The mid-life crisis rolls on. Choppy seas consistently threaten to swamp our little life raft. In and through the turmoil, however, actual progress is being made. Slowly, painfully slowly, we are establishing a sustainable household economy. We desire to produce work of value for our neighbors and community-at-large, and simultaneously feed, clothe, and shelter our family.

I nearly wrote that we are striving for financial independence, but this isn’t accurate. Like a cog in a machine, we endeavor to enmesh our productive work more directly into the larger economy. As gears join to produce forward motion, we need each other. Also, one of the best ways to become more integrated into the community is to participate in its economic life.

Though the progress is slow, it is startling to reflect upon the momentum we gained in 2016. Here are a few:

  1. Shawna’s art career is burgeoning. This year she put on 6 major art shows (like this one), and produced more than a hundred paintings. It’s as if the gloves are off. Her whimsy has become more unleashed. This has opened numerous opportunities to show in galleries and in more unconventional spaces. She also painted Charlie Parr’s most recent album cover, which brought significant exposure. 12928405_10153581820582005_6393810598846228977_nLast month she was featured beautifully in the newspaper. The entire spread took up a full page and a half! Check out the story right hereshawna-betterNot only is she selling more paintings, me and the new puppy are treated to several walks to the post office each week while shipping prints, like the one you see below—Reliance, from sea to shining sea.il_570xn-1153859801_qpx3
  2. I broke ground on an urban farm, Tiny Farm Duluth, on borrowed land. This has been a crazy process, but I look forward to a stronger second year. Soon I’ll close on a USDA loan, which will enable me to significantly upgrade infrastructure and equipment. In 2016 I grew for a few families and two restaurants. I look forward to establishing a farmer’s market presence in 2017, and greater income opportunity. To further this goal, I’m investing in a profitable urban farming course during the off-season, whittling down to the essentials, and am in the process of streamlining everything. Soon I’ll be bringing the farm website over to this site. Maintaining websites isn’t a passion, so I’d rather just have one. Also, I believe this will further our goals by creating more synergy between our enterprises: writing, farming, Shawna’s art, and house painting (I am available for interior painting right now, and will wedge in exterior work around the farm’s needs next summer). We need each business to fuel interest and traffic in the others. Combining the websites might help a bit.
  3.  We were all touched, even blessed, through the death of our dog. Over the ensuing months we worked together to purchase a new one. It was a beautiful process. I wrote about it for the paper: Bounty in the midst of scarcity.
  4. The entire family is learning to prize what cannot be hoarded in storage boxes: friendship, shared experiences and spiritual growth. These things only increase in the lives of those who freely give them away. We aren’t minimalists, yet, but we are closer than ever before. The hope is that this clearing away of clutter and distractions will leave our minds unencumbered for greater focus and creativity.

    The mail slot atop of the buffet just might be the locus of evil in the modern world, although my wife would say it can be found in my inevitable shoe pile below the stairs. Either way, I am the problem!
  5. I recently picked up a couple writing gigs for local magazines, which has been surprisingly enjoyable. This is essentially a permission slip to go meet interesting entrepreneurs and ask all sorts of personal questions. I love it. I’ve written two cover stories for Positively Superior Magazine, and have some stuff in the upcoming issue of Duluthian. Prior to each of the interviews I conducted, I assumed the stories would be boring. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They’ve been wildly fascinating!
  6. I have failed to write consistently, and have learned the importance of doing it every day. That will be my goal for 2017. I still have a book in the works, but haven’t made much headway. Much of this has to do with no small amount of stress, but carving out time to write each day should help clear away the cobwebs. That, and editing. Great writers delete most of what they write. Yeah, that’s obviously not me, but I can see the need. Learning by failing. That’s sort of what I do…

Here are my top 5 posts from 2016 (by views):

  1. Gaelynn Lea. Wow. Just, Wow!  I posted this about a week before the musician became famous for winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Competition.
  2. Young man pursues passion of baking sourdough in lieu of a PhD
  3. One family many businesses: Max Organics, Ben’s Blooms, Duluth Trading Company, and more!
  4. An epic voyage to Whiteside Island. This one wound up being dramatized as part of the local production of One River, which will be performed next month in the American College Theatre Festival. Wow!
  5. Multiple sclerosis as a catalyst from burnt out cubicle jockey to self-taught artist and entrepreneur.

Obviously there’s a pretty dominant theme of identifying people who are taking unconventional paths.

I think this one about wrestling with a $90 turkey is also worth a read.

Until next time, happy new year. Finish this one strong.


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