Two years ago this week, John and I put in the offer to the OneEighty Homestead. The week before, we brought our parents to the property to get their thoughts on this enormous life shift we were contemplating. We happened to time it perfectly with the most amazing poppies I’ve ever seen being in full bloom all around the farmhouse. If I wasn’t already head over heels in love with this old homestead, the poppies sealed the deal. Here, despite the house and property’s ramshackled state of existence, beauty persisted.
Year two was the year we planned to open the gallery. But this winter, as we started the process of filling out applications for permits and meeting with county zoning officials, we learned there would be no gallery unless we installed a bathroom in the building we are renovating into the gallery and studio space. Tears of frustration and anger—anger at myself for not starting the process sooner and for not thinking a step ahead at the probability we would encounter such an enormous expense—gnawed at me for weeks. We were stuck. There would be no OneEighty Pottery grand opening during the 2017 season. I would not meet our goal. What I initially viewed as a diamond in the rough, was now just rough. It felt like failure before we even started.
Then I received this text from my Dad:
Hey kid. As far as your place in Door County. Maybe it is God putting the brakes on one thing to let you develop several of the other things you have going on. I truly feel God is saying, “Slow down and enjoy that which I am giving you.”
Slow down? Anyone who knows me knows this is an entirely foreign concept to me. My life, my mind, my work, my play know two speeds: fast and faster. But I couldn’t help but feel my dad was onto something.
What I soon realized is there is a difference between "slow down" and "stop." We weren’t being asked to stop progress on our OneEighty dreams, simply slow it down so we could adjust our focus to where it needed to be at that moment in the journey.
Unable to open the gallery as planned, or use the home bathroom or a portable facility for the time being as a temporary fix, we looked for what we could do. What we could do is persist.
What we could do is have a roadside stand to sell the fruit, honey or other farm products produced by OneEighty Orchard and OneEighty Petals.
What we could do is plant approximately a quarter acre of cut flowers so we could have a fresh flower stand later this summer.
What we could do is begin to learn the ins and outs of organic orchard management, allocating the funds that would’ve gone into renovating the gallery building to buying a backpack sprayer and the necessary holistic orchard approved fungicides and insecticides.
What we could do is learn how to operate the orchard sprayer, something I personally had stayed away from for no other reason than being scared to learn.
What we could do is ask for help when we didn’t know the answers or needed to learn something.
What we could do is accept the generous amounts of encouragement, kindness and wisdom offered by the friends we have made up here, friends who in just a short amount of time have come to feel like family to us.
What we could do is continue to make pottery.
What we could do is participate in art shows this summer to sell that pottery.
What we could do is choose hope.
What we could do is move forward. Slowly.
I have spent most of the last three weeks up here by myself as John finished the school year, my days spent planting and spraying instead of running the gallery and welcoming our first season of customers like I originally anticipated.
“Just plant the next thing,” he said.
So I did. One row after the next, I planted, and planted, and planted. Surprisingly, despite my sore knees, roughed up hands and aching back, what followed were moments of total contentment and peace...and double rainbows.
As John drove away from the farmhouse a few weekends ago, after driving up to help me plant between the weekend's rainstorms, he spotted a double rainbow arching over the farmhouse. He pointed to it and called out the
I stepped out into the driveway to get a better look and take this photo.
In Eastern cultures, double rainbows are considered to be symbolic of transformations in one's life. The more vibrant the colors grew, the more that feeling of hope inside me started to stifle the fear and uneasiness I'd been feeling on and off over the past several weeks.
Year Two is not starting out as planned. Far from it. But then again, finding this property and starting #our180adventure was never in our plans either. I’m beginning to learn (however slow) that embracing the unplanned is OK. That, at the risk of quoting a much overused quote, Martin Luther King, Jr. was right. "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."
I'm learning every step causes that hope to grow a little stronger. A little bigger. And where there is hope, persistence will follow.
Choose persistence. I am.
xo - Sara Rae
One year. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. 8765.81278 hours. 525948.767 minutes.
How ever you break it down, a lot can change in a year. One year ago today we were jumping into the car and driving to Door County to finally sign the papers and close on the property. After an already stressful summer, that week pushed us to the tippy-toe edge of each of our breaking points.
There was stress. There was worry. There were sleepless nights. There were tears. I remember one moment very vividly in the midst of the chaos (probably about the time our lender told us they had no record of some vital documentation I sent them months earlier, only to tell me 15 minutes later, "Oops, our bad. We forgot to open the attachments in your email.") Maybe it wasn't worth it. Maybe all of this opposition and frustration and stress were red flags telling us to run. Maybe it was the runner in me...maybe it was my Type A-never-say-never personality, maybe it was God himself, but in that moment of doubt I remember thinking with total clarity, "Nothing worth having comes easy."
Think about it. When an Olympic marathoner takes the gold, that didn't come easy. It involved months of training, discipline, sacrifice and, I'm sure, a fair share of setbacks. As a parent, raising a child doesn't come easy. I'm not a parent myself, but I'm told by my friends who are there is no other role that will make you cry as much as it makes you smile. I think back to my younger sister who, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor needed to relearn how to walk, talk — basically rebuild her entire life as she knew it. None of it came easy for her, but 17 years later as she chases her 2-year-old daughter around their backyard, oh, was it worth it! Or when it came to caring for our beloved furbaby Dixie in her final year, when she required more of our time, love, patience, assistance and money. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.
"Nothing worth having comes easy."
It's a mantra I've set on repeat this year, starting with the evening we closed on the property and stood on the front lawn staring up at the farmhouse nearly swallowed up by the surrounding foliage. And again that first weekend when we got to work, rescuing the house from jungle of lilacs and arborvitae and scrubby brush surrounding it. And again in the late winter as wind and rain and sleet pelted against our winter jackets and made my fingers go numb as we hand-pruned all 435 cherry and apple trees. And in the spring when we had to make the tough decision to be OK with letting nature run its course with this year's cherry crop because any available funds needed to go toward the new roof to protect the farmhouse. And every month when we sit down to hash out the budget, knowing favorite pastimes like running road races and letterboxing and buying books and visits to favorite coffee shops would have to be put on hold because there is orchard equipment and pottery materials to buy.
Has it been scary? Yep. Have we questioned our sanity? Ha! Every day. But has it been worth it? Absolutely. This past year has forced us to grow in ways we didn't know were possible and gifted us with some valuable lessons in life, marriage and business. These lessons in particular stand out from this anything but ordinary past year.
Your map is only as good as your compass
The past year has provided a hard, but welcomed, lesson in trust — trust in ourselves and our personal decision making skills...trust in each other...trust in the process...trust in the seeds we are planting (both figuratively and literally). I'll let you know this type of blind faith doesn't always come easy for me. In fact, it can be straight up HARD for someone like me who tends to like to see not just the next step before her, but the entire next mile. I have this weird, borderline dysfunctional relationship with the element of surprise. I crave the adventure it brings, but the second after I tear up my map and toss the pieces into the air, I'm scrambling to pick up those tiny bits of paper and jigsaw them back together so I know exactly where I'm going next.
We had a vision (our "map") for this new adventure, but learning to trust ourselves (our inner "compass") as we followed that map proved to be a lot harder than we thought. Every decision seemed so big. So permanent. And what if it was the wrong decision?
About that last one. When it comes to making the wrong decision, it's really kind of hard to do if you think about it. Because aside from running out into heavy traffic or juggling chainsaws, if the decision you make is what you perceive to be the best option given the facts, information and resources available to you at that time, then it's the right decision.
The other interesting thing about making decisions is the more decisions you make the stronger your decision-making skills (and self-trust) become, kind of like strengthening a muscle. The more repetitions you do, the stronger the muscle grows.
People are good.
From the moment we arrived in Door County, and news about "the young couple who bought Jim's place" began to make its way through town like a game of telephone (by the way, bless you for referring to us as the "young couple"), we had people stopping by and introducing themselves to us every time we were at the property. And to be honest, I didn't know how to take it at first. I feel horrible admitting it, but a part of me couldn't help but think, "What do you want?"
I chalk it up to the fast-pace, fend-for-yourself culture that tends to sweep you up into its current when you live between to large metropolitan areas (Chicago and Milwaukee). That gotta-go, can't stop, dog-eat-dog mentality spreads like a cancer. The fact that people genuinely wanted to help us and see us succeed, and didn't expect anything in return, surprised me. A place where neighbors helping neighbors was a way of life, was something we discovered we craved but didn't think existed. And here it was showing up like magic on our front doorstep!
From the artist community to neighbors and everyone we've met in between, there is a palpable sense of community that is more like a culture than it is a group of people, more like a verb than a noun.
Doing something is better than nothing.
The moment we returned home from closing on the property, John started writing his mile-long to-do list of things that needed to be done around the property. That list was intimidating! And it was costly.
We purchased the property to open a pottery studio, but it came with an orchard. Not wanting the trees (or potential side income) to go to waste, we decided to tackle both. But the problem with trying to tackle two major projects at once is that there is only so much time, only so much money and only so many of you.
We just had to learn to be OK with the fact that we wouldn't be able to do everything at once, or everything to the full scope of what we wanted to do. But something is always better than nothing.
For example, given the distance and other pressing expenses, the orchard just wasn't going to be a priority this season. What we could do was prune the trees. (That alone was huge given the fact they had received minimal pruning over the past several years.) What we could do is pick and sell a small amount of the tart and sweet cherries and apples. What we could do is add some fertilizer to the depleted soil. What we could do is educate ourselves on organic and sustainable agriculture practices.
We also knew it wouldn't be possible to renovate the smaller garage into the gallery space by the time the 2016 tourist season opened. But what we could do was an art show on Washington Island to begin spreading our name through the area. We could get a selection of our pottery into a local coffee shop to begin generating income and market the business. We could set up a pop-up gallery outside the future gallery so we could tell people stopping by about our new business and future plans (and make a few sales).
From humble beginnings come great things.
Family and friends make a home
I've been going to Door County — at least once a summer — my entire life. John has been going up there every summer for 14 years, since the summer we started dating. So all the memories we have up there are vacation memories.
"It's very strange to have landmarks and places I associate with childhood vacations become everyday familiar," I've told John many times over the past year.
But one of the reasons we decided to swap our dreams of Asheville, North Carolina for Door County, Wisconsin was because of its familiarity and proximity to family. Should we decide to relocate to the farmhouse year-round it was at least in area family and friends frequently visited. While North Carolina is one of my personal favorite places to vacation, it's 1,000 miles away and the likelihood of our family and friends making the trip out there was slim to none.
What I didn't count on was how much having friends and family visit what we lovingly refer to as the "OneEighty Homestead" would make it feel like home sooner than anticipated. I've felt a connection with the land since the moment we walked on it. There's a sense of my feet being "rooted" every time I walk across the lawn or work in the orchard. But as the friends and family started to drop by while on vacation in the area, or the weekends friends and family came up to help with various projects, every visit made this once vacant house feel more and more like a home.
The accommodations in the farmhouse were cozy as we celebrated five birthdays (John's, our friend Ted's, my dad's, my mom's and mine), one holiday (Easter), and a wedding anniversary (our 10th) here, but somehow those walls seemed to expand to make room for every new memory being created.
It's been a roller coaster of a year, and while a part of me hopes year two will slow down just a little bit, I'm not banking on it. So instead, we're just going to buckle in, hang on tight and enjoy the ride as we live the lessons year two brings.
Today is the last day of August. And in many ways it also feels like the last day of summer for us because school starts tomorrow and John will welcome a whole new crop of young artists into his classroom. I'll spend my fall balancing writing deadlines, managing the business end of things for Sweet Beesus Honey and OneEighty Pottery, and helping coach cross country at my former high school in the evenings. It's full speed ahead into fall!
If there is one thing I've learned over the past 11 months — and especially this summer — it's that restoring a 115-year-old farmhouse, trying to bring life back to an abandoned orchard, and starting a pottery studio/gallery does not leave a lot of freetime for blogging. I know, go figure. So if you've been checking the blog over the past several weeks — er, months — and wondering where we've been or what we've been up to or if this blog continues to exist, I hope the photos below lend you a small clue as to what we were doing instead:
But even with what we have accomplished in these first several months (really a total of 90 days since we're still living in Racine County and limited to working on the property in Door County on weekends, school breaks and during the summer), it would be easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of what remains unchecked on our ever-growing to do list, especially with the goal of opening the gallery space next season.
It's enough to make us question our sanity. And we have.
One day this past March, while pruning the trees in the south orchard, I asked John, "Do you think the people driving by ask themselves, 'Who are the crazy people that decided to take on that project?'"
It had become a game of sorts, stopping our work of cutting branches off gnarled and tangled cherry trees to count the number of drivers going past who noticeably rubbernecked, trying to catch a glimpse of the activity on the property.
"Probably. I'm still asking myself," he said wryly.
It turns out, that's exactly what the locals were asking, as we learned as numerous neighbors stopped by to introduce themselves this summer. I think my favorite comment came from our elderly neighbor Joan, who told me she had wondered for years whether she would see that property "cleaned up" in her lifetime.
"And then, last fall, I saw the dumpsters arrive and I thought, 'Oh my goodness! I really am going to see it happen in my lifetime!" she told me when we met this summer.
It was just what I needed to hear. When we talk about our recent change of course, and what we lovingly refer to as our 40-year project, we tend to receive one of two reactions: The first, and probably most common, is the enthusiastic, "That is so awesome!" or "You're living my dream!" response.
The second involves arched eyebrows and quizzical looks. More than one friend has gingerly and delicately suggested we consider tearing down the existing farmhouse and building on the property instead. (And, to be honest, the thought of forgoing tens of thousands of dollars of renovation costs to build an adorable, eco-friendly, and transportable tiny house for a fraction of the price has crossed my mind more than once.)
But they're missing the point, John and I conclude after once again weighing the pros and cons of the new vs. restore debate. And really, there isn't much of a debate here for us anyway. We fell in love with the old — but solid — bones of that house the moment we walked through the door.
"Look honey! The ceiling has skylights! Oh, those aren't skylights? It needs a new roof? Well, never mind. Minor detail."
"It comes with 400+ tires, countless lawnmowers and random vehicles scattered throughout the property, you say? I think they add architectural interest to the landscape, don't you?"
So maybe our conversations didn't quite go like that, although I'm certain our realtor thought we were in the middle of a 30-something crisis as we looked past the plywood floors, cracked plaster and jungle-like foliage that threatened to swallow the house and outbuildings whole and instead saw home sweet home.
John and I have shared a love for old buildings for as long as we've been traveling the backroads together. We have albums of photos featuring deteriorating and dilapidated buildings, farmhouses and barns, places we've captured as we drove rural routes, imagining the stories and people that once called the space within those four walls home. We knew tearing down the farmhouse and doing anything but restoring this property was out of the question when we found this:
This cement step quickly became my favorite feature on the entire property. In a collision of past meets present, we realized this wasn't just a piece of property. The building was not just a house. This place was once a home, a livelihood. A quick Google search and chat with some of the locals told us the Jarmans, a common family name in the area, were dairy farmers. From what we gathered, William lived here with his wife Amanda, and their five children Chester, Gilbert, Lucille, Helen and Vivian.)
The agricultural landscape here may have changed from cows to fruit trees over the decades, but we suddenly felt a responsibility to not only restore the house but the orchard, too. Seeing as we are already beekeepers, it also seemed to be an advantageous decision. And, just as when we decided, somewhat on a whim, to become beekeepers, we will teach ourselves to be orchardists, as well. (What's one more thing, right?!)
It's a lot. We won't deny it. And, to many, it probably comes off as extremely pie-in-the-sky naive dreaming. I get that and I probably agree to some extent. Every day, at least once or twice, I think John and I both question how is it going to happen? Will there be enough time? Enough money? Where do we start first? But if this past summer at the farmhouse taught us anything it's that the neighbors and community members we met are behind us 100 percent, as are our families, and there's power in such strong collective belief in a dream. We may not know exactly how we are getting from point A (the end of the first summer) to point B (restoring the OneEighty Homestead), but if this adventure as taught us anything so far, it's the joy and opportunity that can be found in the detour...if we're just willing to be surprised.