Not that we need another reminder, but the time is now to be brave.

The time is now to believe in ourselves and believe in those quiet, crazy dreams that you laugh about at the dinner table.

But you laugh because they make you so, so happy.

And all of the sudden, you’re drawing business plans when the kids have gone to bed and bringing it into any conversation, because you can’t help it.

And why not? Why aren’t we free-falling more and trusting our hearts and our courage and our perseverance to help us land safely?

That doesn’t mean it’s easy or right or even makes sense, but if the vision makes you feel alive and full of joy and hope? And happiness?

Then now is the time to be brave.

No matter what.

Meet the Rehders

Nick and Ashley Rehder know the feeling. They live and work and play and raise two little girls on a farm outside small town Pemberton, Minnesota. It’s near Mankato, where they used to live.

But where they used to live didn’t have enough room for a big idea that was quickly swelling in their hearts.

“We’ve always wanted to do something together as a family,” Nick says. “I really wanted to do some sort of family business, and Ashley really wanted to do something that was teaching-related.”

She’s an elementary school teacher in Mankato, and Nick is an engineer for a local elevator company. Ashley’s the maker, he’s the tinker, and they are absolutely the perfect match. In love and in life.

“He always has really good ideas,” Ashley says.

“And Ash is really good at executing them, so we play well off each other,” Nick says.

One of those ideas has kind of stuck lately.

As in, it’s completely changed their life.

“The idea has gone through a lot of phases,” Ashley says. “First, it was a children’s museum, then a venue for weddings, and now back to what we really want to do”: an outdoor, natural play land and maker’s space for hands-on learning and imaginative exploration with kids and families.

It will be called Ruby Ranch, and they want it to live and grow right where they do: at home.

Farm Sweet Farm

In order to even begin developing this dream, they needed to find a home on a farm with a lot of acres, and they needed to move there.

And so they did.

“Our motivation was that we wanted the farm to start this new chapter of our lives,” Nick says.

But, it’s a 100-year-old farm house, and as easy as it can be to ride the momentum when you start bringing a dream to life, “it’s been a challenge,” Nick says.

Before they even moved in, they knew there was water in the basement, so right away, Nick was renting an excavator and digging around the house to lay drain tile.

“But it ended up being a much bigger project than we anticipated,” Ashley says. “He tore up all the landscaping, which we didn’t foresee, and he had to drain tile on the inside as well. And there was water by the animal shed!”

She could go on.

“There are definitely times of doubt,” Nick says. “We left a beautiful house to move to this crummy house in the middle of nowhere for a dream. The doubt creeps in, and you’re like, if this doesn’t work, what did we do?”

“It’s been a lot,” Ashley says. “Sometimes, when I’m by myself, I look around and I think, when did this become my life? I cry about it and think, if I could just move, this would be so much simpler! But then I realize once more that this could really happen for us.”

And they go back to being brave.

A place to learn and play

Because Ashley is a teacher — and because they both consider themselves enthusiastic, life-long learners — it’s idyllic that this community maker’s space has such an intriguing educational component to it.

But for Ashley, it’s also filling a need.

“Education has changed so much in the 8 years I’ve been teaching,” she says. “The hands-on activities are lessening year after year, and our recess has really been cut down,” she says. “The expectation of the student is getting higher, so the rigor is getting higher. You’re asking 5-year-olds to sit for a really extended period of time and taking away their play time.

“It’s completely against my belief of learning.”

So Ruby Ranch offers just a bit more.

“I’ve always been into crafting things and creating things,” Ashley says. “So in my mind, this space would be a place for kids to come out and be kids and be really excited to learn. They can play, but they’re still learning things.”

Nick calls it project-based learning, where kids create or build something fueled merely by their curiosity.

“When a child comes out, we’ll pick a project with you and walk you through how to do that,” Nick explains. “By the time you’re done, you will know how to do that project, and you can bring that back to your peers. Next time you come out, you can build upon that. Maybe last time you were here, you learned how to make a bird house. Next time, you come out, we’ll make something better. Or maybe next time, you want to use the pottery wheel or just play in the natural play area. To me, that’s the bigger piece,” he says.

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 For Ashley, it’s working together that makes the most sense.

“With Nick designing things and me creating things, that’s what keeps me going,” Ashley says. “On days when I can visualize it all, I get so excited about the idea that I can teach — which I love doing — but I can teach with my girls next to me and teach with other kids and families on my property. How I see it, it’s the coolest thing ever.”

Family is a big part of that vision.

Although Nick and Ashley foresee field trips and day camps for kids as the largest feature of Ruby Ranch, they also look forward to family events.

“In my dream of all dreams, I would plan four big events a year, and they would be theme-based,” Ashley explains. “If it were fall, the kids would learn about how to grow a pumpkin, how to bake with pumpkin or build something with hay. In the summertime, the theme could be as simple as butterflies, but you’re crafting or completing a science project around that. And every event has a different theme.”

The event days would be the opportunities for families to come out and create and play and build. And learn! Together.

“These events will give parents a really good perspective on who their child is outside of their home,” Ashley says. “They can really watch what their kid gravitates toward. Maybe they are really good at building something or climbing.

“My hope is that, while watching their children in this free exploration, they will start to see their kid in a different light.”

Maybe, just maybe, the adult will start to see themselves in a different, brighter, better light, too.

Starting small, one thing at a time

Right now, Ruby Ranch is a big, big project. But they rest in the small gains.

They’ve started a website and a Facebook page and have cleaned out the loft of the barn. There’s ducks waddling past the driveway and kitties resting on the window sills watching the Rehders eat their dinner.

There’s a tractor in the shed and an outdoor wood-burning stove that’s keeping them warm inside. The sunsets and the cornstalks paint a picture, too.

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The little joys do matter, but they have to be realistic as well, so Nick says they intend to start writing grants soon.

“If other people say, ‘We believe in you, and we’re supporting you so much that we will give you a grant,’ I feel like that confidence will mean everything,” Ashley says. “Then we can really feel, ‘This is right, this is right, this is right!’ ”

Having that assurance is nice — it’s why we celebrate the work of others — but what about how we feel? What about the encouragement and hope their bravery brings us?

There’s faith in that, too.

“I keep telling Nick, ‘We are supposed to do something together. We met when we were fifth graders! We’ve always had this crazy intuition with each other forever. I just click with Nick, and I’m comfortable with him, and I just know that, together, we are going to do something great.”

I think she’s right.


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