Minimalist-ish Family Series: Ashley

Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
My name is Ashley and I’m writing from Victoria, British Columbia.  My first born was three months old when my husband and I bought a condo.  We had been living with my in laws for two years and prior to that we had rented a basement suite.  At the time of our condo purchase it was all we could afford since Victoria is very expensive.  These days we are happy in the condo, where I home educate our two boys ages 6 and 9.  During the past nine years we have experienced the joys of living a fifteen minute walk from the ocean, downtown, parks, grocery stores, the library and my husband’s office.  We love to walk and be outside.  Cycling is my husband’s favourite mode of transportation, so we are quite fortunate to live in this area.  On the other hand there have been many times when the inconveniences of condo living have brought us frustration and discontentment; shared laundry two floors below our suite (which for many years meant timing laundry at nap time), trying to keep the noise and footsteps on laminate floor to a minimum (very difficult with toddlers!), one tiny bathroom, not enough light in the winter months-I could go on and on.  However, I can honestly say that my husband and I have now started to let go of the unrealistic dream of owning a house in our city, and instead we’ve begun to truly appreciate what we have.
When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?
I first heard about minimalism when I read Rachel’s article in the Globe and Mail, many years ago!  I wasn’t intending to start living a strict minimalist lifestyle, but purging all the stuff that we never use and then being more deliberate about items I purchased, well, that was exciting to me. I started going through the house, finding all sorts of little things (especially in the kitchen) that I never used.  Cleaning out feels good, but realizing that I don’t have to hold onto things in order to feel secure or happy feels like a huge burden lifted.
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What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?
I don’t think that I’m deliberating trying to live with less stuff.  I’m not a very good example of a true minimalist.  However, making the decision to stay in our condo for the long term has caused me to shift my thinking.  Instead of saying, “I don’t want us to have lots of stuff’, out of necessity I have to say, “There’s only one small space where I can keep recipe books so I’ll have to decide which ones are worth keeping”.  Or, since we don’t have a garage or basement but only an awkwardly-sized storage locker, we can’t hang onto anything we aren’t using upstairs.  The locker fits our bikes, camping gear, Christmas boxes and a few odds and ends.  There’s no option to hang onto boxes full of pictures or books or old school work. This fact forces my husband and I to constantly make decisions around what to keep and what to donate or recycle or sell.  The downside is that all this decision making can be exhausting!  Especially as my boys get older and are producing more drawings, more projects, more school work, more stuff.  I am running out of creative storage solutions and the momentum needed to keep cleaning out!
What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
Being able to find everything!  Seriously, I can find most items in our home fairly quickly (with the exception of toys or other little knick knacks that the boys collect).  I also have less to tidy and less to clean.  The best example I can give of us living with less stuff is in my bedroom.  We gave the boys the master bedroom a couple of years ago, which was a great move.  Our bedroom now holds a queen sized bed, a small bedside table and then the little closet holds all our clothes.  Since the closet is small we can only have so many clothing items at one time, which keeps us from shopping and hanging onto old clothes that we ‘might wear one day’ but never do.  Most importantly, deciding to make the best of condo living has opened up great relationships with our neighbors in the building.  There are a few people in particular with whom I regularly borrow books, or kitchenware, and in turn I can lend them items I don’t use on a regular basis-hair clippers, a dehydrator or tools.  Sometimes I will offer my boys’ clothes to my neighbors who have younger children.  This has lead to many face to face conversations with the people who live below, beside and above my family.  I feel like our building has become a very special community of all ages (from eighteen months old to ninety-three years!) and what could be a better place to raise my kids.
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Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
Oh yes, I know there will be challenges as the boys get older.  They will get bigger, for one thing.  They will crave more space!  But, I guess I need to keep in mind that life will always have challenges no matter where we live or how we live.  The reality for my family right now is that we don’t have the finances to move, so we will do what we can to make it work as best we can, for as long as we need to.
Thank you Ashley! So lovely to hear from another condo family making the best of their small living situation. If you’d like to share your story of living minimalist-ish family life – any size home or family! – contact me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com.

A Minimalist Stroller: The Mountain Buggy Nano

 

For the parents of the young ones and the parents-to-be out there: a never before found on this blog stroller review. I don’t think I have ever reviewed anything besides books here. But today I am sharing a great find for parents that actually fits in with a minimalist parenting lifestyle. A revolutionary stroller designed for travel, urban life and compact living.

As I have said before, no one stroller does it all.

My kids are getting older and with some other life changes I knew it was time to downsize our stroller. Our double had served us well with two kids under two but the double days were, thankfully, behind us. We needed something that folded up easily and compactly for storage at daycare and for some upcoming long haul travel. And, dare to dream, if I could haul it on my cargo bike for big outings that would be a huge bonus. After seven years of stroller life I also really wanted to get back some hall entryway space. Those of you with small homes can probably relate. That spot near the front door where a stroller has sat since my oldest was born was tantalizingly within reach of us reclaiming.

I researched a lot of small strollers this fall. We’d had a second hand Maclaren for a few years in the Isle of Man and it worked well for travel and our horse tram and train trips around the island. But it wasn’t comfortable to push for long distances and at 6’5″ my husband struggled with the low handle height. We needed something that was easy to walk with daily and for a lot of miles. After much searching and querying of parents at the indoor play gym, I found what I was looking for.

The Mountain Buggy Nano is my minimalist stroller.

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The Mountain Buggy Nano fits most of my urban minimalist needs. One handed push, folds easily and compactly and a comfortable seat (my youngest naps in the stroller most afternoons). With an infant car seat for use it can be used from birth and has a carry capacity of 44 lbs. You can even add a Freerider scooter to the rear axle to move your older child along. The wheels are surprisingly smooth for being smaller and not air filled and it, incredibly for its size, has a suspension system. The basket is a decent size for everyday use and it has an excellent canopy with pop out sun shade.

I consider myself a bit of a stroller guru. We’ve had many strollers over the years as we moved countries added children. So far we have at one time owned, bought in new or used condition, an UppaBaby Vista, fixed wheel jogging stroller, BOB Revolution, Phil and Teds Navigator double and a McLaren umbrella stroller. And compared to all of those strollers, the Mountain Buggy Nano is probably my favorite for its versatility, size and price point.

More about the Mountain Buggy Nano:

  • I’ve been asking other parents about their Mountain Buggy Nanos for a few months now. I wanted to know how the stroller held-up over time. One parent I met locally has had her Mountain Buggy Nano for 18 months, has put a lot of miles on her stroller (stay at home parent with no car) and said it is still in great shape. Her one comment was that she might have to replace the wheels in the next six months.
  • you need to pop the stroller over curbs and it has taken me a while to get used to this. Why? Because the stroller otherwise rolls smoothly like a full size premium stroller. Popping front wheels up for a curb was second nature with our rickety umbrella stroller but has not come naturally with this stroller.
  • obviously this stroller won’t work as a two seated double or for running or for large grocery trips. I’ve rolled the stroller on gravel and uneven and broken pavement and it has been okay but if I lived somewhere with rough terrain or out in the country I wouldn’t choose this stroller as an everyday stroller.
  • it’s really really easy to fold and it’s very compact. One reason we wanted this stroller was that our youngest was starting daycare and there is limited stroller storage. The Mountain Buggy Nano is perfect for stowing in small spaces.
  • one of the features I’m very excited about is that it can be stored in overhead bins on a plane. We have some upcoming travel where I am going to test this out. As I will be on my own with three young kids for half of the air travel I am thrilled at this option to make life a little bit easier. (I’ll be sharing more on air travel with the Mountain Buggy Nano on Instagram).
  • in comparison to a premium stroller the Mountain Buggy Nano is a bargain at $349 CDN. But if you compared it to a lightweight umbrella stroller it’s considerably more money. In my opinion the MB Nano is much more than a lightweight umbrella stroller but it can easily fit that need – easy fold, easily portable. It’s more comparable to something like the UPPA Baby G-Luxe but it’s lighter weight and has a more compact fold. And, the big one, it has one handed push which no umbrella style stroller has. So if you just need something small to stash in your car for the occasional trip this would be a hefty investment. But if you want a stroller that’s travel friendly but feels like a premium stroller, this is an amazing option.

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Tip: the weather shield above the head rest can doubles as extra storage for lightweight items like jackets, blankets and teddies.

This is my last stroller and, hurrah!, it’s great for 95% of what we need it for. Sure, I can’t do a huge grocery shop with it but we are mostly using grocery delivery these days, the new fruit and veg place on the corner and the occasional Chefs Plate (highly recommend you Canadians give this a try – link gets you three free plates). And I have a funny system for Costco runs where I use a folding handcart (it totally works). So yeah, this is it. Seven years down the road of stroller usage and I feel like I’ve found my spirit stroller. It’s compact, versatile and travels well. Oh, and my seven year old also finds it easy to push. Win, win, win.

Disclaimer: I received a Mountain Buggy Nano stroller for review. All opinions are honest and my own.

Minimalist-ish Family Series: Colleen Vales

So many challenges and so many big life changes for this family living in the expensive Bay area. A move to a tiny home and a new baby and long distance parenting and creating a multi-generational family unit by moving into your parent’s backyard. Really interesting and inspiring read here that I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
I’m Colleen, a working mother of a 10-year-old daughter, with a baby due in November. We live in San Jose, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, where I work in communications for a local government agency. My partner lives two hours away with his 14-year-old son, so for a few years, we’re going to be long-distance parenting our baby. 
My daughter and I have a black lab and a cat of unknown origin, and we’re in the middle of downsizing from a 975-square-foot condo to a 270-square-foot tiny home. We want to live more simply and intentionally and not live to pay rent. We’re going to park the tiny home in my parents’ back yard, and I think that’ll be mutually beneficial. They help care for my daughter while I’m at work, and I help them around their house. The tiny home is due shortly after the baby, which has posed a challenge in terms of downsizing, but we’re trying to use baby registries to help guide the gifts that are already arriving for the baby.
Things we love to do, especially now that we’re not spending so much time shopping for needless items, include spending time with family and friends, writing, reading, knitting, riding our bikes around town, hiking in the hills close to our home, and gardening.
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2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?
I first heard about minimalism probably about four years ago when I learned of Bea Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Home. At that point, I had been trying to reduce my use of plastic and to make more things from scratch and found her blog to be very helpful. Around the same time, I stumbled across Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog. Both encouraged buying less and focusing on experiences, and that resonated with me because I was smack in the middle of struggling to try to find time for my daughter, doing the things I love and working a full-time job. As I read their blogs, I was turned onto more: The Minimalists , Slow Your Home, LifeEdited and others. 
They all talked about not being tied down by your things, which also resonated with me because we have moved a couple of times over the last few years, and each time, my older brother has helped me and commented “Dude. You have too much stuff.” I knew he was right, and I remembered back to my college days when I could fit everything I needed to live in the back of my pickup truck. I also remembered a 7-month trip to Europe I had taken before my daughter was born, where I and my partner started out with a backpack and a suitcase each and whittled our belongings down to a backpack each and one shared small suitcase. I love the idea of being able to pick up and go and not be tied down by stuff. All those thoughts and new information from the blogs came together to help me see that it was time to get rid of some things. 
A year or two later, I discovered tiny houses, which appealed to my desire to live without the shackles of stuff as well as the ability to pick up and go. It didn’t take much — just one video — to convince my daughter that they were really cool and something we should pursue. And now here we are, waiting for our tiny home to get built so we can have a place we can truly call our own, a place where we can live simply, with a smaller environmental footprint, and have the option to just go if we desire. I’m pretty sure it will have some big challenges and take some getting used to, but we are really excited about it.
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3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?
One of the biggest challenges I’m having right now is trying to figure out what else to get rid of. Although we’ve been in 200-square-foot tiny homes before, it’s hard to know what amount of stuff will fit in our particular space. I have used the KonMari method twice with great success in getting rid of a lot of things — it has been especially helpful with sentimental items — but I know I have more to go. Furniture will be easy to send off, but beyond that, I don’t know what else should go.
My particular nemesis is the kitchen. While I have pared down considerably, I love to cook and bake, and I use all the tools I have kept. I think I will need to see our new space before I will truly know what to jettison next, and it’s that waiting that I find challenging. I want to get rid of things now.
Another challenge has been not bringing more into our home. While I have cut down on shopping, I still have not totally eliminated desire, and I’m not immune to temptation. So I try to remember that we won’t have room in the tiny house to put the things we buy now, and it’s been helpful in keeping me from buying something that I may have to get rid of in a few months. But with fundraisers at my daughter’s and my partner’s son’s school, plus a baby on the way, keeping down the amount of stuff we bring in has been a little difficult. The baby is due just before our tiny house is due, and we have found ourselves the recipients of more things that we may have trouble finding a place for in the new house. I’m trying to keep it to just what we’ll need, but with baby items, it can be so hard — they’re so cute! I’m a sucker for cute stuff.
4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
There are a few things that I find rewarding about living with less stuff. The first and most important is the time I have that I don’t spend shopping, cleaning, organizing or caring for so many things. That has freed up more time for me to concentrate on writing and spending time with my daughter, and in turn, that — being able to do the things I love — has cut down on my stress.
I also find my home to be much more serene. Without knickknacks and papers and other stuff cluttering up each surface, my home feels more welcoming, easier to breathe in and more conducive to creativity. I’m not distracted by piles of papers or books or things I have to put away. I’ve slowed down, and my home reflects that, but because there isn’t that distraction or waste of time on shopping, I feel like I get so much more done.
Our home is also a lot greener and healthier. When we don’t bring so much stuff in, we generate less trash and our new buying habits require fewer resources for the production, transport and disposal of things. We’ve gotten the amount of trash we generate (from two people, a dog, a cat and guests) down to one 8-gallon trash can that we take out every two to three weeks, and I’m aiming to make that can smaller. By bringing less packaged stuff into our house, I’m also cooking from scratch more, which results in us eating a greater variety of healthier, tastier food.
Lastly, we’ve saved money. By really considering purchases before making them and not shopping as much, I’ve been able to eliminate all my debt, and have tried to train myself to save up for an item that I give myself permission to buy. It’s not easy, and I feel like I’m still learning, but it’s nice each month when my credit card statements arrive via e-mail, and my balance is zero. This frugality is allowing me to take six months of mostly unpaid leave after the baby is born. I’ll get 2/3 of my pay for the first 4 to 6 weeks, but after that, I’ll have to live on savings, so cutting out shopping has been instrumental in my calculations on how to make this work. So has moving into a tiny house, which will cut down on my monthly housing payment by about $1,200 each month, which still isnt even half my rent. (Silicon Valley is extremely expensive).
 

5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
A continued challenge to this lifestyle will be when my partner and I can finally merge our households. He is definitely not a minimalist. While I’ve taken him into consideration in the design of our tiny house, he is also not a person who would ever consider such a living situation for himself and his son. Bringing together two opposite lifestyles could prove to be challenging, but I believe we’ll work to meet somewhere in the middle. We won’t continue living tiny, but we also won’t live huge. There’s a compromise in there, and I believe it involves a cute little house with a big ol’ yard.
While it’s probably a couple of years away still, my partner and I talk about it now. Once the tiny house is done, and my daughter and the baby and I are settled and have gotten used to it, I think we’ll show that simple, minimal living is a pretty good way to go.
Even if living tiny isn’t for everyone, I think everyone can benefit from slowing down and making space in their schedules and their homes for the things they love. Living with less is helping us to do just that, and while we may encounter obstacles here and there along the way, they’re not insurmountable because we’re spending our time and money building relationships instead of building a stash of things. 

 You can read more about

Blog: www.slowsimplelife.com

Facebook:facebook.com/slowsimplelife

Instagram:@colleenvalles
Twitter: @colleenvalles

Minimalist-ish Family Series: Kendal Gerard

Another post in the Minimalist-ish Family Series and this time it’s a young family deciding to love the space they’re in right now… even if it’s a lot smaller than they planned for.
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1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:

We’re a new family of three — our baby girl is just seven months old — and we all share a 750 sq. ft. wartime bungalow in the East York-Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto, Canada. We bought the property about six years ago after renting nearby. I love coffee, running, red wine, reading, country music, flea markets, and our fluffy ginger cat, Archie. I’m currently on maternity leave with our daughter, but I’ll eventually go back to work in children’s book publishing and my husband is a geologist. His career will see us move to Victoria, British Columbia, in the spring, so we’ll soon call a new address home for a little while.   

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2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?

 Soon after we got married, I got the house hunting itch bad. I desperately wanted out of our “too small” apartment and into a home of our own. We walked through our house three times before we made a bid — it was definitely too small (about 100 sq. ft. bigger than our one bedroom apartment and we knew we’d want a child one day), but something about it kept drawing us back. We decided we’d make a radical lifestyle change in order to own it and live in it comfortably — I decided I wanted a little house near the beach more than I wanted a bed frame (yep, our bedroom is only big enough for a mattress on the floor). I don’t know if I’d heard the term “minimalism” by that point or if that came later, but my reaction is kind of, “aah, my people.” I’m a big time convert.    
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3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?

I like to switch things up at home and the commitment to owning less stuff (one set of bedsheets, for example) makes it difficult to do a simple refresh by cycling in your spare set. When I do purchase something new for the house (like a throw pillow, mirror, vase, etc.), I have to donate/gift/sell/repurpose whatever it’s replacing — there’s no high shelf in a closet (literally, my house has no closets) where I can stick the pillow I was tired of looking at. That can feel wasteful because there’s usually nothing wrong with or damaged about the older item. Also, one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday is at a flea market or jumble shop — I love the thrill of the find. Of course, I most often leave empty handed because we really don’t have space for that perfect vintage school desk, which is cost effective — but can be a bit of a bummer.   

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4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
I believe we draw a lot from our surroundings and that living in a simple, clutter free environment, surrounded only by things that are beautiful to look at or otherwise make you happy, is just plain good for the soul. It’s maybe too early to say for sure, but my daughter is just the happiest, calmest baby — I’d like to think that has something to do with the absence of a million toys and outfits. Living with less has also been a boon financially — we’ve been able to travel all over (we’re about to take our third vacation with our seven month old) and we’ll be able to keep our Toronto property as a rental and purchase a new (small!) home in Victoria this winter. Neither of these things would have been possible if I’d been making weekly Target runs for crap we don’t actually need.   
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5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
 My husband and I act as gatekeepers right now. The influx of stuff (grandparents, oi vey) for our daughter has been relentless since she was born, but any outfits, toys, and books that don’t meet our standards are promptly donated, returned, regifted, or sold and she’s none the wiser. Pretty soon she’s going to be aware of all her presents and probably want to keep more than she can possibly play with or wear. So that’s a challenge. The other challenge is really specific to this house and not to a minimalist lifestyle generally — her bedroom is 54 sq. ft., won’t fit a single bed, and we all share one itty bitty bathroom. This might be a problem down the line, when we move back to this house from Victoria with a pre-teen or teenager.
Instagram: @little.bungalow

Thank you Kendal! Lovely to see how you make your small home work and your no-nonsense strategy on gifts is right up my alley. And good luck with your big move.

Are you living a Minimalist-ish life? I’m sharing stories from families that have implemented minimalism to small or big degrees and what that looks like in their home and with their family. If you would like to be featured email me at the minimalist mom at gmail dot com (all together). 

The Minimalist Mom: How to Simply Parent Your Baby

 

That’s a baby getting a bath in a bucket in our kitchen sink. I wanted to try out one of those Tummy Tubs – a friend said her baby really enjoyed it – but $50 for a plastic bucket seemed a bit ridiculous. And you know, the baby may hate it. And, oh yeah, we already had a bucket at home that could basically do the same job.

I didn’t always think this way. In fact, with our first baby, the one that was quite colicky and didn’t sleep much, I looked to stuff to make life easier. This special swaddle would help or this stuffed singing lamb would soothe him to sleep. I bought a lot of stuff in search of making my life easier and my baby happier. None of it did what I hoped it would. The cure for my colicky baby and my deep exhaustion was simply time and asking for help. Nothing I could buy in a store or charge on a credit card.

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That’s what my new book is about. The Minimalist Mom: How to Simply Parent Your Baby is about accepting the unpredictable nature of life with a baby and tailoring what you have and how you manage your new life to suit your needs. It’s always frustrated me that those traditional baby book tombs of check lists and must-haves never spoke about different needs for different lifestyles and that not all babies are the same. Those books never delved into real strategies for making life easier as a new parent. Those books never speak to examining your own lifestyle and your own priorities as you plan for life with a new baby. The dual working parent suburban family with a long commute by car and a baby in daycare has different needs than say a family with a parent staying home that lives in an urban center. And if you’re sending your child to a daycare you will have different needs than a family that has a nanny that comes to their home. If your stroller will mostly be stored in your car you probably don’t need the same stroller as the parents that want to jog on their rural roads or the parent that will use their stroller to haul the groceries home or even the family that is hoping to have a second baby soon after the first. If one parent works overnights you’re going to need a different schedule and division of household duties than a family with two parents that work 9-5 jobs. So many differences and yet those other baby books shell out the same advice for all of us. This book is different.

In The Minimalist Mom: How to Simply Parent Your Baby I show you how to:

  • buy or borrow baby gear that you will actually use for your life and your baby
  • save money on your gear and ideas for making single items multipurpose
  • identify your schedule and household stumbling blocks and make plans before the baby arrives
  • hone in on the things that really matter to you – be they family or friend time, education, a hobby – and how to incorporate them back into your life as new parents
  • create more time in your schedule once the baby arrives
  • get more sleep!

This is a book about making life a bit simpler and easier. Using the tenets of minimalism I take you through simplifying your routines and gear to help you enjoy and savor that first year with your baby. No matter if you live on a rural homestead or in the heart of the city. If you work full-time and have a one hour commute each way or you’re becoming a stay-at-home parent. If you’ve got money to spend or if you’re working with a small or nonexistent budget (yes, there are strategies for spending $0 on baby gear and clothing in this book!). In each section of the book I give examples of implementing a minimalist lifestyle to whatever degree you’re looking for. The ideas run the range from radical to modest and there’s something in here for every parent whether your goal is simply to clean out the guest bedroom before the baby arrives or you’re looking for strategies to live in a one bedroom apartment with one (or two) children.

Why? Because happier and calmer and less sleep deprived parents are happier people. And they deal with the stress of a new baby better. And that’s what I want for new parents who read this book. Less stress, more sleep. Less clutter, more love.

I really couldn’t have written this book without all the support and advice from readers over the years. It’s been almost six years since I started writing here and I have loved sharing and learning with all of you. The conversation here continues to inspire me and I know it has helped thousands of new parents navigate the often murky waters of life with a baby. Thank you all!

Finally, I would love your support with this new book. If you can share it with your local parents group, request it be stocked to your local library, gift it at your next baby shower or even buy a copy I would so greatly appreciate your support. If you have already purchased the book – THANK YOU! – and I would love your support in the form of an honest Amazon review. Small authors like me rely on word of mouth and online reviews to get our books noticed and you dear readers are my online village!

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