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.