Lots of people have asked how this all came about – so here’s the entire story for your ultimate perusal and enjoyment:
The year is 2014. We are living in a small home outside Silver Bay, Minnesota. We get the urge to go exploring, and we hop in the car and decide to go north – up to Grand Marais for the first time.
After an hour’s drive, we arrive, and are struck by this quaint little tourist town. We go into a place called Stone Harbor, where a woman named Meredith helped us find hiking pants for John. We struck up a conversation while John was trying on pants, and after making our purchases, left the store.
Later that afternoon, we were having a drink at The Raven when we recognized Meredith. We said hello, and again, struck up great conversation with her and some locals that were sitting at the bar. There were some locals sitting discussing the languages created by J.R.R. Tolkien. This place was different – not The Raven, though admittedly it is a pretty unique pirate bar – but Grand Marais in general.
In autumn of 2014, I was in the process of selling handmade fingerless gloves to businesses, and Grand Marais was a terrific location for this. As I visited stores to sell my wares, I got to know many of the business owners in town.
John and I were so deeply impressed with this little town. We had never intended on “settling down” in one place, but Grand Marais just…it just spoke to us in a way that we’d never experienced. So we started really looking at the town and what it has to offer. Here’s a rundown:
- Three grocery stores including one organic co-op
- A hardware store and two lumber yards
- Two elementary schools – a public school and a charter school
- A hospital with ER
- Clinic with several great doctors, mental health specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, and I’m sure I’m missing some
- A dentist who also does orthodontics
Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but all of this in a town that has around 1300 year round residents is pretty amazing. And of course, we also have extremely talented chiropractors (hi, Dr. Stoner!), massage therapists, herbalists, salons, restaurants, wilderness outfitters…you name it, we’ve got it here, with the exception of any big box stores. (And when a Dollar General store was set to move in on the outskirts of town, I started a petition to stop it, knowing that it would change how people view the town as they arrive. The petition, as well as many, many townspeople showing up to City Council meetings, was a success, and Dollar General withdrew interest.)
So we decided…we wanted to live in Grand Marais. And that was when we discovered there was another thing Grand Marais was lacking.
Every time we’d see something for rent in GM, it was rented before we even had a chance to come up and look. Suffice to say that year-round rentals are an extremely hot commodity here. But we did get one! We arrived at the showing with deposit check in hand, ready to pounce on whatever we found. And in the coldest part of December of 2014, in sub-zero weather, we moved in. December 29th, to be exact.
We have never been happier anywhere in our lives. We see god in Lake Superior to our south, and we see god in the wooded hills to our north.
We LOVE our particular location, and as the days began getting warmer, the neighbors began coming out and we met so many wonderful people who live on our street (Hi Al, Michele, David, Rachael, Rose, Jay, Adam, Mica, Darryl, June, and Gary!) We don’t even like people much. But these people became our tribe…our family.
We became part of theirs too, and soon we were invited to “family night” at one of the neighbors. We’ve been going to family night every week since.
We have always homeschooled our kids, but we began to see our son getting bored with it and needing more, so we enrolled him in the charter school – Great Expectations – in late summer. This was a terrifying decision for us – much more for us than for him. Our son has autism and learning disabilities, and he is incredibly high functioning, quirky, funny, polite, AMAZING – we knew that he would excel at Great Expectations, and he has. Not only is he doing well intellectually, but he has his own little tribe of friends he’s close with.
This was something we can’t put into words…how important that was to see. There was a time, when he was very young, when we were not sure if our son would talk or be able to communicate at all. To see him being accepted and celebrated by his peers is something that we never knew if he’d experience, and it is…it is wonderful.
Fast forward to autumn 2016. It began to get colder, so of course, the fateful day came when we needed to turn the heat on. Shortly after the fan began blowing, we were overpowered by the smell of mold. Not that smell of heat vents that have been collecting dust for six months, but true mold. Having lived in a home with a mold problem before (and suffering the consequences in constant illness), we were alarmed. We contacted our landlord and explained the problem, and I won’t get into the details, but a quick-fix was put up that didn’t actually fix anything. We still smell the mold daily as the air continues to blow through the vents.
Around Thanksgiving was the first time we all came down with a super violent virus. And one or another of our family (and sometimes two or three of us) have all been sick since then. I believe we’ve had ten or so doctor visits just from the first of the year, with not only viruses, but lung issues such as URIs, and we are not people who run to the doctor…ever. But the constant severe illnesses have made it necessary. Our son, 12, who has never had anything more than a stomach flu and never been on antibiotics has had two lung infections requiring steroids, two ear infections requiring antibiotics, and now has asthma. Our daughter, 9, goes down hard when she gets sick, with fever, vomiting, chills, sweating – and she’s had several of those viruses since autumn. I’ve been sick with things I’ve never had before, like a lung infection that resulted in the deepest coughing I’ve ever heard. There were times I thought I might break a rib. And finally, my husband, who has had one or two colds in the 15 years I’ve known him, has had three severe URIs since autumn.
So, we had planned on looking for a new place to rent in spring, especially since the landlord told us that the home was going on the market after June 1st, and we would need to be out by then. We began looking for rentals. I messaged everyone that I know – over 50 people – every two weeks looking for any leads. But there simply wasn’t anything. There are no rentals available. Period.
Where would we go? This was a terrifying realization for us. But we knew we couldn’t leave…not being so deeply involved in the community (I’m even on the Grand Marais planning and zoning committee!), and with our kids having so many friends here. And we were definitely NOT taking Declan away from his school and his tribe.
We decided we’d have to build. We’d buy land outside Grand Marais, and we’d build a house of our own, with wood from Cook County, Minnesota, using cordwood masonry and our own hands. We’re doing this all without contractors, and without a mortgage both by principle and necessity. We’re doing it because we know we’re able.
And that’s the story. And that’s why we’re doing all of this. And that’s why we’re not leaving.