In August 2021, I left my hometown of Grand Rapids and moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to a little house on Lake Superior. I am nine hours away from anyone I know, I can no longer offer photography sessions to my West Michigan clients, and I let go of 2/3 of everything I owned.
Here’s the surprising truth about why I moved and how it has made me the happiest I have ever been in life.
Just days after Duke died, my son and I traveled to Sedona, Arizona for his 18th birthday. We were exhausted from caring for Duke day and night and fragile from losing such a beloved dog. A few days hiking in the sun, away from the reminders of Duke’s illness and death, seemed like a good way to recover.
That first night, I slept 11 hours straight. In the moment that I woke up, I “heard” a voice say something very strongly.
“It’s time for a whole new life.”
The words were clear, but the meaning was not. I’m still not sure of the full meaning of why things happened the way they did after that moment. But exactly six months from that day, as I write to you FROM my whole new life, I am in awe of the massive changes that took place. I marvel at the speed and ease of how everything fell into place. And I am learning to lean in to a whole new level of happiness that I never even knew was possible.
What Do I Truly Want?
I didn’t want a whole new life, I can tell you that. My divorce in 2017 had been the catalyst to start improving the life I had, working with amazing life coaches like Jim Fortin, Lisa Carpenter and Ichel Francis. Thanks to their transformation programs, I had dramatically increased my inner peace by changing the way I thought about myself, my purpose, and the world around me. My thoughts were no longer trapped in all the sadness of the past, frustrations of the present, or fears of the future. My outer world hadn’t changed as much as I wanted, but it was good enough. I had a big, beautiful house, a business that had survived COVID, and I always found ways to make sure the kids and dogs were taken care of.
What I really wanted was to downsize my house and have less to take care of and clean every day. After the divorce, I had worked hard to keep my kids in the house where they were raised, but it was draining me physically and financially. Moving hadn’t been an option while our blind dog, Duke, was alive. Now Duke was gone and both kids would be moving away to college in a couple months. I dreaded the idea of keeping up this house alone, waiting for the kids to come visit a few weekends out of the year.
One look at the spring housing market, though, and all thoughts of moving were gone! So much for a whole new life. I could sell my house in a heartbeat, but buying a house in this high-demand, high-price market would take a lot of luck, and even a smaller house would end up being a bigger mortgage than the one I currently had.
I resigned to staying where I was. Since I wasn’t actually going to move, I started playing around on Zillow, looking at dream houses instead of practical houses. It was just a game. Most of the houses I saved were million-dollar houses on Lake Michigan or huge plots of land that I could build on in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Impossible, no way, not-gonna-happen houses—but fun to daydream about!
That’s where things started to get interesting.
I had reached out to my mortgage lender earlier in the month, just to see what amount I might get pre-approved for. She never called me back, which didn’t matter since I no longer thought moving was an option. But then she did call back, and she dropped a bombshell on me.
She told me she could do a loan for me, for the exact amount I had expected, but ONLY if I bought the new house IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS.
As a self-employed borrower, I need to show three solid years of income. I had that—right up until COVID dried up my income sources. If I waited another 30 days to ask for a mortgage loan, the bank would be looking at my 2020 quarantine income and I wouldn’t get approved. I would need to wait another three years to build up my income history again.
I needed to get out of this big house. NOW.
I lined up my realtor and ran to Zillow to schedule some showings.
Out of all the dream houses I had saved, there was only one house that was available and within my price range. It was a beautiful little house in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), overlooking the Keweenaw Bay. It had acres of space for the dogs to run. It didn’t need any work, and the walls were even painted my favorite color.
But it was nine hours away.
Was this seriously my most viable option? I loved this Lake Superior house, and I desperately wanted to downsize, but wouldn’t it be more practical and safe to find a small house near my family, my clients, and the town where my kids had grown up with their friends?
I talked to my kids, my family, my friends and my neighbors. Some were very supportive, some weren’t at all. Everyone had a different opinion of what I should do.
That’s when I had to turn to myself. I got quiet and asked: “What do I truly want?”
My heart answered back: “Wild nature outside my door.”
Believe me, my mind was hoping for a different answer!
“Okay, but wouldn’t it be safer, easier, more practical to just find a little house around West Michigan? I don’t know a single person in the UP. I don’t have a job there. I can’t take any of my furniture, it won’t fit. So many people are upset that I’m talking about moving so far away. Can’t we try again?”
Wild nature outside my door. A slowing down. Space to roam. Quiet. That’s what my heart wanted. More than it wanted to please the people around me, more than it wanted to stay safe in a job I knew, more than it wanted to avoid the discomfort of moving somewhere unknown, where I knew nobody.
And that’s the truth of why I moved. I knew it was what my heart and soul truly wanted, and I was willing to go through mountains of discomfort to make my heart happy.
If I don’t honor what makes my heart happy, who else will?
I went to see that one house. As I drove up the driveway for the first time, a bald eagle flew over my windshield. Does it get more “wild nature” than that? I knew I was home. I bought the house, and sold my house. I got rid of nearly 2/3 of everything I owned in order to downsize. I took care of my kids and got both of them moved into their new college housing. I packed up the dogs, said goodbye to everything we knew and headed off into absolute uncertainty, newness and change.
Our Whole New Life
Now that we’ve had a few weeks to settle, I am blown away by how BLISSFUL I am. How deeply, intoxicatingly, almost-can’t-handle-it happy I am. Moving isn’t easy and not everything is going right. Every single day is like navigating a foreign land, from my own house to the town to the culture. But the external circumstances—the things that happen outside of me—no longer determine my happiness. My HEART is happy, my heart is home, and my heart is being listened to. That’s where I’ve discovered a level of happiness that I never even knew existed.
If I had listened to other people and to all the stories of what could go wrong, I would still be in my same life, living more of the same. But I listened to my heart, and I chose stories of what could go RIGHT, and now the only thing I want is to show other people how they can feel this happy, too.
Something I haven’t announced yet is that on the day I moved in, the property next door went up for sale…and I bought it. So much for downsizing! I now have two houses, one of which is a 100-year-old farmhouse. Anyone want a flip? I also have a pole barn, 4.5 acres total for the dogs and me to run around on, and 250 feet of Lake Superior shoreline. I will have lots of time this winter to cuddle up with some seed catalogs and plan a vegetable/herb/flower garden! I am in awe every day that this is my new life.
Lily is basically feral now—she loves it here in ways I never expected, and she could stay outside exploring from dawn to dark. Tyler has finally realized his dream of being a farm dog. He helps me with chores and again, I’ve never seen him so happy. Georgia still wishes she could be a Pomeranian carried around in a purse, and I’m not sure how I can make that dream come true for her. Wish her luck this winter. I’ve promised her lots of new sweaters.
(And sweet Duke. He rode shotgun with me on the way to the UP. His urn is on a sunny windowsill overlooking the Keweenaw Bay. It was exactly six months ago this week that we lost him, and I could still cry for him every day. Part longing, and part pure gratitude at whatever role he played in clearing the way for this new life, with 30 days to spare. I would give anything to have him back, but his soul had a better plan for us.)
As for Happy Dog Mom, I am no longer able to offer client sessions in West Michigan. I am redefining my business to be less reliant on photography and more focused on information. Specifically, how to create a happier, healthier life for you and your dog. It’s something I know a little bit about.? Stay tuned for more posts on dog health and happiness, two different podcasts in the works, Clubhouse sessions, some cool dog mom merchandise, and a game-changer course on how to increase your dog’s health and longevity.
To my beloved clients of the last 10 years, I thank you and I am sorry I can’t offer the same services anymore. However, you deserve to be left in the best hands. If you haven’t already, please head over and say hi to Trish at Tailwagger Dog Photography. As competitors, we did the (un)natural thing and became good friends! She is a wonderful person with a beautiful photography style and it would thrill me to keep seeing pictures of your pups, even if I can’t be the one to take them for you anymore. (Be sure to ask her about her nickname for me!)
Finally, if you’re ever near the Keweenaw Peninsula, don’t hesitate to let me know. I’d love to show you my little slice of heaven, my whole new life.