORITE people to be around, even when they quite frankly suck (#truthbomb).



Hanging at our Spooner Farmers Market this summer with the boys.

In summary, in the last two years since moving to the Northwoods, we’ve started a farm and small business, quit and changed jobs (because we still gotta work off the farm too), established a community and customers, made friends, chased dreams, fulfilled dreams, made new dreams, pulled ourselves out of despair, conquered fears, found joy and gratitude, and fulfilled and exceeded many of our expectations. But this is only the beginning…


My beautiful family on the farm late this summer. (Nick, Me, Townes on left and Ryker by me on right)




Turning our farm into a business

These last three months I feel like I’ve been living in Acronym-MANIA as I dive a little, nay, a lot, deeper into the farm business. With acronyms like the USDA, NRCS, FSA, EIN, BTR, WAMS, DTM, LLC, to name a few, how’s a girl to keep it all straight? Lucky for you, I’m about to give you all the deets on those seemingly random combos of letters. I promise it won’t be boring – much. <winky face>

Let’s start with the more commonly known acronyms, LLC and EIN

Yes, we have both – Woot! We filed for a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) last spring. The LLC establishes us as a business and provides some protection if all goes to crap. When we filed we also got something called an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This is so we can someday hire employees since we’re planning to grow this business Jack-and-the-Beanstalk style – BIG and fast.


Nick planning his crop list and seed order.

Our official farm name is Fresh Roots Farm and Gardens, LLC. Nick chose it because we’re growing baby root vegetables (e.g. carrots, radishes, turnips, beets) and because we’re putting down fresh roots in Cumberland as a family (Yup, Peeps of Cumberland, you’re stuck with us for awhile – hopefully).


Continuing to establish our family roots by snow tubing at Trollhaugen with our Cumberland Cub Scout troop last Sunday (2/10/19).

Moving on to the USDA, NRCS, and the FSA

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that offers funding in the way of grants to new farmers who would like to or are using sustainable farming techniques that promote conservation of their land. We decided to apply for a grant to help us purchase another greenhouse since the more covered crops, the longer the growing season, and the more food can be produced.


Ryker lying in a bed of oats and winter rye cover crop last fall. We use the cover crop to build nutrient-rich soil and organic matter. It also helps prevent erosion and weeds. This is considered a regenerative/sustainable technique.


One of the Mustards debugging and fertilizing our apple orchard all natural.

But first, before applying for the grant, we had to establish our farm with our local Farm Service Agency (FSA)   another division of the USDA. Check, check, check! Now we wait for the director of our local NRCS to come out and take a look at our property to see if we qualify. Fingers crossed!


This is our front yard, AKA, the vegetable garden last year with a few test crops. We still have to put in fencing and a water drainage system. We use the raised beds because we have heavy clay soil and need the water to be able to run off the beds.

Here’s the DL on WAMS and BTR

I’m still not sure what BTR and WAMS stand for, though I have one of each – hold a sec while I look these up. (I literally just googled, “What does WAMS mean?”)

After contacting the wrong people and hitting a few dead ends, I finally landed on the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website where I registered for a Web Access Management System (WAMS) account (google delivered!). I’m still not sure how this will help me, but it has something to do with taxes and the seller’s permit we need, which brings me to the next acronym. In order to obtain a seller’s permit, which is required to sell our veggies and flowers, we had to apply for a Business Tax Registration (BTR) number. Check! Now we just wait the 5-7 business days to receive our seller’s permit – I think.


I wasn’t sure what photo would go best here, but am convinced one is needed. So, enjoy this photo of Hedwig in the pool. She lays deliciously tasty eggs and gets rid of ticks.

Now, for something a little more exciting – the greenhouse, farmers markets, crop list and cut flowers + our last acronym, DTM

Perhaps you’ve already seen on Instagram, but our greenhouse is up and covered! Nick also designed and built a seeder table inside. Next on the agenda? Putting in heat and crop tables.


The greenhouse shortly after it was put up. It’s 30′ X 50′ and sits in our front just to the east of the uncovered garden.

After discussing what we feel capable of delivering our first year and the client base we want to build, we reached out to a few farmers markets and were accepted at two of them – check again!

We ordered and received our seeds and will start/plant many of them in the next couple of weeks. Our crop list includes lettuces (arugula, spinach, spring mix, kale), micro greens (radish, peas, and broccoli), Sunflower shoots, red and golden beets, radishes, carrots, turnips, garlic, tomatoes, and cucumbers, to name most. We chose most of our crop list based on their Days to Maturity (DTM). In other words, how many days it takes from the time you plant till you can harvest. The lower the DTM, the more times you can harvest in a season. This is one way to help create profit.


Test radishes from last summer.


A few of our test cherry tomatoes from last summer.


And a spring mix in Nick’s DIY bubbler washing thing-a-majing.

We’re also going to try our hands at growing and selling cut flowers. We have absolutely no experience here, but such is this entire adventure. Nick and I took an online class on growing and selling cut flowers, so we’re ready to…keep referencing those online modules and our notes till we grow a gorgeous bouquet. We’ll be growing zinnias, asters, dahlias, sunflowers, anemones, snap dragons, along with various greenery and airy fillers.


I’m planning on also utilizing wild flowers from the property in our bouquets (something recommended in our online class).

So, what’s next for us?

We still have loads of infrastructure to build, like constructing a wash and pack station, putting in a French drain tile system to redirect water to our pond so the garden doesn’t flood, and design and implement an irrigation system.We also have all of our branding and marketing work to do, like designing a logo and website, social media accounts and designing what our farm stand will look like.

This building-a-business thing has been challenging and overwhelming, but also very fulfilling. I mean, we’re actually dreaming out loud and in action.

I’d like to end with this quote from my amazing sister-in-law who is a production BA and owns her own production company, “You just do it. I didn’t know how to start a company, but I did.” Yeah you did. #girlboss




A Year in Review – the good, the bad, & the scary

It only seems fitting that on the first day of the new year I look back and review the previous year and share it with you. Because, although I share a lot, I haven’t shared it all. And 2018 was a year that emotionally and mentally brought me to my knees in despair, elevated my joy in earnest, and all but eliminated my pride.


Taking a walk in our greenhouse

Joy. Courage. Faith.

Never one for New Year’s resolutions, a few years ago I adopted a bit of a new tradition, inspired I believe, by Brene Brown (check her out; she’s amazeballs). Instead of overwhelming myself with all the ways and things I should do to become a better person, I instead adopted a word to guide and direct my actions and decisions for that year.

My word for 2017 was “joy,” and consequently the year Nick and I decided to make a major change based solely on what brought us joy. Not what was financially the smartest or most secure, otherwise we would have stayed put in our home and in our jobs, which you know by now, we didn’t do.


Townes and Ryker exuding sheer joy at the Mall of America this Christmas season visiting Santa

Then in 2018, my word became “courage.” Courage in all things big and small. Courage to start over in a new state. Courage to leave the city and all we had ever known for a life in the country. Courage to build a business. Courage to trust ourselves. Courage to live daily in the unknown. Courage to ask for help. And courage to leave my job and forgo the security and stability it offered.



Our woods

Now, in 2019, my word is “faith.” Faith in myself, in my abilities and my dreams. Faith in the unknown, believing that it’ll all be okay. Faith in our farm and our business, that we’ll be able to make a living. Faith in God, and, in the words of the Alchemist, “the universe [that] will conspire to help us.” Faith in my family and children. Faith in my decisions, values, gifts, talents, and purpose. Faith in humanity. Faith, that no matter what, I can claim the sky.


Hanging in the rain by our pond


The “Good”

All-in-all, 2018 was a good year. I met amazing people here in Cumberland, made new friends, and started to immerse myself in this wonderful community.

I exerted courage doing many new things.

  • I took country line dancing lessons.
  • I raised ducklings successfully into adulthood.
  • I got a part-time (two Saturdays/month) job at a local boutique outfitters, Idlewild Outfitters, to meet people and learn sales.
  • I chased a lifelong dream of being a Cub Scout and became the den leader of my boys’ Tiger den.
  • I volunteered for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Barron County.
  • I commissioned my first independent consulting gig.
  • I started this blog.
  • I helped build a yurt!

And many wonderful things happened on the farm.

  • Though we didn’t get as far as we would have liked, we made loads of progress on the farm.
  • An adorable stray kitty, now named Turnip, showed up out of the blue this summer and has chosen to let us adopt him.
  • We ate so much wonderful fruit we discovered growing on our property: plums, apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and black raspberries. Plus deliciously huge asparagus.
  • We witnessed the most beautiful sunsets.
  • Our home was almost always filled with loved ones.
  • We adopted chickens, and they lay the most beautiful eggs and are hilarious to have around.

Then there were the moments of quiet joy that would break through my angst and depression with realization of the life I’m so lucky to live. Surrounded by beauty and nature. Taking care of animals. Working from home. Being part of a community. Loved by my family.


Walking in our field of Goldenrod

The “Bad” and the “Scary”

I’m a bit hesitant to call what I’m about to say, “bad” simply because it’s what brought me to my most courageous moments.

For the last couple of years I had been dealing with an intense lack of purpose. My values were evolving and my life and career were beginning to feel out of alignment with them.

I was loathing a job I once loved and felt trapped in what was beginning to feel like purposeless work. Then I began to fear I’d lose the job I once loved, and fear I’d keep the job I now loathed. I felt useless, purposeless, and stuck.

Then, last summer, it all came to a head and I found myself for the first time experiencing self-loathing and crippling anxiety. I sought help and started seeing a therapist and was put on Zoloft.

As I started feeling better I began having productive conversations with my boss. Nearly nine years I had been on his team, and I was attached, but it was time for me to move on. And so, I did the scariest thing that I’ve ever done in my life. November 2, 2018, I left a job with fantastic benefits, a 401K, a pension, flexible hours, and amazing people for the unknown. I honestly don’t know what’s in store for me next and it scares the crap out of me. But for the first time in a couple of years, I’m positively excited about all the possibility that exists ahead of me. I’m still afraid, but this fear feels right and good.


Christmas time with my handsome hubs

So, onto 2019 with new and wonderful possibility.


A walk in the butterfly garden last summer


Where has our child-like faith in ourselves gone?

And can we get it back?

I remember as a child believing I could fly. I’d tie a towel around my neck, swing as high as I could on the backyard swing, then at its highest point, I’d jump — and I’d fly. Never mind that I was told that people can’t fly. And so what if I crashed to the ground on all fours only a second later. I had flown and I knew it. All I had to do to fly was believe and try. The two most natural and innate things to a child.


Then I became an adult, a wife, a mom, a career woman, and somewhere along the way I stopped believing that I could fly. I lost sight of the sky to the view of a shingled roof and bad fluorescent lights. I started doubting my gifts and talents and what I was capable of, trading my child-like faith in myself for financial security, safety, and reputation.

I swapped my faith for fear and my dreams for reality because that’s what adults do and that’s what they teach their children. “Get a job.” “Buy a house.” “Provide for your family.” “Make something of yourself.” “Have the things we couldn’t provide for you.” “Be better than us.”

What adults forget when they’re no longer children, is as children we never wanted more than we had — not really. We played swords with broken branches, traveled the seas and made our friends walk the plank on old seesaws, became stately queens of great lands in our mother’s old worn heels, and flew the skies with dragons and unicorns in worn, dusty towels. Everything we had was enough. We were enough.


As children we found ourselves equal to kings and queens, presidents and celebrities, geniuses and philanthropists, the homeless and the sick, the poor and the rich, and the athletes and handicapped. We believed that we could do or become anything or anyone and so could everyone else. We believed we were enough — all of us.

Last week during my weekly two-hour commute home from work, for a brief moment I felt that belief again. And I reached for it, rejoiced over it and mourned over my loss of it.  Then I wondered why I ever stopped believing in myself? Why was it so difficult now to believe I am capable of anything when as a child I innately believed in my invincibility?


So, this is my goal: to fly again, even when others say it’s not possible, even if I inevitably fall to my hands and knees over and over again. I need to at least believe and try. Because how much more beautiful and fulfilling would life be if we all started believing we could fly?


Becoming a market garden

Wowza has it been awhile since I last wrote. I’ve started and stopped many times. The last few months have been a fury of emotions as I come to the tail end (hopefully) of my 2-year existential crisis (What am I doing? Why? Is it enough? Does it matter? And does it align with my evolving values?). Now I’m ready to rock and roll. Let the pendulum swing baby because this life that I want to live is about to take shape.

First things first — what have we been doing on the farm this summer?

Ready for it? Drum roll please….(dum-dum-dum)…we’ve been building a market garden!  Man oh man has it been a lot of work. I’m super pumped to share with you what we’ve done so far, what we’re learning, and why we’re doing it.


“So…for a friend who’s asking, what is a market garden?”

I’m super glad your “friend” asked because I’m dying to tell you them.

Now, it’s possible that if your “friend” googled “market garden” they may get a slightly different answer, but in a nutshell, this is how I understand the term (remember, I’m learning too). A market garden can vary in size, many being anywhere from an 1/8 of an acre to 7 acres or larger. The crops are typically a variety of veggies (or flowers) and sold direct to consumers through a farmer’s market, farm stand, CSA, and even restaurants.

Apparently more goes into a market garden than meets the eye, which is why we’re a bit behind schedule and why Nick’s tanned and toned bod is looking so good — but I digress. You’ll just have to see it for yourself ;). Anyway, keeping it as brief as possible (sort of), here are the steps, with photos, we’ve taken so far in building our market garden.

Step 1: Preparing the land — tree roots and bulldozers

As you may remember from a previous post, our property isn’t ideal for farming, even on a small scale. It’s heavily wooded and very hilly. So, before we could get started with the garden, we had to cut down about 40 trees, pull the roots and level the ground. Nick cut the trees then once the ground thawed we hired people with big equipment to pull out the roots and start leveling.


Starting the leveling


Almost done!

Step 2: Picking rock — dollars and buckets

Oh the amount of rock that had to be picked out of the 1/2 acre dirt pit that would soon become a garden. And it just keeps coming up! Nick got creative and started paying the boys $1 for every 5-gallon bucket they filled with rock (not worth it in my opinion, but the kids took to it like a fly to poop).


Rock pile from picking rock


Rock pile from picking rock

Step 3: Testing the soil — calf poop and compost

This is something we should have done prior to buying the property, but alas we didn’t. Live and learn I guess. And that’s what we’re doing — learning by living. We don’t really know what we’re doing. In theory, yes, but in practice it’s a whole different ball game.

The soil test consisted of filling a few containers with dirt and sending them out to get tested by experts. Based on the results we needed to add a dash of this and a dollop of that to create the perfect recipe for growing nutrient rich veggies. So we add crushed limestone and compost to start.

Some day we hope to make our own organic compost, but in the meantime, we’re dependent on others. Turns out compost is hard to find around here — especially the amount we needed to get started (24 yards). In the end we purchased calf poop from a nearby farmer. Zero waste and supporting local. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Step 4: Making the beds — playtime and tractors

Now, this is the step that got Nick all sorts of jacked. He finally got to play with his own big equipment (Ew gross! Not that!), a walk-behind tractor.

For our market garden we’re using a no-till permanent bed system. This is because we have a large amount of clay in our soil which can water log the crops if there’s nowhere for the water to flow. So, using a permanent bed system allows the rainwater to run off the beds in small trenches that runs down into the pond or slowly gets absorbed into the ground. There’s more to it than that, but I usually tune Nick out at that point. It is interesting though — REALLY!


Nick playing with his big equipment (AKA walk-behind tractor)


After all the beds were made

Step 5: Covering the beds — weeds and waiting

We’ve decided that it’s important for us to be responsible and respectable stewards of the land and all living things, which is why we’re choosing not to use chemicals, and also why there’s clover all over our yard. For that reason, instead of spraying to kill our weeds, we covered the beds with a black tarp. Without sunlight and with the intense heat, over time, the weeds and grass all die off. We’ve had our garden beds tarped for the last couple of months (minus two beds for test crops). And it appears to be working!


The garden beds covered in black tarp to kill the weeds and grass underneath

Step 5: Building a greenhouse — sledge hammers and metal posts

This isn’t done yet, but we (Nick) did get the frame of the greenhouse up. And let me tell you, watching Nick work that sledge hammer has done wonders for our marriage. I’m telling you, that I just can’t tell you what that does to me.

Moving on…

We bought the frame of the greenhouse from a friend of a friend. The next steps, so Nick tells me, are to level the inside of the greenhouse, put the ends on, and then cover it all in plastic walls. There’s a few other things that’ll go into it too, like a fan, possibly insulation, etc. The greenhouse will be used in addition to the outdoor garden beds.


Greenhouse skeleton. This will be used to grow cucumbers and tomatoes.


Evening close-up of the greenhouse

Step 6: Growing test crops — baby roots and lettuces

We’ve reluctantly come to terms that we won’t get to a point of selling veggies this year. Everything is taking longer and has a bigger learning curve than we anticipated. That being said, we’re using this year as one of learning and are taking the opportunity to grow a few test crops, including carrots, radishes, beets and three different types of greens. They were planted about two weeks ago. Now we wait and watch and learn.


Seeding the garden beds for our test crops

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Greens mix


Radishes nearly two weeks in


Radishes a few days in


Rows of tomatoes



Step 7: Finding our market — farmers markets and co-ops

Deciding to wait a year to start selling our veggies has allowed us the opportunity and time we need to find our customers, know our competitors, and determine our niche. We’re doing that by traveling to farmers markets, finding co-ops, and talking to people. This is where I get to shine. Nick shines everywhere else.


I don’t have any pictures of the markets so this raspberry from our apple orchard will have to suffice

As in life, nothing is going quite as expected. Sometimes it’s better or easier and sometimes it’s worse or harder. That’s when we tell each other and ourselves, that this, the painful learning and growing and joy of going after a dream, is the adventure we’re after.

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.


Digging for the new septic


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.


Easter family photo. For your enjoyment 🙂