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A New Life in Ely

Updated: Jan 2

We finally did it! After many years of talking and planning, we moved from South St. Paul to Ely, MN. It's been about 13 months since we made the final drive up to our new hometown. We sold our home and closed in mid-September 2021. It didn't feel real while it was happening, and even now there are moments I have to remind myself this is our new life in the magical Northwoods.

Our new backyard

For the first eight months, we lived at a beautiful cabin that my clients kindly took off of Airbnb for the winter to let us rent. It was gorgeous, but we didn't really unpack because we knew we'd be moving out in short order and we didn't want to mix our things with the rental things. So we kind of lived out of bins and it was definitely a cozy and temporary-feeling situation. You can rent this beautiful cabin - The Guest House - at (branding and website done by yours truly, hero image by Andy).

We also welcomed our dog, Scout, to the family since we last wrote! She's a big rescue Anatolian Shepherd mix. We got her at about nine months old and she's now almost two. She is the sweetest, snuggliest girl ever but thinks she's a small lapdog and still has that crazy puppy energy.

Up until about March of this year, our plan was to build our home on our land. We got so far as to have an architect draw up plans, got the physical building kit (we were building barndominimum style), build permits, septic design and permit...and then we started getting quotes back for things like septic and electric. Things were coming in two or three times more than we had budgeted (we started this process in 2019 before everything skyrocketed) and every contractor said the same thing: materials are insanely expensive and hard to get right now. That was just from the ones that called us back - we had trouble getting anyone to give us a quote for a few critical things that the bank needed to approve our construction loan.

We had a date that we needed to be out of our rental - May 31st, and sometime in March we made the difficult decision to throw in the towel for now on our build with no plan of where to go. Add in the fact that rentals and home inventory were/are in very short supply in our area and we were a little stressed. Then my friend and colleague mentioned the idea of selling a lakefront home to us that she used as a rental property. We saw it and fell in love! To make a long and boring story short, everything ended up falling into place perfectly somehow and we closed in May - just a couple of weeks before we had to be out of our rental. Update: we sold our metal building kit for our home in 2023.

It's a 1920s-ish railroad section house, along an old railroad track that is no longer there. It has 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a butler's pantry, walk-in closets in every bedroom, and sits on 2 acres along a small lake. My friend did a lot of work prior to us purchasing it - putting in a new well, septic, water filtration system and a new driveway among other things. There's still much to do, but we're enjoying living in our big, historic home - we call it the Rail House - and slowly bringing it back to life.

So far, we've had gutters put on, a radon mitigation system installed, a dead White Pine taken down, put in a dock, and given the game lounge a little facelift.

Still this year, we would like to install an outlet for our new old electric stove, and hopefully renovate the old wood fired hot tub that came with the property. Over the winter and into the spring, our priority will be to repair plaster cracks, paint and finish decorating, and turn the room that has kitchen things in it...into a kitchen.

The logo we designed for our house

Upcoming projects: replace the casement windows, address siding, turn the small front porch into a screened in end-to-end porch, put up a fence, build a workshop, and landscape. This is NOT the path that just six months ago we were 98% sure we would be taking, but it's a really pleasant detour! The best part about all of this is we were able to pay off our land with the proceeds from our home sale, and we kept it. It's our little escape when we're sick of painting or unpacking or doing some sort of project here. We've also been sharing it with many family and friends and are really excited to keep doing that. We make improvements at the land every year - this year we put up a small storage shed, took down a bunch of Balsam trees and will be cleaning the wall tent. The wall tent has stood without damage for 2, almost 3 years now! But it is in need of a good power wash. We also plan on defining some more trails through our land this fall. Someday, we'll build there, but until then it's our camp out spot and a great place to host people.

Now that I've gone through all of the practical details - let's cover what life in Ely is really like. I'll start out by saying that we've given up a lot. We gave up convenience, any takeout you could imagine, recycling pickup, having anything done at a fast pace. But what have we gained?

1. A slower way of life and more time for ourselves. It was tough to adapt to at first but now I couldn't imagine living any other way. People take their time here, partly out of necessity (it's harder to get certain things here) and partly just because I feel like they're taking the time to enjoy life. They're soaking it in. They're moving at the pace of nature. We're just rushing around less. It's been really refreshing to "have to" go make our own fun outside and actually savor these slow little moments. Edit 2023: I wrote this one before we had two kids in hockey :)

Drawing at the land

2. Our connection with/appreciation for nature growing even deeper. We have been HUMBLED by nature here, in a really good/big way. We've been snowed in 20+ miles from town with no power. We've been caught in severe thunderstorms while out camping. We've seen the Northern Lights, black bear, moose, wolf, bobcat. Most recently we've been enjoying figuring out what is edible around us. What can we forage to have with dinner? What can we use from our property to make a healing salve? It's been fun and rewarding to learn from the land this summer.

The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights

3. Better health. We're outside so much more up here and it's improved all of our mental and physical health. Our takeout food options are also more limited and we don't have easy access to fast food, so we naturally eat it way less. There's less air and water pollution up here, and I feel like that has also played a part. The air doesn't stink here!

4. Peace of mind. We feel more secure being near vast clean fresh water sources, foraging, fishing, and hunting, and away from such a densely populated metropolitan area. We're working toward a more "homestead"/"off grid" lifestyle and it feels way more attainable and accepted outside of the city. Our goal is to become more self-reliant and less dependent on our societal systems that have proven to be very fragile and vulnerable over the past few years.

Nature is abundant!

5. A whole town of "neighbors". People will go out of their way to help you here, just because you're here. We've never felt like we had to prove ourselves as locals, and any time we've needed anything someone has been there offering it because people genuinely care and want to see people succeed.

So, is living up here what we expected? Overall, yes! There are some things we didn't expect - there's no dentist taking new patients in town, and really no place to get affordable kids clothes - but they're things we've adjusted to and a drop in the bucket compared to what we've gained in moving here. Would we change anything about the move? Not in a million years!

Actually, next time we'd hire movers.

Swimming in Jasper Lake


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