Katrien is one of these Mamas that really do live the simple life. She is not just talking about it but really doing it. Originally from Belgium she travelled all over the world and used to live in many different places. But for the past years she, her husband, their twin boys and soon a little baby boy live in a house on an Italien hill, making their dreams come true…
Tell us a bit about how you arrived on your Italian hill?
Ever since I was a little girl, I had this dream that one day I wanted to live in a house on a hill somewhere. I imagined my life would be a creative life; making my own clothes, growing my own vegetables, keeping some sheep for wool and goats for milk to make cheese with… Then one day I met Francesco (he was working at his parents‘ mountain farm at the time). And somehow I could see that in a life together with this man, my childhood dream wouldn’t necessarily have to remain a little girl’s fantasy…
And so here we are today, almost exactly ten years later, in a house on a hill, living the life I once dreamt for myself. And no. It hasn’t always been easy. And the road here hasn’t always been a straight one (we even lived in the center of a city together for years), but in the end we never gave up our dream, and through hard work and some heartfelt sacrifices, we somehow managed to make it all come true.
You try to live quite autonomously and independently. Why did you choose this lifestyle and how do you live it?
I think our main motivation to live this slow, green and handmade life we chose for ourselves and our family, comes from the fact that there is an immense satisfaction in eating the food grown yourself, or using objects that you have made yourself. They carry so much more soul than quickly (and often thoughtlessly) purchased objects or food, and on top of that, they often are healthier, environment-friendlier and much less expensive as well!
And so not a day goes by that Francesco and I don’t sit together, dreaming aloud and brainstorming about how we can take this project of ours a little step further…
Your Instagram posts give a glimpse of the many things you craft and cook with your children. Where do your wonderfully creative ideas come from?
Before the boys were born, I worked several years as an art educator for a Modern Art Museum. Developing new workshops and art related activities was an important part of my job during that period. And I often feel like I’m still revisiting, and drawing inspiration from some of the things I did back then, inspiring artwork I grew close to, exhibitions we studied as a team, and lessons that I have learned from wonderful mentors (who were often specialized in Montessori and Waldorf education) that I have met – and had the honor of working with – during those years.
But whenever I feel that the well runs dry, and I really can’t come up with anything to do, I usually find inspiration by doing a little search on Pinterest, or having a look at what some of the creative mama’s I have met on Instagram are doing with their littles.
How was it for you, when you discovered you would be having twins?
I was absolutely stunned, but so very happy… I had gone to my doctor’s appointment by myself because it was supposed to be a routine check-up (I had already had my first ultrasound, etc. at a previous appointment), and I will never forget the surreal feeling, when -standing by a hospital window looking out of the majestic Dolomite Alps- I called Francesco at work to tell him: “My love… we’re having TWO babies!“
What’s it like having twins? Has that changed over the years?
Having twins has been one of the most beautiful, but also one of the hardest, most humbling experiences of my life. Twins have an incredible bond, an invisible link that somehow makes them uniquely perfect in their companionship towards each other, and to be witness to that is simply incredible. But of course it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns…
I guess it’s fair to say that especially the first year with twins has been really very difficult for me. Caring for two (very fussy) newborns (that simply wouldn’t sleep… ever… unless they were strapped to my body or being walked outside in the stroller) almost brought me to my knees. There were times that I longed for a break, a moment to myself, to step back into those times that I was defined by nothing but the creativity of my work, but those breaks rarely ever happened, as we lived in a city without any friends and relatives nearby… So yes… that was hard. But at the same time, it was that very same experience that showed me the depths of my strength, and more importantly, it has taught me to trust in the fact that all things change, and to not despair in the face of difficulty, but rather to see those moments as opportunities for growth.
You are going to have a third child soon. Did you always want to have lots of children?
Oh dear no. Quite the opposite really… I always jokingly said that I would have either three or none, but the truth is, I was convinced I would never have any children at all. I had lived a free and independent life for such a long time, juggling between freelance work and long periods of traveling, that I could simply not imagine settling down with someone, and creating a stable enough environment to raise a family in. But then I met Francesco, and after 5 years together, I suddenly caught myself thinking: “And what if…“
How do you integrate your children into the housework?
Ever since the boys were able to walk, we’ve asked them to help out in what little ways they could. In the beginning it was just little things, of course, like bringing their own laundry to the basket, or leaving their jackets, hats and scarfs in the right place when we come back into the house after some outside time. Now that they are older, we also ask them to give us a hand to re-arrange their toys, make their bed, set the table and bring their own dirty dishes to the sink.
Aside from that, they are always welcome to come and ‚help‘ whenever Francesco and I are doing something (cooking, gardening, taking care of the animals, fixing things in and around the house…), but that is entirely up to them!
This might perhaps not seem like very much, but I always found that these small things make a big difference. To me and to them. For through their help, children discover that they too have their very own place and purpose in the network of a family, and with it grows a distinct sense of pride in their accomplishments, as well as an awareness of the effort it takes to create a pleasant environment to live and play in.
What are your current favorite recipes?
Now that the days started lengthening and the weather is getting warmer every day, I feel that we’re moving away from our typical winter cuisine with its hearty soups and stews that often stand to simmer for hours on the wood stove in the kitchen. Instead we’ve started preparing lots of dishes with fresh herbs and vegetables form the surrounding meadows and our awakening vegetable patch. Think easy ‚Brotzeit‘ style meals with fresh bread and locally produced cheese, paired with light salads often with freshly picked greens such as dandelions, and tossed with organic olive oil, parmesan shavings, or feta cheese and seeds. Other staples at our spring table are fresh herb- and/or vegetable spreads such as tzatziki (which is prepared in advance, and can even be kept in the fridge for a few days), ‚young vegetable soups‘ (such as nettle-coconut cream soup, or zucchini soup with a touch of fresh yoghurt and mint), and ‚quick‘ pastas, like pasta with fresh basil Pesto (which I sometimes prepare with the addition of a handful of cooked nettle leaves).
You sew and knit a lot of your own children’s clothes. When you do decide to buy something, what do you pay attention to?
As we live a very rustic, outdoor oriented lifestyle, the first thing we look for of course, is durability. We like our clothes to last through forest hikes and frequent mudbaths, but that is not all. When we set out to buy clothes for ourselves or the boys, we try as much as possible to choose pieces that are created with full respect for the environment, and the people who have made them. Buying clothes that were made in circumstances that are either dangerous or inhumane for the workers is simply unacceptable to us. Therefore, we often choose to buy organic cotton, wool or silk basics (such as t-shirts), combined with pieces that were made and/or produced by artisans or small companies that guarantee fairness throughout their production process. (Because in the end, all garments are ‚handmade‘, but would you like your seven-year-old to be stitching someone else’s jeans?)
Describe a typical day in your family’s life.
We usually all wake pretty early in the morning. 6.30 is pretty normal for us, especially in summer. But I don’t mind the early start at all, as it gives us some time to start the day slowly and with intention. First off, my husband and I have coffee together and talk about our plans for the day, while the boys play together. Then there’s breakfast, and more free play as I (attempt to) get some chores done around the house. Later in the morning we go out for a walk, or to the village if we need to do groceries. At about 13.00 we eat lunch, after which we take a bit of a break, and do our daily ‚school activities‘. (If the weather is really bad, we sometimes move this to mid-morning). The rest of the afternoon we go outside, playing or doing some work in the garden. Dinner follows at 19.00, after which we start our daily evening routine that ends with about half an hour of reading together, and singing a few songs, before the boys go to bed at 20.00.
You raise your children following the Waldorf concept, and your children are homeschooled. How did this come about?
When Francesco and I started considering the option of moving out into the remote area we live in now, one of our main concerns was the quality of schooling available for the children. But then we met some friends who told us about homeschooling, and for me that was the final argument for making the leap. If all else ‚failed‘, we could always opt for homeschooling… So shortly after, we took the most important decision of our lives; we bought the house on a hill I had dreamt of living in as a little girl, and moved away from everything we had ever known.
But as we started to build a new home for ourselves, life changed and slowed down, leaving space for new growth, and the opening of perspectives we had never even anticipated. Because with less distractions (and no room in our budget for anything but the most basic things like food and clothes for the boys), we felt ourselves pulling closer together, and sharpening our focus on the things that really matter to us as a family. And so by the time the boys reached the age that they could start to attend the local kindergarten, we noticed that something had shifted. Suddenly the idea of sending them away from home to attend school seemed so very alien… That was when we realized that homeschooling was no longer ‚a last resort‘ to us, or merely a way of ‚opting out‘ of a schooling system that was somehow failing, or lacking in our view. Instead we had come to feel that it was a natural consequence of this closely-knit, family-centered life we had come to live.
What do you wish for the future? And for your children’s future?
I hope that in the next few years, Francesco and I can shape our lives here in a way that will permit us to live more and more independently; that we will be able to successfully develop some kind of activity that will permit us to survive here without being dependent on an income that stems from work outside.
And our children… May they find a way to follow their dreams as we have done; whatever those dreams may be, and however far that will take them from the life we have chosen for ourselves. And I can only hope that – as parents – we have set an example into showing them that dreams can be made into reality. And that all the hard work that goes into building those dreams is not a ‚necessary evil'; that the sacrifices you make are not obstacles to be overcome on your way to your goal, but that they are in fact part of the dream, and that they themselves can be a source of joy.
What is the most difficult thing about being a mother?
Finding time for myself. Ever since the boys were born, I’m finding it hard to carve out portions of mama time, but I’m working on that!
And what is the best thing about being a mother?
Aside of course from the ever growing love you feel for (and receive from) your children, I would say the best thing for me has been the opportunity for growth. Becoming a mother wasn’t something I had anticipated of doing all my life, and when it happened, I felt a deep fear of losing myself; of being stripped of everything that had ever defined me. But as I look back now, I realize that motherhood has defined me more profoundly than my academic accomplishments or my work have ever done. It has taught me more important things about myself than any inward or outward journey I have ever undertaken, and revealed a strength I didn’t know I had in me. Furthermore, it has helped me to move through some barriers I didn’t even realize I had set for myself, and through this all, I have found more joy than I had ever dared to hope for!
What two lessons have you learned about being a mother which you can pass on to other mothers?
I think the most important thing I have learned through my experience as a mother is that less really is more. I believe this to be true in all things, but it certainly applies to motherhood as well; buy less, worry less, expect less, plan less, and you’ll get more valuable things in return… In buying less things for our children (less ‚stuff‘, less clothes and less toys) we give them the chance to develop a deeper connection to the things they do have. By worrying less, we give our children a happier, more carefree and more present mom. By expecting less, we allow things to take their own course, which might just bring you to places or results that might far exceed your expectations! And through less planning – especially when it comes to the amount of activities we tend to lay out for our little ones – we give them the freedom to explore the world at their own pace, and in their very own way.
And the second is: don’t get stuck in the moment! With children everything tends to come in phases, so if you’re going through a rough patch, don’t loose heart! Chances are good that soon things will be looking very different again…
If you’d like to see more of Katrien’s beautiful family you should follow her @growingwildthings account on Instagram!
Thank you so much for this lovely interview dear Katrien! We wish you and your growing family all the best!