Living With Kids: Jessica Ries
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a wooden slide leading into the living room of today’s Living With Kids family. Can you imagine?! Jessica, her husband and two kids live on the most gorgeous farm in Minnesota. Not only is their home full of style and charming details, smack dab in the middle of the living space is a treehouse, complete with that slide.
Come say hello to Jessica.
My husband and I met while attending the University of Minnesota. I studied Organizational Communication, and he studied Bio-Based Products, Marketing and Management. We both lived in an apartment building where I was a Resident Assistant. He was one of the residents I was assigned to. Scandalous, I know! We started dating around New Years, and we were married in June of that same year. Talk about a whirlwind. After we were married we moved into our current home in the woods on my husband’s family farm. We have been married for almost 11 years and we have two sweet children, a son who is 2 and a daughter who is 6 months.
My husband is a third generation farmer and he works with his father. We have a crop farm where we grow corn and soy beans. One unique thing about our farm is that we have a composting facility that receives yard waste (grass and leaves.) Once these materials are composted we spread them on our fields for added nutrients, and to help decrease soil erosion. We have been using compost on our fields for the past 25 years. I have loved learning about all of the ways my husband uses technology and innovation in the farming operation. I got to see all of this first hand while I helped in the office until we had children. Now I stay home with our kids, and tend to our little homestead.
Nestled in the woods, surrounded by our larger operation, we have a 20 acre pasture where we raise chickens, cattle, horses, goats and a milk cow (so far!)
My husband grew up raising animals, and we both see so many benefits to this lifestyle. We are slowly learning what it means to raise and grow our own food. Since we’ve had children, we are shifting towards a slower more deliberate life. Part of this shift is learning a lot of life skills that previous generations grew up practicing, like gardening, canning, cooking, sewing, butchering, etc.
We are grateful to have both my parents and my husband’s parents close by to pass on some of these skills. When my parents retired 2 years ago, they moved to our little homestead nearly full time, and my husband’s parents live just down the road. I am so glad our children get to see both sets of grandparents on a daily basis.
We live 30 minutes south east of the Twin Cities on the gorgeous Mississippi River bluffs. We are surrounded by rolling hills and farm land, but we can be to the international airport or the Mall of America in 40 minutes. For me, this is the best of both worlds. One of the closest towns to us is the adorably quaint and historic, Red Wing, where Red Wing shoes are made. This town has all of the small town charm you’d expect, and then some! I love the local shops and bakeries and the Mississippi River water front. To the north of us is a town called, Hastings, which is also on the Mississippi River. Both towns are in the midst of a revitalization and the changes are so exciting.
I am extremely grateful our farm is located where it is and I am in awe of the beauty that surrounds us. I like to be able to enjoy the big city on occasion, but also have peace and quiet on the farm.
One of our favorite activities in the summer is to head over to Stockholm, Wisconsin for Tuesday night brick oven pizza at A to Z Produce and Bakery. They grow most of their own ingredients, and cook the pizza in a large wood fired oven. You can sit in on a blanket in the grass and watch the cows graze or take a walk through the gardens while you wait for your amazingly delicious pizza.
Our home was built by my husband’s parents 30 years ago. My father-in-law picked the spot for the home because he used to like to walk in the woods, and on this spot there was a clearing with a field of clover.
My in-laws built this house on a wish and a prayer when they were young and had two small children. They lived here for about 10 years, and as much as they loved living here, they sold it, in order to buy the surrounding farm. It changed hands a few times before they bought it back about a year before my husband and I got married.
We bought it from them when we graduated from college 10 years go and it has always felt like home, right from day 1. In all of that time it belonged to other people, none of the owners ever erased or covered up the markings in the logs that detailed my husbands height as a child. It is so fun to see our son’s height on the wall, right next to his dad’s.
Even though this home belonged to my in-laws, my mother-in-law has always encouraged me to make it my own. Let me tell you, I won the mother-in-law lottery (and I’m not just saying that.) She has an incredible sense of style and such amazing taste, but she has helped me to figure out what I love, and what my style is. This has been very freeing to me, to not feel like I have to preserve her style. I think this is a common struggle with farm families as they move into the previous generation’s home. She has completely let go of her ties here, and has allowed me to make it mine.
When my husband and I met, I had just sailed around the world on a ship with a program called Semester at Sea. I had also done the National Student Exchange program in Baltimore, and before that, I briefly went to a boarding school in Rhode Island in high school. If you would have told me that I would marry a farmer, and settle down in the Midwest country side, I would not have believed you. However, eleven years later, I can’t imagine a better life.
I think this is the perfect place to raise our children. My son has a huge sandbox that he spends most of his time digging in while the cows, horses and chickens stroll by.
My husband comes home for lunch everyday. If the kids are particularly fussy, we’ll pack up and go ride along in the tractor while my husband plows the fields.
I love the sense of excitement when the tractors start rolling in the spring, and the sense of accomplishment when the last row of corn is picked in the fall. There is something to be said about how our lives follow the rhythm of the seasons. It feels rooted in tradition and steeped in a heritage that is so much bigger than our little family.
I also recognize that through advancements in technology and the sacrifices of those who’ve gone before me, I am able to choose the very best of this life, instead of it being the only back-breaking option.
I visited a toy store in the city many years ago, and loved the giant tree house inside. I snapped a photo of it to show my husband. I wanted to see if we could replicate something like that in our home. He was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of replicating a giant tree house.
Years later while searching Craigslist for office furniture, I saw that, unfortunately, the toy store was going out of business. I called and expressed interest in their tree. The owner told me lots of people had been looking at it, so I shouldn’t hold my breath. It turns out that everyone else was too intimidated to remove it from the building, so I got a call that it was mine if I could figure out how to get it out. We brought our cattle trailer (complete with leftover hay and manure!) to the city, cut the tree into three pieces and hauled it home.
I had a vision for how I wanted it to look and made a few sketches for a family friend who helped us assemble it. I was insistent that we incorporate a slide. Winter in Minnesota is long. Cabin fever is real. I wanted to have some gross motor activities for my active toddler, and the stairs and slide are perfect. He goes up and down multiple times a day.
The rope we used for the handrail is tugboat rope from California. When I was growing up, my dad built a giant play structure, in the shape of a boat, in our backyard. It was complete with a rope swing, rope bridge, and crow’s nest. We lived on the corner of a busy street and people were always commenting on how awesome it was. We used that same tugboat rope for the handrail of our tree house that we used for my childhood play structure.
The tree house has two levels, and there is a plexiglass panel you can use to look down from inside the tree to the lower level. The upper level is surrounded by tempered glass panels that were intended to be used for a deck railing. I love how the glass doesn’t block the light from traveling around the room.
We used the, “Over the River and Through The Rug,” from the Land of Nod to cover the upper level. The pattern is perfect for my son’s trucks and tractors and it’s so soft and plush. I love to search Etsy for “woodland theme” items to accessorize the tree house. We have an amazing set of felt animal masks that lend themselves to endless imaginary play. We also have an adorable felt fire ring that is perfect for a pretend campfire. I’m currently searching for some items to round out our, “camping theme,” like lanterns and maps.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, pretty much everything we own is from Craigslist. Those gorgeous oversized leather chairs? Craigslist. The plush Persian rug? Craigslist. That blue velvet couch? Craigslist. The table and console in the entryway? Craigslist. The round dining table? Craigslist. The oversized mirror on the mantel? Craigslist. The Barrister bookcases next to the fireplace? Craigslist. Clearly, I’m a little addicted to Craigslist!
I also work with an extremely talented designer, named Heather Peterson, who has helped me tie everything together. Making a home look cohesive when there’s a giant tree house in the middle of the living room is no small feat.
She has encouraged me to keep things sophisticated, to balance the playful nature of the tree house. She has also helped me to channel my Craigslist searching so that I am getting pieces that are the right scale and tone for the space.
I can’t believe what a difference it makes to work with her. I know I am getting the right pieces, the first time. I think my favorite find are the four oversized leather chairs that we have. I use them to nurse in. We snuggle up and read stories in them. My girlfriends and I pull them up to the fireplace in the winter for girls night. They are such a great find, and they totally set the tone for our space.
I think the toughest part of taking care of animals and taking care of small children is making sure that I plan my time so that we aren’t in a rush to get things done. Doing chores with small children takes so much longer, and you have to take things much more slowly, but the rewards are so great.
I love to gather eggs with my toddler, but we have to talk about being gentle with the eggs and setting them in the basket carefully. He’s inclined to throw almost anything, eggs included. My 6 month old is riveted by the horses and loves to watch while we give them their feed. Normally, my son will want to load up the feed in his dump truck to bring to the trough, which adds time, but also helps keep him engaged.
In this fast paced world, feeding and caring for animals on a homestead is a way to slow down and be present. When we were milking goats, the ritual of getting the pail, milking the goats, filtering the milk and cooling it, made me stop and focus on just that task at hand, to ensure proper handling of the milk.
Also, as a former city girl, I have a huge sense of inadequacy about my farming skills and knowledge. I feel like an imposter. I absolutely love this lifestyle and I am so enthusiastic about it, but I am also learning.
I wish I had more confidence, but I have to remember that it takes a lifetime to amass these skills. Everyday I learn a little more. I am grateful that I am surrounded by people who have spent their lives caring for animals, and they are eager to teach me all they know.
I love how they can smell the subtle quality differences in a fist full of fresh hay, or feel a problem in an animal’s leg by sensing the heat changes. You should see the animals come running when they holler out, “Come-a-Boss.” I’m not sure where this particular hollering tradition came from, but it fascinates me and I love to watch my son holler out in his sweet toddler voice at the top of his lungs.
On the farm, there is so much value placed on intuition and trusting your gut. This is another skill I’d like to work on and pass down to my kids.
Most of all, I want my children to remember that they were surrounded by love in our home. Every day they interact with so many people who love with them and want only the best for them. They might play with one grandpa in the sandbox in the morning, and take a ride with another grandpa in the tractor in the afternoon. They might spend an hour in the kitchen making cookies with one grandma and later that same day spend time with another grandma tossing rocks in the pond. Each day has so much love in it.
I also want them to remember the values that we work to impart. I want my children to learn to care for animals the way that I’ve seen the previous generations care for them. I want them to have the confidence to hold their own in a herd of giant farm animals, the way my husband can. I want them to be able to jump on a horse and ride off bareback through the valley. I want them to trust their gut. I want to give them roots, that grow deep in this slow steady life, and wings to fly in the direction of their dreams.
My absolute favorite thing about living with my kids has been the opportunity to see the world through their eyes. I’m sure many people feel the same way. It’s so incredible to talk to my son about his very first encounter with a big, beautiful, blooming tulip. Or smile as he comments on what a bright sunshiny day it is. In a world filled with darkness, children are such a light. I hope this doesn’t sound cliche, because I really do mean it. I am so grateful for their innocence and inquisitiveness.
My daughter has the most strikingly beautiful blue eyes, something I wasn’t expecting as we all have a very dark complexion. Every time I look into her eyes, I am in awe of their beauty and reminded that the world is full of beautiful surprises.
I already miss the first year of constant milestones with my son. It felt like every time we turned around he was mastering a new skill. Now we get to watch our daughter take those monumental developmental leaps in her first year. This is truly the longest shortest time.
I wish I would have believed them when they said, “This too shall pass.” After my son was born, I struggled with postpartum depression. It was a big black hole that I fell into, and slowly climbed my way out of. When you’re in it, it’s so hard to believe that it will pass, but with the right help and with time, most things do.
My daughter was born 10 weeks early and was in the NICU for a month. It was such a hard time in our lives, but with support and time, it passed.
The challenges of life with a newborn, which felt so overwhelming in the moment, they passed too.
Our sweet baby girl recently had surgery for metopic craniosynostosis. She will wear a helmet for a year to help reshape her skull. We’re walking through this challenge right now, and I know it will pass. I try and cling to the hope that just around the bend, the sun will shine.
Thank you, Jessica! What a lovely home and family. I love so much how many times Jessica mentioned “slowing down” and helping kids to do things at their own pace, even though it takes longer. Things always seem to get crazy this time of year as school wraps up, and summer plans are being solidified. It’s a great reminder take your time and be present, especially when kids are small.
And how about that treehouse! Would you dare make such an “outside-of-the-box” design decision? Would you be one of the families that got intimidate about getting the treehouse home, or would you pull out all the stops and make it happen? What would your kids think about it?
Felt Campfire from Hopewell Creek Designs on Etsy
Over the River and Through the Rug from Land of Nod
Indoor Wooden Climbing Dome from Magic Cabin
The Original Learning Tower from Little Partners
You can follow Jessica on Instagram, Facebook, or check out her blog. Photography by Laura Kleffman. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham – you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.