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.