Cindy and Steve Bartlett had spent their entire lives in the Twin Cities. They raised three sons, shuttling them to their sports and enduring “long commutes to work, sitting in traffic forever.”

“I always said I wasn’t going to sit in an office my whole life,” Cindy said. “And then I ended up sitting in an office for 20 years.”

Cindy grew up in White Bear Lake and worked in the corporate office of a cabinet manufacturer. Steve came from northeast Minneapolis and worked as a physical therapist, helping trauma patients, quadriplegics and paraplegics after horrific crashes.

One day after the boys had grown, Cindy turned to Steve and said, “What would you think about moving Up North?” She’s always loved cooking, hosting parties. Maybe they could open a bed-and-breakfast?

Steve nodded and said, “I’ll be that much closer to my weekends.”

So seven years ago, in midwinter, the Bartletts started looking for land on which to stage their second act. Trudging through waist-deep snow, they found 25 acres on quiet Omen Lake 15 miles west of Nisswa and began turning the “raw land” into the Mystic Views Bed and Breakfast.

“It took three years to get the plan together,” she said. “We moved up in ’08, opened in October and Steve was diagnosed that December.”

Only 48, Steve had colon cancer that spread to his liver. He died 20 months later — at 50 — but not until he’d seen their dream turn real.

“It sounds weird, but it was a real blessing to have that year and a half together with no distractions from the world. Out of our 28 years of marriage, those were the best times, and if we’d kept trucking along until we were 65, we never would have enjoyed it.”

Mystic Views includes two large suites with private entrances, double hot tubs, king-size beds and none of the interaction B&Bs typically include. Cindy rolls the breakfast to each room and leaves the food outside to respect her guests’ privacy.

To honor her husband’s lifelong desire to help people dealing with trauma, she recently launched her own nonprofit, Priceless 4 Purpose, which raises money to fund gift stays for people diagnosed with cancer.

“Steve was the speed boat and I was the canoe. He loved a crowd, a social life, interacting. I love peace and soft music. That’s just the way we were.”

Grandchild No. 5 is on the way, but most days, “it’s just me and Mother Nature up here.”