Feathered Aspen

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I think of minimalism kind of like I think of political parties… There are some basic principles that people who claim membership seem to agree upon, but that’s were the similarities begin and end.  There’s rich, poor, North, South, religious, atheist, and every shade in between.

I am by no means an expert on minimalism.  I hesitate to even label myself or my lifestyle as minimalist, knowing that so many people live with much less than I do and knowing how much I still hang on to that I have either neglected to or can’t bear to jettison.

But disclaimers aside, this has been my journey for the past year or more.  I was asked by a friend to share a few thoughts on that journey and perhaps offer up some advice for a beginner who is intrigued by this lifestyle shift.  Keeping in mind that I’m barely more than a beginner myself (aha one more disclaimer), here goes:

  1. Where did all of this begin for you?
    • I think the first time I started to think about minimalism as an attractive lifestyle was way back in 2010.  Stacy mentioned that she read Rowdy Kittens, and I loved the idea of her tiny house.  Last fall, I started reading about capsule wardrobes, and I loved the idea.  I decided to pare down my wardrobe to 100 items (including work out gear, sleep clothes, and underwear) for six months.  At the same time, I decided to go on a spending fast.  For six months, I didn’t buy anything other than food or toiletries.  It was a pretty successful experiment.  I made a couple of exceptions:  one for Christmas (about $100), one for Halloween ($13), and then I broke about a week early for sunglasses and tennies for Lily ($50).  But other than that, I held fast.  I gave up other things, too:  Instagram for a month and then for lent, LOADS (as in truck-fulls of stuff) and a negative attitude, as much as I was able.
  2. What do you like about minimalism?
    • I love feeling less attached to my things.  I love feeling like I don’t need stuff to be happy.  I love how sloughing off layers things has meant that I’ve begun a much more metaphysical journey too.  I’d like to say that I clean less, and maybe I do (but it sure still feels like a lot), but the real benefits have been mental and even spiritual.
  3. How has paring down to the essence impacted your life?
    • Holding back from buying things was my first experience with feeling a feeling, observing the feeling, and then letting it pass.  In other words, it was one of my first deliberate experiences of mindfulness.  I suppose it’s fitting then that paring down and consuming less and caused me to slow down and look inward.  I started listening to a podcast (which, if you talk to me on a regular basis, I’m sure to have mentioned at least, oh, a dozen times) The Lively Show, and her interviews led me down a whole new path of self-help, values based intentions, and mindfulness.
    • Along the same vein, I read The Conscious Parent, and I really experienced a mind-shift not just when it comes to parenting but living in general.  This summer, I dove completely down the rabbit hole, and now I’m seeking out all the intuitive, new-agey stuff that generally gets a bad rap.  Among my gurus at the moment are Ashley Neese, Brooke Castillo, and (of course) Eckhart Tolle while I’m reading The Power of Now (on a side note:  I vacillate between loving and hating this book.  I mostly hate it, but I WANT to love it.)
    • All of this means that I’m trying to be more mindful.  I’m trying to slow down and appreciate the things and people right before me.  I’m trying not to fantasize about a future.  I’m trying to let go of the past.  I’m trying to sit with myself, my thoughts, and my feelings.  I’m SUPER not great at this, but it’s a start, and it’s about as night-and-day to the me of five years ago.  That me was convinced that the misery of my present was a great bargaining chip for a super lovely future.
  4. What were some of your first steps?
    • As I’ve mentioned, my first steps were really to seek out inspiration.  The wardrobe was a big one, and once I found success with that, I felt empowered to tackle our whole lifestyle.
    • It’s funny, because I was explaining this to a friend a while ago, and she asked me if I was trying to bring minimalism into my non-material life, like my relationships or habits.  At the time, I didn’t think so, but now I’m realizing that my drive to spend more time outside, less time on-screen, more time present, and less time preoccupied by my thoughts are all in the same spirit as minimalism.  If you wanted to boil it down, I guess these interests could be summed up (alas) by some hashtags that I’ve spent browsing:  #childhoodunplugged #wildandfreechildren #slowliving #bepresent.  Gah.  The irony of that just kills me.
  5. What are some of your next steps?
    • Oh this is the easiest question (haha, I wrote all of the questions for myself)!  Another irony, of course, because no one is second-guessing my skills at planning the future ;)
    • I want to read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  I’ve heard so much about this book that I’ve even recommended it to people without yet having read it myself…  So what am I waiting for?  I need to finish The Power of Now (which is slowly killing me), and I wanted to wait until I knew I could go through the whole house and really properly “Tidy Up.”
    • I want to do yoga.  I’ve really come full circle on this one, and I’m so there, but despite my readiness to just through myself into yoga, I haven’t been able to figure out the money and routine that needs to go into it.  That said, I’m hopping to go this Saturday!
    • I want to get rid of more stuff.  I’m feeling another truck-full coming on.
    • I want to journal more.  I especially want to work on some of the exercises Brooke Castillo outlines in her podcast.
    • I need to start writing.  I want to finish my book (that’s about 2/3 done but that I haven’t touched since before Lu was born).
    • Last but not least, I’ve downloaded an app called “Happify.”  It has a number of tracks, and I’m doing the mindfulness one.  It’s forcing me to buckle down and meditate, and that’s something that I really want to work on because I know that it will help me be more present.
  6. What have some of your best breakthroughs been?
    • There are a couple of quotes that have become like mantras to me:
      • “Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.” – Leonard Kohen
      • “Your capacity for happiness will never be greater than it is today.” – Brooke Castillo
      • “So break the old pattern of present-moment denial and present-moment resistance.  Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future whenever they are not needed.  Step out of the time dimension as much as possible in everyday life.  If you you find it hard to enter the the Now directly, start by observing the habitual tendency of your mind to want to escape from the now.” – Eckhart Tolle
      • “There is a voice that doesn’t use words: listen.” – Rumi
    • One of the ways that I’ve found to be intentional, minimal, and mindful (the trifecta!) in our home is to focus on the five senses.  I’m not there yet, but part of my “poetry” is making sure that there is something devoted to each sense in our home.  I’ve had the most success with smell.  I have a stash of incense, essential oils, and a diffuser, and I use these every day.  Paying attention to a lovely smell helps me zero in on the moment, and it’s become a strategy in comforting the girls when they are sensitive.  Touch too is linked with the oils.  One of my favorite mindful parenting strategies has been to massage the girls with good smelling oils.  Lily, in particular, finds it comforting and relaxing, and I think it’s a sweet and simple way to show them love.  For a while, I’ve been planning on getting a record player so that we can have a slow, screen-free way of honoring sound through music (but they’re expensive, damn it!).  As for sight, we’re still working on moving in and making this place home again.  We have art, but I’m really aiming for a calm, serene, minimal-yet-poetic space, and I’m struggling to strike that balance.  Hopefully, in time, our space will reflect that intention.  As for taste, I think that’s one of our strengths, but I just recently rented a book from the library on brewing kombucha, and I think that may be a new, fun frontier for me (and also solve the problem of coffee…  Such a lovely ritual, but I’ve been learning more about how it messes with our biorhythms and endocrine system, so…)!
    • After reading The Conscious Parent, I really began trying to look at the girls as my guides.  I’ve been trying to meet them as they are and progress from there, honoring their unique needs and not projecting my own baggage onto them.  People, this is not easy.  I fail pretty regularly (as in, this morning), but just that shift in perspective has given me more balance.
    • Listening to podcasts!  What a great way to spend a run and to bring some grace back with you into your everyday life.

Well, thanks for letting me share!  I’d love to hear what you guys think/any sources of inspiration you think might be helpful!


1 Comment

A request

Dear Friends and Family,

I’m writing to you with a request.  Over the past month, I have been in contact with Tsering Pema Tamang, one of the children of Gyurme and Nima from Nagthali Guest House in the Tamang region of Nepal.  The details are a little unclear, but the message is fairly straightforward:  the family needs help.  It sounds as though their home suffered quite a bit of damage.  Tsering also says that their village is so remote that they have not received much aid.

Though Joshua and I raised some money and donated to UNICEF Nepal shortly after the earthquake, this is a somewhat more complicated request.  Do I send money?  Where do I send it?  Will they be able to convert the money once it’s sent?  How much money do they need?

So back to the request:  1) for advice.  Do you have any expertise on navigating a request like this/ ideas?  2) consider donating.  I know this particular situation may alert some skepticism, and if so, please look at UNICEF Nepal, but if Tsering’s request strikes a chord with you, go ahead and send me a donation in cash or check (those of you without my address can contact me through comments or e-mail).  I’ll plan on sending the final amount to Tsering on September 17.

The exchange below details the conversation.

Tsering Pema Tamang <tsering.pema77@gmail.com> Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 9:17 PM To: Ellie.kuhne@gmail.com

I never forget to you.i always miss you and your family.i really belive to you.i had never forget that the movement of nepal at my house and eat same family food.i really could not made my house due to the earthquake.i havent got any help due to run my family and child fee.so i really belive to you that you will slove my problem.and made poor people life better.have you made plan to visit in nepal.we will meet again.keep in touch!reply me?

Ellison Kuhne <ellie.kuhne@gmail.com> Tue, Jul 21, 2015 at 5:39 PM To: Tsering Pema Tamang <tsering.pema77@gmail.com>

Namaste Tsering, of course I remember you and your family. When we heard of the earthquake, you and your family were the first people who came to our minds. We’re very sad to hear about the earthquake and all of its damage. We raised some money with our family and friends to give to UNICEF, but I’m sad to hear that you still are struggling and have not gotten the help you need. How might we help you? We do not have plans to visit Nepal at the moment, but it is a very special place that is very dear to our hearts. I do hope that we can return some day. We have two baby daughters, and we would love for them to see your country. Please let me know if you have any specific ideas. While my husband and I live on one income, I do believe that we might be able to raise some money. I could also write a letter to an organization that might be able to help as well. What is it that you need most? Ellie

Tsering Pema Tamang <tsering.pema77@gmail.com> Wed, Jul 22, 2015 at 9:44 AM To: ellie.kuhne@gmail.com

Its make me very happy to read that you will remember to me and my family.i never forget to you.my feeling is that if you can help for me some money it will also be the part of the house.how i can made my house due to run my family member and children fee.now days we dont have any bussiness and farm to earn then how can made my house.no had help for me.i had lots of problem how i can slove it.if you can help for me i will never forget it.i am tsering pema tamang.in my village only my family cannot get help.i really belive to you..

Tsering Pema Tamang <tsering.pema77@gmail.com> Sat, Aug 29, 2015 at 9:32 PM To: ellie.kuhne@gmail.com

Tashi delek!i really belive to you and i requested you for help for first time. but i had get reply only one time.i had mail you 4 times.i know to you so,i mail to you.i had detaily share my problem with you.i had lots of problem by earthquake.as you know that we are the poor.we can’t get help by any organization.but some foriegn kindful and helpful private organization give us some food and materials.but other organization not link in our village.our goverment also not help in our village because they thought that tourism area had got help by their (foriegn)friend and other foriegn.but we dont have any foriegn friend and people to help us. We are live in rural part of our country.so,in this part goverment and organizatin don’t help us.really belive me and know my feeling.nowdays my life is like”fish with out water”..can you made some idea with your husband?truely and kindly requested!keep in touch!



I’m trying to initiate more unstructured time outside with the girls. We bring a picnic and plan to walk a bit, but that’s all.   
It’s not without its challenges; I’m pretty much guaranteed a tantrum from the eldest if the snacks aren’t plentiful, free flowing, or to her liking/ if it’s hot/ if she has too walk far.

But today, after the requisite tantrum, turned out to be a marvelous success! Lily spied a fuzzy green caterpillar, and we were enthralled for no less than 45 minutes.

 As chance would have it, we had just received a book in the mail from Boobah about Charlie the caterpillar. We read it aloud, stopping to measure our live “Charlie” progress often. 

What great serendipity!


Keep the Poetry

While Lu lay sleeping, I mopped the floors. It’s unreasonable how much I love clean floors.   
I made sweet peach tea for after school and then I hid random treasures inside half an egg carton for Lily.

Playing with magazine cutouts.  
“Bunny hunt” flag yesterday at Crown Hill. Thought a flag might keep her going for a mile. Not so much. 95 degrees wasn’t much help either.


Leadville, Baby

This weekend our friend had a killer race and placed second in the Leadville Trail 100. We tagged along, always game to spend some time in one of our favorite mountain towns. Joshua paced for a bit and I hung out with the blondes… That would be our joint posse of children.

This one sobbed when we left Leadville. “What do you like about Leadville?” we asked her as she cried over our packed bags.  “The mountains are so pretty,” she said. So, yeah. #coloradonative through and through.

I made Stacy take a picture of me holding baby Bierstadt. For posterity, of course.

3/4 of the posse  

#nottwins #ninemonthsapart

So fun to watch Ellison and Lu play together. I hope they’ll be good friends!  

Crew life at Twin Lakes. Betcha didn’t know that crew is an acronym for “crabby runner eternal waiting.” Our friend wasn’t too crabby, but it ain’t an ultra if there isn’t a lot of waiting and driving involved…

Babooshka Lily  
KP at Twin Lakes with his pacers in back, Will, Patrick, and Joshua. Making sure he’s got his wet wipes, Vaseline, and sunscreen. Oh ultras. What a funny scene.


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