Ten years ago, after spending a year teaching in Ecuador and working on my Ph.D., I embarked on a yearlong teaching assignment at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. On my way to North Dakota to visit my parents, I contacted a Realtor who specialized in lakefront property in the Collegeville, Minn., area.

After visiting properties in my price range, we came up short until the Realtor pulled a piece of paper from under his computer. He said he had just received the notice but hadn’t yet viewed the property. So, off we went and found a broken-down cabin, with no septic system and no well, sitting on an unkempt property strewn with refuse. I said I would take it!

During a four-month building process, while I rented a nearby home, family and friends helped fill three large industrial dumpsters with the old cabin, its contents, an outhouse and the refuse. Functioning as my own contractor while teaching full time and finishing my Ph.D., we built a log cabin and installed a septic system, a well, and a corn burner to heat the main floor. I moved into the cozy environment in November 2005.

Over the next two years, because of job changes, I would sometimes rent rooms in other cities while commuting to the cabin on weekends. After getting laid off in 2008, I decided to see if I could parlay a part-time online teaching job into something that would be full time by developing and implementing a business plan (I teach marketing and business courses).

I am happy to report that since then I have been able to live year-round here in paradise in my beautiful, cozy cabin, supporting myself with online teaching for universities here in Minnesota and around the country (every once in awhile I have to pinch myself). I have added value to the property: an outdoor shower (where I can look up and see the trees); a finished basement (three sets of bunk beds and a trundle bed can sleep eight, and it includes a bathroom); a dock for the water toys; and, last year, a garage.

The future holds the vision of a tree house that would sleep two. I have also planned by taking the necessary legal steps to put the cabin in trust to ensure that my children and grandchildren will be able to continue to enjoy my paradise after I am gone.

Lydia Mackenzie, Richmond, Minn.