Annie & Greg’s Story

Welcome!  Here’s a bit about our background, what led us to follow our dreams and passions. This is also the page where we share a bit about our hopes and plans for the future. We continue to take steps towards creating our ideal life, remodeling/designing/building homes and starting our own line of furniture, and we’re getting closer each day. We are reducing our financial burden, working with a small budget on every project (have been for years), and making what seemed quite far off possible. Thanks for taking the time to find out more about us. To those of you who have been supporters over the long haul, you mean so much to us. When the tough times come, you help push us through.

~Annie & Greg Witkamp

In 2001, I (Annie) was a full time student and full time CVS Pharmacy employee. My first two years of college consisted of living at home while being a cashier/pharmacy tech/supervisor. I took evening and summer classes and sometimes, if I worked overtime during the week, I could take a day to visit friends at other universities. I was not a content person because I was the type whose biggest dream was to leave where I grew up. But it didn’t work out. Friends came home some weekends and let me know exactly what I was missing out on.

I transferred from that community college (IPFW) in 2003 to Purdue University’s main campus in West Lafayette, Indiana, starting there as a junior. After my prereq courses at IPFW were finished, I decided to move on. I became focused on changing specialities within my field, from therapy to industrial organizational psychology. I thought there was more to learn at the other campus and I obviously really wanted a change of scenery.

Greg is 2 years younger than me. He started at Purdue University’s main campus as a freshman in 2002. He started a double major in chemistry and chemical engineering then had a change of heart as a junior and switched to wood product manufacturing technology. It was a bold move and his new degree had only 8 people at a school of 30,000ish.

I worked as a tutor in an elementary school my junior year, a work study program that matched what I made as a scholarship. Greg eventually worked as a research assistant in the wood lab and helped a luthier build bass guitars. (He also played trumpet in the marching band. So cute.)

He was a hobby woodworker on the weekends he came home from college and over summers. He spent a good amount of time in his dad’s wood shop. I helped him pick finishes and assisted him with the aesthetic aspect. There was and is nothing better for me than being by his side creating something. He’s the kind of guy that decides he wants a desk and he jumps to building one for himself. His honesty and straightforward personality, along with his humor and handsome, cute self did me in. He was a constant in my life when people were carelessly going in and out. He’s an all-around great human being, no one like him.

We officially began dating in late 2002. A year and a month later he proposed, Christmas Day, and that began what was almost a 5 year engagement.

We’ll skip ahead out of the fun times before you’re actually functioning as a full adult.

I spent a year doing social work, starting in 2006, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and OLS minor while Greg finished his B.S. in 2007.

I decided to look for a job that required my degree, knowing it would not be the area I truly enjoyed until I furthered my education to master’s level. I wanted to gain experience and go back for I/O Psy a few years later. I found a position as a school-based case manager for a nonprofit.  Social worker to most. I later found myself drawn to the therapy portion of the field once again. Bringing my clients to their appointed therapist, with whom they had a deep connection with, someone besides me, seemed fulfilling for everyone. The nonprofit had a program where they would pay for my master’s in therapy while I worked for them and took courses on my own time. That became the plan. Until Greg graduated and the economy took a turn, jobs were hard to find period so…

We found ourselves back in northeast Indiana in 2007 to help Greg’s family business. We agreed we’d push to find Greg a job (he had the potential to make 2 or 3 times my social work salary) elsewhere and wherever we landed, I’d pick up where I left off and earn a much needed masters.

There was a time before this where we were going to move to a small town on the Illinois/Indiana line because the luthier wanted to go full time making bass guitars. We toured this beautiful, old library the luthier and his wife put an offer on-the top being the business portion and the basement being where Greg and I would live (it was open with windows and pretty cool). The town just happened to have a branch of the nonprofit hospital I worked for AND my office pal had been promoted to run parts of the facility which seemed like things were lining up for us in what was the confusing “live with friends and figure it out” time post-college. Then, over the span of a few days, the luthier decided to go back to his old career, programming, giving up bass building. He paid Greg his final check and everything crumbled for the two of us. I did not want to go back where we came from, but I understood Greg’s wanting to help his family, so I left my job to help the family businesses in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area.

Greg’s dad was self-employed with a construction business and his mom was a real estate agent. Greg grew up in this world of building homes and maintaining rental properties while I joined them in college when I started dating Greg. I helped in his mom’s office, ran personal errands for their big family, and did what I could to help his contractor dad. Sadly both businesses later closed when the economy further struggled.

While there, we continued looking for jobs anywhere in the United States within our degree fields. We wanted to experience life outside of Indiana. The two of us lived with a friend most of the year we were there…can’t say I recommend it for that long. Let’s just say when you’re paying someone enough to cover their mortgage (even though he wasn’t paying his mortgage) and utilities (even though you aren’t allowed to turn on the heat and sleep in a room that was about 55 degrees) and that person stops buying their own groceries to eat what you buy, and then that person leases a new car, you might want to get out of the situation. Eventually Greg’s parents offered to let us stay in their rental trailer, so we took them up on it. (Fun fact: I lived in a doublewide trailer for a good portion of my young life, until my parents built our home. I was no stranger to the Midwest’s crazy weather with its tornado warnings and fearing your house would blow away. Now I don’t have those worries.)

After a few months back home, I found a potential job for Greg in Eugene, Oregon. He flew out and was offered the job then went back out later to help on a few projects. After 8 months, the job fell through when the father/son business ultimately did not function as a team, self-destructing the business. Greg was caught in the middle of this mess, one he didn’t know he had stepped into 8 months before. It broke our hearts and we found ourselves starting the job search all over again.

However, we’d fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest and vowed to move there. We made a plan and began the path to this goal. It took about 7 years.

Instead of the PNW in 2008, we moved to Minnesota after Greg was hired by a company that makes custom commercial furniture. We weren’t in a position to keep job searching due to student loan debt and finances in general, so we made it work.

Our first few years in Minnesota were spent going stircrazy in apartments until we were in the position to buy a house. As soon as we moved into our first floor, one bedroom apartment, I began contacting social work agencies/nonprofits within a 30 mile radius. I wanted to join the program I was told most agencies have throughout the United States by my last employer, one that pays for your masters while you work there. I was told one by one that those agencies did not have such a thing.  I was even laughed at during a phone conversation with one of the agencies.  I started contacting school corporations and any other offices I recalled being involved in the team that is social work. Worse yet, although in Indiana (in those days) you could work using a B.A. in psychology, others areas did not allow it within the field of social work.  Not only was I not going to start that program, I didn’t have any potential jobs to do and absolutely no room to go back to school on our own dime.

I went down a rabbit hole, folks. I was thankful Greg had a job within his degree field and it paid the bills (not much else), but found myself disenchanted. We are partners and he was happy in his job. That makes a world of difference. We are connected in all aspects of life and his career became a branch that helped me…which probably also helped make up who we are today, a pretty great team.

While I worked towards coming out of my depression, I started my food blog, the Dabble, with the hope of connecting with others and improving my culinary skills. And I did both, I think. I found like-minded individuals who support one another, even though most of us have never met. I learned quite a bit about the beautiful/ugly world of maintaining/designing a website. I also found my voice and an outlet.

I worked odd jobs and we continued to live on a tight budget. I don’t think there was a time before then that we didn’t. Our families are not “well off.” Our work ethic stems from this background. We come from a long line of determined souls building the kind of lives they want on their terms.

Beyond jobs not worth mentioning, I wrote for a local home decor publication (multi-page spread of my recipes and general food talk), companies sent me cookbooks, cookware and gadgets to review, highly respected food enthusiast sites used some of my material, and I continued doing what I did in college to make a little money-selling decor, housewares, whatever was of interest to me from garage sales, flea markets, estate sales and such on ebay, etsy and craigslist.  In those days you could sell things on Amazon (ebay too), things people put in their garage sales for a nickel, and you could do pretty well with all of the listings. It paid for groceries in college and helped us a bit through those times of struggle. Little did I know that this hobby would turn into a career, a career that blossomed other passions which, in turn, became careers.

I also sold ad space on my site for a little monthly dough. I really got into photography…despite the lack of decent photos here (ha). I sold a few photos, had others highlighted by reputable sources like NPR, the city we lived in used my photo as the header of their website for the last 4 years, a trip to visit my sis-in-law at college prompted a photoshoot and the school, Indiana University, used my fountain shot for their handbook, and things along that line. More doors opened when we started refurbishing furniture. We had a long client list from the very beginning, after our 2 “example” pieces were finished.  I highlighted those pieces at the beginning of this blog and we’ve grown into who we are today. Greg and I have been asked to a few exhibits and events, highlighted by respectable bloggers, and our DIY home reno and design has had its fair share of attention too. I’m getting ahead of myself…

In 2010, while in an apartment with a basic garage, we started refurbishing furniture we found on craigslist and at garage sales. It fit our hobbies and I was happy to get my creative ideas out there. The garage didn’t have water or power and we could only work in there during the 4 or 5 months Minnesota wasn’t cold. We weren’t in that apartment long before we bought our first house, though.

Feedback was positive and motivating. This opened up a new world and calling in our lives. I put my full time efforts into the business and started this site, while Greg did what he could after his day job, designing restaurant seating and making the manufacturing process more efficient.

After a long search and approval process for an FHA loan, where we could put very little down, we found our first home in 2011. The two of us spent our free time doing its remodel and refurbishing furniture, going less toward client work and more toward our own heart’s desire. We had most of our guests help us with a few projects during their visits. Yes, we are the kind of people who put you to work when you visit. (Thank you again family and friends!) Our furniture refurbishing funded most of the home improvements and we did/do 95% of the work ourselves which, of course, saves a lot of money.

After a year in the house, Greg’s company purchased its competitor and with that came a company in Washington. It was beyond awesome and the next step we needed to achieve the vow we made 5 years earlier to make it to the Pacific Northwest. We asked to be transferred and for a year to finish the house-they agreed!

We put the house on the market in late 2014. A buyer came along in less than 24 hours! We took that as a sign we had designed a pretty darn good home. We paid off some debt and saved the rest of the profit for our next house. After a trip to visit family in Indiana, in the wrong direction, the four of us, our two pups included, packed a few things and drove 4 days across the U.S until we landed in a suburb of Seattle.

The trip was something you can’t put into words. We love to travel, but have had problems doing so with our budget. This late fall trip was full of beautiful landscapes, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and stops in well-known cities (Deadwood, SD, Missoula, MT, Coeur d’Alene, ID, Leavenworth, WA being a few). We took the northern route, just before Steven’s Pass would be difficult to cross, and quickly came into our new world-a rather busy and heavily populated area. As two people who grew up in rural settings, it still takes some getting used to to this day. (Eventually we’d like to move to a less populated area where the landscape takes our breath away every single day.)

We spent 5 months in a rental while we searched for a house, learning more about real estate out here, a truly different experience from the Midwest. We saw a lot of houses in need of help, many beyond what we were looking for and able to afford remodel-wise. We ended up farther south of Seattle than we’d hoped, but think we got a terrific 1949 home with potential. (It took a little time to get over the fact that we could have purchased 2 or 3 houses in the Midwest for the price of this home.)

The plan is to finish this 1949 home by fall 2017 and take another step towards our dreams of being fully self-employed, designing our own line of heirloom quality furniture and remodeling multiple homes at once.

Follow our journey here. You can also find us on Instagram.

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