Woman of the woods, Johnna Holmgren of Fox Meets Bear, is busy. She has a cookbook, Tales from a Forager’s Kitchen, in the works, a third proverbial bun in the oven (with two little girls by her side), 100k+ Instagram followers clamoring for updates, her husband’s chalk business to assist and a straight-out-of-a-fairy-tale A-frame house in the woods of Minnesota to tend to.
Not to mention, depending on the season, maple syrup to tap. And ducklings that just hatched. And morel mushrooms to hunt.
We chatted with Johnna to talk about the messiness of everyday life and modern-day mothering. Read on; her insight is delightfully down-to-earth. We’re betting you’ll love her as much as we do. (And be sure to check out her favorite Bitte picks below!)
Tell us about the early days of Fox Meets Bear. What were your intentions with starting a blog, and how have they evolved?
Fox Meets Bear started when we found out I was pregnant with our first little girl, Luella. I wanted to document the pregnancy and life with a baby and mostly it has stayed the same, although over the years I tried to weave more of my interests in there outside of motherhood: cooking, baking, nature crafts, floral projects or workshops and anything else random that makes me feel alive.
You live with your husband Max and little two girls in the woods of Minnesota. What are the pros and cons to living in the middle of seemingly nowhere (albeit the most beautiful middle of nowhere)?
I’d say a pro and con is when we realize we haven’t left the house in a week. We will stock up on groceries, work from home, then all of a sudden realize we need to get back out in the world. We definitely miss stroller walking to parks but the exchange of being surrounded by woods and complete peace has definitely made way in our hearts. The only noises we hear on a daily basis are the birds, airplanes and our distant neighbor’s two vocal donkeys. Ha!
Your home is stunning, but also seems appropriately lived in and loved – not museum-like. How has your decor style adjusted to accommodate having little ones?
Since having kids, I would say my biggest change is buying nicer items that are both beautiful and functional. I don’t want to live in fear or anxiety every day that my things or my clothes might get messy, because they 1,000% will when you have kids. Especially ones that live with two creative parents. My clothing, couches, rugs, bedding – all of that matters way less than the concept of just living and breathing and playing and coloring and creating with my girls. Choosing items that we are drawn to aesthetically is really important to Max and me in our environment, but at the end of the day, living and experiencing life matters way more to us both. We choose bigger items that wear and wash well and make it easier to create a relaxed and creative environment for both ourselves and the girls.
There seems to be purpose and meaning to everything you bring into your home. That said, what do you look for in products and toys you buy for your children?
I look for products and toys that make them happy. When our kids are little, we get to choose the teething toys for them, all their clothing, bedding and products so it matches our own preferences somehow. But as they get older and begin to vocalize what brings them the most joy here and there, that’s where I go to now. I integrate them into the process and search for toys and products and clothing that interest them and make them feel creative, strong, beautiful, smart or intrigued. We do a ton of costumes and coloring as some of our top modes for play and imagination.
“Staring into the mirror about to critique my body or essence but looking down and seeing small faces looking up has changed me.”
Say it’s a Saturday and you have no work to do. How would you spend your ideal day?
With both of us working from home, sometimes our Saturdays are our Mondays and our Tuesdays are our Fridays, but a normal Saturday with no work for us usually starts really slow with coffee being made, music on and making our way outside usually right after that. We will sit out on the deck, let all the pets out, check on all the ducks and chicks and then get into making eggs or cinnamon rolls. The rest of the day we usually don’t plan out right away which is really nice and relaxed. We genuinely enjoy being together as a family doing practically nothing, so taking it slow always feels really good.
You can be found on Instagram braiding homemade bread, tapping maple syrup or picking wildflowers – picture-perfect moments – but you often write in a hilariously down-to-earth tone, making mentions of how messy life can be. Is it important for you to balance beauty with reality to your followers?
Ha! Yes, for sure. Which is hard sometimes. Yesterday I met “one of my followers” for the first time and I opened up my front car door to find two lifejackets, a twelve pack of La Croix, literally an old burrito, wrappers of chocolate, three pairs of the girls’ pants, my maternity shorts, and a small duckling we had rescued in a box. That same day, I washed my naked 18-month-old down in the Whole Foods sink during a pretty busy lunch hour in the bathroom and Luella and I just had to laugh and smile at each other the whole time. Life is messy. There’s no perfect home or perfect mom or perfect family, but in real life and online, I do feel my healthiest and best focusing on as many beautiful moments as possible. I don’t really ever get into a lot of complaining about my kids or laundry or the blah blahs of life online because I try not to do that in real life too. I feel like our words matter and how we talk about our kids online matters. It can define the type of life we create for ourselves and for our kids! So I really try hard to focus on the positive things in life because those are always right there woven into all the intense messes as well.
Ahh! This has been such an incredible process so far. When I had my first little girl, Luella, I feel like I simultaneously lost myself and found myself in a whole beautiful new way. I found the kitchen to be a sort of wellspring for creativity and with her sleeping on my chest, I began to try new ingredients and forms of baking or cooking, writing them down and messing up, then trying again. I signed with Rodale Publishing last year, who have been incredible to work with so far and the cookbook is a true labor of love filled with stories of our life here at the A-frame, imagination, wonder and recipes that are made with foraged and earth-grown goods. You won’t need to be a forager to enjoy the book and it weaves many ingredients that are tucked into corners here and there at even the most conventional grocery store. An underlying theme is simply being open-minded to new experiences and ingredients and offering a few ways to bring magic and wonder to our worlds.
“I don’t want to live in fear or anxiety every day that my things or my clothes might get messy, because they 1,000% will when you have kids.”
Can you articulate how having little girls has affected your view of womanhood?
Having little girls has definitely increased my view on how strong and beautiful women are! They’ve reminded me how the words we use to describe ourselves and others matter. Staring into the mirror about to critique my body or essence but looking down and seeing small faces looking up has changed me. I want to teach the girls to have deep confidence in who they are and who they can be, both physically and mentally. Loving myself and my body will in turn show them to love theirs and themselves too. Encouraging positive self talk and positive words about others, even ones we aren’t drawn to, makes us who we are in so many ways both physically but also relationally.
What’s next for you and your family?
We are bringing another baby to the woods around Thanksgiving of this year, my cookbook comes out next spring, but other than that we are pretty wide open!
Written by Megan McCarty