meet natalie and andrea: practicing yoga and building community in chicago

Natalie and Andrea Pavela, People with Panache

Natalie (left); Andrea (right). The idea for Yoga+ really began in January 2014. Andrea had moved back to Chicago from NYC and was looking for a new yoga studio to call home. It was more challenging than she expected! So she and Natalie began organizing and hosting free classes every other week in their friends’ apartments. One night, over dinner at Pequod’s, the two girls realized what they could turn these free classes into—and Yoga+ was born.

Calling all yogis!

Yoga has become a big part of my life in the past year or so. Not only have I been taking more classes and learning about new types, I have two close friends who are now certified yoga instructors. I commend them—I haven’t yet honed the patience or meditative skills to go through those lengthy certifications. But I love practicing with them and getting tips on my techniques. (Although I’m not sure if I’ll ever master Crow pose.)

Recently, I discovered a business that blends two of my favorite things: yoga and learning. Sisters Natalie and Andrea Pavela created Yoga+ in Chicago, and they pair interactive educational workshops with meditative and restorative yoga practice. Andrea calls it the perfect friend date. Launched in May 2014 with their first event the next month, each Yoga+ session consists of a short Vinyasa yoga practice (taught by Andrea) followed by a workshop led by a local maker, company or small business. They’ve taught Chicagoans everything from mixology to watercolor painting, pasta to juice making, essential oil demonstrations and even classes on crafting French macarons with a certain je ne sais quoi. Each event is one-of-a-kind and sounds like so much fun that I can’t wait for Alysse and I to attend soon. I really can’t think of a better reason to stretch, center and eat sweet French cookies in yoga pants.

During the day, Andrea is a data analyst for LinkedIn, and Natalie is an event manager for Ivy Room. Andrea is also a yoga instructor at Yoga Six in Chicago and co-owns Yoga+ with Natalie. These girls are busy and bring their passions to every iteration of their careers.

People with Panache: What is most important to you in terms of each event?

Natalie Pavela: We really want them to be interactive, so guests are either making something with their hands, have a back-and-forth Q&A with the instructor or walk away with a finished product they either helped create or built on their own.

Andrea Pavela: There are two goals in my mind: one from the guest side, one from the business side. From the guest side, as a yoga teacher, my goal is to help create a space and community that allows people to get to know each other. Yoga classes often preach this yoga community, but it’s challenging to feel like you’re actually a part of it with no dialogue or personal connection to anyone else in class. So with the plus part, we’re taking yoga out of the studio so it can be more approachable to people who might not otherwise go to a yoga class. The second piece from the business side is creating a space to bring together people with a common interest.

Natalie Pavela, Yoga+ Chicago, PWP

Natalie is happiest when she is riding her bike. After having both of her bikes stolen last summer, she’s very happy to have recently gotten a new one. She says some people go to yoga or Soul Cycle to relieve stress, but biking for her is the most freeing thing. She also loves facilitating connections: “I’ve been told I’m a connector,” she says.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this experience is the relationships we’ve built. I’ve even been surprised by the community we’ve built just from people attending workshops. I figured we’d build relationships with the businesses we partner with, but I think we’ve also established our own Yoga+ community of people who are drawn to come back.

PWP: How do you divide up your roles?

NP: We both collaborate on partner outreach and brainstorming topics that we think our clientele would be excited about, so depending on how frequently we’re doing events, we might divide and conquer. We’ve hit a steady pace of around one event a month. I might reach out to those partners, start the initial conversation, meet with them to see the space if it’s a venue. Then I’ll come back to the table with Andrea and we’ll brainstorm costs, more of the content and how we see the event flowing from start to finish. I do more of the social media aspect. Andrea is our playlist guru (“Which is a time-consuming part of the process,” says Andrea). She puts together a thoughtful, modern playlist to craft a class that is approachable to everyone that shows up to the event. She also does a lot of the bookkeeping and financial planning and sometimes graphic design. We’re still defining things, but it’s exciting as sisters to see our strengths and learn from each other.

AP: The flexibility is nice. There’s accountability, too, because one person isn’t assigned to anything; it’s a shared responsibility.

NP: We both have full-time jobs outside of this. Balancing everything, I think we’ve become great at communicating and being honest about what we can and can’t do.

Yoga+ Chicago,

Natalie’s favorite Yoga+ event they’ve had was building essential oil custom fragrance blends with The Collective Chicago. Andrea’s favorite was a watercolor painting class.

PWP: That’s something Alysse and I are really grateful for, too—doing this blog has allowed us to do something we love together, and we really work to do a good job balancing responsibilities with each other and the other parts of our lives. What do your guests love about your events?

NP: We’ve tapped into this clientele of women who would rather treat themselves to a Saturday or Sunday afternoon than an evening of just drinking all night. (Editor’s Note: Alysse says AMEN!) One of our guests told us that what we’re doing is very luxurious; it’s self-care. You get to work out, sweat—but not too much so you don’t feel gross—get a refreshment and learn something new.

PWP: What is your favorite thing about the concept you’ve created?

AP: Similar to building a community in yoga, when you’re out and about in Chicago going to restaurants, bars, juice places, shops, you’re going to have a completely different experience if you have some sort of personal connection. From the guest side, it definitely cultivates a better experience.

PWP: What’s it like growing this business with full-time jobs?

NP: One thing that makes Yoga+ interesting versus a full-time business is we both have other jobs so we’re not relying on income from these events to sustain us. We’ve been able to grow at a comfortable pace that feels manageable so we’re not overwhelmed.

PWP: Would you want this to be your full-time job?

AP: TBD. For me personally, there are so many different parts to my brain and my personality that I like having multiple outlets. So I’m a data analyst for LinkedIn during the day, and that satisfies that piece of my brain. Yoga+ is very creative and social and wellness/self-care- oriented, plus relationship building so that satisfies the other piece.

Andrea Pavela, Yoga+ Chicago, PWP

Andrea is happiest when she is learning. “I love yoga because I feel like it’s self-exploration,” she says. “I’m equally introverted and extroverted. I really need time for myself, and the shift in mentality before and after a yoga class is amazing.” My favorite fun fact about Andrea is that she studied chemical engineering in college. “I love figuring out how things work,” she says. “I was having a conversation about some sort of membrane process recently, and it was the most engaging conversation I’ve had in awhile.”

NP: We’ve thrown around ideas of expanding to other cities or planning retreats or all the exciting things we could do in the future. But at this point we’re focusing on Chicago and don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We put in a little money and got an accountant—a couple things that are important to us.

AP: I think it’s a cool thing to grow at an organic pace. So often I feel like it’s weird to think that we’re Chicago business owners and entrepreneurs, but we are! Alongside that title comes this pressure to quit your day job and make your business something it isn’t today—which is great, I love that passion and drive—but it’s also satisfying and not stressful and beautiful to watch it be what it is and grow.

PWP: What advice do you have for others?

AP: Remove the fear—take any small step in the right direction and it’s going to feel doable.

NP: Find somebody who has complementary strengths to partner with.

Alysse and I can attest to that advice! I also love how Andrea and Natalie are so ambitious but take such a calm approach. They’re growing their business at their own pace and I can’t wait to see where it takes them. Check out their next event: Yoga+ Makers shopping event at the Winchester on Monday, Dec. 14!


[Photos by Kate.]

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meet meiko: food justice “guerrilla” in detroit


Meiko Krishok, People with Panache

Meiko uses commercial kitchen space behind the yoga studio where she also works. “I’m a person who likes to have multiple things going on at once,” she says. “At first it took me a minute to settle in and be comfortable here, but I actually appreciate that between classes I take and teach I can take inventory, mop, eat lunch.”

By the end of this weekend, I was feeling both weighed down and floating on some dreamy little love cloud. It was the end of the Food Leader Certificate Program retreat No. 1 at Wellspring in West Bend, Wis. Twenty food system warriors both new and experienced joined together to dream up world-changing visions, learn about the food system, and start laying plans for the future—and it was beautiful.

But it’s still hard not to feel powerless amid the daunting problems in our food system and ecosystem and the grief traversing what seems like our entire planet this month—and really any given month. If we were truly able to process and experience the despair and sadness that comes with each tragedy—the bloody attacks in Paris, the landslide that wiped an entire town from the map in Brazil, the harrowing journey of refugees across oceans and continents, and obviously more—I can’t imagine any of us would be able to move on with our lives.

So instead, Kate and I believe that we each must make as positive a mark as we individually can on our loved ones and our communities—and thus the world. (Remember what Grace Lee Boggs said about changing yourself to change the world?)

Who’s with us?

In Detroit, I met Meiko Krishok, 29. Of mixed Korean and Italian-Polish descent, Meiko has been exposed to different cultures her whole life. She has passions for languages and traveling—and food is often her method of exploration. She’s using it to help heal a city in need.

Hailing from Milwaukee, Meiko’s world travels eventually brought her to Detroit to put down roots. Food is still her passion. And it has become her profession, too, through Guerrilla Food.
Continue reading

meet reeanna: daughter, cousin, friend

A few Christmases ago, my mom planned the first-ever Ramazini Run. She rented a van for us to cram into, and we pretty much ate and went shopping all day with the aunts, cousins, and sisters—all the girls in the family! My dad and uncle were the chauffeurs.

A few Christmases ago, my mom planned the first-ever “Ramazini Run.” She rented a van for us to cram into, and we pretty much ate and went shopping all day with the aunts, cousins and sisters—all 11 girls in the family! My dad and uncle were our chauffeurs, and that’s ReeAnna in the middle front.

Each week, Kate and I are proud and grateful to share the stories of inspiring, empowering, kind and encouraging women across the Midwest. They’re building businesses, catalyzing change, and paving their paths through the world. But as we prepared for this week, my family suffered a massive loss of one very special woman. Last Thursday night, November 5, my big cousin ReeAnna Ramazini was taken from this world too soon. My funny, hard-working, generous 35-year-old cousin was killed by a hit-and-run driver, and my family is reeling. Personally, I’m still about 20 percent sure this can’t be real. But I don’t think a bad dream would last this long.

As the only other only child in my family, my super-cool cousin Ree (who had the CUTEST friends my 9-year-old self could imagine) told me when I was little that she did not like me and that I should talk to her when I’m older. I think I got a little taste of my own version of a big sister from ReeAnna. Feisty, straightforward and fun, she was nine years older and definitely one of those cousins that was so cool to imitate when I was growing up—so I’m positive I earned that comment. Continue reading

these are the times to grow our souls.

[credit: Kindred_Post]

[credit: Kindred_Post]

I didn’t ever get a chance to meet Grace Lee Boggs. But she taught me. 

Grace—revolutionary, teacher, activist, leader—taught me:

The power of rooting in one location to make a difference.
The choice to change yourself to change the world.
The opportunity that comes with each conversation.
The encouragement to never get stuck in old ideas.

And apparently, that the best gin and tonic is made with Hendrick’s. I look forward to testing this in her memory.

(Check the #GraceLeeTaughtMe hashtag for other lessons that have spread from her beloved Detroit across the world.)

After 100 years and 100 days on this earth, Grace is still teaching me, and I know she is still teaching hundreds, thousands, most likely millions. Continue reading

meet christie: pastor and healthy food advocate

“It’s so ironic I feel called to urban contexts,” Christie says. “We joke that we live like urban Amish, and we’re working toward going off the grid—or at least not relying on it.”

Last year, at a Well City Milwaukee event, I learned that of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, Milwaukee ranks No. 71 in terms of health outcomes. This means when you consider infant mortality, financial health, obesity and basically every way a person could be dubbed healthy, we’re second-to-last. As a resident of Milwaukee, my state’s biggest city, that is disheartening.

Now, I work on the daily to help solve these things through empowering others to grow their own food. (I work at Victory Garden Initiative with this inspiring woman.) Because of my job, I am grateful to get to meet others working to promote equality, social justice and healthy food for all. Christie Melby-Gibbons is one of those people.

Christie grew up on a homestead in northeast Iowa. Her family’s nearest neighbors—or people within 5 miles—were Amish. She grew up growing her own food and bartering for other needs. Her parents, originally from Chicago, had burned the corn on their land to restore it to native prairie. They used lumber from the forest around them to build their own home, complete with a little wood-burning stove. And for awhile, the whole family slept in one bed—our first Person With Panache on the Prairie! Then, the family later moved to Michigan, Christie went to college at St. Olaf in Minnesota, and she completed her masters at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Now Pastor Christie and her family live in Milwaukee, where she’s starting a wonderfully groundbreaking pay-what-you-can restaurant called Tricklebee Cafe. Continue reading

meet kimberly: chicago food entrepreneur

Kimberly Crupi Dobbins, Simple Squares, People with Panache

I asked Kimberly why she thinks her sweet Squares are successful. “People like the taste and the fact that it’s simple,” she says. “We’re very transparent—there are no fillers, no rice puffs, no highly processed syrups like agave. It’s just clear, whole foods that everybody knows what they are. If you had a garden—granted an exotic garden—you could find everything in your backyard.”

Food has become my biggest frenemy.

Four years ago, a typical day of food for me would have looked like this: a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich and Starbucks Caramel Macchiato to start my morning; Kraft mac and cheese for lunch; Taco Bell for dinner; coffee ice cream straight out of the tub for dessert; and, if I stayed up late, pepperoni pizza as a midnight snack. How I didn’t weigh 1,000 pounds is a miracle.

What happened instead was much more frustrating: My body turned against me. All of a sudden my body started rejecting all of these foods that were so normal and delicious to me—onions, garlic, apples, chocolate milk, creamy sauces, cookies. Everything made me feel like crap and came with a healthy dose of less-than-ideal repercussions. The most frustrating part is that, all these years later, I still have no answers. I don’t actually have any allergies or diseases or anything. I love eating and trying new foods, but I just simply can’t digest things the way I could before. It’s certainly one way to make a 26-year-old feel 86!

So the goal has been to pinpoint exactly which foods I can and can’t eat, and it’s really hard. While I know that list from my old life probably gives Alysse goosebumps to see (and we were roommates at the time!), I also can no longer imagine consuming any one of those things. Continue reading

meet sister adele: milwaukee franciscan nun

Sister Adele in the Vineyard, People with Panache

Before Vatican II—the first assembly of Roman Catholic leaders of such large magnitude in nearly 100 years—Sister Adele’s name was Sister Raymond after her father. Her beautiful baptismal name (in honor of her aunt) was returned to her five years after she became a sister.

The sky was bright and the breeze was perfect as I drove up for a 7 a.m. breakfast with the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Sister Adele Thibaudeau came out to meet me at my car, and we walked the grounds at this gorgeous oasis along beautiful Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. Vineyards, beehives, gardens, orchards, and gorgeous altars to Mary, St. Francis and key Catholic figures adorned the grounds, and it was so peaceful. If only every morning could start with Sister Adele!

As we walked and talked, I felt so serene and centered talking to the young nun my grandma had referred me to—Sister Adele’s tranquility is contagious. Widowed more than 25 years ago, my grandma is an associate at our local convent, which means she participates in much of the religious life without taking the vows of sisterhood. I come from a Catholic family on both sides and have very much embraced and deepened my faith in recent years, so I was happy and excited to get to share the story of Sister Adele, a woman following a path I myself have considered.

Fun fact: In a place where the median age is 80, Sister Adele is in fact one of the very youngest—though not quite as youthful as some of the sisters in If Nuns Ruled the World, one of my favorite recent reads. But it doesn’t matter. Her heart, her ideas, and her energy are timeless. Continue reading

meet laura: chicago upcycler of old into new

Dstressed Cuff,

My cuff I bought from Laura! “I’ve always loved vintage jewelry and stuff, so I started making cuffs where I use vintage bindings for the middle, and the snap covers are all vintage buttons,” she says.

It was love at first sight.

My gorgeous gray leather cuff, shown in the picture on the left, was lovingly made out of all vintage materials by Laura Allswang, the vintage upcycling guru behind Dstressed. While I was interviewing Laura in her home, she brought out these cuff bracelets she makes. The soft gray coupled with the silver leaf caught my eye. My fatal mistake was trying it on—it fit like a glove. So naturally, by the time the conversation was over, I had to have it. And now I wear it all the time! Today I am wearing it in honor of People with Panache, sharing Laura’s story. (And I thought it would be a great second-ever post on PWP’s brand-new Instagram account!)

Laura lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and kids (the ones not away at college). She met her husband when they were both in law school. Then, she practiced law for a short time before realizing she didn’t really want to be a lawyer. She decided to stay at home with her kids and as they grew up needed more. Laura let her creative juices flow and started painting furniture, which grew into a business involving decorative trays from picture frames, supple leather cuffs and more—all in her signature distressed style using only vintage and antique pieces. Continue reading

our chicago pwp party!

IMG_9476Last Thursday night, September 24, Alysse and I hosted our second PWP party—this time in Chicago at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery & Think Space! Whenever I throw a party, I somehow convince myself that NO ONE is going to show up. So until people started trickling in on Thursday evening (besides my mom, who showed up first), I was panicking.

But after the last person had gone home with her custom Big White Yeti candle and a phone full of new connections, we cleaned up, full of joy and exploding with pride and gratitude. Over the course of 3 hours, we had about 35 of my favorite people on this planet gathered in Beauty and Brawn, and I can’t wait to do it again.

For Alysse and me, it’s all about creating our own kind of community—a community of women united not by occupation or demographics or geographics. No, these women are united by something bigger: their ambition and passion to make the most out of this life. That is one of the main reasons Alysse and I write this blog and have gatherings like this. We are lucky enough to get to meet these amazing women and tell their stories every week—but when we’re sitting one-on-one with them, listening to their triumphs and disappointments and lessons learned, we can’t ignore the overwhelming desire to connect them to others who know exactly how they feel. We try our very best to portray each woman in our blog posts as who she really is, but there’s nothing like the feeling you get hearing someone’s story firsthand. And that is the inspiration for creating the PWP community. Continue reading

meet melissa: milwaukee teacher, leader, community creator part 2

Here are Melissa, my roommate Jessica, me and Kate at our first People With Panache party! This Thursday, from 6-8, we're having another celebration of People With Panache at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space. You're invited! :)

Here are Melissa, my roommate Jessica, me and Kate at our first People With Panache party! This Thursday, from 6-8, we’re having another celebration of People With Panache at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space. You’re invited! :)

“I have this desire to create the best world for children,” Melissa Pallin says.

This vision rings so true to me, too. Growing up with a grandma who ran a daycare with me as her little sidekick, a mom and dad who were parental figures way before I was born, and a toy box full of dolls I called my “kids,” I’ve always loved children, even when I was one. Now, at work, I get to write grants for programs that provide children with education about growing food, eating healthfully and working as a team—and because we’re so small and connected, I also sometimes get to work with the kids, too. It’s a great blend of my skills and passions, something I think most of us strive for. Melissa has also found a way to lead a passion-driven life—as we saw in last week’s post. I hope you met Melissa already but if not, she’s a perpetual student, teacher, and creator of a better, brighter future for Milwaukee’s children.

Melissa Pallin, 29, established Summer of Learning in the City of Milwaukee, an 8-week summer education program featuring a 5-to-1 student-teacher ratio, Montessori methods and real-world experiences with the City of Milwaukee as the classroom. It was precipitated by the facts that (a) more than half the achievement gap between higher- and lower-income youth can be attributed to lack of access to summer learning and (b) most students lose about two months of their grade-level math skills over the summer, but lower-income students also lose more than two months in reading—while their higher-income peers actually make gains.

Melissa also created Milwaukee Teacher SPAce, a hub of teacher enrichment, connection and support in a spa-like atmosphere. Membership itself comes with collaborative open workshops, health and wellness opportunities, and more for teachers to feel supported and cared for. Melissa also sets up Teacher SPAces in schools themselves to catalyze collaboration, health and wellness through workshops, spa sessions, and even parent education retreats. Finally, Melissa works to make satellite SPAces in businesses and other community resources, featuring programming the first Tuesday of every month, bringing teachers, parents and children out into local businesses. Continue reading