We had a wonderful invitation from the Ellsworth Public Library to speak at the Senior Center about our journey from city-to-farm. We are feeling extremely fortunate to have relocated into such a warm, welcoming community and look forward to meeting many more residents while we are here. Please enjoy the video!
The Whelan family joined the city-to-farm movement in 2012 when they relocated from inner-city Las Vegas to rural Western Wisconsin. Here them speak to an audience at the Ellsworth Public Library about their journey.
"We move about our days stepping front-to-back and side-to-side until our movement is interrupted by something so curiously beautiful we remember that simply noticing is action, too"
Earlier today, I accidently spied my son reading to his sister through a narrow opening in the pocket doors. Undisturbed by my viewing, she lay beside him on the couch, her head resting on his shoulder, while he read aloud and they both enjoyed an adventure. My heart swelled. In our lives, as much as we surround ourselves with the natural world, we still feel the extensive overreach of media, technology, and screen time. At 8 and 10 years old, my kids love their tablets as much as the next kid. They are getting to that age where throughout our days, they do their thing and I do mine, we come together at meals or to watch a favorite show, and time keeps ticking at what feels most days like light-speed. And every so often, we are fortunate enough to stumble into a moment that makes your heart stop, time stand still.
My first-world instinct was to run upstairs and grab my phone, it was dead. My tablet was, too. I thought about grabbing the Nikon, but the clicking noise I knew would disrupt that moment, so I committed it to my memory by closing my eyes and just breathing it in.
There are so many things keeping us busy around the farm now that Spring has finally arrived. Prepping the garden, stocking up product to sell at festivals, cleaning out the kitty coop, and lightening the flock of overcrowded testosterone topped the list this week. We move about our days checking marks on our to-do lists, stepping front-to-back and side-to-side until our movement is interrupted by something so curiously beautiful and pure we are reminded that simply standing, watching, and noticing are all actions, too. They may never make our lists, but when they happen we should hold them, not on our devices, but in our heart.
"Getting out of bed in the mornings proved to be challenging, even while dressed in multiple layers. We strategically placed a portable space heater in one room at a time, and then we'd all stay huddled up there as long as possible."
Our first winter in Wisconsin (2013) ended with 18 inches of fresh powder falling the first weekend of May. Being the first winter Chris had ever spent in the Midwest, I had to assure him a few times that was not normal. When March rolled around this year it was my sweet husband who was the optimist, telling me over and over we were "turning the corner" and spring was almost here! It's now mid-April, we just received another 9 inches of snow, and the kids trudge to the end of the driveway to await their bus, fighting the need to wear snow pants despite temps well below freezing.
Perhaps my procrastination to write about our first winter at our new farm lead to the delay of spring. Mother Nature wants us to be timely in our endeavors, right? I may have missed the opportunity at all had spring crept in at its usual time, not wanting to post photos of snow covered trees when our friends and neighbors had already started breaking out the t-shirts and lawnmowers. Ok, Mother Nature, you win (as usual). Now that this story has surfaced, can we finally move onto something resembling planting weather? Thank you.
Winter came in with a vengeance after Christmas, dolling out weeks on end of double digit negative temperatures with wind chills straight out of something resembling Hoth in the Star Wars movie. We were thankful that a previous homeowner had put in good windows some year ago, but the house still showed us many inefficiencies when it came to heat flow. Our front entry way (aka laundry room) was devoid of any heat source due to the laundry plumbing being pulled through the only heating duct many moons before our time. This lead to mornings (I kid you not) where I would walk downstairs from my bedroom and see my breath. Chris and I had to give up our super warm Korean blankets to the kids and use our electric mattress pad to find comfort. Getting out of bed in the mornings proved to be challenging, even while dressed in multiple layers. We strategically placed a portable space heater in one room, and then we'd all stay huddled up there as long as possible.
I know a lot of women with kids and businesses or jobs often find themselves neglecting their self-care. We hear all the time how important it is to take me-time out of our days to relax, read, exercise, or rest. I lived by this rule over the winter, maybe to the opposite extreme. There were so many days I would spend an hour or more (sometimes kind of a lot more) just sitting in the bath, enjoying the warmth of the water. To get out after soaking for so long, my body would finally feel warm. Luckily in my biz I can get away with calling bath time "product testing", so it's refreshing and productive all in one.
We were able to get some things done around the house, like painting the living room, and just recently, finishing our laundry room! Earlier this week we had the furnace duct work reconnected into the front room and can already tell a difference in the heat flow throughout the house. The studio is now the coldest room of the house due to the attic access lacking insulation. We are hoping we can work on that in the upcoming years, though probably not anytime soon.
Chris started his seedlings last weekend and is so eager to get out to the garden. Any nice day that came along, though very few and far between, he was outside working on clearing the forest, or checking the trees in the orchard for life. The pictures posted here are his, and they do remind us of the beauty of winter on the farm. I was able to spend a lot of time in the kitchen enjoying the opportunity to create new smells and test my ever-evolving chemistry skills with respect to my craft. I'll be happy when I can take these new findings out into our local communities and share them with happy festival goers.
We lost one hen in the late of spring, otherwise all the animals survived. For many of them, this was their first winter ever and maybe they're wondering how the hell they ended up in Wisconsin. Me? As much as I am not the avid winter sportswoman, I will take the long Wisconsin winter in the country to any season in the desert. Anyday…except in June. Don’t test me, Mother Nature.
Photos taken by Chris.
"Our time to live in the moment, taking guidance from our hearts, our minds, and our bellies".
Home, work, family, farm, community. These are the things that come together to form my current memories of this time in my life. They work together, they are one with me. This is very different from my former path where work happened away from home. Home was a place to escape work and work was a place to provide for those at home. I was seeking balance at that time, something that would allow me the comfort of home and the provider that is work...and I'm not just talking about providing income and financial structure, but also providing purpose, social interactions, leadership opportunities and skill building. I was yearning to go all in as an artist while purposefully creating something that would provide for me and my family. From the depths of these dreams, our business was built within the home.
Working from home is continually rewarding and challenging. Everyday I sanitize the kitchen to make our high quality products in a safe environment, and everyday I clean up from that hoping to avoid the ever-present flavor of soap in our dinners. As much as some days I wish I could just sit on the couch and watch the "Price is Right", I usually end up only getting to glance it from the kitchen. Even with the hustle and bustle this holiday season presented for us at YB Urban?, it's still hard to let it go, but we did! And it was awesome.
Every year since we started our homestead we've taken 2 weeks of vacation from all of our activities except everyday life...the chickens just won't feed themselves. During this time there is no grading for Chris, no labeling for me, no math for Kai, and no tests for Ani. This year was especially blissful once I put my email in vacation mode and got into creating some new holiday traditions and enjoying those we do every year. We decided this year to allow everyone to open one gift each day from the day the kids got out of school until Christmas Eve, when we open the rest of them. This was AWESOME! I can't believe we haven't done it before! What I loved most about this was that we got to enjoy a gift each day individually. The second day Kai got a new board game and we played it together all afternoon while eating the chocolate coins Chris and I both received. That night Ani snuggled up in her new sleeping bag and we all enjoyed the slippers we had opened the day before. By the time Christmas Eve arrived, we had less gifts to open, and had time to focus more on each one. It was really lovely.
Ever since I was 13 my family has made pizza from scratch as our Christmas Eve dinner. We'd choose toppings, make the crust, and prepare the pizzas. While they were in the oven, with my brother, Joe, leading the chant "PRESENTS, PRESENTS", we would open presents. Somewhere during that time the pizzas would be done, and we would leave them to cool. Once presents were done being opened, we would all sit together and eat pizza. We have incorporated this tradition into our family, as well. This year, Chris outdid himself on a crust that he babied all day, through each rising, punching, and finally spreading in the pan. We all got a quarter section of the pizza to top any way we wanted. Ani loves shrimp and had shrimp on her pizza for the first time earlier this year, so Chris and I joined that bandwagon and had shrimp pizza for the first time!
We spent a day here making cookies, and a day there baking bread. We took a trip up to Duluth, and then to Babbitt and Ely. My grandpa turned 98 this year and I try to see him as often as I can, even if the temps are 25 below zero with a negative 45 wind chill. My dad was able to come home from the hospital for Christmas, and we were grateful to be there with him and mom for a few days as they get used to life again after enduring much this year from complications to dad's diabetes. We are reminded not to take the lives of our older loved ones for granted, but also not to take the time of our lives for granted. Slowing down now allows us to make those memories that will follow us through future Christmases.
It wasn't easy during this time to not think about working, about business. It's a part of us, not just somewhere we go to make money. It's become like glorious clockwork the way all parts of life come together on a homestead and work seamlessly. Certain times of the year, though, it becomes apparent one is taking some precedence over the others. It is then that we intentionally slow down, purposefully live in the moment. No plans, no alarms. Listening only to the belly, the brain, and the heart.