Our Cycling Lifestyle: Bikes and Bonding { with Brooklyn Bicycle Company }

Danielle Chassin Matt Surch Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

All photos in this post were taken by Zara XOVELO

 

When I was pregnant for the first time and sharing the news with friends and family a common refrain emerged: “Congratulations! So, I guess this means you guys will have to get a car?” Matt and I have been riding bikes for a long time. We are bike people. We didn’t want to get a car – for a long list of reasons: health, low environmental impact, low cost, simplicity – and we hoped that we could continue our happy bicycle lifestyle with a child in tow. We lived in an urban setting and planned to do our best to remain car free. We got a bicycle trailer outfitted with an infant sling, later we upsized to a long bike for our growing girl, and later to a trail-a-bike. Then Ro got her own bike and was pedalling around with us wherever we needed to go: groceries, ballet rehearsal, birthday parties, family reunions.

When I was pregnant for the second time and sharing the surprise with friends and family a common refrain emerged: “That’s great news! Well, now you will really need to get a car!” If managing to work outside the home and do all of life’s tasks without a car and with a child seemed unduly difficult (did I mention 5 months of snowy Canadian winter?), doing this with two children appeared to be downright impossible to most, and at the very least borderline extreme. We decided to carry on with our bicycle lifestyle and see how we could get on.

Danielle Chassin with Sen Brooklyn Bicycle Company Zara XOVELO

As it turned out we managed just fine. In fact, we realized we much preferred not having a car. When Sen, our second, was around 2 and a half our good friends decided to move to Bali (lucky them!) and so they offered us their car at a very good price. While we hadn’t wished for a car, we figured this was a really generous offer and that maybe having a car would be useful. We knew ourselves well enough that we wouldn’t just start driving everywhere we used to walk or bike simply for the fact that we could drive. Indeed, I didn’t have a driving license and did not plan on getting one. So, essentially the car was there for us to do camping trips, where, in the past, we would have rented a car, and for Matt to offer rides to friends and family on special occasions. We also used it a few times in the city to pick up materials from the home store (lumber, etc) or large grocery trips in the winter months.

Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

The thing is riding in a car just wasn’t fun. It was often faster, sometimes more convenient, but just never felt right. When we drove places we didn’t have the same sorts of experiences, the same conversations, the same interactions with our surroundings, the same connection with nature. The same quality, that is. We were starting to feel disenchanted with the car. It was an ongoing expense from gas, to repairs, to insurance. It seemed to take more than it gave. Whereas our bikes, which we’d been riding for over a decade were a pleasure, they gave back in terms of health and fitness, enjoyment of our time and movement through space, and it bonded us as a family. I can’t say that car rides, perhaps with the exception of road trips, often bond people. Travelling by bike as a family whether for pleasure or purpose always seemed to energize us, whether physically from the exercise or mentally from the time spent in nature, even while on city streets and paths, with the wind hitting our faces, snow flakes landing on our cheeks, puddles splashing us, sun warming our backs, there was something invigorating about this daily family experience with the elements. As it turned out, our car bit the dust soon after our disenchantment began, and so we happily returned to our biking ways (which, full disclosure: involves the occasional use of a car from the car share co-op).

Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

Around this same time, I heard in a podcast (I wish I could remember which one) that researchers had found that the average time spent in conversation between children and their parents (who work outside the home) is 5 minutes a day. 5 MINUTES. I was shocked! It seemed that for a variety of reasons parents mostly just gave instructions to their children (“wake up” “finish your breakfast” “don’t forget your lunch”) and didn’t engage in conversation – there was no time left in the busy days for quality talk. I wondered whether this was true for us, it felt very far from our reality, but at the same time I wondered how close we were to this statistic — sometimes we are not the most objective observers when it comes to self-observation. So, I paid attention to our talk for the next few days. I quickly realized that our time on bikes – commuting to school and work, riding to ballet class, picking up food at the market – provided over an hour a day of quality conversation at a minimum. This seemingly small realization – even after knowing that cycling is great for our health and the health of the planet – solidified my commitment to live a bicycle lifestyle. The health of our family, our connection and bond, was being strengthened as a beautiful side effect of pedalling instead of driving. When it takes you longer to get somewhere and when you can choose a scenic or safe pathway, you are given the time and opportunity to connect more with the world you are passing through and with the people you are travelling with. Simply put, moving at a slower pace makes it easier to notice things as you move through space, it provides opportunity to talk about life, and to make memories together through the mundane.

Before we had children riding bikes was important to us, it felt like a gentle political statement, a commitment to our values: health, environment, adventure and community. We are happy that as parents we were able to stand by these values and raise our children in a way that did not require compromise. Indeed, when we did compromise life just wasn’t as fun or as healthy for any of us.

One evening this past spring Sen decided he wanted to ride a two-wheel bike. We hadn’t pushed this on him at all, in fact, we hadn’t offered him the opportunity to try. We were quite happy towing him along on our family trips around the city. The two-wheel bike we had for him hadn’t been ridden in about 5 years, the tires were deflated and the saddle was loose. Matt wasn’t home and I’m a little hopeless with tools so our kind neighbour pumped up the tires and we took the bike down to the pond at the end of our street so he could pedal on grass. I had bargained for an hour or so of falls and tears, but to my surprise after a few false starts he pedalled off and around the park. Ro and I could not believe our eyes! Since then he’s been keen to ride his bike everyday, including waking up early to ride his bike before school and to try to join Matt for his 6:30 am fitness ride.

A few days later as we all biked over to the grocery store, each on our own bike for the first time ever, Sen said: “Guys, now I’m really part of the family. I can bike all on my own!” Matt, Ro and I looked at him and at each other and felt our hearts swell. We were a family, and our bonds were tight, thanks in no small part to our bicycle lifestyle.

Danielle Chassin Matt Surch Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

Ro and Sen wear organic linen wear from Four'emki and my kimono is from Amae.Co

Ro and Sen wear organic linens from Four’eMki and my kimono is from Amae.Co

 

Since Sen is mostly independent biking now (at least for short trips) I finally had the opportunity to get myself a bike that suited just me. For the last decade I’ve pedalled utilitarian bikes that attach to a bike trailer or some other gadget. I’d been eyeing the Dutch-inspired city bikes and found the Brooklyn Bicycle Company. I settled on the Willow 3 model, a three-speed, which is adequate for most city riding. I was excited to see that they offered vegan-friendly saddles and grips, and that the aesthetic was classic. I especially loved the angled top tube so that I could ride it with a dress. On top of this, they offer a monthly payment plan so you don’t have to have all the money up front.

I’ve now had the bike for a month and I love it. It’s so comfortable to ride and it’s stylish too. The only problem is that Ro wants it for herself and with her being almost as tall as me I can see some lively family bonding over who gets to ride it in our future!

Danielle Chassin Sen Hippie in Disguise Zara XOVELO Brooklyn Bicycle Co

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My delightful friend Zara took all the photos in this post. Zara is a photographer and cycling fashion writer, she maintains the superb online magazine XOVELO. Please go take a look and find her on Instagram too @xoveloxo.

If a Brooklyn Bicycle sounds like something you’d love to know more about visit them online here and on Instagram @brooklynbikeco.

Please leave a comment or question below if you’d like to know more specifics about my Brooklyn Bike or how to incorporate biking into your life more, I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years so I’ve got lots of tips.

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

Label Love: Mikoleón Sustainable Shoes + Clothing — and a Giveaway!

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Growing up our family always had what it needed, but certainly there was no money to spare or to spend on being fashionable. Our clothes were most often second hand or sewn by my mother, and when we did buy new things we had to be price conscious.  Shoes, however, were one thing that my mother would not spare expense on. She always said her children had to have good shoes — for the health of the foot, not for the sake of fashion. She bought us sensible shoes that fit well and since we only had one pair of shoes at a time, they would be shoes we could do anything in: climb trees, walk to school, play sports, and so on. When my sister, who was the fanciest little toddler you will ever meet (she went through a phase where she couldn’t be seen in public without a bridal veil), wanted fancy shoes my mother found a local shoemaker who made my sister Mary Janes that were functional and fancy (of course this was long before the online shopping era, so my mother had to locally source shoes, a good thing for sure).

I carried my mother’s concern for healthy foot development forward as a parent and have always done my best to outfit Ro and Sen’s feet with quality shoes that would let their feet breath and develop in a healthy manner. With Sen and Ro growing like weeds over the winter (I love weeds, by the way) I needed new shoes for both of them this spring. I had the good fortune of getting them handmade shoes from Mikoleón, which, by the way, have proven to be exceptional quality.

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Mikoleón is a small company making children’s clothing and footwear. The production ethics are outstanding: their clothing is made from up-cycled fabrics, 100% cotton, chemical free, dye free, fair trade, reduced CO2, sustainable and handmade. Their shoes are handmade by cobblers in traditional slow production methods. The leather is processed in an eco-friendly and sustainable way. With all this production goodness I wanted to share more about the company with my readers (this is not a sponsored post!), so I asked Cony, the woman behind the company, if she might indulge me in an interview. She said yes and offered to do a giveaway too — yay!  I don’t encourage frequent or conspicuous consumption, but do take note of Mikoleón for the next time you need to buy some beautiful ethically made children’s clothing and footwear. And make sure to read to the end of the post to see how you can win something from Mikoleón.

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Cony, could you tell me a little bit about yourself, the person behind Mikoleón. What is your background?

I’m a mom of 5 and now grandmother to 14 beautiful grandkids including triplets! I’m an entrepreneur at heart! I love the idea of creating something and watch it blossom…I like to figure things out; I’m fascinated and obsessed with anything related to textiles and natural fibers; and I’m committed to living a green life as much as I can!

How would you describe Mikoleón in 5 words?

A brand with a conscience.

Why did you choose Mikoleón for your brand name? What does it mean?

A Mikoleón is a Kinkajou also known as “honey bear,” but not an endangered species…yet. They are native to the jungles of Central and South America, they eat fruits and live among trees. Mikoleón in Spanish means monkey-lion, and for us, it was the perfect name to describe the soul inside our company.

What inspired you to start designing shoes and clothing?

I wish I could say that my dream was to be a fashion designer! But the real reason is…I saw an opportunity to help people in Guatemala with sustainable jobs and that combined with my love of textiles sealed the deal! I was in awe of their craftsmanship and desire to have a better life. I couldn’t deny the opportunity.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to be a mom. Now that I’m one, I want to someday write a children’s book about love.

Craftsmanship and sustainability are important to you. How do you translate these into your designs and their production?

Even though we have skilled artisans, there’s always a learning curve to produce high quality products for them. Training our employees to understand the level of quality we want is imperative and essential to our production. We strive to make products that are simple in design and that showcase our specialty fabrics.

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Where are Mikoleón shoes made and clothing is sewn? What is your relationship with the seamstresses?

Our shoes and clothes are made in Antigua, Guatemala. Our seamstresses and cobblers are skilled women and men that were in great need of a job to provide for their families. We were just lucky to find them…and have the chance to help them.

Our fair wage policy goes beyond what the local Guatemalan government considers a fair wage. Our in-house employees enjoy all the benefits the laws in Guatemala require, such as medical, social security, maternity leave, and vacation benefits. In addition, Guatemala laws require that you pay your employees for 14 months of wages but they actually work only 11 months! Twice a year they get paid for two months of work while working only one.

We take much pride to say that we pay fair prices for their goods.

What’s special about the materials you use? And your production methods?

Our denim is up-cycled. Basically, we collect new waste materials from the denim factories in Guatemala, and transform it back into threads; we then use the up-cycled threads to make new woven and knit fabrics. This saves a tremendous amount of water in the manufacturing process compared to traditional new fabrics.

We consider ourselves a slow fashion company, meaning, each piece is done in small quantities as needed. We don’t have a factory, I like to think of it more as a sewing shop, and much like a seamstress or tailor shop would be here in the USA. We buy raw materials from ISO certified factories (ISO 9000), and we are always mindful of the environmental impact of our production methods.

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What has made you the most proud of what you’re doing?

Being able to empower our employees to believe in themselves and their worth; and second would be, knowing that we are providing our customers with products that make them feel good while making conscious fashion choices.

Do you plan to expand the line?  What’s next for Mikoleón?

For now, we just want to educate consumers about the beauty of natural fibers, up-cycling, and the negative impact on our environment and the real cost of fast fashion.

When you are all caught up on work, what do you love to do?

I love a cup of chai tea, sitting on my back porch and staring at our beautiful Rocky Mountains, reminding myself how lucky I am for the chance to love my little tribe!

 

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Thank you Cony! Readers you can find Mikoleón’s online shop here and follow them on Instagram @mikoleonkids

Mikoleon wants to giveaway a $100 gift card and a Nena & Co Mini Clutch to one of my readers! …Details below

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Example of a Nena & Co Mini Clutch shown above **If you are curious about Nena & Co, you can read about them here

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Sen calls his Mikoleon shoes his “Adventure Boots” — according to him the side pocket is meant to hold treasures collected while adventuring, I’m pretty sure he’s got that one right!

To enter the giveaway, visit my Instagram account (rules are explained there too) and make sure to:

  • Follow @mikoleonkids
  • Follow me @hippieindisguise
  • Like and comment on the giveaway photo to confirm your entry
  • For extra entries: Tag friends in the comments. Please separate each friend into a different comment so that it is easier for me to make the ballots:) No limit to number of friends tagged.
  • For an extra entry: Sign up for Mikoleón’s mailing list (and BONUS you’ll get a 20% off coupon sent to your inbox!)

Contest closes Sunday May 1st, 2016 at 3:00 pm NYC standard time and is open worldwide. The winner will be announced on Instagram on Sunday May 1st after 4:00 pm. Good luck friends!

You might also like my post:

Reincarnating Traditional Fabrics into Modern Bags: An Interview with Ali from Nena & Co

A Thoughtful Guide to Women’s Gifts for Any Occasion

Glimpses into our Home: Slow, Mindful, Minimal, Nature-Inspired Decor

Want to find me in other places?

Interview with a Minimalist: Evelyn of Smallish Blog

A recent study showed that household consumption could be the most significant driver of climate change and is likely making the largest impact on the planet’s declining health. A life of shopping and continuous acquisition is not only vapid, but is seriously harming the planet that sustains us. Many of us have grown up in a culture obsessed with consumption, a culture that insinuates that our identity is tied to fashions, our worth is displayed through things. It’s no wonder 93% of teenage girls rank shopping as their favourite past time.

But imagine changing the culture, imagine raising children differently. Imagine raising children who enjoy giving things away, rather than acquiring more. Imagine raising children who value experiences over things. Imagine what these children, what this generation, can do for the health of our planet.

When I interviewed Evelyn Rennich, a mother of four who intentionally lives in a small space (four kids in one bedroom!), I was excited to hear that her children had developed an ease in parting with things. In my opinion, it’s all the better for children to learn at a young age that things do not complete them, better for their self-development and better for the planet. Better yet if they grow up in an environment in which acquisition is not a major focus of their time or energy. Intentionally living with less Evelyn is raising her children differently. Thank you, Evelyn.

Evelyn shares her family’s story of intentionally living small over on her popular blog Smallish Blog. Although she’s a busy stay at home mother, Evelyn was generous enough to answer some questions for me, so we could all learn from her experience. I hope you enjoy hearing Evelyn’s story of finding minimalism and how it has enriched her family’s life.

Smallish blog evelyn minimalism

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

Hi! I’m Evelyn. I’m a mountain girl, happily married to a great man and mommy to four young kiddos. I love hiking, coffee and earth tone colors. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from the University of Colorado, but I love my current gig as stay-at-home-mom (as difficult as it is!).

What part of the world do you live in?

We live in Colorado, close to the Rocky Mountains.

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

We have four children ages 5, 3, 2, 8 months. (Yes, my days are busy busy busy!) Our oldest is intellectual and caring and is often designing elaborate projects. Our second son is bright, sweet and relational. Our daughter is a great mix of wild and mild and easily keeps up with her brothers. Our baby is very chill and happy.

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So, what is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?

We sort of stumbled across minimalism as we explored living in a small home. Before our first child was born we downsized from a 1,300 sq. ft. “normal” house to a 450 sq. ft. apartment in order to allow for me to work part-time. Although the move felt forced financially at the time, it turned out to be a major blessing. We found that we liked “living small.” And naturally, a smaller space meant living with less stuff. We discovered that we enjoyed living with fewer belongings. We felt freer, lighter, less stressed. That teeny apartment was home for nearly five years; it was where we started our family. We recently moved into a modest 1,000 sq. ft. home, and we continue to evaluate what we truly need and enjoy as we seek to move toward a more minimalist life.

Smallish blog evelyn minimalism

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

It’s funny– I’ve only just become comfortable with embracing the term “minimalist” in the past couple months as I’ve accepted that there’s no “right” way to do this lifestyle. Although we’ve intentionally lived with less for years, I always feel like we don’t qualify because maybe we still have too much stuff to make the cut. I’m at the point now where I can say, “Yeah, we are minimalists because we are always searching for the minimum level of what we can live with.”

Minimalism to us is limiting possessions, certainly, for we see giant blessing in fewer belongings, but it is so much more.  Living intentionally with less is a holistic endeavor.  It positively affects nearly every area of our lives.

We are a family of 6, so minimalism in the strict, least-amount-of-belongings doesn’t quite fit us. However, I am constantly purging physical things that we don’t use or need. In nearly every area of home or heart, I seek to “find the minimum level” of what I can live with.  Most days, the things we own still seem like too much, but this whole thing is a journey.  Minimalism also means we are committed to living slowly–not filling our schedules up with too many activities.  It means we’d like to live with minimal impact on the earth, which is also an area in which we’d like to improve.

At the very core, minimalism is a way that we can practically live out following Jesus’ simple, people-focused lifestyle without the distraction of stuff weighing us down.

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

I’m a big fan of Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist.com, Rachel Jonat at The Minimalist Mom.com, No Sidebar.com, Melissa Camara Wilkins, Break the Twitch.com, and Shannan Martin at FlowerPatchFarmgirl.com.

Books: the Bible, Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth, The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn.

In what ways do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

I have a major textile problem. We have an overabundance of blankets, towels, bedsheets, washcloths, etc… But we actually use most of them each week in playing or cleaning (I put down full length towels on the hardwood floor whenever it’s snowy or muddy outside). It’s what we need in this stage of life. We also have a lot of children’s books, but we use those often too.

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

Not really. My husband is on the same page with me for the most part, however there have been times when we disagree about whether or not to keep a certain item. Purging is so much a part of our lifestyle, our kids know that every so often we go through our things and create piles to give away. They’re not really resistant to it. In fact, sometimes they’ll want to go giving away their nice toys that they play with all the time and I’ve had to say, “No, you really love that. Let’s keep it for now.”

What have been some unexpected experiences, positive or negative, you’ve had with minimalism?

Years ago we had one repairman who was simply unable to grasp that we could be content in such a small apartment with so little. It made for a very interesting conversation. Positively, minimalism has opened up a pool of amazing friends and acquaintances. We really love meeting new people with similar mindsets of living happily with less–this camaraderie truly enriches our endeavors!

Smallish blog evelyn minimalism

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

I’d say that adjusting your mindset is key. Once your heart and head are in agreement that less really is better, the actual purging and letting go isn’t a struggle. Also, I’d probably hug them and jump up and down and squeal that they’re gonna love it. 🙂

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

I’d like to explore zero waste living this year. Honestly the concept seems so daunting and impossible, but that makes me want to try–even as a family of six–all the more.

Thanks so much for hosting this series, Danielle, and for your thoughtful and sincere questions! You’re a definite blessing to the minimalist community.

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Thank you Evelyn! Readers, you can find Evelyn and follow her story over at Smallish Blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. You can read all the interviews in this series here “Interview with a Minimalist”. You can read about families making zero garbage and zero waste here (Julie’s family) and here (the Devines).

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

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? These are monthly learning capsules for children and 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, you can read more about it here

Magnolias by Robin Kay Twentyventi

Ecominimalism & an Interview with a Minimalist: Robin

Minimalism is about many things, much more than just aesthetics and trendiness. Often, to my dismay, minimalism is distilled into one or both of these things. And while, yes, minimalism is a style of interior design and is currently a trendy lifestyle, it really is so much more. The benefits of minimalism are not having a beautifully styled home or being on target with trendy fashions and interiors. No, the benefits are what having less affords us, the space it creates in our days, in our homes, in our activities, in our lives. Among other things, having less gives us more time. Time is the most precious resource. I am always chasing time. But I digress.

Magnolias by Robin Kay Twentyventi

Another aspect of minimalism that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now is sustainability. Acquiring few things (by shopping less), having less to clean, repair and replace is just simply better for the earth, kinder and gentler on our planet. In the comments from my post about how to get started with minimalism (here) the sustainability aspect came up. I mentioned that I’ve wanted to start my own term ‘ecominimalism’ to talk about my brand of minimalism. I know, the word brand is a bit icky, especially in this context, but what I mean is my version of minimalism is ecominimalism. My minimalism is about having less, but most importantly acquiring less (It’s not about having little but constantly acquiring new things and pitching old things out the door, so that you keep few things). Too often I read on minimalism message boards requests for advice on how to replace 5 things with 1, or how to start a personal wardrobe from scratch in order to have a capsule collection. Yes, this is minimalism, but not sustainably-minded minimalism. And I know that minimalism isn’t necessarily about lessening one’s impact on the earth, but I really wish it was.

So, I was really happy when I read Robin Kay’s interview answers (see below) because she talks about the sustainability aspect of minimalism. Not only do we (hopefully) lessen our acquisition through minimalism, but we are also inclined and more able to choose products that have minimal impact on the earth. With a little more money in our wallets (from not mindlessly consuming and impulse buying) we can hopefully afford to purchase products that are ethically and sustainably made, like organic and fair trade clothing and food. And if we can’t afford these then at least we are not further indebting ourselves for the sake of fashion.

When we sit back and reflect on living with less, living simply, living minimally (all variations on the same thing) I think we can see that the true benefits have nothing to do with trendiness and everything to do with having more time for the people and activities we love, and feeling better about the things that we do acquire, whether they are organic or not, because our acquisition is much more mindful, considered and intentional. Of course, it’s easy to live minimally when we have very little money in the bank, when living minimally isn’t a choice. When we are fortunate to have money to spend on frills and fashions, on vacations and commuting, that is when our true test of minimalism and environmental consciousness comes up. Buying eco products when we *actually* need something is the best choice, but if we don’t really need it, maybe the best choice is to go for a hike…?

Below, you’ll hear from Robin Kay, a fellow Canadian and minimalist. I hope you’re inspired not only by Robin’s beautiful images and home, but more importantly by the substance of what she shares in her answers. Thank you Robin for sharing your story!

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

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

I am a twenty-seven year old wife, mother and teacher, currently on a year of maternity leave. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, where I was homeschooled from age nine (except for one semester of high school). As an introvert, being able to learn on my own terms was very important, and I definitely thrived outside of the traditional classroom. Having a non-traditional education also sparked my interest in how others learn.

I was drawn to Early Childhood Education, and after I graduated my program I worked as an assistant teacher at a co-op, a nanny, and finally a teacher at a non-profit preschool/early years centre. I love the career path that I chose because I believe that it better prepared me, personally, for motherhood.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

It’s sometimes hard to remember what I did with my free time before I became a mother, because my days are now fully devoted to my daughter. We play, read, and sometimes nap together. I try to make time to brush up on my photography skills, and occasionally write while she naps. As a family we love to go on walks, visit new places and vegan bakeries, and just stay in together.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

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

I have one daughter, Ramona Jean, who is 9 months old. From the beginning, I feel like she was brimming with so much personality – she was so alert and vocal even as a newborn (and I thought it would be such a boring phase!). We jokingly call her “nosy” because she’s so hyper aware and curious about everything, constantly straining her neck to see what’s around the corner.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

I find that she’s such a mixture of quiet and loud, calm and wild, spirited and sweet. It’s such a balance of strengths on either end of the spectrum. She’s quick to smile and laugh, but on the other hand deeply sensitive. She’s full of sass and determination, but has such a calm, thoughtful nature. She’s opinionated, yet easygoing. We’ve just been over the moon in love these past nine months, and cherish every second we spend with her.

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Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

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

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

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

Minimalism means, in the most basic terms, living simply. And I really think that applies to all things.

To me, there is a huge sustainability aspect to minimalism – buying less, consuming less, and choosing products that have a minimal harmful impact on the earth. I came across a quote by Vivienne Westwood the other day: “Buy less, choose well, and make it last” which just felt so appropriate for this time in our lives. My husband and I choose to buy mostly used goods from an environmental standpoint (they don’t use up new resources, often don’t have packaging, etc), and when we buy new we try our best to support brands that use sustainable materials or practices, and that are high quality that will last over time.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

With this mindset we strive to live with less, and to be more mindful about what enters our home, separating want from need. We try to apply this simple, more thoughtful way of life to all aspects of our lives, even the food we eat. We buy as much organic and locally grown produce as our budget will allow, and prepare all of our meals with whole ingredients. Ultimately this simplified way of life allows us to focus on what’s really important, which is spending time together as a family, and tending to our passions.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

I’ve heard from others in this series that they wouldn’t call themselves a ‘minimalist’ and yet the notions of ‘less is more’ and ‘live simply’ permeates their life perspective. So, what is your story, how did you arrive at a point where simple, less, minimal feel right to you?

When my husband and I were married five a half years ago, for the first little while I carried on living the way I was raised, filling our home with things we didn’t really need, often that we thought we needed. Growing up, it had been very normal for me to be surrounded by “stuff.” Good deals, roadside finds, intentions for projects, things we might need later, multiples of almost everything. There were more things than there was space or time for. And there was also this attachment, this innate need to hold on to everything.

As newlyweds, it felt like we were always organizing or trying to find places for things. There seemed to be an ongoing conversation about buying MORE furniture or moving into a bigger place just to hold our stuff, which is just ridiculous to me now, thinking back on it. There was just so much waste – waste of time, resources, money – and this general dissatisfaction with what we had, even though we had so much.

So two things happened all at once, and that was realizing how wasteful we were being, and deciding that we didn’t need more to be content.

And from there it was a process of undoing everything that I was taught, both in my upbringing and by our consumer society. Each year our resolve grows stronger – we declutter more and are more realistic about what we really need (or don’t need, which is more often the case). When we moved last April I realized how much stuff we had accumulated that was out of sight and unused – we de-owned almost half of our furniture and possessions in the move, and have since shed even more.

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Early on in the simplifying process a friend told me that everything he owned could fit in his car and that he could uproot and move anywhere at a moment’s notice – it was such a beautiful, inspiring thought, but also gave me a little anxiety thinking about the size of car I would need to fit all the things I currently owned. Ideally, everything that we own needs to have a “home.” I often strive towards the popular William Morris quote:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

(And even better if it’s both!)

The more that we commit to this way of life, the easier it gets, and the more at peace we become with ourselves and our lifestyle. It’s almost addictive how freeing it is – I find myself wondering how little I can possibly live with. Is there even more I can get rid of? I don’t think I could strip down to standard-car-size level (at least yet), but I’m working my way down bit by bit.

Since Ramona was born I find I am a lot less attached to things, maybe because it’s readjusted my focus on what’s really important. I know that I want her to grow up in a calm, uncluttered space, with more time to spend together instead of our possessions.

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

I have heard great things about the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, which I have yet to read myself. This website (Hippie In Disguise) has been a great resource, and always gets me thinking and revisiting my ideas on sustainable minimalism. [ editorial note: Thank you Robin! ]

Other than that my method is fairly unstudied. I’ve always felt inspired by the clean, minimal look of Scandinavian homes, which is very apparent from my Pinterest boards (minimalism, of course, doesn’t mean all white and lots of negative space, but that’s what inspires me personally). I’m also quite inspired by Waldorf education, which to me has always felt very minimal in its simplicity and focus on nature.

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In what ways do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

Books, without a doubt. When we moved 10 months ago, most of or boxes were filled with books. I generally only ever buy secondhand, and it’s the one thing I never feel guilty about having too much of. But I do feel guilty for not having read all the books we own.

My other weakness is holding on to certain things for too long, wondering if I ever might need it again.

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

My husband is right on board with me, and also sees the benefit in having less. Sometimes we differ in our opinions of what is essential, but we respect what is important to other. As an artist, he needs to have a lot of supplies and mediums, as well as paintings or set pieces he is working on – and while I sometimes am frustrated at having to find places to store giant canvases (there’s a stack beside our dresser at the moment, and two 5×5 foot canvases in our dining room), it also beautifies our space, and encourages creativity.

In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

There’s this Swedish proverb that says “He who buys what he does not need, steals from himself.” It frustrates me to think of all the time I’ve spent rearranging, reorganizing and moving clutter from one place to another, when I could have been writing or taking photographs or any number of more useful things.

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Less really IS more. It’s more time, more energy, more focus on what’s important to us. And that has improved my life by making more present, more appreciative and content with what I do have, rather than always seeking more of something.

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

I think the term “minimalist” always frightened me because I thought I would be judged or misusing it if I didn’t have tons of bare space, or if I didn’t live off the grid, surviving off the land, growing my own vegetables and knitting my own clothes.

There are no rules – minimalism looks different to everyone. You have to start somewhere, and it begins with just trying to get rid of the excess in your life (the old blender you never parted with even though you bought a new one, three of the five frying pans you own, etc.), and then in a few months, revisiting what your idea of excess is. At first it might seem difficult and a slow process, but after actively working towards your own vision of minimalism, it eventually becomes second nature.

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

I want to read more – not online articles, not emails, and especially not Instagram captions, but actual physical books. I was an avid reader growing up, and it pains me that so much of my time these days is spend “plugged in.” My goal is one book a month, at least. I also want to learn a new skill, whether that’s knitting or bookbinding or woodworking or doing a cartwheel.

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Minimalism Twentyventi

As a family, one of our goals is to try to exclusively purchase from ethical brands. It often means saving up and buying less, but it is in harmony with our lifestyle.

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Thank you Robin! Readers you can find Robin on Instagram @twentyventi or over at her blog Twenty Venti.

Find all the other interviews in this series here. Please share this post if you liked it!

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You might also like my post:

How to Get Started with Minimalism

13 Ways to Simplify Your Wardrobe

The Slow Living Project

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

Talking Work-Life Balance on Roasted

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I was recently interviewed by Michelle Little of Roasted about how I bring balance into my busy life. It was a great opportunity to reflect, thank you Michelle.

Below you’ll find an excerpt, to pique your interest, but make sure to click over to Roasted to read the whole article, or to surf around her cool website all about raising kids and getting the most out of your city, being creative and entrepreneurial, all with a special focus on one of my favourite cities, Montreal.

Michelle: Do you have any time for yourself?

Danielle: I don’t have what is commonly considered “me time”. This is mostly my own choice. I am very happy to give my free time wholeheartedly to my children. I think the notion of ‘me time’ comes from a need to restock our energies and do something for ourselves. As mothers and parents, some of us are not good at giving this to ourselves. For me, what restocks my energies is being with my children. I have never, honestly, ever had the feeling of needing a break from my children. I’m not a high maintenance person, I don’t need to get away to have my nails or hair done or to shop. What fulfills me is being in their presence. Learning from their perspective, being reminded of how simple happiness and fulfillment are for a child. All I need is that childlike wonder to remember that no object or time alone will ever be what I need to feel complete.

Read the whole interview here…

Special thank you to Amanda of Luv Mother, our mutual friend, who connected me with Michelle.

You might also like my post:

image   Mindful Picking, Making a Flower Crown

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset   Inspiring Mother: Bree Galbraith

Processed with VSCOcam with g1 preset   The Mathematics of Love

image   Love Your Mother in Luv Mother

Talking Slow Living on Ruth & Ragnar

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I get asked a lot about slow living and minimalism and how I bring these to life in our family. Well, first I should probably tell you that most of my week is anything but slow. I work full time outside the home in a very hectic job. I work in politics in Canada and not only are the days hustled, they are highly unpredictable, chock full of emotional people and high stakes situations. I’m a naturally calm person, people often describe me as “zen,” which is probably why I’ve survived in my job. However, after working in this environment for a few years I started to notice that I carried that hustled, stressed energy home with me. I would furiously clean and tidy all evening, I would speedily move from one task to another, and multi-tasking was the only way I did anything. On the weekends I would hustle around doing errands, taking Ro and Sen to a list of activities and catching up on my social calendar. I couldn’t seem to find a slo-mo setting… Read the rest of the post over on Ruth & Ragnar.

You might also like my post:

TOC retreat 2   Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica — May 2016

katrien5   Interview with a Minimalist: Katrien

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset   The Mathematics of Love

The Mathematics of Love: My Love More Story

Sen and Ro Chassin by Natasha Moine

Around this time last year I was asked to contribute to a collection that would be titled “The Love More Stories.” I don’t often write about myself or share personal stories because I tend to shy from the sort of attention this could bring. However, over the last year I’ve had a nagging feeling that I should share this story more broadly. The story captures a number of key themes in my life and the tension between them. The desire to have a large family and the desire to be responsible in our family’s use of the earth’s resources. The pull between personal interest and the greater good.

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Growing up I always knew I wanted children. In fact, I knew I wanted a big family. Seeing my mother skilfully raise the three of us, knowing she always wanted a fourth, I thought to myself that four was the perfect number, at least as a minimum. And so, my heart was set on having four children. As I later learned, these were certainly the idealistic musings of a young person who hadn’t put thought into what their life partner might want and who didn’t consider the environmental impacts of raising children in the first world.

Today, I am a mother to two children. First, there’s my kind-hearted daughter, Ro. She’s the creative type, always dancing, singing or drawing, and usually doing more than one of these at once. Ro is highly intuitive, deeply loving, naturally funny and the definition of a social butterfly. Then, there’s Sen, my wild little boy. He is head strong, while also being a very sweet and calm child. He loves climbing, dancing, and pretending to be a ninja. Together these two are the best of friends and siblings. Most days I dream of having their level of connection with another human, their love for each other is so fierce and all-consuming, it has taught me so much about the powers of love.

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I am always a mother first, but I am also a wife and friend, and I work full time outside of the home. I work professionally to provide for my family, but my passions lie in the arts, in writing, in photography, in adventure, and, of course, in nurturing my children. My aim is to develop deep and genuine kindness in my children, not only toward their family and friends, but toward all humans and toward all life on earth. This is why we spend most of our free time outdoors connecting with each other and with the abundance of animal and plant life around us, cultivating a love and reverence for the earth.

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And then, there’s Matt, my husband and partner in life, a highly rational and deeply principled person. These two things I love most about him, but they also make life with him hard. There’s no being flaky about your values around Matt, principles should be lived by. Fun or not. Easy or not.

We knew soon after we met that we were a perfect match; we didn’t share any hobbies, but we agreed on the big stuff, like politics and ethics. We married a few years later. We both wanted to have children while we were young, at least by today’s standards, and so soon after we  married we had our first, Ro. It was like a cliche seeing my child for the first time and having so much intense love instantly, and over the first year seeing my love for Matt grow and mature seeing him become a parent, and seeing his love for his daughter. When Ro was nearing one year, I felt ready and excited for a second child. I talked to Matt about having our second, we were both in graduate school at the time, and so the timing of the birth was not inconsequential.

And so, I started the conversation on a very practical point: timing. Since the question of having a second child or not, was already answered in my mind, and presumably in Matt’s too. Now, Matt is someone whose heart strings are perfectly aligned with what he believes, with his principles and ethics, and so he replied with “We shouldn’t have a second, it is not responsible, it is not right to take more resources from the earth to satisfy our own cravings to have children. One child is the right number.” Now, as you can imagine, I didn’t accept this without presenting a few counter-points, strongest among these was that “surely, the world needs more children like the ones we will raise, they will be role models in caring for the earth.” But, to be honest, I knew in my heart that this was pretty presumptuous of me and motivated by self-interest. In this instance, loving meant not only loving our kin, not only loving humans, but loving all life. If I were to truly act lovingly toward all life, toward the earth, then I wouldn’t have a second child. So, I accepted, very reluctantly, that Matt was right.

Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise

But my heart still wanted that big family, so I began to talk about adoption, which I thought Matt would agree to since it wouldn’t bring new people into the world. And this is when I got an answer I never ever expected. “Danielle, I love Ro so much it hurts. I love her so much there is just no way that I could ever love another child this much. I would never forgive myself for having a second child in the family that I didn’t love as much. That child would know, they would feel the lack of love. And if by some crazy stroke of fate I did love that second child as much as I love Ro, then I would certainly have to rob Ro of some of my love.” I could see the calculus of love floating in thought bubbles above his head. Like any resource, there is a finite amount. In a family you only have so much time to share among its members, there’s only so much food in the fridge and bedrooms in your home. Who was I to say, naively, that there would be enough love to go around? When I thought about the woman living in the apartment below us, who had 19 children, I thought Matt’s right, there is no way she loves any one of those children as much as we love our one child. This was without any poor judgment of her, it was pure math, pure logic. And so, once again, I conceded to Matt’s view. It would be one child for us. Logically, I knew he was right, but I’d be lying if I said my heart was happy about it.

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And so, for the next four years we carried on pouring all our love and energy and resources into our one child. Then one day, as I carried Ro on my hip to go downstairs for breakfast, the same as I did every morning, she excitedly said something very peculiar. “Mama, you have a baby in your tummy!” To which I replied “Oh no, sweetie, there’s no baby.” And she replied with complete confidence, “Yes, there is. I know it. You smell like mummy milk, you smell like you did when I was a baby.” What a quirky thing to say, I thought to myself, and with that we prepared breakfast and carried on with the day.

A week later, having forgotten my conversation with Ro,  I started to experience symptoms of pregnancy. I ignored them for a few days, and then decided to take a test just to rule out my worries. Worries because I believed in Matt’s reasons not to have a second child.  I was in complete and total shock when the test came back positive. And then like a tidal wave, Ro’s intuition washed over me. She had known. The sensitivities and keen perceptions of a small child are truly astounding.

Now, for us, while we had agreed one was a responsible number of children for us to have, there was never an option to not carry a pregnancy through. We respect all life and couldn’t end a life prematurely, and so eight months later we welcomed our son, Sen, at almost 10 months gestation, into our family, born at home into his papa’s arms.

Matt Surch and Ro Chassin by Natasha Moine

Living life, living in a family, there are many lessons in love. We learn that there are all sorts of love: love for a child, love for a partner, love for a friend. We learn that love evolves and matures. One of the great lessons in love we learned from our second child is that love is not a finite resource, as we had naively thought. When we saw our son for the first time, we had that same overwhelming feeling of love, of the biggest, most intense love, the same feeling we had had with Ro, and that we still had for Ro. There was no diminishment in our love for Ro or for each other, and yet we had as much love for Sen. In fact, our love grew. Seeing Ro love her brother instantly, our love grew for her. Seeing Matt hold his son, my love grew for him. Even though everyday I think that I can’t possibly love my children more than I do, I somehow love them more than I did the day before. Of all the lessons in love, the one I think of most is that love obeys no rules of math or logic. Love does not diminish when it is shared, rather it grows. You can always love more. Love is infinite.

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You can find the full Love More Stories collection for purchase here

You can also read an interview with Amanda who started the Love More Shop, where she talks about her motivation for starting a shop focused on loving more and how she gives back to the community.

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If you liked this post please consider sharing it or subscribing to my blog or both (!), your support helps me continue to write and share.

 

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

minimalist tea hippie in disguise

Interview with a Minimalist: Katrien

Continuing on in my Buy Nothing Day programming, I have a second interview with a minimalist, Katrien.

Check out my first post of the day to read a bit more about Buy Nothing Day — a day of protest against consumerism.

Minimalism isn’t just or only about having and buying less stuff, as I’ve tried to explore through this series of interviews. It is more about applying the notion of ‘less is more’ to one’s life, or aspects of it.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

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Katrien is a Waldorf-inspired homeschooling mother to twin toddlers, she’s passionate for all things natural and handmade. She’s Belgian by birth, a traveler by nature, and living in Italy for the sake of love. I only recently started following Katrien on Instagram, probably at some point last summer or spring. I was drawn to her images of her gorgeous mountain top life and the beautiful simplicity of it. When she mentioned her interest in minimalism to me one day, I jumped at the chance to interview her for the blog. And I am so glad I did. Katrien shares insightful and inspiring stories and ideas that will interest parents raising young children, but also professionals looking for more meaning in their life and adults pining for a simpler existence.

Katrien, let’s start with you. Who are you? What’s your background?

Before I met my husband I was working my dream job as a freelance writer and researcher for a Belgium Museum. I was a workaholic (with secret dreams of finding a house on a quiet hill somewhere). I loved the high of being at the very end (or very beginning) of a project. That rush of work. The late hours, and sleepless nights, the apotheoses of a grand opening… And in between these exhausting projects I usually threw some stuff into my backpack and traveled the world to find a place where I could rest and heal the damage I had previously done to my health and my spirit… But then I met this boy from Italy. He was a traveler just like me, and when we met he was taking a break from being on the road, and working on his parents organic farm. They had sheep and horses, and made their own beer, and suddenly that secret dreams of a house on a hill came flooding into my daily life. One year later I started working part-time, and two years later I resigned from my job to move to Italy. It was about then that I realized that it is possible to have a meaningful life without the roller coaster of highs and lows. And so I chose to live with less. Less work, a lower income, but more time for life itself.

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

We have two three year old identical twin boys. They were born two minutes apart, and although they are very similar in some respects, they are complete opposites in others, complementing each other perfectly. E. (who is the older twin) is a real ‘Big Brother’. Strong, independent, extrovert. He loves to help and get his hands dirty… His ‘younger brother’ A. is more sensitive, more of a thinker, a dreamer. (I often feel like his feet never really touch the ground.) He takes his time to get to know people before opening up to them, but makes really deep connections when he does. But no matter how many differences there might be between them, they have the strongest, most amazing bond I’ve ever seen between two persons. Being an actual, physical, part of each other, much of what goes on between the two of them can remain unsaid. They simply understand. Sure, they also know exactly how to get to each other as well, and we do get quite a bit of fighting at times, but in the end they always seek out each other’s company.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist Nieva knitwear

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

Our children come to us with a deep destiny that needs to be honored…A little grace is needed…for them to develop into the people they’re meant to be, especially in a world that is constantly bombarding them (and us) with the distractions of so many things, so much information, speed and urgency. These stresses distract from the focus or ‘task’ of childhood: an emerging, developing sense of self.” (Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne)

We live in a society that wants us to ‘need’, to desire, to crave. Marketing strategies speak to us of more, and more and more. But reading this book we realized that our children were craving the exact opposite. They needed less. And as we started making some changes in our parenting style, we discovered the same was true for us.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist Twins

You say you’ve only just begun to pursue minimalism, what is your story?

Five years after moving to Italy, my dream of living in a house on a hill came true. A friend told us about this amazing house that was going on sale, and even before I had seen it, I just knew this was the one. A traditional stone house, perched on a hill, and surrounded by nothing but miles and miles of forest. The price was exactly what we could afford, and it looked like she didn’t need much work, and so we made the jump and started packing to move to a different region, and a whole new life.

But as I started filling box after box, I felt I wanted to go with nothing. Leave it all behind, and start afresh with only the things that could fit into the car. Me, Francesco, the boys, and some of our most precious things. But of course we didn’t. Instead we packed up as much as we could fit into a rental van and stored everything in a room we were told was ”nice and dry”.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

As soon as the worst of winter was over, Francesco started working on the house. We started off with the renovation of an old, partly ruined barn that was to become our kitchen and living area, and then the rest was going to need a mere ‘freshening up’. Much to our horror though, we soon discovered there was a lot more to do than we had anticipated. We ended up having to change most of the roofs of the house we had just bought. This came as a huge shock. Especially since that meant that the budget we had calculated to rebuild the house, and to live off for a year, was now insufficient. And so we needed to adapt. In the end we could only prepare a small portion of the house for us to live in, and even there, much work remains to be done. But we didn’t give up, and were happy when we were finally (sort of) ready to move in. It was then that we noticed that most of the things we had stored, had been damaged by water leakage. Books, furniture, clothes… Gone. Ruined. And no money to replace them. But to my surprise I wasn’t sad or angry about losing so many of the things I previously thought indispensable or precious. Instead I was relieved. A weight had been lifted. We owned less. And it felt great. And so the desire grew to get rid of more Things. Things that hàd survived the winter, but that somehow didn’t feel like they had a place in our lives anymore.

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

Being fuelled by the fact that we live of a very tight budget, minimalism first of all means spending less money. We only buy the strictly necessary, and try to make, produce or grow as much as we can ourselves. We grow our own organic vegetables and potatoes in the garden, as well as most of the herbs and spices we use in the kitchen and for herbal remedies, and soap. Furthermore I spend every quiet moment I can get knitting or sewing clothes for me and the boys. That way being minimalists saves us money. But that’s not all. To us minimalism also means making ethically sound choices about the things we do need to buy. Spending less is one part, but we also feel very passionately about the environment, and about not harming others through the choices we make, and so whenever we do need to buy something, we prefer to buy organically produced, ethically made or second-hand. And lastly minimalism has brought us to be (very) selective about how we spend our time. We put family time before anything. Even if that means turning down social or professional engagements. We all need to work, and we can really use the money, but we do not want to take jobs that somehow compromise the way we have chosen to live our life as a family, or go out on social occasions for the sake of going out.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist potatoes

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

I haven’t read any books, or visited many websites about minimalism, but the book Simplicity Parenting has had a big impact on our parenting style, and on our lives in general. Kim John Payne advocates a (Waldorf inspired) form of minimalism when it comes to the toys, activities and information we expose our children to. He suggests we strip their lives of the ‘unnecessary’ to allow them to come to themselves to realize their full potential, their destiny, their spirit.

We haven’t got a TV in the house, and live a very quiet and simple life, so cutting down on activities and information wasn’t much of an issue. (Except for that part about not talking about adult stuff in front of your children…) But where toys were concerned, we both felt there was room for improvement. Our boys never had much toys, but since we took out some of the toys we felt did not stimulate them to engage in meaningful and creative play, we’ve seen a change in ways we didn’t expect. Long stretches of uninterrupted independent play have now become quite common, and we noticed that they tend to pull out much less toys (only to dump them two minutes later) than they used to do. Toys that are being taken out are now actually played with. And so things started to shift… we started talking about what a similar change could do for us; as parents, as a couple, and as individuals. And suddenly this idea that it actually feels really nice to live with less had a name. It was called minimalism, and we firmly believed there were very good reasons for pursuing it, and to take it a step further than we had so far.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist twin boys

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

Yarn. I know this might seem silly, but I love beautiful yarn, and if my budget would allow for it, I would probably buy insane amounts of it. Natural, hand spun, plant dyed… No chocolate or clothes, bags or shoes could measure up to that. But unfortunately there’s only so many hours in a day, and so I struggle to use up all the yarn I buy. Hence I tend to ‘stock’ it for later projects, but then of course, meanwhile, more beautiful yarn comes my way… Time to start emptying my knitting chest before buying any more I’d say.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

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

Not really. We expected it was going to be hard to eliminate some of the toys we had traveling around the house, but in the end it wasn’t. We started out by talking to the boys about ‘getting rid’ of all the things that were broken. After that, we took away some of the plastic toys we didn’t really like to begin with, and as a last step we reduced the amount of books they had in their room by putting together a seasonally inspired bookcase, and storing all the remaining books for later. In the end we were really surprised to find that our boys initially didn’t even notice some things had disappeared, and when they did, they were ok with the fact that we gave them away to charity, because we had enough anyway…

In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

This last year and a half things haven’t always been very easy. Going from having enough money to do whatever you want, whenever you want, to having none at all can be terribly daunting. And yet the most difficult times weren’t the ones when we struggled to buy the things we needed. The most difficult ones were the moments where I wànted something. Just for the sake of having it. A dress. A pair of girly shoes. A pizza night out. Something to give to the boys as a present… To not be able to hàve those things made me feel ‘poor’, and frustrated. But now I find those moments just don’t happen so very often anymore. I guess I’m just happy with what I do have now… even if paradoxically, that is much less than at those times when I felt I needed more. Sure, sometimes I do see a nice dress, or that Perfect Bag that would match every single thing in my closet, but then I remind myself I don’t really need it. (Especially when it comes to ‘fast fashion’ items.) And for some reason that feels great. To be able to say no. To have only what I need. To not spend ages in front of my wardrobe, trying to decide what might possibly look nice on me. (And to know that I won’t be bringing that dress or that Perfect Bag to the charity bin next time I feel like the contents of my closet are coming at me like an avalanche of resentment and guilt.)

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist twin boys

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

When I started getting rid of things I felt were just ‘too much’, it was all about making space in rooms and cupboards. I strived to create a visually pleasant and calming living environment. I wanted to have a minimal home. But as we’ve come further in this journey, I have been amazed to see that minimalism has brought us so much more than that. I guess somewhere down the line the meaning of this transformation we are currently undergoing shifted from ‘having’ to ‘being’… it wasn’t so much about things anymore. It was about us. About who we could be. And how we could live.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

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

Start small. And start with things that you feel you aren’t going to miss. You don’t have to start by throwing away your baby’s first pair of shoes. (In fact, maybe that is one of the few things you might want to keep.) But as you start reflecting about all the things you surround yourself with, I’m sure you’ll find that a lot of things aren’t quite that important to you. Or better even. That you might be better off without some of them. Every object you own has a life, a story, a message. And not all of them are nice messages, so why not get rid of those things first? They are an easy place to start. Think of that ugly thing you got as a gift (but can barely stand to look at), those clothes you bought because someone told you you looked fabulous in them, but that always get taken off just before you leave the house. And then think of keepsakes that somehow remind you of painful experiences. (Yes… those letters from your ex-boyfriend for example (my case), or souvenirs from a holiday that was actually the Worst. Ever.) And then take a break. Just see how it feels.You’ll know what to do next.

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

Oh yes! Next year, we’re clearing out the basement and the store room. The basement is still full of things that belonged to the previous owner. Things like old windows and half rotten furniture, so that can go. Furthermore we have decided that everything that hasn’t been taken out of the boxes in the store room since we have moved into the house can either go to charity, or will be thrown away. If we haven’t ‘needed’ it the last 18 months, I guess we won’t really need it in the future either.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

Thank you, Katrien, for such a lucid interview, so much to think about! Readers you can find Katrien on Instagram @growingwildthings

Check out these other great interviews in this series:

Interview with a Minimalist: Kellie (artist, children’s book lover and mother of 4 boys living in a small space)

Interview with a Minimalist: The Devine Family (off the grid family with 4 children living in a tree house down under, completely garbage free)

Interview with a Minimalist: Amanda (mother of 2 girls with a third on the way, minimalism in the home to unleash her children’s creativity)

Interview with a Minimalist: Carina (artist living in the small space capital of Canada with her 2 children and partner, maximizing life through the great outdoors)

Interview with a Minimalist: Alison (mother of one, the small space living queen of Canada)

Interview with a Minimalist: Brian of Less Means More (travelling around the US with his partner and unschooling their boy)

Interview with a Minimalist: Kylah (organic farmer and vegan chef raising 2 girls off the grid with her partner)

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

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? They are monthly learning capsules for children and 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 , you can read more about it here

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:

 

Summer Trip Part 3: Philadelphia

After our day in New York City (photos here), we rode a bus to Philadelphia to visit the Sweet Luka Mo family. I had gotten to know Einav, the woman behind Sweet Luka Mo, over the last year, after I won a photo contest she had run for her brand. We quickly became friends and when the opportunity presented itself to make a short visit, we made it happen. We spent three days together exploring Philadelphia’s beautiful parks and water spots, eating delicious vegan tacos and the best coconut ice cream ever (here). Late nights chatting after the children fell asleep, which led to some over-tired eyes (mine, see below) but some great memories. Thanks for the amazing hospitality Einav, Luka and Mike.

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…first morning, Sen and Luka were fast friends playing trains while parents sleep in. Thank you, boys!

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Entrance to the park, so far, we are loving Philadelphia!

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Making plans…they wouldn’t tell me about what.

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A charming old water fountain proved very entertaining for the boys.

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Freestyling with the water fountain.

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I loved how the park was designed for mixed use, including a play structure and community garden.

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Exhaustion after the park

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Evening walk to see some of Philadelphia’s amazing murals and mosaics. This one by Isaiah Zagar, made entirely from recycled materials. To say this artist is prolific would be an understatement. The neighbourhood we walked through was covered in his work. Amazing stuff.

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Excited for what our second day has in store for us.

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We visited the downtown area around the government buildings, Sen looks unimpressed because he wanted to go straight to the water area.

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Gorgeous little park with shade and water, rocks and coffee. Perfection.

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She laid there as long as I would let her, which was probably an hour.

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Sen always helping his sister relax.

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Hashtag sibling love! I’m telling you, they do this on their own. Please make it always be so.

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Day 3, our last day in Philadelphia, it was incredibly hot, so we hit the fountain for some fun.

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Me and the kids (I have to include photos of myself for the kids memories, even if I’m squinty-eyed)

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Having fun looking at American coins. “Treasure mama!”

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Waiting for lunch at Reading Market. It was such a fun place to walk around. A mix of vendors, farmers, bakers, florists.

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Terrible photo, but a great memory. Ro and Einav swinging Luka along the sidewalk, on our way to get ice cream.

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The kids almost had more fun looking for tiny animals in the garden outside the ice cream shop than they did eating their ice cream. Almost.

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A quick play at the park before bedtime. I had to get a photo of Sen in his made-in-Philadelphia  clothing – Sweet Luka Mo – while he was in Philadelphia. Luckily he cooperated.

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Friends forever.

Philadelphia, you were fun, can’t wait ’til we meet again. And now, back to New York City for a few days. Stay tuned for my next post.

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Clothing details: Ro’s floral swimsuit by Christina Rohde; Sen’s swim bottom and feather shirt by Gardner and the Gang; Sen’s black harem’s by Baby Beast; Ro’s clothing by Kids on the Moon; Sen’s striped romper by Nico Nico from Little Heirloom; Sen’s narwal tank and striped leggings by Sweet Luka Mo; Sen’s denim shorts by boy+girl; All sandals by Salt Water Sandals from Mini Mioche; My day bag from Nena & Co.