Skin in the game

The skin on my face was incinerated today. Prior to the photodynamic treatment, a $300 medication was applied to ensure a 10X sunburn. It turns out that an effective treatment for precancerous sun damage is another extreme burn. Burn off all the bad stuff, and the skin should regenerate anew.

Needing to avoid contact with sunlight, I walked out of the clinic onto First Street wearing a wide-brimmed sombrero, which, it turns out, is pretty darn festive for Duluth in January.

I had good reason to celebrate. Today I also closed on a loan, the very first of its kind for an urban farm in Duluth by the USDA, thank you very much.

These funds will enable me to grow the scale and reach of Tiny Farm Duluth considerably.


Additionally, we just returned home from the most extraordinary donut shop I’ve ever seen: Glam Doll Donuts in northeast Minneapolis (declared one of America’s top 10 donut shops by USA Today), where my wife recently installed her first exhibition of art in the Twin Cities. The place was packed wall to wall with hipsters.

This place is so cool that folks were lined up outside in sub-zero weather waiting to get in on a Friday night. Shawna’s brother (in brown jacket and hat) arrived right from the construction site. It was great to have him there amongst all the shiny people! Come check it out for yourself at 519 Central Ave NE in Minneapolis. Shawna’s works will be on display until February 12th.
Shawna with Teresa, owner and lover of all things vintage.

Shawna has several other shows booked for 2017. Her reach is expanding. Three magazines will feature her in the near future, including a bit part in Better Homes and Gardens. Hard work, persistence—and the prospect of hunger—has propelled a former hobby into a bona fide business with a tax id and everything.


It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns over here, but the new year brings renewed hope. While stress remains persistent, there are good reasons to celebrate. The hard work of hacking a sustainable financial path through the wilderness continues.

Two and a half years have elapsed since I lost my job. The current quest is more arduous than any adventure I’ve experienced. At 40 years old, I wish more of this legwork had been accomplished years ago.

By any standard, I was a top-performer with my former employer. A valued team-player. Due to an organizational shuffle, I was suddenly rendered expendable. Released.

In truth, this was a blessing. The way forward has seemed insurmountable at times, however. We are endeavoring to feed our family, and provide value to our community, through our God-given gifts and passions. I’ve written a book, various magazine articles, and this column. Now I’ve added an urban farm to the mix, and hope to diversify the income stream with fresh vegetables and pastured poultry. I butter our bread by painting houses from time to time as well, and now my wife contributes to the pot with her surreal artwork.

With all this going on—BLOOD, SWEAT, and TEARS— we’re still only halfway toward replacing what was once a dependable income. One that seemed to barely get us by at the time.

I can’t help but wish we had started more of these endeavors ten years ago as side hustles, when it was readily apparent that my career in Corporate America was going nowhere. We would be so much further ahead now if we had!

The useless blue object in the photo was one of many similar “gifts” from my previous employer. A fringe benefit, perhaps. I took pleasure in dropping it off at the scrapyard recently.

This is what I wish to convey to you now, dear reader. Nobody’s job is secure. As much as you think it might be, forces beyond your control can quickly upend your world.

And what the world needs today is people who are fully alive, while honing their innate passions and abilities. Aggressively pursue these on the side. If ever the day comes when you must call upon these talents to pay the mortgage, you’ll be sorely glad you did.

Success in business is like drilling through rock prior to reaching an aquifer. Skills must be developed, research done, groundwork laid, and more. Most of this difficult work should be done long before profit becomes a necessity.

By doing what you love, and staying connected to a customer base that finds value in your work, many of you could develop a side business that could gross $10,000 or more each year. Plow these profits back into the business, and you’ll find that if and when the time comes, you’ll be able to much more easily scale it up to your needs.

As with planting a tree, the best time to do it was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.

Shawna is working on this piece at the moment, the title for which is listed on the nearby Post It note. Do you suppose using the sticky note with the title of the piece helps her in some way? Strange, but interesting. She’ll put in about 50 hours on this painting. I can’t imagine her ever recouping her time in whatever payment she receives for it. It’s all part of the process. She also takes pleasure in painting over her works if they don’t move, much to my chagrin, but one can’t cling to the past while forging ahead.

Most of what you just read appeared in the newspaper last week. Click here.

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