Simple Life

Open Thoughts : A Family of Home, not perfection


“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s easy to make it complex.”


The moving in process has been slow and sometimes painful, but it’s also been beautiful. Not because our house is full or the walls are covered with decorations, but because they aren’t, because it is taking us longer than we thought, and because our house is finally starting to become a home filled with imperfections.

Just as it should be.

Last week, our fake wood-burning stove arrived in the mail, and when we set it up and turned it on, it was just about perfect. Our kids gathered around, touching the glass and awing at flames that flickered and wood that glowed – looking just like a real fire - and when we turned the lights off to the rest of the house and cuddled beneath blankets for the evening reading, it felt fully perfect.

Somehow though, after the kids were in bed and Josey and I were sitting in the quite of the night, we both missed our even more fake fireplace in China.

Then suddenly, strangely, we were homesick. And we couldn’t quite figure out why. Because that fireplace, the one in China that was made from an old chest with one side cut out, with Christmas lights behind embossed glass for fire, and an old pipe for a makeshift chimney, wasn’t nearly as nice as this one. Not even close.

“But it was full of stories,” Josey said. And that was it. That was what we missed. Because that fireplace, the one with the Christmas tree lights for a fire had embossed glass that was found in a nearby trash pile in one of Josey’s favorite back alley streets, and it was just what she’d been looking for, for months. And that chimney, the one that looked like an old industrial pipe was the third old industrial pipe I’d brought home because the other two didn’t work. I found this one discarded beneath our old school, and when I picked it up, three baby kittens scattered across the dusty boxes, bricks, and piles of old carpet. And they scared the shit out of me.

That fireplace took months to build. It required difficult negotiations in a second language, hauling material up seven flights of stairs, and rebuilding, remodeling, and reworking over and over again until we got it right. But, when it all came together, when we finally assembled the last few pieces and hung and stuffed our Christmas stockings, our little monster of a creation became the centerpiece of the living room.

And our kids loved it.

When we sold it, Josey cried.

Our new Amazon fireplace, however, is perfect looking, but it doesn’t come with stories. Just Styrofoam and cardboard boxes.

But then Uncle Trauger comes over and helps us make the shiplap backing from old barn wood Judah and I pulled and denailed from a distant farm on a cold and misty Saturday afternoon. And suddenly, there’s life.

And then the end tables Josey bought at a local thrift store are painted by my daughters which means they’re full of paint blobs, running lines, and imperfections. And they aren’t even hard to miss. But whenever I see them, whenever I set my coffee down in the predawn morning, I hear Zion’s giddy voice telling me how she painted all day with Mom and how, “Mom broke two paint brushes, and I didn’t break any.” I see Eden, with paint in her hair and dotted along her arms and legs and toes, trying to fix her imperfections with entirely too much paint on the brush, only exacerbating the problem.

And I fall in love with those tables and their stories and the home they begin to build.

Because that’s the outdoor fire pit Aunt Lu bought us when she came to visit in October and those are the shutters we had a friend carry from China and drop of with my brother in Montana and have waited over three months to unwrap and that’s the chair we bought for $12.50 at a Thrift store in Laramie when visiting our little sister at university and stayed in a cabin and bought our first pumpkins at a beautiful farm where Eden and Zion rode horses and Judah finished a maze in 48.3 seconds. 

I love stories. And I love that I think of them almost every single day.

And the thing is, even if we wanted to fill our house quickly we couldn’t because we’ve chosen a single income teacher salary lifestyle and even though there are several days that it’s hard and frustrating because I just wish we could get a little bit further ahead and not have to work so hard, most other days, I love it. Because it forces us to wait, to learn and to be reminded that we can do without, and it allows – unwillingly at times – for us to find and capture beautiful stories.

Stories of creating rather than buying.

Stories of building rather than pulling from shelves.

Stories of human imperfections rather industrialized perfection.

Stories of thrift stores and garage sales and sometimes even trash piles. Of making things work out of imagination and re and re and redecoration.

The kind of stories that make a home, not a house.

And the kind of stories that carry with us long after the furniture is sold or tossed or lost over the years.

And those are exactly the kind of stories I want to tell and retell and hear my children share to their friends and family and future children. Because those are stories of the family.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  On Living



Riches to rags: a possible utopia

Our core needs are simpler than we're lead to and choose to believe. In reality, we can do with a lot less in our lives. Our hearts and minds have "become dominated by the fear of losing, or never getting things that we could, in fact, do perfectly well without."

Josey (@storyanthology) started posting "we don't have (blank)" pictures as a joke at first, because we truly don't have much, but then, as we thought more about it, we decided to embrace it, because there is something there. A reminder, perhaps, that we're okay without all those things, even though they'd be nice to have, because they're just not needed.

As long as we have each other.

Simply inspired, under a bridge


Plumber-turned-furniture designer Fernando Abellanas has built himself a studio that acrophobes wouldn’t want to visit. Abellanas has constructed his workplace under a bridge in Valencia, Spain, and it perfectly blends into the urban setting (via).

"Inspired by pioneer designers and architects from the 60’s and the 70’s, Fernando creates highly-functional products with minimalist aesthetics that range from lamps, shelves and benches to bike racks." 

You can check out more of his, and their, work here


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Living in a plane  :  Pablo Escobar's sons is an architects, and he's building peace




The Mountains have a way

Get Out More

Four weeks today, Judah and I arrived in the states.

Four weeks today, we began our process of transition.

It hasn't been terrible, but it for sure has not been smooth. For any of us. Our kids want to know where they will be going to school and when they'll see their friends again. I want to know where I'll be working and if I will see China again. Josey wants to stop living out of suitcases and random boxes and wonders when life will ever have routine again.

We all want a little bit of clarity but seem to be getting none. Each answer only muddles the future; each day adds more questions, more doubts.

So, we went camping. And, as expected, the getting out helped.

One morning, while sipping coffee and listening to the kids play, I asked Josey what she was thinking. "About the mountains," she said.

"What about them?" I asked.

"I don't know exactly," she looked around, at the kids, the trees, and the snow-covered peaks, "They just have a way about them." She thought for a moment more, "A way of clarifying, ya know?" 

I did, and I didn't. So I grabbed my journal, because I didn't want to forget her words. "The mountains have a way," I wrote, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

The mountains have a way . . .


Of Simplifying:

Get Out More

A simple fire, the smell of pine, and the birds' morning songs. The sky roles from black to deep blue, to sky, and the fire cracks and pops and spits. Coffee brews. 

Kids knuckle sleep from their eyes, the tent-flaps skip and dance to the morning breeze, and slowly, the day begins. More coffee is brewed.

There is little care for the rest of the day, just play, in the land where fallen trees become giant dragons. Where knotted sticks turn to swords or guns or simple things that only a wooded magical dragon could need. Because, in the maze of trees and grass and twigs and dirt, opportunity of imagination is endless.

So scrape your knees and get dirty and yes of course you can climb that tree or turn that patch of dirt into a Nature Town because that's why we're here, to simplify. To rid ourselves of the things that bind us, that hinder us, and that distract us from what matters. 

Because the mountains have a way. 


Of Stripping Away:

Get Out More

For the past four weeks, we've been reuniting with family, applying for jobs, waiting to be called by hopeful employers, rearranging boxes and suitcases, and trying to move forward but unable to do so because we don't know where we're going to live, because I have not been able to land a job. 

Get Out More

But in the mountains, with my family, these concerns slip away - if only for a short while - because instead of checking the inbox or checking missed calls, we're on a hike, sliding down glaciers and watching fish feed on the bugs of the mountain lakes. We read in hammocks and write in journals. I teach my son how to swing an ax and smile when he cuts his first log all the way through - something he never had the chance to do in urban China. The girls laugh and play and cry and talk because the land of dragons is big and dangerous but Mom and Dad are just there, sitting by the fire, so what is there to be afraid of?

We eat simple dinners and sit around the fire, talking, and watch for shooting stars. 

Josey and I, for the first time in months, talk about our move from China, because it's quiet, and there is little else that needs to happen. Because the mountains have a way of doing that.


Of Reminding:

Get Out More

I wear a vest that is not my own. It's an old JC Penny vest that is too small, even though the tag says, "XL" - being washed and dried for almost twenty years will probably do that to any vest. I also have two massive green Coleman sleeping bags that have mallard duck print on the inside. They're 100% cotton and each weigh around fifteen pounds. They're terrible for hiking, but perfect for camping. Especially family camping, and they have been for as long as I can remember, because they were my dads.

Get Out More

On one of our many fishing trips, I remember telling my dad that he was different there than at home because he was "more fun. More relaxed." And he was. Some of my favorite memories of my dad came with camping or fishing or splitting wood or racking leaves, and in most all of those memories, he's wearing this vest. 

This past weekend, it held my son's pocket knife and carried Zion' rocks. 

I haven't camped or fished with my dad in over twelve years, and I miss those times, almost daily. Sometimes, the memories attached to this vest are more than I can bear, because they're some of the best a boy could have. 

Which is why I wear the vest and carry the sleeping bags, because even though they are fully imperfect, they're perfect for camping and chopping wood, for cold nights and searching for constellations (which I can never find, minus the Big Dipper).

This vest and these sleeping bags are made for mountains, for camping and making memories, and for family.  Because that's what my Dad used them for, so it's what I'm going to use them for. Because the memories they carry are more than I can bear. And I hope, someday, my kids will struggle beneath its beautiful weight. 


Of Giving:

Get Out More

Five weeks ago, Judah and I hiked and slept on the Great Wall of China, and the lessons we learned were foundational. This short trip reminded and encouraged us of a few of those lessons. Judah dealt once more with fear, this time of bears, and I wrestled again with feeling expendable. The bears never came, but I needed the voice of my wife and son to get over my pride. Both of them, on separate occasions, considered how we as a family might bless someone outside ourselves. Both of them mentioned our camping neighbors. The day before, they had wondered into our camp. He was from Colorado and she was from Montana and they, along with their little three year-old daughter, Ellie, were planning on staying for several more nights.

"Can we leave a pile of firewood for them?" Judah asked. I looked to Josey and smiled because she had mentioned the same thing a few minutes earlier. 

"Of course," I said, "that's a great idea!" So while Josey and I packed up the van, Judah and the girls piled a large stack of wood next to the neighbors fire pit - Eden making sure it was stacked with care and purpose.

Because after a few nights in the beauty of the mountains, the perfect "thank you" blesses others, not ourselves. A lesson I'd have forgotten, if not for the mountains.

My wife was right, the mountains do have a way about them . . . a way larger than any word I can write. Which is probably why we go back. Because, like Whitman wrote about the stars, " . . . When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them . . . How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and . . . Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars."

The mountains have a way. And all I can do is stand and look up at them, in perfect silence. 


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Simple Living  



I Live in an Airplane

Bruce Campbell lives in an airplane. Yes, an actual jet. The Portland-based aeronautics enthusiast makes his home in a converted Boeing 727 that was once used as a Greek aircraft until the mid-1960s and now resides in a forest near Portland.
This story is a part of our Planet Earth series. From mammals to insects and birds to reptiles, we share this great big world with all manner of creatures, large and small. Come with us to faraway places as we explore our great big planet and meet some of its wildest inhabitants. (via)

For more on . . .

Real People  :  Simple Life  :  -N- Stuff