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Red Piglet

Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography

 

Introduction by Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2020 Inspire(d) 

Words, at their base, are simple. Just a series of letters placed in a certain order. Yet, in the right order, they can hold immense power. They can lift you up or tear you down; bring you hope or bring you to tears; inspire you to love yourself, and others. Words can motivate you to get up, every day, and keep. showing. up.

Mike Nelson with his wife, Jodi. Photo by Red Piglet

In 2013, when Mike Nelson founded Red Piglet, the mission from the start was to wield words for the good of the world. With messages like “Shift Status Quo,” “Radiate Love,” or “Observe Without Judgment,” the Calmar, Iowa-based business – specializing in apparel, cards, prints, stickers, mugs, and more – encourages people to see their own uniqueness and worth. This kind of mission is vital in times like these – and, frankly, all other times too. And for Mike, it all started with the simplest of tools: pencil and paper

“I’m one of those humans that have a note pad and pencil at my bedside for the sole purpose of documenting those ‘bright’ ideas that pop into my head at 2 am,” he says. “A night in 2010, I woke to the name ‘RED PIGLET.’  My mind started racing to the possibility of creating a Red Piglet brand. After 10 minutes, I popped out of bed, fired up the computer, and went straight to GoDaddy.com. RedPiglet.com was available. I couldn’t believe it. I purchased that URL on the spot.”

While Mike spent more than three years dreaming of the possibilities for Red Piglet, fear of failing kept him stuck. It was this very struggle of being “stuck” that inspired him to finally take the leap and launch Red Piglet in 2013. He wanted to help others get unstuck and pursue their passions and purpose.

Photo by Red Piglet

Mike, his wife, and three kids live in Northeast Iowa, where they, like many other people and businesses across the world, have pivoted to make things work during COVID-19. Originally booked for shows and markets each Saturday through summer and fall, the Red Piglet schedule is now much more open. The plus side for folks local to or traveling through Calmar, is that you can now find the Red Piglet Shop open more frequently (see sidebar for Open Shop Weekends).

Name: Mike Nelson
Age: 47
Business: Red Piglet
Years in Business: 7
Business address: 101 S. Charles St., Calmar, IA (across from the Fire Station)
Website: redpiglet.com

Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

I remember sitting in my car after a job interview and thinking, “My worth is not linked to others’ opinions, a career advancement or paycheck.” The chase was coming to an end.

I decided to shift my perspective and pursue a more purposeful life – to help people get unstuck by taking action with their lives. I proceeded to lead by example and got myself unstuck – I launched the Red Piglet brand.

Why “Encourage Uniqueness” as the foundation message for the Red Piglet brand?

I have a theory: People get stuck because they judge themselves. Why do they judge themselves?Because they compare their life in some fashion to other people’s lives. What happens when comparison takes place? Fear sets in and prevents us from pursuing our passions and gifts. You know, those things that make us happy. The truth is, we are all unique. No one can do what you do, in precisely the way that you do it. How miraculous is that? Be you, your authentic self. Everyone else is taken.

Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography

What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

I don’t have to wait for others to validate my decisions. I have 100 percent creative freedom, and I guide Red Piglet based on my life experiences, beliefs, and unique style. Who knows, I might reinvent the Red Piglet brand in a few years. Stay tuned.

How about the worst?

I love the ideation and execution process so much that sometimes I get carried away and find it difficult to cut designs for a launch. In the end, it might not be the best business decision because customers can get overwhelmed from too many options. I’m getting better at reigning myself in and learning from my business mistakes.

What/Who inspires you?

My wife, who is a talented maker and wonderful mother to our children, kind photographers that have a unique eye and aren’t afraid to take creative risks, woodworkers, clay sculptors, A-frame cabins, garden studios, birds, birdhouses, barns, Black Angus cattle, Old School Country music (Waylon, Merle and George), typography, roached-out metal signs

How do you manage your life/work balance?

I’m just really grateful that my wife, Jodi (pictured with Mike on page 19), is patient and she handles the bookkeeping. Red Piglet is definitely a team gig. Most of my designing and order fulfillment starts at night after we tuck the kids in.

Any quotes that keep you going?

Many years ago, I read a book called Choose Yourself by James Altucher. He talked about his 1/3 Rule: “1/3 of the people in your life will like you (or like the products you are selling). 1/3 of the people in your life will dislike you (or dislike the products you are selling). And 1/3 of the people in your life will not care about you (or not care about the products you are selling).” That message was an a-ha moment and really stuck in my skull. Those words were a breath of fresh country air. I inhaled, exhaled like I meant it, and topped it off with a relaxed, ear-to-ear smile. IT’S TRUE, you can’t be all things to all people, no matter how hard to try. It taught me that I am not for everyone, and my Red Piglet products are not for everyone. I’m content with that. Just continue to be you. The people who are meant to cross paths with you will and they will definitely dig what you are cookin’. Be patient.

The cover on this magazine features a Red Piglet design: Keep Showing Up. What does this message mean to you?

You plug in your phone. Your eyes see the lightning bolt appear. All is right with the world when that connection is made with the electrical outlet. If you choose not to plug in your phone daily, the phone loses its purpose.

Well, think of yourself as a real-life, breathing smart phone. You store a ton of data. You multi-task every day. You are an intelligent, multi-purpose being. Think about how valuable you are to every person that you’re connected to.

Give yourself the same care and attention you give your phone, by recharging your battery every single day and showing up for yourself and the rest of us. We value you.

Photo by Nancy Lukes Photography

Any inspiration happening during the COVID-19 crisis?
All three of my NEW 2020 First Edition shirts were inspired by this pandemic crisis:

Pause and Appreciate: We get up early. We work out. We commute. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. We work all day. We rush to pick up the kids. Noise is knocking at your eardrums from all angles. Guilt creeps in and exhaustion sets in… And then, the pandemic and quarantine happens. The world pauses. We are forced to become present and appreciate what surrounds us. We open our eyes, look left, right, up and down. We watch the sun set. We gather for meals. We hear the giggles and see the smiles. The guilt fades away. Our bodies heal. We become our better selves in the midst of uncertain times.

HA, Laughter is the Best Medicine: We need it now more than ever. It decreases stress. It increases infection-fighting antibodies. It improves your resistance to disease. It releases endorphins. It promotes wellbeing and relieves pain. Surround yourself with the joke-tellers, the full-o-pep peeps, the funny-facer makers and the stand-up wannabes. Their wit will nurture your health and you will nurture theirs.

IOWA: Where Impossible is just an opinion: As a wild whipper snapper, my answer to grandpa was often “That’s Impossible!” when he assigned me a task beyond my pay-grade. His reply to my answer was always “Impossible is YOUR opinion, young man!” Grandpa never liked it when someone told him that something couldn’t be done. He didn’t care if you were young, old, or somewhere in-between. You see, that ol’ farmer blazed through the Great Depression, a few wars and several natural disasters, without a plan B in the back pocket of those weathered OshKosh B’goshes. He was a self-made doer that just made it happen without the gums flappin’. Grandpa was Pure Moxie! I know, I know “Moxie” is an old school word. Sorry, I can’t help myself. I’m an old soul with wit and it shows up on many of my designs.

“MOXIE” means: The ability to face difficulty with spirit, courage, and skill. If you have moxie, you won’t let a minor setback stop you from trying again, because you’re a determined person who doesn’t give up easily.

Since Red Piglet was born in 2013, I’ve traveled this fine state of Iowa and have had so many conversations with hard-working people that forge forward with a whole lot of moxie. To all the Iowans that do what others don’t think is possible, this shirt is for you.

Advice to help folks get “unstuck” now?

Life is a challenge right now. Our health, self-esteem, and bank accounts are taking a hit. Don’t judge yourself. This is a great time to reflect and possibly reevaluate your direction. Last year, I designed the T-shirt “Clarity is in the climb”. I think the Red Piglet meaning to this message fits nicely under this question.

Clarity is in the climb: Ahhh, good ol’ clarity. For me, clarity never shows up when I’m taking a stroll down easy street or when I’m coasting downhill. Hell no. Clarity happens when I’m pushing uphill. When I’m pulling myself out of hole. The harder I work towards something or the more I struggle… that’s when things become clear. The climb reminds me what’s important. The climb tells me what things to shed and what things are worth the hard-ass work.

What’s one positive outcome you see coming from this pandemic (for you or for the world)?

I believe all humans will be more grateful for their loved ones and more present in their daily connections. We have the freedom to inspire others with action. Let’s get moving and make the world a better place. Peace and love from Red Piglet.

Photo by Red Piglet

 

Check out the positive messages in person at Red Piglet open shop weekends in Calmar, Iowa. The remaining 2020 dates are below, and hours are Saturdays (9 am – 3 pm) and Sunday (10 am – Noon). Please follow Red Piglet on social media to double-check that open shop dates are still happening due to COVID-19. And remember, you can always shop online at redpiglet.com

September 26-27
October 10-11
October 24-25
November 7-8
November 28-29
December 12-13
December 19-20

Read the Summer/Fall 2020 Inspire(d)!

The Summer/Fall 2020 Inspire(d) is all about finding ways to Keep Showing Up – for yourself, your community, and your world. Inside, you’ll find (so many positive stories!):

Community Builders – Maren Beard, Amy Glomski, Kim Bonnet, Alycann Taylor – Sum of Your Biz: Red Piglet / Mike Nelson, Iowa State Preserves, Agency on Aging + Mail Cheer, DIY Mini Megaphone, Q&A with Rachel Jepson Wolf – Unplugged Family, Driftless Grown + Houston County EDA, Pollinator Gardens & More!

Awesome cover illustration by Red Piglet

Read the whole thing online here!

A note from Aryn:

Hot Mess.

I threw my back out during press week, so an Icy Hot, No Mess roll-on applicator sat like a fixture on my desk. I kept catching a glimpse of the side of the bottle – all that was visible was “Hot Mess” – and I laughed every time.

I’ve felt like a Hot Mess a fair amount in the last several months. You should see all the emails I’ve started with, “Apologies for my delay…” These are crazy times we’re living in with COVID-19, civil unrest, and in a presidential election year to boot…it’s SO HARD to get things done with the stress of it all, and with our regular support systems in upheaval.

First off, no more apologizing. It’s true: We are all in this together. And most everyone is feeling behind and a little lost right now. You are not alone!

It’s so easy to want to just run away from responsibilities, from reality. But we can’t, not really. We’ve got to Keep Showing Up – for ourselves, our families, our communities, our country, our world. We’ve got ownership of it all; it’s our Hot Mess to clean up.

I am optimistic, as always.

We must never forget the power of kindness, positivity, and hope. There are so many wonderful people in the region (and world), doing the work to make positive change happen, and bring communities together. Inspire(d) is here to share their stories.

The logo on the cover is by Mike Nelson, purveyor of positivity and owner of Red Piglet, a retail & apparel company based out of Calmar, Iowa. Check out his Sum of Your Business interview on page 16 to learn his meaning behind Keep Showing Up. Then check out what the message means to me in my infographic on page 29.

Because of COVID-19, we’ve adjusted our 2020 production schedule – the magazine you hold in your hands is our “Summer/Fall” Inspire(d), on stands July, August, September, and October. That means this magazine is our anniversary issue: 13 years (October 4 is the official date)!

As each year rolls around, we use this time to highlight Community Builders in the Driftless – because community building is one of the most important things you can do in this life. It’s how we bring understanding and growth to the world. This year we’re featuring Decorah’s Maren Beard of Luna Valley Farm and Kim Bonnet of Rubaiyat, Amy Glomski from the Wabasha Public Library, and Alycann Taylor of Bluedog Cycles in Viroqua.

Don’t miss Erin Dorbin’s piece on some great initiatives happening with Houston County farmers in Southeast Minnesota (and beyond), then learn about State Preserves in Northeast Iowa, and how to make a pollinator garden.

While you’re on the “making things” list, try out our Paper (Mini) Megaphones! They were so fun to put together! Then keep on reading for our interview with Rachel Jepson Wolf of Lusa Organics, who recently published her Unplugged Family Activity Book, filled with amazing projects, activities, and recipes to inspire you to get your head up from the screens and out into the world.

Another fun “unplugged” activity is letter-writing, and Kristine Jepsen shares how folks can sign up to give or receive “Mail Cheer” and about the work the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging is getting done during this time of crisis.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next Inspire(d) coming after this one – it will be a “Holiday/Winter” issue, on stands November, December, January, and February.

We thank you, dear readers, and especially you, dear advertisers, for your support now and over the past 13 years. We couldn’t do this without you, and we are forever grateful.

As always, looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Services for Seniors + Mail Cheer

By Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2020 Inspire(d)

Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging connects Driftless residents during time of COVID

For many during this pandemic, our Internet connections have turned into our social connections, giving us a view into a world we can’t visit in person.

At times, it’s helped keep sanity. We moved our buying habits online, dialed up friends, family, and co-workers on Zoom or Facetime, or scrolled the Insta posts of our friends who got pandemic puppies.

But for some seniors, shut-in residents, and individuals with disabilities in the Driftless – because they’re not connected to the Internet – COVID-19 meant an end to social interaction altogether.

“As it became clear that older people were most vulnerable, hundreds of people disappeared from daily life, because they were likely safer at home,” says Kristie Wiltgen, regional coordinator of Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging (or NEI3A). Funded both by the state and the federal government, Agency of Aging serves Iowans age 60 and older – and younger folks with disabilities – from four centers statewide, with Decorah’s office reaching 18 counties. “The hardest blow, I think, was that we had to close our congregate meal centers – the highlight of many clients’ days,” Kristie explains. “It’s where people get the news of the day and check up on each other – it’s a camaraderie you can’t get over the phone.” 

To compound the issue, in-home support services for seniors in the Driftless run on a steady stream of retiree volunteer support, Kristie says, including members of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), who are naturally more cautious of personal health and safety. “Many of this generation have life lines to the influenza epidemic of 1918. They take the risks very seriously.”

EARL drivers load meals & supplies, deliver door-to-door, & report back on individuals they visit. At top: A note of thanks sent to the Agency on Aging. Photos courtesy NE Iowa Area Agency on Aging

But at times, digital solutions just don’t cut it. There are certain things you have to have in hand to appreciate…or, obviously, on the table to consume. Agency on Aging pivoted their meals program, for example, to delivery of a week’s worth of frozen entrees, instead of hot meals multiple days per week. “You feel a little like a trick-or-treater,” Kristie explains with a chuckle, herself communicating via Zoom conference call. “Ring the bell with a bag. Talk awkwardly through a mask.” This brief contact still plays a vital role, she says, so meal-bringers can ask in person how residents are doing. “You get as much from what people don’t say as from what they do, and it’s sometimes the help that’s offered even when it’s not requested that is really needed.” 

When local senior centers closed to observe COVID safety recommendations in Lansing, Iowa, along the Mississippi in rural Allamakee County, Shep’s Riverside Bar & Grill partnered with local grocers to serve free take-out meals. With Agency on Aging support, their daily output grew to more than 300 meals a day, serving more than 150 clients. “It’s the same with grocery stores, boxing up multi-meal kits and instructions for preparing meals at home – and avoiding unnecessary public exposure,” Kristie says. 

“And I just have to shout out to the EARL Public Transit drivers,” she continues. EARL serves Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties. “They do it all – they load meals and supplies and deliver door-to-door and report back on individuals they visit.”

Another low-tech solution arrived in the form of old-fashioned letter-writing. Mail Cheer, an anonymous delivery service for handwritten notes, was launched in June through the Decorah & Winneshiek Mutual Aid Network, a collaboration between DecorahNow community listserv and Winneshiek County Development. Residents can register online (see sidebar) or by calling (563) 293-5075 to receive Mail Cheer notes, or get instructions for writing them. 

2019-2020 AmeriCorps volunteer Jessica Hegdahl shows Mail Cheer examples. Photo courtesy Jessica Hegdahl

“There is something important about having something physical you can hold in your hand and know that someone was thinking of you as they wrote it, that you’re not alone,” says Mail Cheer coordinator Jessica Hegdahl, a 2019-20 AmeriCorps volunteer based in Decorah. When she set up the program, incorporating art supplies donated by Decorah’s Cardboard Robot and stored in the Little Free Craft Closet at ArtHaus, she had her own school-age kids in mind, too. “We made cards for seniors doing Mail Cheer,” she explains, “but it’s no shocker that kids who’ve been isolated from school and summer activities might love to get Mail Cheer, too!”   

The favor pays itself forward, says Kristie, adding that Agency on Aging receives notes and phone messages from residents and caregivers about how important a single act of compassion might be.

The real-time social needs created by COVID-19 have also inspired folks to learn something new, online, for the first time.

“I’m excited to see how fast communities that didn’t use a lot of computer-based communication are adapting technology,” Kristie says. Online classes such as ‘How to Make Nutritious Meals from Things Already in Your Pantry,’ and weekly tai chi, have a strong following. In summer and fall 2020, NEI3A will partner with GrandPad, makers of a super simple digital tablet with built-in cellular data, to give tech-challenged residents a new way to contact family and friends. 

Whether it’s a delivered bag of groceries, a kind note, or tech assistance, Kristie concludes, such strong partnerships are flourishing because our communities are seeded with care and compassion. Neighbors are showing up for neighbors. “Even when we can’t ‘see’ each other, we have a chance to be ‘helpers,’ to rise up to take care of our own.”  


Kristine Jepsen learned the art of letter writing from her grandmother, whose address book for weekly correspondence numbered in the hundreds of friends and family. Today, Kristine is also a business mentor for America’s Small Business Development Centers and Winneshiek County, as well as a freelance writer/editor (kristinejepsen.com). Checking the mail is still by far one of her favorite things.


Learn more:

Know a senior who could benefit from Agency on Aging support?
Get connected at (800) 779-8707 or nei3a.org.

Support public transit!

Visit www.neicac.org/transit or call toll-free (866) 382-4259 for a ride or delivery services.

Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)

Seniors 55+ perform engaging and meaningful service throughout Northeast Iowa. More at www.decorah.lib.ia.us/rsvp.

Decorah & Winneshiek Co. Mutual Aid Network

Check out this unique network that coordinates the giving and receiving of aid in the community: decorahnow.com/mutual-aid-network/

Winneshiek County Development & Tourism

Businesses and residents alike will find resources to navigate COVID-safe commerce at winneshiekdevelopment.org

Sign up for Mail Cheer!

Visit Decorah Mutual Aid Network at decorahnow.com/mutual-aid-network/ for info on sending or receiving handwritten happy-grams.

Let’s get the ball rolling:

Send some Mail Cheer today – either through the Mail Cheer program, or simply send a note in the mail to friends and family! We can almost guarantee it will brighten their day!

Here’s a fill-in-the-blank letter template to get you started! Just click to download the template!