Inspiring Mother: Morgan Brechler of Born Wild

Morgan Brechler daughter horse beach

When I was in my early twenties a classmate in graduate school told me about her friend: “She’s 28, married, has two kids, a full time job, and a home. She’s so together!” I remember thinking “Ya, she does sound together!” And then thinking, wouldn’t that be great to figure out a way of getting my life set up like that, not because that situation is an end in itself — that a partner, kids, job and home, would complete me — but because that meant I would be stable enough in life to travel and go on adventures. Meaning, it would allow me to be luxurious with my time and money and spend both on experiences. Growing up, I knew that education and jobs wouldn’t fall into my lap. I knew I had to work really hard, every year at school and every summer at full time at job (from when I was 14) if I wanted a chance at having some sort of financial stability, and knowing that even hard work is no guarantee. Financial stability, I thought, would enable me to be frivolous with my time. Frivolous meaning: that I wouldn’t have to be actively educating myself (in a conventional sense) or earning money to be able to pay for school and later for my living space. So I never travelled or adventured.

I don’t regret this (I find regret to be a useless state) but I do look admirably toward people who took the leap and adventured despite not having all their ducks in a row. Morgan Brechler is someone who I have followed on Instagram for a few years. She is young, adventurous and free spirited. I wouldn’t say her ducks are out of row, as you’ll read she’s accomplished quite a lot in her two decades, but what I absolutely love about her is that she never put her adventurous spirit on pause. She thrives on adventure, is a self-described nature groupie, and has never denied herself these parts of herself.  Read on, because I know you’ll enjoy hearing from Morgan about her passion for the outdoors and how this has shaped how she is raising her daughter.

Morgan, please tell me a little about yourself.

25. Nature groupie. Intense soul. Total scorpio. I work for a landscape design company, Creative Environments. Also, attending school for my degree in Urban Horticulture/Sustainable Agriculture. Don’t ask me how I make it all work. Because I have no idea!! Family time, yoga, holistic organic plant based living, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, all the good stuff. Loving love.

Morgan Brechler and Hadlie daughter Arizona

What part of the world do you live in?

The desert, Arizona

How many children do you have and how would you describe them?

Hadlie is my only daughter, coming up on 5 years on this planet.. a soul much older. Wild spirited, beautiful, strong-willed and one of the most stubborn little girls I have ever known. Unless we compare her with 4 year old me, I might have had her beat back in my day for stubbornness. I suppose it’s safe to say she’s definitely my mini me!  She’s intelligent, beyond her years and brings endless smiles and happiness into our life.

Hadlie Morgan Brechler Born Wild Project

Do you have a favourite quote or words you live by? Favourite books?

I will share a favorite from one of the latest books I read;

We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

What are your core family values?

We really try to foster creativity in Hadlie and ourselves. Being free-thinkers without boundaries is important to us.  We encourage Hadlie to use her imagination to its fullest which allows her to be comfortable with being her true-self.

Respecting Mother Nature is a big core value our family strongly believes in. Allowing Hadlie to connect with nature and to be very aware of her surroundings. Instilling the importance of taking care of our earth and protecting it so it can be around for us and future generations to enjoy.

Openness, and the ability to feel emotions fully. Which falls under communication. We try to over-communicate on everything. I don’t want Hadlie to ever feel like she has to work through her emotions alone, if she doesn’t want to. (Sometimes, alone is best though). If she’s upset about something, we get her to talk about those feelings. Instead of shutting her out and sending her to her room.

Ultimately: love yourself. love earth. love all living things.

Morgan Brechler Born Wild Project Hadlie

How do you spend most of your days?

Most of my days right now are spent working and going to school. I am fortunate enough to have a job I love, surrounded by people I love even more. Down the road, I would like to have some more play time and I think we are well on our way to figuring that out. I feel like we have a good balance going right now. We push our adventures hard on the weekends and after work, for now.

What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

Sharing happiness. That sounds cheesy, and really I am sure the expected answer from me is something along the lines of  “anything outside.” Which, is, yes, a big part of it! But truly, anything that we share happiness in. That could be grocery shopping, hiking, cooking, our dance parties, climbing or cuddling up and watching some good ol’ Netflix. We have A LOT of fun together.

Morgan Brechler Hadlie Free Climb Rock Free Lining

Last year you started the Born Wild Project? What is it about?

The Born Wild Project is a film series: we want to share our stories and inspire parents along the way. I feel deeply passionate about the importance of getting outside with your children and want everyone to know how capable they are of living this lifestyle. From the new mom, who has never been on a hike before, to the experienced adventurer.  It will develop more beyond a film series, eventually.

Born Wild Project Hadlie Morgan Brechler Arizona

What are you passionate about?

I find passion in a lot of things. I am passionate about being a mother, a lover, a friend, a human.  My love, Jared, is so passionate about life; I have never met anyone who is so happy, positive and loving. He truly does not give energy into something unless there is a passion that runs deep;  that is something rare.  Most people settle and find contentment in life. With him, life will always be much more than that. As partners, as parents, as friends, as lovers we will always chase our passions together and never settle.

Morgan Brechler Arizona

What inspires you?

I find inspiration in the people I surround myself with. My friends, each and every single one of them are so different. Each on their own personal journey that is amazing, passionate, successful and truly, deeply happy. I am so grateful that I am able to call so many inspiring, creatives my best friends.

Morgan Brechler Yoga in Cave Arizona

What are your dreams for motherhood?

My dreams for motherhood are to simply, be the best mother I can be. Hadlie deserves the world. I dream that I am able to raise her well enough to never doubt herself, to always be filled with self love, love for others and to find her own deep, real passions in life. To be fully, completely, satisfied with the life she was given as a child and for the life she will continue to create on her own, as she grows into a woman.

Morgan Brechler Hadlie Born Wild Arizona

Thank you Morgan! Readers you can find Morgan on Instagram @morganbrechler and over at Born Wild.

Want to find me in other places?

City Adventure: Art, Nature, Seasonal Rhythms and Impermanence

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A variation on this post was originally published on the Enfants Terribles Magazine blog in 2015

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while or following me on Instagram you might remember that the children and I love to go on adventures in the city. For me, it’s a love for walking, wandering, people watching, art spotting and nature gazing. I’ve always been this way. For them, anything called an ‘adventure’ sounds like fun. And so, a few years ago I started taking Ro and Sen on what I call “urban adventures” or “city adventures.”

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Ready for an adventure!

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Aside from feeding my own interest in wandering, I wanted to find an activity that we all enjoyed but that was also active. Going to the parks with the children is great for them, they are doing more physical activity than a football player, however, I usually find myself sitting on a bench or picnic blanket for hours chatting with other parents. Definitely fun and social, but maybe not the best form of daily exercise. And since I have a desk job, I definitely need exercise when I’m not at work.

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Observing Canada Geese from a safe perch

As well, preferring human-powered modes of transit, I wanted to prove to myself, my children, and (yes) maybe friends and family, that you can have adventures and connect with nature simply by walking out your front door, keeping an open mind, and looking for the paths less traveled. Nature isn’t some far off pristine sanctuary, it’s all around us: the air, the sky, the grass growing in sidewalk cracks. And, you definitely don’t need to drive a car to get to adventurous places; with some creativity and an open mind you can make your own adventure anywhere.

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Sand on this side of the canal, snow on the other

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Enjoying the squint!

This might be a good place to explain what an ‘adventure’ is to me. For me, ‘adventures’ don’t happen according to plans. They happen on the margins, or perhaps, as ‘offshoots’ of plans. You set a course, either defined or general, and you see what happens as things unfold. Flexibility is a necessary aspect, and so is openness to the risk of ‘wasting time’ for an opportunity that holds promise.

I want my children to understand that there is an abundance of nature to be found in the city. But if we only ever walked down Main Street or drove to get to the places we visit they might think that we live in a concrete jungle. We don’t need to drive 20 miles to an apple orchard or a petting farm or to a “Nature Path” to spend time in nature, with plants, animals and waterways, these are all within walking distance, if you find the right path.

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I also want my children to develop a broad and flexible understanding of what art is, that art isn’t only hung in galleries. There is an abundance of free art to be found and experienced in the city. There are commemorative statues of people and events that tell the city’s story, and there is illegal art in the form of graffiti that tells the city’s story in another way. And then there is the abundance of performance art, street dancers and performers, buskers, chalk artists, that can usually only be enjoyed by sheer luck of timing. Being out in the city without a schedule of planned activities allows us to pause along the way for as long as we want to enjoy something we’ve found serendipitously.

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Finally, I want Ro and Sen to appreciate unstructured, unplanned activities. These are days where all you have planned is to walk out the front door with a water bottle and snacks, with little idea of where you’ll end up and when you’ll come back home. The day is not curated by a schedule, organized activities and events (or businesses), but thrives on open-endedness.

We live in Ottawa, Canada which experiences a very cold winter (minus 20 Celsius / minus 4 Fahrenheit is totally normal), with lots of snow, so we don’t do a lot of adventuring in the winter. So, when spring time arrives sometime in April, like it did yesterday, we are excited to get out and revisit the paths and favourite spots we haven’t been to since last fall. At this time of year, what the children notice most is the contrast of seasons; their memory of a spot in its fall incarnation and how it looks after a long cold winter. Plants have died or gone dormant, birds and squirrels are not actively working and playing about, and so on. I hope this brings to life a rhythm and broader understanding of the seasons beyond their own perspective of: winter means snow suit and summer means sandals.

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As the spring progresses and flowers start to bloom, we will continue to explore and find new spots, that we can add to our repertoire of wanders. But also, understanding that each path and favourite spot is never the same twice we try to make the most of each experience, savouring the temporary nature of a field of wildflowers or a graffiti wall that will likely change within a week. I am hoping to awaken that sense of living in the moment and appreciating its fleeting nature. Whether it is conscious or not, I hope my children are developing a sense of appreciation for the impermanence of things and that this will prove useful in living a full life.

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Thank you to our kind sponsors for outfitting Ro, Sen and me:

Ro’s dresses by Grain de Chic, removable grey collar by Halo Luxe, laced shoes by Soft Star, slip on shoes by Mikoleon

Sen’s shirts and jacket by Grain de Chic, laced shoes by Mikoleon, sandals by Salt Water Sandals

My dress by Nico Nico Clothing, my mala by Mama Malas

You might also like:

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Ecominimalism: Minimalism and Sustainability Talking with Robin Kay

Top post: Any Occasion, Sustainable Gift Guide for Children

Want to find me in other places?

Brian Hester Less Means More Project with Townes Father Minimalist

Interview with a Minimalist: Brian 

Today, I am excited to share my interview with Brian Hetzer. This space needs more voices from fathers. Not because fathers necessarily have a distinctly different view, some do (and some mothers do too), but because I want this space to feel inclusive, to represent a variety of ways of being that are kind, open, respectful, creative and sustainable, and having only women and mothers speak feels a little exclusive. Having said this, I did not choose Brian for an interview because he is a father, I was drawn to his story, only afterward did I realize he would be the first father to appear on the blog.

Without giving you all the punchlines, let me say you will want to read this whole interview and share it. There are lots of fresh ideas and fresh spins on old ideas. I love Brian’s honesty and openness about the struggles he and his family have faced in living a minimalist lifestyle. First, as a matter of circumstance, then later as a matter of choice. Brian describes his ups and downs, the pull of consumerism, the challenges, real commitment and letting go that it took to realize what was important to him. I know you’ll enjoy!

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Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background? And where are you headed?

I’m Brian, she’s Renae, and this is more than a little about us. Having both worked in and around the skateboard and snowboard industries, we met at Surf Expo in 2004. The day we met, we had bad pizza for lunch, ditched the rest of the afternoon at the tradeshow, and hung out until she dropped me off to catch a redeye back to the Midwest. I told her that night I’d marry her and she laughed at me. Renae had lived in LA [Los Angeles] and SF [San Francisco] prior to our meeting and shortly would be moving to NYC. I was traveling for work, more or less living out of my truck, and about to move to Chicago. We dated for a couple years, never living in the same state until we married. We had a wildly extravagant wedding in Palm Beach, Florida with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

Once married she joined me in Chicago and we settled into a routine of eating out, Renae lurked around the Marc Jacobs store, a lot, and basically excelling in the art of consumption. We look back at the Chicago years now with wonder, what if we’d made different decisions back then when money was fluid and life was fancy free? We were the least likely folks to become minimalists. Renae often joked that her idea of a perfect vacation would be Paris with a credit card, but times have changed and now she’s survived a good bit of hiking and camping in the wilderness, maybe even enjoys it…

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Six months into Renae being pregnant our lives were hit by one of the many aftershocks of an industry in distress. The parent company of the shoe brand I was working for (and had in some capacity been working with for much of the past ten years) laid off a few hundred employees in 2009 and I was one of the many who woke up one day to a phone call and a severance package.

Renae would tell you that when life hands you the bare minimum, you become a minimalist. But we didn’t overnight transform into minimalists. It’s been a long journey, and we haven’t yet arrived at our final destination. We are constantly chipping away at what it looks like to live simply and intentionally. We are carving out the pieces as we go and creating a life that is not only simple but beautiful and full of experiences and adventure. We found shelter from the storm of job loss in Dayton, Ohio in my parents’ home. Townes was born there, we rested for eight months, then felt the strong pull of freedom, independence, and the prospect of getting back to work in skateboarding, the only business I’d known. The mecca of which is southern California, of course, and in short order we loaded up a UHaul with baby and cat in the cab and headed west to find what we had lost.

Our financial circumstances being what they were we couldn’t live anywhere near the coast. We found a small hundred year old hunting cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains and set up a quaint little life. I chopped wood to heat the place and we roughed it for almost two years. During that time we would learn to get by on less than twelve thousand dollars a year. Those were some of the best years of our lives. We learned first hand that less can mean more, all the while minimalism was creeping into our lives unsuspected.

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Somewhere around the two year mark of mountain life I was offered a job with a decent salary in Oceanside, CA. Right away we were ecstatic, we charged ahead and grabbed on to this new lease on life which coincidentally meant a new lease on a home near the ocean. Which came with a much higher price tag. Our new Carlsbad bungalow was a dream. Walking distance to the beach, a beautiful ocean view from the kitchen table, fruit trees, and a Koi fish pond. Life was new and fresh. We thought the glitch in our road had come to an end and smooth sailing would finally be here to stay. That job fizzled out in only six months and reality began to crush down on us. I went back to work as an independent sales rep and we stuck it out for about eighteen months. That’s when the concept of real sustainable freedom started to enter our minds. A life without paying rent or a mortgage, no fear of job loss. A life of real faith.

Together we’re headed towards a more sustainable future for our family, consciously tipping the scale towards time together doing the things we love, and doing things for others that show we love them.

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What are you passionate about? How do you like to spend your time?

First and foremost, family. Also adventuring, snowboarding, hiking, camping, finding a swimming hole, skateboarding, reading, creating, healthy living, geocaching, homeschooling. I cook, ferment things, write (slowly), fool with WordPress, and do the driving. Renae’s background is in graphic design, but she’s really an all around creative type. She loves to do art collaborations with Townes, concoct recipes for me to cook and decorate the space we inhabit. She spends countless hours researching and acquiring knowledge. She’s especially passionate about the Bible and health. I know she has a longing in her heart to get back to the sea and be on a surfboard again. I’m hoping that will become a reality in the next phase of our adventures.
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How many children do you have and what are they like? 

Our son Townes is half past five years old and his current life aspiration is to be The First Good Pirate to Sail the Seven Seas. He’s very thoughtful and deliberate, creative and free spirited but not much of a wild child. Although recently he convinced me to throw him off a ledge into a swimming hole in the Davidson River (Pisgah National Forest, NC), which was out of character and great fun. He soaks up and regurgitates all sorts of interesting knowledge, especially about animals. He has an uncanny natural tendency towards activism and a pioneer’s spirit.

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Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” –Thoreau

“Less is more.” –Mies Van Der Rohe, 1886

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” –Leo Tolstoy, 1828

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” –Thoreau

What is your story? How did you get started on a minimalist path? What drew you to minimalism or what motivated you to become a minimalist? 

We weren’t consciously motivated towards minimalism, it stalked us for years. A wild beast in the brush just outside our sight, stopping to sharpen its claws each time we hit a bump in the road. Once we’d hit enough bumps to finally cause a total breakdown in our lifestyles it pounced and cut us all up. The lifestyle we had built for ourselves simply didn’t work financially and maybe more importantly, we couldn’t get what we wanted out of it. There is little joy in living within walking distance to the ocean when there’s not enough food in the cupboard in order to pack a lunch. Try as we might, we couldn’t make ends meet and had to come up with a new plan. We didn’t read a book on minimalism and start purging ourselves of our worldly goods in pursuit of a more noble way of life. Rather, as our handle states, we’re looking for more in our lives and minimalism is a means to that end, oddly. We hatched a long term plan and put it into action quickly. A little over a year ago we started with garage sales, craigslist, ebay, donations, and any other means necessary to minimize our possessions and lighten the load that would need to be moved out of our Carlsbad, CA bungalow. Although we still have some downsizing to do, we packed out of our home using two 336 cubic foot moving containers, well under half the space of the fully loaded truck we moved in with. Based now in southern Ohio, our income hasn’t changed much but with expenses drastically lower we’ve enjoyed more traveling in the past year than we’d managed to do in the prior three or four years combined.

imageI believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you?

For us it means finding ways to live with less so that we can experience more. It means foregoing (as long as is feasible) a career path that keeps me from my family. Since the thought is bound to cross some readers’ minds, I’ll clarify that I didn’t just say that I’ve co-opted minimalism as justification for being broke and lazy. I am however certain that living minimally allows for the option to spend more time with the ones I love and less time working for the weekend. If we keep the overhead low, financial resources go further and I’m not trading as much time for paper. It must be different for everyone, but when we eliminate something we can live without, we rarely (if ever?) find ourselves in want of it down the road.

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Why do you identify as a minimalist? In what ways are you a minimalist?

In the food we eat, the things we buy, how we spend our time, the choices we make, we look to trade quantity for quality. More isn’t better. Better is better.

Are there people you look to as role models?

The closest I can come to identifying role models would be the friends and family that have looked after and pushed us along. We have friends back in California that gave us gifts that we’ll never be able to repay, and family that has supported us whether they agreed with or understood our motives. There’s a verse in the Bible from the book of Luke that reads “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” We look forward to being able to give in the way these wonderful people have given to us. One day our choices will enable us to in some small way reflect the love and generosity we’ve felt from these folks.

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Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?

A short list would have to include the likes of OurOpenRoad.com, Bumfuzzle.com, BenHewitt.net, Foster Huntington, Jedidiah Jenkins, BecomingMinimalist.com, Tolstoy, Thoreau, and Ed Abbey.

In what ways/areas do you struggle with maintaining your minimalist goals/values? What is your weakness? 

Our kid and toys! We know better but it’s not easy always saying no to the kid. I do the cooking in our family and I need my kitchen gear. We’re not much for the “this one does it all!” type appliances so I tend to want to add nice, specific pieces from time to time.

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Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

We honestly couldn’t be more thankful to our family and close friends who have been nothing short of a blessing to us throughout the transitions and struggles of the last few years.

Have you had any positive or constructive experiences with friends or family related to minimalism?

I feel as though we haven’t gotten there yet. Our journey towards minimalism is still ongoing, we have such grand plans for the next year or so. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to influence or impact others through the choices we make.

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In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

Humility and simplicity. We’ve learned a lot about each.

What have been some unexpected experiences you’ve had with minimalism?

Community. Thanks to instagram and the like we’re in touch with, and get to peek into the lives of so many families, individuals, and friends that we’ve never met because of common threads like minimalism, travel, or health. One thing we’ve not minimized is our data plan…

What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

Minimalism doesn’t have to mean a kneejerk reaction and a firesale of all your worldly goods in an effort to somehow cleanse. It can be small steps that allow more time/ money/ resources for something you’re without. It’s not in the cards for everyone with a mortgage and the trappings of life to just pack it in and move into an RV or a treehouse. But for folks that find that a combination of things like career, bills, kids’ activities, social calendar, etc restrains from enjoying life, simplification can be eye and heart opening.

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Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

Our ultimate goal at this point, the next step, is to fund, find and build out an over the road bus. That’s our Mount Everest. It’s our ideal version of a (not quite) Tiny House. We envision a forty foot WVO powered life on wheels, spreading the joy of how Less really can mean More. Volunteering, educating our child in the real world, seeing it all, together.

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Thank you Brian for sharing your story so honestly and openly. Readers, you can find Brian on Instagram @lessmeansmoreproject and on his website www.lessmeansmoreproject.com

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? These are monthly learning capsules for children and their families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code: HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off and read more about it here.

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

 

Slow Living Project: Explore

What an incredible first month for the Slow Living Project. Thank you to everyone who contributed photos to the #slowliving_explore hashtag. Melanie and I have been positively overwhelmed by your interest and excitement for the project and for living a slower, more intentional lifestyle, and hugely inspired by your photographs and the moments you captured.

At our last check, there were over 850 photos under the hashtag. We never expected this level of participation a few weeks ago when we first shared the idea with you. Needless to say, it was quite a task (with lots of enjoyment) to look through the photos. We reviewed each and everyone one, and came up with about 70 photos we absolutely loved. We eliminated a few based on the fact that some were too similar (family on the beach, person on a rock), because we wanted to share the greatest variety of moments. Please know that our selections are only a sample of the beauty and inspiration to be found when you explore the hashtag. We applaud everyone’s contributions!

Ultimately, I chose my favourites based on how well the image captured the theme of ‘explore’ but in a slow living way, where the subjects were living in the moment, connected to the earth in spirit or literally with their bare hands, feet and skin. Exploring in both a mental and physical sense. If you don’t see your photograph here, please continue to participate, we hope to find new and inspiring photos and photographers each month.

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Rida @ridasj

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Sharlene @warnjai

Once again, thank you to everyone who participated and congratulations to those who were selected for my post and Melanie’s. Thank you to the friends, bloggers, shops and others who shared this project with their friends and family, we really appreciate the support and hope that this community will grow each month.

The theme for September is CREATE, using the hashtag #slowliving_create. We hope you will find interesting ways to capture creativity and creation in the everyday. Slow down and notice those moments, create them and share them. Please join us by adding the hashtag #slowliving_create to your photos that fit the theme. At the end of the month, Melanie and I will select our favourites to share on Instagram and on our blogs. We can’t wait to see what you create!

To find out more about the project see my post Slow Living Project and Melanie’s post Join In With Your Slow Living Moments.

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Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

 

Slow Living Project

Slow living.

If you know me from Instagram or in real life, it’s no surprise that I am drawn to slow living. It’s probably a combination of my natural disposition and a reaction to the pace of my day job, which is hustled and unpredictable.

I’m not sure if there’s a gold-stamped definition of the term, but I know what it means to me. Slow living is about being present in the moment. That’s about it. Sounds simple, right? It is. And yet, it isn’t. Our minds race forward and back through time to what we are doing later today, to our to do list, to a conversation we had last week, to an article we want to finish reading. In body, we are always here, but in mind and spirit, we are quite often busy time travellers.

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For the past few years, I have been working to slow down and be present, especially when I am with my children and family, this means connecting with the moment, focusing my attention there, and enjoying exactly where I am. This has allowed me to put my whole heart and mind into what I’m living now. I think it has been a very good thing for my own sense of calm and for my connection with family and friends.

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In the last few months I made an acquaintance with the lovely Melanie from Geoffrey & Grace. Melanie has a beautiful Instagram gallery of images featuring her young daughter, time in nature and at home. You can also find her writing about life over on her blog. I’m excited to be collaborating with Melanie on a year long hashtag project around the theme of slow living. The project officially launched last week, you can read Melanie’s post about it here. But since I was away on vacation I’m getting around to my post…slowly.

For the project, there will be a monthly hashtag focused on slow living. Over the course of the year we want to look at all the different ways we can bring a slow living approach to our lives, through the seasons and holidays, in the home and outdoors, with family and friends. For the month of August, we are focusing on the word ‘explore’ and what this might mean in terms of slow living.

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What we are looking for is your participation in this hashtag by posting photographs to Instagram that fit this theme for you. We hope you will join us and share the project with friends too. At the end of each month we will choose our favourites moments to share. If you’d like to be considered for a selection please use the hashtag #slowliving_explore and tag Melanie @geoffreyandgrace and me @hippieindisguise. At the beginning of each month we will announce the next theme.

We hope this will help us all slow down a little more and enjoy the fleeting moments we live each day with a more open and full presence. If you’d like to see some of the photographs already posted you can click here. I’ve been blown away by all the beautiful moments shared already. This project is going to be pretty great!

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Interview with a Minimalist: Carina

There is so much goodness in this interview that I just don’t know where to start. Carina, who I’ve interviewed before for my Inspiring Mothers series, is a minimalist and mother of two. She is an artist who paints and illustrates, and also works in arts outreach. Her story is particularly inspiring because it was a significant life event that brought about an “aha” moment. In that moment all that was truly important to her became crystal clear. I love that while years have passed since her epiphany it’s effect hasn’t grown dim. She has managed to continue to draw from this experience in order to cultivate a life of purpose, enjoyment, adventure, and fun. A life filled to the brim with moments and memories. There are so many nuggets of wisdom packed into her answers, read slowly and enjoy!

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Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What are you passionate about? How do you like to spend your time?

My name is Carina. I am passionate about the arts and the outdoors, and making memories around these two things with my family. I am a big advocate for accessible art experiences, supporting local creatives and businesses, and connecting communities. I adore painting and illustration, and encouraging my kids’ love of art, stories, and adventure. We are lucky to live so close to the ocean, the mountains, and everything in between. We all love camping, my husband fly fishes, and my kids and I are crazy about surfing. I’m also passionate about the community of rad women that my bestie Bree and I have connected with through our west coast lifestyle site www.peaksandharbours.com.

How many children do you have and what are they like?

I have two children, and they are so wonderfully different from each other.

My daughter Finn is 9 years old, with a blanket of long dark hair, usually under a wide-brimmed hat and framed by long feather earrings. She is a fast-friend-maker, an incredibly observant girl, and can often be found blissfully reading and writing stories. Appropriately, she wants to be both a published author and an actor (“they don’t call them actresses anymore mom”).

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My son Augustus (Gus) is a cheerful, golden-haired sweetheart. He loves to choreograph dance videos, and is happily curious about everything from how the body works, to the life-cycle of plants and animals. He is a cuddler, and feels things deeply, especially when he thinks that a friend has been wronged – he will always come to your rescue! He adores his sister Finn. And when she gives him the time of day, he is on cloud nine.

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What part of the world do you live in?

I live in Vancouver,  in an area of the city called Mount Pleasant – very aptly named. It’s an idyllic little urban community, where I also work, where my children go to school, and where we spend time with friends. I love that we are able to be so local and connected in a big city. I grew up in a very tiny town, and it reminds me of that way of life – minus the horses tethered to the school fence and the tractors parked in driveways.

Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?

There is no certainty; there is only adventure.” – Roberto Assagioli

Change is constant, and once you realize that it’s exciting, not scary, you can embrace it once it happens, and enjoy the ride – or least see the importance of some of those journeys of learning.

Good for her, not for me.” – Amy Poehler, Yes Please

Everyone has their own way of doing things that work for them, and that’s wonderful. It doesn’t mean that we have to feel bad if it doesn’t work for us.

You are an artist, what inspires your work? Do you have issues with keeping the amount of art supplies you have in check?

That is a tough one! My art has changed so much over the years. When I was doing my first degree years ago, I was working in photography, and soundscapes with video and audio installations. Yes, super avant garde stuff – ha! I really felt like I needed to be loud and cinematic so people could hear what I was trying to say, which had a lot to do with being a new mother, and trying to define who this new person was that I had become. I realize now that I can be a mother, and also be an individual at the same time, and that being ambitious doesn’t mean that I am a bad parent.

Currently, I am back to the drawing and painting I fell in love with as a child, but with more experience (both in years and technique). I love the ‘low-fi” – ness of it. I don’t need a large desk of technical equipment to create a painting or illustration.

In terms of my own art supplies, my style is quite minimal (how appropriate!), and I do keep my art supplies minimal as well. I will not buy another palette of watercolours until something has actually run out, and I won’t stock up on ten versions of a similar paintbrush; because I just don’t need it. I do find it hard when I’m actually in an art supply store – I always get that surge of excitement of all the possibilities. However, I have enough experience to now know that if I surround myself with too much, I get overwhelmed with choices, and will not allow myself to fully commit to one project. This rings true for me in finishing a painting, and also in other areas of my life.

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I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you?

I would say that minimalism is a way of life for me. It’s not just about living materially small in our 750 square foot apartment, but also how our little family approaches life. Maybe a few examples might be the best way to answer:

  • When I find myself feeling anxious about the week’s tasks, errands, etc. I start to look for the path of least resistance.  I am working on saying “no” more often and accepting that when I am stressed out at all the things I need to do, it’s because I chose to do them. So if I can cancel some unnecessary meetings downtown, or find gymnastics classes for Gus closer to home so we’re not driving across town three times a week after work, that keeps things simpler and less stressful.
  • I rarely bring in something new into our home unless it is really going to make us smile – like a local artist’s work, or a carefully curated collection of shells the kids have found at the beach. I try to buy local and sustainable as much as possible, and I pare down anything that has too many multiples. I take things to consign or to the thrift store at least once each season. There’s no need to have more than four towels in our tiny linen closet, and the kids don’t need 16 pairs of socks each.
  • When thinking about how to spend our money, after all the bills are paid, we always look to what experiences we want to have, not what things we want to buy. Cyrus ties his own flies for fishing, and will update a rod or reel. I recently was able to get my own wetsuit for surfing, and one day hope to have my own board. The kids really want to go to Playland this summer, and have a goal to do that at the end of August. More traditional activities can be expensive in Vancouver, so when we’re all on board with saving money to achieve these goals, it makes it exciting to have something to look forward to and more meaningful when you get there.

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What is your story? How did you get started on a minimalist path? What drew you to minimalism or what motivated you to become a minimalist?

I have always been a fan of simple living, but my two big leaps into minimalism were when my husband and I separated, and when I took a trip to India.

When I finished my Master’s Degree in 2011, my husband and I separated for 2 ½ years. It was hard and painful, but also a really powerful experience. When we split our things, I realized that the only thing I wanted were the pictures of the kids, and the only thing I needed was a home to raise my kids in.  Nothing else mattered. What I also quickly discovered though was how much I needed my friends and my family. I have always been a fast-friend-maker (like Finn), but I was floored by how the good people around me rallied without judgement, helped dry my tears, fill my cupboards, and made me feel whole again. That was an important time in my life for sure. I learned how resilient I was, how everyone has a story, and how love truly is all you need. Happily, we are all together again, and we both had similar epiphanies about how we wanted to live as a family – and we haven’t looked back!

In 2012, I took a trip to India to do research on art and architecture there for my PhD. When I got there, all the naivety I had about being a worldly traveller went right out the window and I went into full culture shock. It is a country that continuously saturates every sense to a dizzying level. I saw very small children, barely clothed and dirty, that were so hungry they were peeling paint off buildings to eat. You quickly realize just how fortunate you are by accident of where you are born. I also saw a lot of happiness in India, from children who had almost nothing. Their delight in finding a bridge to jump off into cooling waters filled the air with laughter and joy. It is easy to see in such a place of contrast how unnecessary all our extra things are, and how fortunate we are to have access to simple amenities and health care.

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Are there people you look to as minimalist role models?

I think that I inherited some of that Scandinavian minimalism from my Swedish father. He was always big on saving for our trips to Sweden to visit family, and we went on many camping and road trips as a family. My childhood was filled with amazing adventures, and I am so thankful for that. I’ve also been influenced by my thoughtful Italian mother, who always emphasizes keeping things that bring you joy, and discarding things that do not – especially when those things are attached to a past you need to get rid of.

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Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?

I have read The Minimalists, and The Japanese Art of Tidying, both interesting books but I am still waiting for someone to come out with a book that addresses how to be minimalist with children, and without a huge cash reserve that allows you to immediately drop your daytime job without worrying about putting food on the table.

I love Alison Mazurek, who lives right here in Vancouver with her adorable little boy in a 600 square foot apartment about 4 blocks away from me!  She has her own blog www.600sqft.com and is also a contributor to Peaks & Harbours. She has a similar mindset in that she takes to the outdoors when things feel small, and focuses on quality local goods over a quantity of “things.”

In what ways/areas do you struggle with maintaining your minimalist goals/values? What is your weakness?

Books! Both for myself and for the kids. I’m trying to be better at going to the library for my reading fix, and encouraging the kids to do the same. It’s a work-in-progress!

Does your household abide by minimalism or is this more a focus for yourself? Why?

I think we all abide by minimalism. We do not purchase toys or extra gadgets for our kids unless it’s a birthday, or Christmas, etc. Pokemon was a big craze for them a few months ago, and they saved their money and bought all their Pokemon card packs and binders themselves. Of course, we will help them here and there with allowance money. When Gus decided he was not interested anymore in his Thomas the Tank Engine set a couple of years ago, he took pictures of them all lined up, put them on Craigslist, boxed them up, and handed them over to the guy that bought them (He was four!). He beamed with pride, and took that money to get his first Star Wars Lego kit. I do find that they are less and less interested in amassing the newest trendy toy. I think Gus has more money saved in his piggy bank than I do! Because he’s not sure what he wants to spend it on, and so he doesn’t. Finn will always buy more books, but we will also go to the library, because her piggy bank just can’t keep up with her insatiable appetite for more stories.

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Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

Honestly, it’s been such a positive experience that I can’t think of any time that we’ve come into conflict about it. Once and a while, the kids briefly lament that other parents have bought their kids an entire American Doll set complete with a giant wardrobe, and I say how nice that is, and how if it’s that important we can work towards it. More often than not, the novelty quickly wears off and they forget they ever asked for it.

Have you had any positive or constructive (or negative) experiences with friends or family related to minimalism?

I have had nothing but positive experiences! When people come over, if they are parents I usually find them peeking into a doorway wondering if I’ve hid the kids’ toys there – ha! They are amazed, and then excited, that our small apartment is so light and welcoming, without it wanting anything.

In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

I think that when you pare down the extraneous things, you live your life more honestly and genuinely. An example I would give is when I finally gave away all my textbooks from university that I knew I was only keeping to be impressive. I had so many books that I had on display because I felt like they represented all my years of hard work, and would show visitors how educated I was. I think it was really me feeling unsure of myself. When I finally admitted that I was probably never again going to pick up that 1000 page book on psychoanalytical theories, or the multi-volume text on Ancient Greek political systems, what was left was a real representation of who I was and what I actually found interesting. Books on art, funny stories, and beautiful illustrations. It feels amazing, and I don’t mind whether visitors notice that or not.

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What have been some unexpected experiences you’ve had with minimalism?

I am a less anxious person after really embracing minimalism. I used to struggle with anxiety in my early to late twenties. When things become pared down at home, and I focused on positive relationships, I became more confident in myself and the anxiety just melted away. It’s an ongoing process for sure, but I can definitely say that myself and my children, we are all much more chill and content living this way.

What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

If you haven’t used something in a year, chances are you’re never going to use it. When I’ve felt overwhelmed with picking through the kids’ things (especially the bits of impossibly tiny accessories for toys), I will dump an entire drawer that they haven’t opened in a while, into a tupperware bin with a lid, and stow it away for a few months. They never ask where those things have gone. And when I feel like it’s been long enough, I organize things out into thrift store and consignment store, and they will get the money from their toys.

Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

My big goal that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now – but am finally in a place to attack it, is creating albums out of pictures of the kids’ artwork. When you live in a small space, it’s tough to store pieces of different sizes without crushing and damaging them, and it’s hard to pull out an enormous box and go through it in a way that doesn’t create a giant mess. My goal is to take pictures of their favourites, and make them into a book. This way they can look at them easily, show them to friends, and be proud of their work for years to come.

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Thank you Carina! Readers: you can find Carina on Instagram @carinamarienilsson; on her outstanding lifestyle site www.peaksandharbours.com; or her personal site www.carinamarienilsson.com.

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Urban Adventures or Wanderlust with Kids

With spring weather around the corner, the children and I are getting excited for our first urban adventure of the year. We’re pedestrians year round, walking almost everywhere we travel to in the city; however, in the cold weather months the walking is more for the purpose of transportation than it is an activity unto itself. In the winter we walk with a destination in mind. In the spring, summer and fall, walking is the destination. Wander, weave, flounder and flow, the streets, alleys and parks around us form a patchwork of sights, sounds, smells and sensations underfoot.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve craved walking: wandering without purpose throughout the city, the countryside, just exploring and waiting for the unexpected to present itself. I suppose I had wanderlust, though I certainly hadn’t heard of the term when I was a young teen who wished to spend her off hours wandering aimlessly, rather than shopping or hanging out at coffee shops. It seems wrong to say “aimlessly” or “without purpose;” certainly the walking restocked my energies and delivered inspiration by way of silhouettes, architecture, graffiti, street performers, weeds growing rampant under a loading dock.

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Sen’s rabbit tee by KLT works and organic harem pants by Mini Mioche

Aside from wanderlust, my environmental preoccupations motivate me to move around in the least harmful way I can. Using my own motor is not only healthy for me, but healthier for the planet. When I met my husband, Matt, he was similarly disenchanted with moving himself through space using anything other than his own body as a motor. He loved to explore and find new spots in the city and its rural outskirts. However, he wanted to move and explore by bicycle. He had no interest in going for an after dinner walk, or leaving an hour early for school so we could take a meandering detour to get to class. We spent many years separately doing our own after dinner ritual. Now after a decade or so I’ve worn him down…or rather he’s learned to love a good wander. He still rides his bicycle at least three times a day though!

We live in the downtown of our city, so there is a lot to discover within walking distance. And by walking distance, I mean we can walk somewhere (at a child’s pace) in 2 to 3 hours or less. Most often, we spend more time getting somewhere than the time we actually spend there, because the walk is just as enjoyable. This ‘breaks’ the common rule that when you drive on a trip somewhere you need to spend at least triple the time there to make the ‘car time’ worth it. Unless, of course, you are a road tripper, and the drive is the destination. But I digress….

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Sen’s monochrome rainbow tee by Sweet Luka Mo

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One of the first thoughts I had when I learned I was pregnant was that I would have a new excuse to spend hours wandering the city while pushing my baby in the pram — which is a very common way to ‘nap’ your child where we lived at the time. As my children got older I wanted to find a way to nurture a love for wandering, admittedly to serve my own interests, but also because I think there is a lot to learn from wandering. Both learning from the space in which you wander, but also to learning about ourselves. Wandering cultivates a sense of curiosity in and reverence for the mundane, which I think are necessary capacities to develop and nurture, particularly in a fast-paced and over-stimulated world. I could go on and on about all the positive things that wandering teaches us, but I will save some for future posts, since I’ll be posting about our urban adventures over the coming weeks and months. (I need to save some goodies so you’ll come back for more!)

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While off with the children for a few weeks during the last two summers, we would alternate days at the pool park, with a picnic to last us the day, and days wandering the city. At first, Ro would ask “when will be there?” She was focused on a particular destination: the river, the bakery, the gallery. But over time, she began to enjoy the walks themselves and became a more keen observer, looking down streets and alleys, finding dirt paths that could be interesting, and taking an interest in leading us toward discovery.

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Sen’s owl raglan by Pop Kids USA and organic striped leggings by Sweet Luka Mo

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For Sen, being much younger, he still very much lives in the moment, so he enjoyed the wandering and didn’t expect to “get somewhere.” He especially enjoyed our walks when I called them adventures. “What will we discover today, Sen?” I found it really helped, for both children, to give them a few things to look for: a flower they’ve never seen before, a sculpture, a spot for a picnic. It gave them an orientation for the walk and raised their sense of observation. As the summer went on, they no longer needed prompts from me, they would just let loose and see what struck their fancy as they walked along a sidewalk or path. I was very happy to see they had come to love wandering. So much so, that at times I found myself trying to usher them along more quickly, for they wished to stop to greet every snail crossing the sidewalk or count all the different varieties of wild flower on a hill — not to mention the childhood classic: picking up every single stick to bring home. Perhaps I’d gotten a little too much of a good thing going. But seriously, I couldn’t fault the activity of letting children roam, discovering, spending endless hours outdoors, learning the map of their city through the movements of their own body. We have gotten to a point where can be a great distance from home and Ro can always lead us back. And Sen can lead us about half the time. As a parent of urban children, I think it is a great asset for a young child to know how to navigate the city themselves.

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All in all, I’m pretty happy that my children enjoy my favourite pastime. But more importantly, I see the great benefits wandering provides them. Chief among these is appreciation for the path as much as the destination, which brings about the potential to reframe everything we do.

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Sen’s organic leggings by Mini Mioche

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