What’s Next?


Beautifully functional rocking chair inspired by Sam Maloof design, perfected by Hal Taylor, hand-crafted by Cecil Braeden (used with permission by Cecil Braeden)

Good question!  As I mentioned in my previous post, after 2 years in Yunnan Province my wife and I returned from China sooner than we had planned.  There are so many ways to approach the question: “What’s Next?”  I’d like to describe our plans in terms of 3 key areas:

  • Lifestyle
  • Lifestyle
  • Lifestyle

Nope, that’s not a typo!  Basically, after living in a much different culture for 2 years, we just don’t think we can go back to the same routine we were in before.  Some of our priorities and values have shifted, others have been clarified, strengthened and renewed.  And we are resolved to have our lifestyle reflect those changes as much as possible.

The first lifestyle change is our budget.  While we’d like to be able to live on our Chinese budget in the US, we know that is just not possible (unless you know where I can find a bowl of fresh, hand-made noodles for $1.50!).  Nevertheless, like many others we know, we are committed to simplifying our expenses and streamlining our consumption with the goal of having more to share with others.

The second lifestyle change is how we spend our “free time”.  While we know it is healthy and important to enjoy recreation and fitness, social time with family and friends, worship, and even personal “recharge” time, we also want to be more intentional about carving out time to engage with others in our community who are struggling in various waysfinancially, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually.  Living outside the U.S. for 2 years emphasized to us how much we have been given.  Like a number of our friends and family, we want to give back more of our time to help others who are not currently enjoying such abundance (e.g., fatherless kids, orphans, single moms, recently released inmates, immigrants/refugees, unemployed, and others).

The third lifestyle change is in terms of our work.  After almost 25 years of “domestic engineering” and “household logistics”, my wife, Gienah, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Library Science to prepare her to return to the elementary school world.  She is hoping to help teachers, students and parents use today’s library resources and technologies effectively.

In addition to my ongoing interest in product design and development, Chinese business relationships and collaborative innovation activities, a new area of interest for me is in what I call “functional art”.  Designing and making products that are functional, yet also have a strong aesthetic appeal.  They say “a picture is worth a thousand words”, so instead of trying to explain exactly what “functional art” means to me, here are just a few examples of products I consider beautiful that also perform a specific function:


Burled Elm and Walnut Music Stand by George Nakashima (see photo credit #1 below)


Black Walnut Dining Table by George Nakashima (see photo credit #2 below)


Walnut Side Table by George Nakashima (see photo credit #4 below)

I’m hoping this very small sampling will give you a better idea of where my interest lies and the types of functional art that inspire me.  You may have some of the same questions I do:

  • Can I make functional art similar to the above examples…today?  Not yet.
  • Can I learn to make them…eventually?  I think so, but…
  • Will it be quick…easy?  No.
  • Will it require a significant investment in time, energy and money?  Absolutely.
  • Will it be worth it?  Sure hope so!

In those instances where “functional art” has an authentic cultural element (i.e., folk art), excellent craftsmanship, and a reflection of the incredible beauty of natural wood and other organic materials, my level of inspiration and engagement are off-the-chart!

Basically, this new change in lifestyle means I’m likely to begin using my hands, heart, and head to do work I hope others will find functional and beautiful.  For me, this is a natural extension of my career in the clean-transportation and automotive industry!  And, it captures the essence of one of our favorite Chinese sayings:

“活到老,学到老”.  The literal translation is “Live till old, learn till old”, or as we say in America: “Lifelong learning”.

If you’re in the Austin area and would like additional details, give me a call and I hope we’ll be able to connect in person.  Or, you can watch for updates on this blog.  We may not be “on-the-ground” in China any more, but we’re definitely “on-the-ground” in Central Texas and I look forward to sharing a few of the interesting twists and turns ahead.

Photo Credits:

  1. Music Stand by George Nakashima: 1stDibs @ https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/more-furniture-collectibles/music-stands/george-nakashima-adjustable-music-stand/id-f_1946862/#0
  2. Conoid Dining Table by George Nakashima:  1stDibs @ https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/tables/dining-room-tables/conoid-dining-table-george-nakashima/id-f_747065/
  3. Frenchman’s Cove II Dining Table Close-Ups:  George Nakashima Woodworker @ http://www.nakashimawoodworker.com/furniture/3/22
  4. Side Table by George Nakashima:  1stDibs @ https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/tables/end-tables/pair-of-george-nakashima-conoid-side-tables/id-f_643327/
  5. All other photos by KDB (me!)

Copyright © Kevin Beaty, YUNEV and “Feet on the Ground…”, 2017.  All rights reserved.