“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.
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