Interview with Goodwins on adventurous ‘Year of Plenty’


IN PART 1 OF OUR COVERAGE of Year of Plenty, by Craig L. Goodwin, we reviewed this terrific new book, provided a link to order it via Amazon—and shared an excerpt of the Five Rules that shaped their remarkable year of family adventure. TODAY, you’ll meet the Goodwin’s in …


FROM LEFT: Lily, Craig, Noel and Nancy Goodwin.DAVID: You began this global project in a moment of utter frustration. I won’t spoil the story in the book, but the yearlong adventure opens in the middle of a stressed-out, post-Christmas depression that lots of parents feel each year. I like that part of your story, because this wasn’t some grand scheme planned by experts. You were just a couple of angry parents who decided to change your lives, right?

NANCY: Yes, and a lot of what happened in our year was due to our own ignorance about what all of this would mean. It began as we were finishing up Christmas after that whole month of planning, shopping and craziness that so many families experience. And, imagine how much more hyped-up this time of year is in a pastor’s family, doing all that holiday work with the church, too. We were pretty burned out! We reached a place where we felt disconnected from our own lives. We realized that this was something deeper than the usual Christmas stress. Then, there was one last gift we had to go find—and that pushed us over the edge.

CRAIG: That’s right. When we finally found that last gift, I just said: “What a piece of junk!”

NANCY: No, you didn’t. You said, “What crap!” Or, maybe you said something worse!

DAVID: Well, you are Christians writing for a family audience. I guess you wanted to keep the story PG-rated, but it’s good to know you occasionally shout in frustration like the rest of us.

CRAIG: I had the word “crap” in the manuscript. Then, I took it out. Nancy made me put it back in.

NANCY: Of course! It became our symbol of senseless buying. It was crap!

CRAIG: And, like a lot of couples, we got into this whole argument about: What can we do differently?

NANCY: Then we talked about: What can we actually do differently instead of just arguing about it?

CRAIG: And that launched us into this really creative conversation about where we find glimpses of hope in our lives. And one place we find hope is in our garden. We all love growing food. And eventually these four rules for living emerged: Local, Used, Homegrown and Homemade. And we decided to live by those four rules for a year.

NANCY: This conversation was unfolding on a date we had right after Christmas. We live in Spokane and we went to Seattle to spend some alone time, just the two of us, and we wound up having this soul-searching conversation about our lives and where we find hope in the world. We talked about our values, our faith and our journey in life.

DAVID: But you pushed back a little bit, right Nancy?

NANCY: Yes, I worried that we were having this whole big conversation about these four rules and the fact is: Hey, I’m the cook! I’m the one who buys clothes for our girls! This sure is easy for you to talk about, Craig!

CRAIG: I know! I know! And I said, “Let’s really do this as a family.”

NANCY: One important thing that meant was: When we have some weirdo thing coming in ripe from the garden—everybody has to eat it. If I’m going to cook it up in some weird stir-fry, then everybody has to eat that strange mix. And that was one of the biggest blessings in the year:  Our girls really enjoyed this and the whole family worked together on it. And we all ate what we produced. It was a family affair.


DAVID: It’s intriguing to me that in this interview you’ve focused so far on the “Four Rules.” They were at the core of your initial discussions, but I think it’s the Fifth Rule that was the genius in your project. You refused to isolate yourselves. As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I get dozens of new books and documentaries about people who decide to simplify their lives. That’s one reason so many people love Shaker music and design these days—we all want to simplify. But usually the advice is focused in one direction: Isolation. Your family—partly out of necessity of buying coffee and rice—came up with a Fifth Rule, a global rule.

CRAIG: It did start out as an extra rule just so we had a source of good coffee and rice. But I do agree with you that, as we reflected on our consumer lives, we realized that almost everything we buy in this country involves things that come from overseas. So, the Fifth Rule started out as something we laughed about: How could we survive without coffee? But, when we made the rule and began to think about our connection with our chosen country—Thailand, because of Nancy’s experience living there for three years—we realized that our whole effort wasn’t about abandoning the world. We were trying, every day, to connect our lives with impoverished and struggling people in this other part of the world. Our trip to Thailand became the grand prize at the end of our year.

NANCY: That’s right. We thought good coffee was essential, but the rice, too, was very important. In the way we produced our food, we ate a lot of stir-fry and the Thai rice was important in making those good dinners. And it quickly became more than just a source of food. We all knew we were going there at the end of the year and we taught the kids about Thailand throughout the year. They were very engaged in that—learning about something bigger than our own lives. We all felt a real connection with Thailand and that connection continues.

Just the other day, my daughter had a gift card from Target and she decided she wanted some of these little Matchbox cars. She opened them up and discovered they were made in Thailand. “Look, Mom!” she said. “Thailand.” She was associating this with the relationships we established in Thailand. Now, we all know that the choices we make every day affect people around the world. Who made those little cars? Were children making those cars? We think about our purchases in a different way now. We want to know about the connections between our lives and the people so far away. How are our choices affecting their lives?

CRAIG: For all of the work we did growing food and making things at home, I have to say that probably the most profound experience during the entire year was visiting the refugee village in Thailand at the end of the year. Earlier in the year, we had received a check and we were in a position to be creative with that check. We decided to put that money into a microloan program in Thailand. We sent our money off and, by a whole series of serendipities, we ended up in the same refugee village that received our funds for the microfinance program—on the day when women were bringing their deposits to the card table that was set up as their bank in the village. We felt a tangible connection with what we had chosen to do with that money. To see the lives of the people in that community was so humbling for us.

DAVID: There are a lot of simple-living books and gurus out there who essentially are telling people to isolate themselves. I think readers are going to enjoy the year-long scope of your adventure, because it is both local and global.

CRAIG: The whole idea of raising chickens and the gardening was all stuff that was fairly new to us—and I do know that some people turn in this direction to circle their wagons. But in our spiritual journey, we found ourselves paying more and more attention to the world. I kept thinking of Colossians 1, the passage about how all things are created in Christ, all things are held together in Christ and all things are redeemed in Christ. That’s a world-encompassing view. Colossians doesn’t tell us to lock ourselves away in a protective shell. In fact, it launches us back out into God’s world—at least, that’s been our experience in all of this. What a wonderful discovery as a family that God is paying attention to the whole world.

DAVID: Now, you’re paraphrasing a portion of the New Testament and we should point out to readers that you are Protestants—specifically Presbyterians. We’ll provide some links with this interview and people can read more about your lives and your church. But I see a universal story in this book. I think almost anyone, especially parents, can find lots of inspiring ideas in these pages.

CRAIG: This book is Christian inasmuch as we are Christian. We see our experiences through that lens. But we are part of a much larger global conversation that’s unfolding right now. There are lots of approaches to these issues that many different people are trying. In our book, we do tell our story from a Christian perspective.

NANCY: Whatever a reader’s faith might be, there is a deeply personal spiritual journey that unfolds here. For myself, for example, I’ve never been a huge shopper, but as I turned to shopping for used things in stores, I began thinking about our consumption in a new way. I began asking the question: How much do I really need? Throughout this whole year, I began finding that lots of things I thought I needed—I actually didn’t need. Lots of people can relate to those kinds of questions.


DAVID: How many complaints did you really hear from your daughters?

NANCY: We heard about some frustrations, but we actually chose to do this at a pretty good time for the girls. We saw their eyes open. Our daughter Noel was 7 at the time and willing to try new things. She got excited about asparagus. Noel and Lily, who was 5 at the time, looked at this as a big experiment. One day, Craig brought in dandelion leaves from the driveway and he showed them his own excitement in the way he talked about it: “Hey! Let’s experiment! Let’s eat this!” Noel and Lily understood they were part of a great adventure.

CRAIG: I remember the first day the chickens laid an egg. There was a sense of awe and wonder—a miracle they saw unfolding.

NANCY: It’s true. I remember the day they ran in and said: “They laid an egg in my hand!” I remember that day. Craig was always helping them see new things around them. He would go outside with them and point out: “Look at this plant. It has fruit on it. We’ll be able to eat that.” Then, they’d explore further themselves and they’d see things. It really became a year-long adventure for all of us.

DAVID: Of course, readers can visit your websites and learn more, but let’s close the interview with your vision of the horizon. You spent an amazing year with your family. How has that changed your vision of the future?

NANCY: I haven’t thought very far into the future, but there are a couple of things for which I am very, very grateful. There’s the sense of wonder and learning we experienced together through this one extreme year. That continues as we open up our lives to new experiences with the children. We’re planning more travel. We would love to get them into a church-related trip. We also spend time outdoors close to home. Craig enjoys foraging for mushrooms and other edible foods in the woods. Instead of just flipping on the TV, we enjoy going out into the woods, exploring, learning the names of things. That sense of wonder and learning continues.

When Craig sat down to write this book about our year, Lily also found her own love of writing. When he was writing, she’d sit near him and she’d write, too. I’ve enjoyed seeing her love of writing.

CRAIG: I agree that it’s been wonderful for both of us and for our kids. The year also has made me more of an advocate for a holistic faith—a faith that is connected to the world and isn’t spiritualized into some isolated sanctuary. Faith shouldn’t be reserved for Sunday morning. In my own ongoing leadership in our church and community, I’m trying to show that in all that I do. What does the gospel of Jesus look like when it’s fleshed out in the world? How should we pay attention to what God is doing in the world? I hope more and more people will get on board and ask questions like these.

Care to read more about the Goodwins and ‘Year of Plenty’?

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Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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