Home Again — For the First Time

How one family rebooted life and reimagined home after a journey of loss and rediscovering joy. Plus, an additional home photo gallery.

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We thought about buying a zoo. Our second option was to live in a tour bus. Our life was in need of a reboot. We thought author Anne Lamott’s prescription just might work: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Our family decided to unplug and reboot our lives.

In the spring of 2015, we had sold our five-bedroom home and most of our belongings, including our wedding china. We ejected from our bloated suburban life and began a four-month unplug. We elected to chart a new life-giving course for our future by starting anew. Commence reboot.

We had moved to Colorado Springs in 1994. We birthed and raised our three kids, built careers and were part of great communities. The life we built was beautiful—but intertwined with beauty were cords of trauma.

mchugh family in home
Photo by Joel Strayer

One cord is the loss of our daughter Hadley in 2011. At first survival was our only goal, one foot barely in front of the other. The problem with survival is it can become a way of living. After four years of grieving and learning to live again, we found ourselves stuck in a rut. Our survivor ruts had layers: behavior ruts like parking in the same spot at Costco every time; belief ruts like, We shouldn’t make too many long-term plans because you never know what can happen. We all agreed that surviving was honorable, but in order to find our path to thriving, we were going to need to reimagine our lives.

Our family identifies a lot with the movie We Bought a Zoo. Matt Damon’s character, Benjamin Mee, is left to raise his two children after his wife’s premature death. As a viewer, you become eyewitness to the hole that Mom’s death leaves behind in the lives of the survivors. Benjamin recognizes their desperate need for a fresh start. Commence reboot. Insert peacocks, elephants, tigers, a ginormous Alaskan brown bear named Bart and an abandoned zoo.

To facilitate the reboot of our internal “joy engine,” we spent the summer in Buena Vista volunteering at Young Life’s Frontier Ranch. We recognized that we needed help to find joy again. We downshifted to a kinder pace. My wife, Leith, and I spent sunsets in rocking chairs watching mountain goats skirt the high ridges as we began to dream of thriving. We dreamed of having chickens, access to trails from our backyard, a more sustainable work mode, a new home with a modern design and a simple clutter-free life.

living room looking out patio in home
Photo by Joel Strayer

I shouldn’t omit that this reboot was bumpy and imperfect. Our marriage was holding on by a few threads. Our teenage daughter, Averi, was angry we took her away from her friends for the summer. During our vagabonding, we boarded our dogs for three months while we bounced around between cities and spare bedrooms. Friends understandably thought we were crazy. Some days we thought they might be right. But we knew unplugging was our best hope for a life of thriving.

Insert The Farm. We found a fresh start, trails, walking access to restaurants, cows, fishing ponds and a modern design. Building our new home became part of architecting a new life. Our lot backs up to open space and a network of trails. Out our back windows we can see the steeple atop New Life Church where we launched 800 balloons concluding our daughter’s memorial.

The floor plan emphasizes big views with floor-to-ceiling windows, sliding glass doors that open up the back of the house to an outdoor covered patio. Most nights we sleep with our curtains open to view the city lights and Pikes Peak at sunrise. Sometimes it feels like we live on vacation. We imported our love for Hawaiian aloha by adding an outdoor shower. A backyard bocce ball court was inspired by our playful trips to Sonoma wineries. My wife’s favorite addition is the floating staircase with horizontal steel railing—big city sexy.

teenager room in home
Photo by Joel Strayer

We have plans of finishing a sleepover room for our daughter’s teenage tribe. We envision bunk beds and hooks for zigzagging their hammocks. The reclaimed wood tile flooring on the main level easily disguises the dirt—perfect for two dogs and lots of kids.

Our home is a perfect alchemy of art, play, rest, peace, joy and connection. Reboot sequence successful. Start new life.  


Kingsley floor plan by Keller Homes only available at The Farm: 3 bed, 3 bath, 3-car garage, 4,254 square feet. Front door color Surf Blue.

Twelve-person Roller L-Sectional in Lucky Turquoise by JoyBird.

Yellow plastic dining room chairs from Overstock and white oak Sede dining chairs in Thunder Gray from Article.

Custom 10-person maple dining room table by Denver-based Modern Craftsman.

Photos by Joel Strayer


Aaron McHugh
Writer, blogger, podcaster and career liberator Aaron McHugh recently accomplished a life list dream of mountain biking the entire 500-mile Colorado Trail from Durango to Denver. His latest book is Fire Your Boss: Discover Work You Love Without Quitting Your Job. @aarondmchugh

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