Archive for November, 2011


Posted on November 30th, 2011 by Tonia No Comments

The clean white snow shrouding the world gives me a sense of newness. Fresh starts, clean slates. Winter is the world’s reset button.

Speaking of starts, December starts tomorrow. Legend has it that how you spend the first day of the month will determine how the rest of the month will go {actually I just made that up. But isn’t that how legends are born??}, so we’re kicking off the month with a weekend full of fun activities: a book club meeting and potluck, a neighborhood dinner party, brunch in a yurt {our good friends live in an awesome yurt in the woods}, and a sauna-and-story-telling party. All in one weekend! These are the delightful things that I love winter for.

Also, I’m quite proud of this photo of Jack. What a handsome fellow!

Christmas Pony

Posted on November 29th, 2011 by Tonia 12 Comments

You know that recurring dream every little girl has where she wakes up on Christmas morning and her parents point out the window and there in the snowy yard stands a little chestnut pony with a white stripe down its nose and a big velvet ribbon around its neck? I still have that dream all the time.

This “horse-craziness” has plagued me my whole life, and there’s no cure. I had to put horses on the back burner while I did the college thing, held down my first professional job, got married, and settled into our new life…but now, all of that is done, and I’m ready to get back in the saddle!

We’ve been “horse shopping” for a couple months now. I have been driving all over Tarnation to visit and ride different horses for sale, but as it turns out, the one I have fallen in love with lives only a mile away from us! He’s a big {16.3 hh} chestnut Thoroughbred gelding with four white socks and a blaze {actually, he is almost identical to the famous “Pie” from this movie.} He’s easily won over by apples or carrots, likes his face itched, and has a big bouncy trot.

I’m pretty smitten. Actually, I’M FREAKING OUT!!!!!! He was looked at by the vet last week and passed the exam, so it looks like a pretty sure thing that he’ll be mine by Christmas.

Here’s a little video of the boy and me, going through the basic gaits and getting to know each other. We have a really easy flow of communication between us, and his trainer said that she can see I give him a sense of confidence and peace. It’s a great feeling to “click” like that with an animal.

Those who know me well know that this bit of good news is the equivalent of me announcing that I’m pregnant {although, my friends who have had kids tell me that how you love your pets just doesn’t compare to how you love your human children. I nod my head and smile, but deep down I just don’t know if it’s possible to love anything more than I love my animals…}

I think I need to start a “Horses” category for the blog, because you’re going to be hearing a LOT more about them from now on. Or maybe I’ll hold off and just make a general “Farm Animals” one. We’re getting pigs and chickens this spring.

Most importantly, though…..WHAT SHOULD I NAME HIM??

Dear T&M: Just Need a Little Push

Posted on November 28th, 2011 by Tonia 8 Comments

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for writing! It’s super exciting to us that you and your husband are pursuing a simpler life. Obviously, we are biased, but we think homesteading is such a rewarding way to live. It’s not only about where you live, though. Homesteading is a philosophy. It can be achieved in any situation, really, whether you live on a farm or in the city. Urban-homesteading is possible and real! There are people doing it.

However, we completely understand the draw of a more rural life. We moved out of the city and into a rural area a little over a year ago, so we fully appreciate and identify with your desire to have your own farm someday. I don’t feel qualified to give advice on how to make it happen, but I can tell you our story. It was kind of the perfect storm of hard work, good timing, and good people. There’s no way to abridge this tale, so here it is in all its long-winded glory:

After graduating college, Mike and I were dating and living together in a house in Duluth, MN. We had several housemates who paid rent, which helped us make ends meet. Mike originally bought the house because it was cute and he thought it would be easy to re-sell when the time came to move. Real-estate is very affordable in Duluth, so it is common for people to opt to own a home rather than rent one, since your mortgage payment is usually about the same as a rent payment would be anyway.

We both had full-time office jobs with salaries and benefits and made enough to stand on, but with very little left over at the end of the month to put into savings. We had big ideas about someday being self-employed, moving to the country, gardening, having farm animals, and having more time for each other. This dream was what motivated us to work hard at our ho-hum jobs for four years while we slowly saved money.

Neither of us are sit-at-a-desk-and-complete-tasks kind of people, so our jobs were hard on us. My boss was an ass and my creative nature was being suffocated to death by The Protocol Monster. I hated having to spend money on “business casual attire” when what I really wanted was to get my pencil-skirted butt out of that stupid ergonomically-correct chair and into a pair of Carharts. At times, I really thought I was losing my mind. Our dream seemed out of reach, but we just kept working away and saving as much as we could. This is the hard work part of the story.

Thankfully, Mike’s job was more tolerable than mine, and he learned a lot of great business skills from it. He had the pleasure of working for a boss who really took care of his employees. However, Mike is an entrepreneur at heart, and he has known his whole life that he could never be happy working for someone else. At night after he got home from the office, Mike would go to work building our own graphic design and photography business. Before too long, we were attracting new clients and making some helpful extra income.

For about a year, we barely saw each other even though we lived in the same house. My job started requiring me to travel a lot, and Mike would work all day at the office and then work all night at home on our own projects and even use all of his vacation time to make some larger projects happen. It was rough. I was scared that everything we had been working so hard for, plus our relationship, was being destroyed by the fact that we were working so hard. But we kept at it.

Mike started to have so much work that he could not afford to be away at his office job all day. It was clear that he needed to switch over to being self-employed. We were so scared but we thought, “What’s the WORST thing that could happen?” Our business could flop and we could lose the house and our credit would be ruined for a while, but we’d still have each other and our dog. We’re both blessed enough to have parents who would let us move back in with them for a little while if we had to. So he quit his job and devoted himself to our work full-time.

The nature of the beast with self-employment is that you don’t receive monthly paychecks. This uncertainty warranted me continuing to work my office job for awhile because we really needed some kind of consistency in our lives. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty brutal to be the only one getting up in the morning and diligently going to a job I hated. Before, there was a sense of “we’re in this together”, but now Mike was home all day, doing interesting, creative projects with wonderful clients who were pleasant to work with. I was so happy for him, but also jealous.

We saved every dime that we could, sold things that we had that we rarely used {everyone has stuff like this} and searched around for where we wanted to live. These weekend get-aways were exactly what I needed to give me the endurance to push through at my job. We visited cute little towns all over the northland, eating at diners, driving back-roads, talking about what we wanted in life, and imagining ourselves out there. We looked at so many properties for sale, debating whether to build from the ground up or to buy land that already had at least a house on it.

One weekend in January, we were driving around on the Bayfield Peninsula, scoping out the area. I had childhood friends who grew up there, so I was familiar with what the peninsula had to offer and had good memories of time spent around there as a kid. Pretty much right away, it just felt like home to us. We loved the people, the towns, the longer growing season, the proximity to the big lake. It was also almost exactly half-way between my parents and Mike’s parents, making visiting easy.

There was plenty of land and houses for sale to choose from on the peninsula, but once we laid eyes on the little farm we now own, we knew it was the place we had been dreaming about for years. And it was for sale! Good timing.

There was a catch, though. The farm was expensive. Now that Mike was self-employed, there wasn’t a bank on this planet that would give us a loan. Not to mention, we still owned our house in Duluth and had no idea how long it would take to sell, so we had to be prepared to handle two mortgages at the same time. Minor road-block.

Here’s where the good people part comes in. The sellers of this magical little farm are awesome people. We liked them, they liked us. They were excited by our plans to do subsistence gardening, to work on eliminating our household propane use, and to live simply and as low-impact as possible. Our principles and ideas really resonated with them. They agreed to sell the farm on a contract for deed, meaning that they are acting as a bank for us. It’s all very official and legally binding and all that, but it made it so that we didn’t have to ask for a loan from a bank.

We wouldn’t have had a chance if it wasn’t for that down-payment we had worked so hard to save up, so all those long days sitting at the desk definitely paid off. We bought the farm, and every day we’re thankful for the people who made it possible.

We got married, took a honeymoon, and moved into the farm all in the course of about three weeks last fall. For the following nine months, we still owned our Duluth house too. I commuted to Duluth for work for another 4 months after that.

Late that winter, I couldn’t take it anymore. My job was sucking the life out of me. Mike and I decided that I had to quit, even if it meant serious sacrifice. I came home that day, cranked this song as loud as it would go, and had a dance-party by myself in our living room. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier {ok, maybe on our wedding day…} We lived with a very tight belt for four months and made it work.

And then on a sunny day in July, our Duluth house sold!! An enormous weight lifted. Life was awesome. No boss. No protocol. No standard operating procedure. No second house. Just us, our awesome clients, and our dream farm.

This kind of life is not for everyone and it comes with stresses and drawbacks, just like anything else. But it’s our dream, it works for us, and it’s what makes us happy and fulfilled. Whatever your dream is, if it’s worth having, it will not be easy to get there. Don’t be discouraged by road-blocks…They’re important. They prove to us how badly we want something. At this point, I’m even grateful for my awful job and mean boss. They existed in my life to show me what my option was if I didn’t follow my dream.

Some people might see me quitting a perfectly good job as not being grateful for what I had. In this economy, shouldn’t we all be happy to have any job at all? I was grateful for my job, because the money I made helped us realize our dream. But to wake up in my forties and realize I never did any of the things I wanted to do with my life because I was sitting at a desk for most of it……..I’d rather be dirt poor, struggling to get by, but still working towards my dreams than to be wealthy, sitting at a desk, missing out on life.

Don’t settle for a reality that doesn’t fulfill you. We only get one shot at living. Good luck, we’re rooting for you!!


If you would like to air your dirty secret or ask a question, email us with “Dear T&M” in the subject line. Please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous.
toniasimeone {at} gmail {dot} com

Take Back Black Friday

Posted on November 25th, 2011 by Tonia 2 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving to all my USA readers! I hope your bellies are full of great food and you’re returning home safely from the festivities. And if any of you are tempted by big-box stores offering you crazy-low prices on China-made crap {excuse me}, please allow me my two cents: where you put your money makes a statement about your priorities and values.

We’re the last people to judge when it comes to this stuff, because {cough, cough} I freely admit to my fashion addiction, and Mike loves to woodwork, but we can’t afford all USA made tools and machines, so some of the ones he has are made overseas. We all have things we just have to have, and we make compromises in order to have them. I don’t have a problem with occasionally treating ourselves to things that we can’t get locally or that we can only afford if we buy from the big-box store’s sale rack.

However, it’s so important for the majority of our spending to send a clear message to Congress that we value Main Street over Wall Street, that our loyalty lies with our neighbors, our community, and our small business owners over the fat cat CEOs of Walmart, etc. who take huge bonuses every year while simultaneously shipping American jobs overseas.

Today, on the biggest shopping day of the year, please join us in sending that message. The government works for us. Wall Street only exists because we give them our money. It’s time to start acting like the boss, people.

P.S. I made the “Local is the new black” poster this morning. Feel free to save it to your computer and share it on your own blogs if you want to.