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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Yesterday.

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).

 

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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…

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

 

 

 

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.
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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Christmas time with my handsome hubs

So, onto 2019 with new and wonderful possibility.

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A walk in the butterfly garden last summer

 

“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.

 

 

 

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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What exactly are we doing here anyway?

A question I ask myself every day. And each day into this adventure I find myself facing paralyzing fear and doubt (more to come on this later).

The thing is, we don’t know 100% really what it is we’re doing. We may not even know 10% of what it is we’re doing. What we do know is we’re chasing a dream and conquering our fears.

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The dream we’re chasing

Joy. Freedom. Connection. Sustainability. We’re seeking a way of living that is adventurous, courageous, and authentic — a life that nurtures the land along with our creativity and passion. A life that allows us to be present more as a family and more engaged with nature.

Homestead. Market garden. Hobby farm. Business. These are many of the names we’ve called this dream, to ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, and our family.Family w/the Christmas tree

The fears we’re conquering

Failure. Poverty. Inability. Complacency. We have no idea what we’re doing and we’ve just uprooted our lives completely. We’ve only ever lived in the cities or suburbs. We have no background nor personal connection whatsoever in farming or homesteading. We’d never heard of permaculture until a year ago nor did we know what a market garden was, and I didn’t even know homesteading was a thing. But here we are on our own 16 acres of land in rural Wisconsin preparing to make our dreams a reality. Gulp…Fearless Townes