A Scary Doctor’s Visit

I don’t know if it’s possible to be brave when you’re 9 months old, but it certainly feels that way. At Emma’s December Doctor’s appointment, we asked about a little head nod she kept doing, which we first noticed in a video of her saying, “Da Da.” Our doctor said it was probably nothing, but after consulting with another doctor, wanted us to have it checked out right away, just a few days before Christmas. They were concerned she was having seizures.

After driving through a snowstorm for a consultation with a neurologist, we scheduled an EEG for the day after Christmas. Per their instructions, we were supposed to wake her up early and then drive in the car for two hours without her falling asleep so that she could nap during the EEG. I pictured her screaming the entire drive. Katy had other plans. She sat in the back with her baby girl playing peek-a-boo, doing puppetry, and singing Baby Got Back (thank you, Ross and Rachel). Up in front driving through the foothills of the White Mountains to Dartmouth Hitchcock, I listened to my baby girl, who could barely keep her eyes open, chortling and laughing at her mama’s standup routine, only crying a little bit the whole way.

After driving through a snowstorm for a consultation with a neurologist, we scheduled an EEG for the day after Christmas. Per their instructions, we were supposed to wake her up 
Emma passed her EEG with flying colors. She did her head nod and slept soundly during the EEG, which confirmed everything was normal. We’ve always called her our super baby, and she lived up to her reputation, rewarded by the doctor with a purple Princess Diana teddy bear. Special thanks to the girls’ Aunty Lydia who took Makayla and Kelsey for six hours so that we could be at the EEG just the three of us and to the wonderful doctors and staff at every step.

Joel and Katy



Our woods project is done!

I’ve been working on this for months in 30-45 minute installments with the girls while Katy was making lotion. 20 bags of garbage, scrap metal, rugs, rusty camping gear, and a discarded porch hauled out and three trees saved from invasive vines, but the real question was what to do with the big pieces of slate, granite, and hundreds of bricks we found all over our hill.

From the beginning, we wanted it to be a “re-arrangement” with nothing new brought in (albeit $5 of landscape fabric), and for it to have a Rivendell feel of ruins in the forest. The girls did their share of the hard work, and the seal of completion has been watching how much they love playing here now.

Here’s some pictures!

 Joel and Katy


Marriage is hard in this season.

Marriage is hard in this season.

The other day I woke up at six, and Makayla, our five-year-old, was lying on the bed about a foot away staring at me (I wonder how long she was there??). I told her to go back to bed, and forty minutes later, I woke up again from Kelsey’s eye lashes against my eyelids. She’s three and doesn’t have Makayla’s sense of personal space. I opened my eyes, and her eyeballs were the only thing I could see, which is a an unsettling way to wake up.

And so, it goes.

Gone are the days of Katy and I waking up slowly together, brushing our teeth together, brewing the morning coffee, and putzing our way through breakfast. Sometimes, we still pause for things like a hug, but now it’s a hug of five, and it can feel like the marriage we’ve built one brick at a time for the last nine years is being unbuilt at the same slow, steady pace.  

On Saturday, I was paddling the Humble Bumble (my kayak) in the Rollinsford reservoir, towing Kelsey behind me in an innertube. Kayaks are designed to slice through the water in all the ways big innertubes with cupholders aren’t, so tying them together made it slow going, but I could hear her chipper, little voice exclaiming, “Wow! Good job, Daddy!” and it made it worth it.  

Katy was back at shore with Emma, while Makayla, who’s learning to swim, kicked around the shallows. Katy was beautiful standing there holding our baby, and I’m grateful to be married to such a terrific mom.

And yet, moments like these are why marriage is hard right now. Even when things are good, we’re often a hundred yards apart laughing and playing and taking care of different people.  

While we were there, an eagle swooped too close to the tall pines on the ridge overlooking the reservoir. There’s a falcon’s nest there, and peregrine falcons, which can dive at 240 mph, don’t hesitate to defend their nest, even against birds twice their size. The aerial combat that ensued was spectacular. After a few minutes of sorties ranging back and forth across the sky, the eagle withdrew.

The next day, we went to a wedding and listened to our friends vow, as we did, to cultivate a life together “until death do us part.” I want that life to be filled with joy—together. So, amidst everything, we’re reflecting on what makes it hard, and what makes it better. These are a couple of fresh habits that are breathing new life into our relationship that I thought I’d share.

  • At breakfast, we read to our kids and ask them lots of questions. It’s focused on them. Then, we banish the children from the kitchen, and we sit and have our coffee together (obviously Emma stays). If there’s protesting, I exclaim in a high-pitched voice, “No, no! Out! It’s Momma’s and I’s time! Up to your room!” and they run out, usually giggling. We tell them to get dressed or play, but they’re not allowed back in the kitchen.


  • While we’re making lunch, and immediately afterwards, we banish them from the kitchen again (most of our habits have to do with banishing). Like at breakfast, we focus on them for the meal, letting them talk with us about whatever they want, but before and after we process anything from the morning, deal with practical things from the business, and tell each other funny things the kids did.

It’s wonderful. I’m a much better father when I don’t feel like I’m losing Katy. I’m able to pour into Makayla and Kelsey, to affirm, treasure, and teach them, and I’m a much better husband. It keeps the buildup of life low. Instead of catching up on a day or a week or a month, we catch up a few times a day in short, intentional conversations that make me feel sane. Then, a few weeks go by, and I think to myself, “My goodness, I feel in love again.”

What you have with your kids and your spouse is precious beyond measure. Fight like a falcon.   

<3 Joel and Katy


Running a Business with Kids

Running a Business with Kids

The lights shut off, and for the fifteenth time, everyone in the audience heard our indignant two-year-old exclaim, “Hey! I can’t see!” We were at Makayla’s ballet recital and her dance wasn’t until Act III. I’d woken up around five in the morning to setup the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market and was delighted that Ali, our intrepid employee, could take over for me so that I could attend. I picked up a bouquet of flowers (complete with asparagus, because Omniflora Farm bouquets are the coolest) and arrived at the school in time to meet Katy and carry in Emma, who was wailing in her car seat.

Running a business with three kids five and under is like being the ball in a game of Calvin Ball. Sometimes the moments are quiet, like when Kelsey looks up at the nighttime sky and whispers, “stars,” and sometimes, they are almost more than I can handle. “Daddy, can you stop telling us to go play together and play with us,” Makayla asked yesterday morning.

There are moments I cherish long after they end. Kelsey was napping, Katy had Emma at the mill, and Makayla brought out oranges and milk to the patio where I was working. We had snack time listening to the birds together and then time swinging in the hammock. I told her how much I appreciated her waiting for her younger sisters to be settled before we had us time and how touched I was that she made a snack for us all by herself.

Other moments break my heart. During a stressful day a couple months ago, Makayla told me she didn’t need her bedroom painted pink and purple anymore. She’d been asking for it for a while and giving it up was her way of making things easier. Even though she said it wasn’t connected, it reminded me to manage my stress levels better, especially when I’m at home.

To that end, I’ve been trying to intentionally receive the blessings of little moments. Doing deliveries as a family, we dropped soap off at Calefs Country Store , and I bought chocolate caramels for the kids. When I came out of UPS a little later, Kelsey looked at me surprised and said sweetly, “Daddy, you’re supposed to bring us chocolate.” I still chuckle picturing her saying it. Emma has been smiling and cooing up a storm lately and will sit there contentedly if you’re folding laundry or doing dishes, but when you stop to play with her, she gets so excited. Then, there’s Makayla who’s far cleverer than any five-year-old should be, and of whom I’m immensely proud for walking onto a stage to do a choreographed dance in front of hundreds of people (tip of the hat to Belletete Ballet Studio). The money you would have to pay me to do that!

I could say more, but Makayla’s at school, the other two are sleeping, Katy is at the mill prepping for Pro Portsmouth’s Market Square Day, and those dishes won’t do themselves.

Until next time,

Joel and Katy

We Choose to Go to the Moon

We Choose to Go to the Moon

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

–J.F.K., Sept. 12, 1962

When Katy and I took on Joy Lane Farm, our first goal was to make it our full-time job. We had no experience running a business and—resolved to be debt-free—we were unwilling to pursue or accept outside investment. That meant taking the slow road. As we grew the business, we lived on Katy’s teaching salary, only investing in Joy Lane Farm what we made in soap sales. One bar of goat milk soap at a time, Joy Lane Farm began to grow.

Our daughter, Makayla, was growing too. Katy had always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom and her heart ached every time she left Makayla to go to work. Although Joy Lane Farm was growing steadily, it didn’t make enough to pay for our living expenses. So, we took a deep breath, Katy left her job teaching, and I picked up a job waiting tables at the Farm Bar and Grille to supplement the income loss.

It was scary to lose Katy’s benefits, but we had more time for the business, found insurance elsewhere, and every day Katy had Makayla. Katy was also a wizard at accounting and operations, so switching her over to Joy Lane Farm was exactly what we needed. We made a play area for Makayla in the studio and Katy went about making everything hum efficiently.

As we sold more goat milk soap and launched soy candles, I dropped shifts at the Farm Bar and Grille. Eventually, I was only there one night a week. Time for another plunge. We ran some numbers, took another deep breath, and decided we were ready to go full-time.

That was the end of last summer.

I’m saving our first, “We did it!!!” for our one year anniversary, but I’m beginning to feel the ache of not having a goal anymore.

We made it to full-time. What next? To borrow from Jim Collins, what is our big, hairy, audacious goal? What is our moon landing?

In an earlier blog entry, we said, “Our efforts will always be towards making a tangible difference on behalf of the poor” and we intend to live by that commitment.

Here’s our new goal:

By 2027, we will offer an annual full year scholarship for a nurse to work on Mercy Ships. 

We give a percentage of our sales to Mercy Ships every year, but this is dramatically more than we give right now. It will take everything we can do to make this happen.

In the words of J.F.K., “That goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

The men and women at Mercy Ships make an incredible, tangible difference for the poor. They take out tumors the size of footballs, remove cataracts that would leave people blind, and correct club feet so that children can walk. Every day they care for the downtrodden and the outcast.

J.F.K. announced we were sending a man to the moon in 1961. On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface. God-willing, our annual scholarship will reach a full year by 2027.

One of Makayla’s books, “Guess How Much I love You,” ends this way:

“Then [Big Nutbrown Hare] lay down close by and whispered with a smile, ‘I love you right up to the moon—and back.’”

That’s how we want to love the international poor.

What aim is organizing your energies? What is your moon landing?

~Joel & Katy

Your Favorite Christmas Tradition 20 Years from Now

Your Favorite Christmas Tradition 20 Years from Now

This is the best tradition you can give your kids. Every year since I was born my parents have given me a Christmas ornament that had something to do with what happened that year. Our Christmas tree was 14′ tall, so there was plenty of room for all the ornaments and each of the kids had our own box of ornaments, which we had to hang ourselves.

For awhile, this was just something nice we did, one more present under the tree, another tradition.

But now my memories from those years have begun to fade. We’ve moved away from our family home of 25 years, my parents have gone to Africa, my grandparents have passed on, and providing for little kids has made it harder to remember when I was a little kid myself.

I love hanging my ornaments every year. It’s an annual reminder of how much we were loved growing up. Some are funny, some more serious, but mostly just lots and lots of treasured family memories from when we were all together. Here are some of my favorites:

Sometimes my mom let us stay up late reading series like the Wizard of Oz or Redwall and we would all sprint to bed as my dad drove up the driveway. One year we got Oz characters for ornaments. My sisters got Dorthy and the Scarecrow and my brother and I got the Lion and the Tin Woodman (my favorite character).

My first car was a red,1997, Nissan pickup truck named Tessie.
Katy says we’re never allowed to name a daughter after her.

from Mrs. T. when I was 5

one of the greatest teachers of all time

Katy’s 1st ornament from my mom and dad because she loves puzzles. Once we were on vacation and I woke up to her puzzling at 7 a.m. Who does that on vacation??

I proposed to Katy at Odiorne State Park on a rocky trail along the ocean. We went for a picnic at Prescott afterwards and ended the day with a fire on the beach. I was so distracted on the way to Odiorne I was pulled over. Nicest cop I’ve ever met.

Makayla’s 1st Christmas ornament. This year I told Katy I thought someone accidentally got us an ‘M’ instead of a ‘W’
“Umm That’s Makayla’s,” she said.
Oops 🙂

As a little girl, Katy’s grandma gave her sweet little ornaments of angels and woodland creatures. I, on the other hand, had a long stretch where my favorite thing was clowns, which can make for a pretty creepy Christmas tree. Every year Katy asks if she can get rid of another one 🙂

2013 was the last Christmas my grandmother was with us. She gave everyone these little ball ornaments with a folded up $20 bill inside. She was so tickled watching us open them. Now we put in a chocolate kiss for Makayla.

Katy’s Australian Heritage

All our trips to Ukraine

make sure you label them

That’s my favorite Christmas tradition. What’s yours? Comment below!

Phew, where did the Fall go??

Phew, where did the Fall go??

Most of the leaves have fallen and we find ourselves talking about who’s making the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Looking back over this fall, it was one of the best. Our favorite memories were…

Exploring New Places

training to be batman

being a captain

visiting the “ocean park”

taking time to ponder

Passing on Favorite Traditions

picking apples

going for picnics

Anytime We Were Together

being sisters

enjoying a final, windy day at Rye Harbor

trying to take a family picture

being goofballs

Anytime We Slept

Have a great Thanksgiving!!!

What are your favorite fall memories? Comment and tell us 🙂

Final Confessions

Final Confessions

The line, “Harry doesn’t know how to fail,” haunted me for years after I saw Armageddon. We fail often. There it is in its simplicity and its terror.

One of the first times I scaled our manufacturing, I made 500 soaps in a day, a new record for us. Unfortunately, some equipment changes muddled our temperature controls and the next day all the soaps were riddled with spots. They were okay to use, but not to sell. My heart sank. Things were financially thinner at the time and I reported to my wife the loss. Some failures recede with memory, but since we still sell these occasionally as 2nds, I have to inventory them every month. Literally counting my mistakes.

Running a business (and being alive) makes us want to highlight our successes and hide our failures. Whether it’s social media or coffee with friends, we tend to talk about new stores coming on, popular candle scents, and what’s on the horizon for next year. Failure rarely takes center stage.

Our biggest failure to date was the Boston Gift Show (BGS) in 2014.

Before participated in BGS, the most expensive events we had done were farmers markets and craft fairs. Tables or tent spaces usually cost $50-$100. Not long after taking on Joy Lane Farm, we had coffee with a former marketing rep from Stonewall Kitchen who recommended we try attending gift shows. There were some smaller, locally run shows that cost $800, but—to get the most out of the experiment–we thought we would skip over those to the big city. A booth in Boston cost $1,500. Since we had never done one before, we spent months researching, designing, and building a booth, coming up with line sheets, and printing order forms. We upcycled a set of kitchen cabinets into a portable kitchen so you could actually wash your hands with our soap at our booth.  We were stubbornly committed to only using money we made through soap sales. Since we hadn’t had Joy Lane Farm very long, the show was a massive—albeit absorbable—chunk of our budget. Looking back, the time invested was much more valuable.

As we got ready, we pictured Black Friday and the stories you hear of shoppers who were almost trampled. After all, it was Boston. We daydreamed: Hordes of buyers. Frenzied excitement. People rushing from booth to booth snatching up show specials and placing orders that stretched the limits of our increased inventory.

On setup day, Katy stayed home to take care of Makayla. Right up to when I arrived, my hopes were high. I wound my way around the bases of Boston skyscrapers following my GPS to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. There were hundreds of booth spaces stretching out like a giant encampment. Birds flew around in the ceiling high above. I caught my breath and texted Katy, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I should have known during setup that something was wrong. The option of renting grungy grey carpets at exorbitant prices might have tipped me off. If I had wandered a couple aisles over from our “New England Made” section, I would have seen rows of cheap t-shirts and junky souvenirs made overseas. Instead, I went about nervously setting up our booth space. Buyers were coming.

With 250 sale sheets printed, I stood at my booth early the next day waiting for the show to begin. George, another business owner a few booths over, arrived late and was setting up as buyers entered. I remember wondering if floods of people would pass him by because he wasn’t ready.

Then the trickle started. A few buyers coming down the escalator at the end of the hall. Then the trickle stopped. It started again. It got slower. It ceased altogether. Looking down the corridor of booths, you could see vendors standing by expectantly as single buyers made their way from showcase to showcase.

We didn’t make back the money we invested in BGS. We definitely didn’t make back the time. Other vendors said to come again, that a lot of stores like to buy from you your second time, but the loss was a little too big to justify returning. Earlier this year, I received this email from BGS:

“Dear Valued Exhibitor,

We wanted to let you know that the 2017 Boston Gift Show has been indefinitely postponed. We are currently evaluating the New England marketplace and will keep you posted on any future changes or additions to the schedule.”

The big city wasn’t the land of Oz we thought it was. We should have researched more; we should have walked the show; we should have been less dazzled about vending down the road from the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Pops.

In his book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins talks about growing great companies amidst uncertain times and chaotic forces. His book changed my view of failure. Instead of a “never fail” model, his research points to companies that fail intentionally by trying lots of small things (knowing that most of them won’t work) and then investing in the ones that yield results.

The Portsmouth Farmers Market is a great example of that. Our expectations were low the first time we went, but we wanted to try it as a small experiment (around the same time that we did BGS). It was low cost and the preparation was minimal. Since it went well, we invested in better signs and better displays. We committed to being there every week and began the regimen of 5:30 a.m. Saturdays to make it possible.

And it’s been awesome. We love our customers. We love the stores that found us at the market. It’s part of why we’re able to do Joy Lane Farm full-time. A small experiment that worked well and turned into something bigger.

What are your small experiments? What are you trying out?

Neighbors setup and ready to go

Market View of Portsmouth

Market Sunrise

Confessions II

Confessions II

Downtown Portsmouth

It’s a little embarrassing, but between Katy and I, I’m the one who loves to shop. Katy shops like my dad (who shops like an assault squad). Every errand is a military operation maximizing one ratio:

In this ratio, as in life, time is also money. If we only need a couple things, one of us stays in the car with Makayla while the other runs into the store. At Market Basket, we move from right to left with our grocery list, thanks to Katy, arranged by aisle. It’s steady and organized. Once I picked out items based on white sticker prices instead of orange, but that was a rookie mistake and I’ve learned to follow Katy’s lead.

As for me, I’m more of a downtown Portsmouth kind of shopper; I like to browse; I like to buy things not on the list (I don’t make lists); I like window shopping.

remember when all our shopping systems ground to a halt?

One of the things we never expected with Joy Lane Farm was how much shopping there would be. Before candle supplies came on pallets we had them delivered to our apartment. There was a large pile of boxes outside our door and Ian, a little boy who lived down the hall, exclaimed, “Woah, look at all the packages!!” Inwardly, I was saying the same thing.

I’ve always loved getting mail, but getting it as an adult hadn’t been what I thought it would be. I’m not sure why, as a child, I pictured my parents opening handwritten letters from dear friends. Most days our mailbox is crammed with political mailers, credit card offers, and keys that might open a treasure chest in Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank.

Once we took on Joy Lane Farm, packages were always coming and we’re still excited to open them. There’s a thrill in a pallet of American soy wax, a jug of lavender essential oil, or handmade chalkboard tags.

one of our first pallets

upcycled into a soap mold

As you would expect, Katy and I enjoy very different parts of business shopping. Katy has spreadsheets and calendars for all our regular items. She excels at maximizing shipping, maintaining inventory, and keeping dozens of companies in view where we get everything from olive oil to shipping boxes.

On my side of the company, when someone says, “I love your packaging,” they’re commenting on countless hours spent searching, sifting, designing, prototyping, redesigning, and stumbling upon the “end result” we love. Exploration, artistry, and luck. Efficient? Not exactly. As it turns out, Simple really is Beautiful, but also more complex and intricate than we thought.

All of this makes one thought resonate every day: Thank goodness for Katy.

She is my complement in every way.

Early on (God-willing, it’s still very early on), we had to decide if owning a business meant splitting tasks equally or splitting them by our strengths. There’s things neither of us are good at, of course, and those we both shoulder, but generally it’s become easy to see who’s better suited for what:

I handle sales, research and development, and long-term strategy. I discover, dream, and build relationships.

Katy handles accounting (thank goodness), manufacturing, and day-to-day planning. I guess I actually make the soap and candles, but Katy decides what and when and cuts and labels everything. She builds systems, makes things efficient, and figures out the best way to do something a thousand times after I’ve done it once.

One of my favorite leadership authors, Marcus Buckingham, says, “Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfill a need of yours.”

In 2004, I heard his talk, “The One Thing You Need to Know.” It changed my life.

One of the biggest gifts Katy has given to me is making it possible for me to work in my strengths.

Marcus Buckingham

The hard part of owning a business is that when it’s small, we have to do everything, which means working outside our strengths is necessary. The heart-stirring part is that, as it grows, we get to operate in our strengths more and more. We get to cultivate Joy Lane Farm into an ecosystem where people’s passions and talents are valued more than the bottom line.

Katy reminds me that the bottom line matters; it pays for groceries and someday those won’t just be our groceries, but also our employees’. Thankfully, we believe that as companies pour into people’s passions, their bottom line grows as well. This in turn allows them to invest in even more people who get to experience the thrill of working in their strengths.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are your passions? What are your strengths? What do you love to do most?

Before you go, here are a couple of my favorite things I’ve found while shopping…

a briefcase I found on craigslist from a gentleman who was retiring

all our stainless steel tables I found at a scrap metal yard

the most cherished things can’t be bought…
this is a painting by Katy’s grandfather

Until next time,


Confessions (I)

Confessions (I)

It was sometime around midnight.

“I can’t sleep,” I said.

“Maybe you should stop talking about Tupperware,” Katy mused.

It was true. Sometimes Spring cleaning got out of hand and this year was worse than normal. Owning a business gave us control over our time, which magnified quirks other careers would have left unnoticed. This year I learned I was a hyper-organizer.

Lying awake intensely focused on Tupperware was the climax of two months of purging, streamlining, and brainstorming ways to store things. I had emptied closets, cleaned out bookshelves, repaired old furniture, added a few hundred square feet of shelving to our mill studio and, donated bag after bag to Goodwill and our dumpster. Eventually, Katy, who felt like she had been enabling an addict, asked if we could have just one week off from organizing. I agreed, but I was weak and so there we were (*I was), talking about Tupperware as the clock struck 12:00.

It had all started simple enough.  I wanted to set aside time in the morning to contemplate, write, and read. Life rushed us along and without reflection, we would miss it.

Unfortunately, clutter made it hard to sit still. Piles I hadn’t noticed in all the to-and-fro came into focus when I sat down and sipped my coffee.  It might sound as easy as putting things away, but that would be like squeezing more olives into a full olive jar. Truthfully, this had been years in the making. We had endured the perfect storm of stuff: My parents moved to Madagascar and we inherited or were storing a cascade of family items; around the same time, we had Makayla.

With her, came a crib, a changing table, another dresser, bag after bag of clothing, and toys, which multiplied like jeweled goblets under a doubling charm.

Perhaps the worst was everything from the business. We did photography, experiments, and assembled orders in our apartment. This meant constant schlepping between our mill studio and home trying to maximize Makayla’s nap time and work together as often as possible.

When I was a kid my brother and I were sent to clean our room. Efficient and strategic, he thought of shoving everything in the closet. A budding strategist, I followed suit. Our mom inspected our work and went on and on about how neat and organized everything looked. We smiled confidently.

As she was leaving, she paused and said, “Let me just check the closet” and our smiles faded. I’m sure it’s exaggerated, but I remember her opening the door and drowning under an avalanche. Eventually, she emptied it into a huge pile and left us with instructions to start again. After she left I sat down on the mound dejectedly surveying what would take the rest of the day to clean up.

Lesson #1: Organizing isn’t easy.

It takes time, effort, and intentionality. We can take shortcuts and stuff things in drawers and closets, but we are taking out high interest loans and the debt is always hanging over us.

For many, being disorganized isn’t about being naturally messy or naturally neat. More often, it’s because it feels like investing time in things and, ultimately, we believe people are more important. Hanging shelves doesn’t further relationships and coming up with a filing system isn’t the same as meeting up for coffee. Most of our flexible nights are spent with family and friends and something tells us that’s how it should be. Better to close the closet door and ignore the bulging hinges.

That might work for a while, but one day we wake up like Harry and Hermione, surrounded by golden goblets with no way out.  We go to move stuff to the closet and the closet is full; we go to put it on the table, but the table is full too. Then it’s time for a reckoning and this year our reckoning was Spring cleaning.

Lesson #2: Time spent organizing is time well spent.

A few days ago we had a family dinner, just Makayla, Katy, and I. Usually, meals are a little matter-of-fact for us, especially for me, something that fills a need, but isn’t cherished. That night treasuring our time felt natural. Katy prepared something tasty and we lit a candle. It wasn’t planned,  but the table didn’t need to be cleaned off, Makayla’s toys were put away, the bed was made, and there was even some extra space on the bookshelves. Looking around the apartment I felt deeply relaxed. Spring cleaning had paid off.

The truth is, I’m grateful I’m a hyper-organizer. In the long run, getting rid of things and building systems saves time and is a catalyst to enjoy the many blessings we’ve been given. We live in a beautiful place with wonderful friends and a loving family. When we feel rushed and the clutter piles are high, stress levels are as well. Is it worth reworking the Tupperware at midnight? Probably not, but a little organization lets us savor the best of life.

BEGINNINGS – Live Joyfully

BEGINNINGS – Live Joyfully

sunset from our studio window

It was around 4 am and I was standing on top of a fire escape. In the chilly darkness I hoped I blended into the black wall behind me, wondering if it would be better to crouch down or remain motionless. Several stories below, a patrol car circled the parking lot. Did they see me?

This was our unnecessarily stressful and busy life. We had a farmer’s market to go to the next day and I had filled up the week making sales calls, waiting tables, and working out new product designs. Low on energy, I worked a late night at our mill studio and reluctantly decided to come back and finish wrapping soaps before sunrise. Unfortunately, the building was locked and I had lost my key to the outer door.

Now I was stuck outside with no way into the mill. Thankfully, I prided myself on being a climber and had never lived somewhere I couldn’t get into without keys. Having a fire escape was an added luxury.

Usually, I enjoyed the challenge, but it was 4 am and I had barely slept. There was a full day at the market ahead and a night waiting tables after that. It’s safe to say those little words, “Live joyfully” on our labels raised their eyebrows. Eventually, the cops left and I tried another fire escape and some more windows and doors before finding a tucked away side entrance that had been left unlocked.  Then it was time to get busy wrapping soaps and load up the car for market day.

There was comfort in the celebrated story of Stonewall Kitchen founders pulling an all-nighter before their first Portsmouth farmers market. Still, I imagined that was a bit of a fluke in an otherwise disciplined approach to building a company. Sometimes Katy and I joked that if it hadn’t been for the focus groups (there were none), we would have made our mantra, “Live stressfully. Do uncertain things. Celebrate survival.”

All of this to say that at the beginning our mantra was more resolve than reality. Thankfully, we are learning what it means to live joyfully and I suspect that endeavor will never end. So far, we have learned:


Lighting candles turns simple meals into banquets.


Only a few things are more important than blanket forts.


Coffee should be sipped and savored.


Organized closets are more pleasant to hide in.


Family nights and date nights are non-negotiable.


Unless you want to be an ogre, sleep matters.


Strolling is the fastest pace to contentment.


An extra key is worth the $1.50.


For us, living joyfully has meant slowing down and appreciating textured simplicity. It has meant getting rid of stuff, admiring open space, and saying, “no” to lots of activities and invitations. Bit by bit, we are cultivating deeper friendships and a better family life.

Not long ago, Katy commented that she liked the green gummy worms the best. “They have different flavors?” I asked (and vowed to start eating them one at a time).

Beginnings – Celebrate Family

Beginnings – Celebrate Family

It’s not easy fitting twenty people into Grandpa and Nana’s house, especially when lots of them are under six years old. Katy’s family get-together last weekend was no exception. With sub-freezing temperatures outside, we squeezed through the door in a cascade of gloves, boots, hats, and coats.

For us, it was a welcome chance to catch our breath from building a company. Makayla, our two-year-old, loved it too. She was toted around by older cousins who helped her ride the rocking horse and brought her upstairs where the dollhouse was. She’s no longer overwhelmed by big family gatherings and grins as soon as she sees her cousins coming.

October apple picking expedition

She’s lucky to have so many cousins nearby. I grew up as part of the sprawling Waechter family, but we were the Northeast contingent and our cousins (almost 30 of them) lived in Florida. We didn’t get to visit often, but it was awesome when we did. I will always think of Florida as a mystical land of water-skiing, ukuleles, and warm ocean beaches.

Grammy Waechter, her nine kids, and some of their kids

Florida Sunset

Celebrating family is more than just holidays and weekend get-togethers; it’s also taking daily delight in each other, even when life can feel chaotic and difficult.

A couple days ago we had to straighten out a miscommunication with one of our vendors. Those types of conversations aren’t always easy, but it’s usually just two well-intended people making sure they’re both well-intended. As I was on the phone, Katy left the stove to check our bookkeeping and breakfast started smoking. Then the fire alarm went off. Makayla, who has always been fascinated by the white box hanging from the ceiling, thought this was hilarious. I was still on the phone with the vendor while Katy, flailing around a towel, tried to clear the smoke away.  Seeing her mama waving a towel made it even funnier and Makayla laughed uproariously. Meanwhile, I tried to quickly get off the phone, explaining what the blaring sound was in the background. It’s been a few days and Makayla still points at the smoke alarm and smiles.

Other memories aren’t as easy to treasure and sometimes crafting a family business can feel more against the family than for it. Meg Hirshberg, one of the Stonyfield Farm founders, writes, “How flexible can hours be when you’re working 16 of them every day?” It’s hard on the heart to demo at Whole Foods and miss Makayla’s bedtime. Harder still is working from home and hearing her ask me to color with her and needing to say, “I can’t right now; I’m working.” As hard as that tension can be, I get to see my daughter more than almost any dad I know and it’s worth the effort to make a career like that possible.

Even with sales calls, demos, and meetings, working away from home doesn’t always mean being away from Katy and Makayla. Our mill studio has a corner setup where Makayla can play. It has drawers of Lincoln Logs, Legos, and Brio trains and a bean bag chair we inherited from an artist down the hall (it’s even purple, our favorite color). When we built the play area, we had enchanted visions of Makayla happily entertaining herself while we labored productively on the other side, looking over often to enjoy our adorable daughter. Unfortunately, Makayla was less enchanted. The first time we put her in she stood at the gate holding the bars, tears streaming down her face, a helpless little inmate who realized freedom was better than Legos. Older now, she likes playing in there more, but she still prefers to be with us.

We’ve learned to let her roam the studio and she’s very well behaved. For the most part, she stays out of drawers and cabinets where the mess she makes outweighs the productivity we gain. It’s fun to see the activities that engage her, like coloring with chalk on flattened cardboard boxes or anything and everything that involves packing peanuts. It’s harder than we pictured when we built her play area, but more fun as well.

cell block one

Last week I was making soap dishes and Makayla was cheerfully running back and forth delivering unfinished ones to where I was sanding down the edges. I love that she likes to pitch in and I was proud of her. She’d been doing this for a while when I started feeling her little hand patting my back after each delivery. It’s hard to describe what that meant. Entrepreneurship has a lot of unique pressures–making a product with your own hands and selling it to provide for the ones you love most, the exhilaration of new sales and the sense of loss when an account fall through–encouragement goes a long way towards lifting those pressures and feeling Makayla’s little hand on my shoulders I started to tear up. It’s amazing what Makayla can express without forming a sentence.

Sometimes Katy and I wonder if owning a business might make it harder for Makayla to have a normal childhood. Moments like that remind us of the gains, which cannot be measured, of working together as a family. As we do, we dream of building a company that celebrates the unique joy of each child, the beauty and strength of marriages well-kept, and the completeness that is felt when the whole family gets together for good food and good drink.

Makayla and cousins enjoying crisp, New England apples

Beginnings – Do Great Things

Beginnings – Do Great Things

family reunion at Pilgrim Pines

the old homestead

It’s easy to let the things we care about become blurred by things we don’t. We’re at a critical point with Joy Lane Farm. It’s doing well and we keep saying, “It’s working, it’s working!” Of course, there have been plenty of times when we asked each other, “Do you think this will work?” and in a place we kept buried deep inside us, we suspected it wouldn’t. But we were not as vulnerable then as we are now.

As we fill orders, launch products, upgrade equipment, and tackle day-to-day opportunities and crisis, it’s easy to forget why we started. So much is at stake if we do. This is the first of three entries called, “Beginnings,” which explore our mantra, “Live Joyfully. Do Great Things. Celebrate Family.” Our mantra is where we started. As I write, there’s soaps to wrap and product samples to ship. However, nothing is more important than sitting with my cup of coffee listening to the pitter-patter of the rain and reflecting deeply on why we do this.


Katy and I decided to take on Joy Lane Farm while we were working at an orphanage in Ukraine. We weren’t starting it really. My mom and dad had always called our small, family property with its smattering of chickens, pigs, and horses, Joy Lane Farm. The lane was the long stretch of unpaved driveway that meandered through our woods and the joy was our family adventures.

My favorite adventure was damming a stream deep in our woods into a small pond where I punted around on a raft built with duct tape, wood, and soda bottles. I loved the gurgle and splash of falling water (even now we chose an apartment next to a brook so we could fall asleep to that sound).

Our driveway also went over a stream. There was a large culvert my sister and I as kids could walk through crouching and one year a beaver made this culvert and our driveway into his own nearly ready-made dam. My eldest sister had kids by then and it became the legend of “Grandpa vs. the Beaver.” There was dad on one side humanely dismantling the dam over and over; the beaver on the other rebuilding it stronger and faster each night. At stake was the only entrance to our farm and the beaver’s imagined paradise. In the end, the beaver lost.

To be fair, my Dad didn’t want to kill the beaver. I was almost on the beaver’s side. Damming the culvert—so simple, so efficient, and it would have made such a great pond for punting. We all took solace in my dad presenting my mother with a soft beaver pelt, a reference to our childhood favorite, “How the West was Won” and the scene where Linus Rawlings gives Lily Prescott a beaver pelt and love is in the air. Ironically, the Prescotts were punting down a river on a raft at the time.

You might not have guessed it by her affection for the beaver pelt, but my mom loved animals fiercely. Even the soap part of Joy Lane Farm was more about the animals than the soap. She began making it because she was looking for a use for all our extra goat milk. Our herd started with three goats (a personable Nubian named Jube, an Oberhasli and an Alpine) and at its peak reached twenty-two. When we spent a summer in Ghana teaching English, they thought we were rich because of the size of our goat herd.

As a kid, I was fond of counting how many animals we had. It was hard to do. We had the parakeets and the mice and the hamsters, lots of chickens, a fire-breathing dwarf goat named Sophie, the pigs and the horses, which came and went, our beloved yellow lab, Sengo, and our lion-hearted, miniature Chihuahua, Rascal. Somewhere in the mix was a double yellow-headed amazon parrot that wandered into my aunt’s coworker’s garage and ended up in our living room because we were “animal people.” His name was Larry and he liked to say, “Pickle, pickle, pickle” and, “Help! Help!” whenever company was over. It could get us into trouble, like the time the guy refilling our oil tank thought my mom was ignoring us while we were crying frantically. The older I grow the more I realize how lucky we were.

A few years into our marriage, my wife and I moved to Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, to work at an orphanage. It was called orphanage #3 in that colorful way post-Soviet countries have of naming their institutions. Not far away, we rented an apartment on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator.  The stairwell was poorly lit and a stray cat lived in a hole in the concrete wall. It was dank and cold. Our bed was a couch that folded out into three uneven sections, which each waged war on our backs in their own way and together made us unusually passionate advocates of good mattresses.

We worked with graduates from the orphanage who were transitioning into trade school. Often, they roamed the streets having not eaten all day or having spent the night in internet cafes with no sleep. They would arrive at our apartment hours before we got back from errands, their hands shaking with cold, as we made them tea and gave them snacks. It was hard to know if we were helping. We let them use the wireless internet and tried to build relationships, but each action felt, as they say, like drops in a bucket and we weren’t sure our drops were landing in any bucket at all.

kids going to trade school

younger kids at orphanage #3

Years later the statistics are panning out the way we heard they would, but hoped they wouldn’t. Our hearts break when we find out a boy we knew took his life or one went to prison and it solidifies for us that the American Dream cannot be our dream.

While we resonate deeply with the ideals of hard work, equality, liberty, ambition, pursuing happiness and even prosperity, we believe these serve as means, not ends. Like Uncle Ben, Jesus, and Voltaire, we believe, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Grieved by our desire to change the world and our lack of knack for non-profit work, we set out to build a company with an aim of “doing great things” on behalf of the global poor. As a baseline, we give 1% of our sales to efforts alleviating the pains of poverty in third world countries. The 1% is only a piece of what we hope to do, but it gives us a concrete, measurable starting point. It’s the number we care about with every purchase order.

Although we admire businesses that rescue dogs and solve environmental issues, our efforts will always be towards making a tangible difference on behalf of the poor. For us, it is about the other side of the Blue. Even though we are small, we are proud that last year Joy Lane Farm paid for a chunk of my parent’s work in Madagascar. Working with an organization called Mercy Ships, my mom is an outpatient nurse treating burn victims and my dad fixes toilets, builds walkers out of PVC for Malagasy children, and coordinates onshore operations.

Every day Katy and I feel the tug of exposed beams and stainless steel appliances, of land and a house, but our dreams are of the difference we can make over our lifetime if we build a company that holds the international poor in high esteem.  This is our pledge, our ambition, our dream.

mom and dad

one of the girls with her new walker
photo by Justine Forrest

The studio is now open Tuesdays and Thursdays 1-5! Free shipping on orders over $49. Thank you! -Joel and Katy