Slow Living

Waterfall
Over the summer, I reflected a lot on the past school year with my girls, and one thing became very clear: I was doing too much. There were no catastrophes, mind you, and I managed to keep everything going more or less as it should be, but it was just a lot; at times I didn’t feel like anything was getting the full attention it deserved. Homeschooling is almost a full-time job, and when you add in caring for children, doing paid work, managing a household, keeping a blog going, and all the other stuff of life, it’s a lot for one person — or, at least, it is for me.

One of the major themes of this blog is living “slower,” and given my desire to practice what I preach, I’m making a few changes this fall to help reduce the rush factor in my life.

To begin with, our homeschooling schedule will be a little more structured, allowing me more time for paid work, which we’ve determined is important for our family right now. I haven’t worked much since the girls came home, and it’s tough to live on one income where we are (unless one person is making mega bucks). My work will be flexible, so I can put in hours around homeschooling and caring for the girls, but it will require a good chunk of time each week.

For that reason. I’m taking a small step back from blogging this fall. Not a big one — I like it here too much! — but instead of posting every weekday, I plan to post around three times a week (sometimes it might be little less or more, depending). I’ll start scaling back in the next week or two.

You can still expect the same kinds of posts from me: I’d like to write more about homeschooling, feature more books, maybe wade into some tougher issues that are on my mind, as well as share more inspiration about living meaningfully and mindfully. I also plan to continue with my “Parenting Against the Grain” series. (If you know anyone who you think would be a good fit for it, drop me a line!)

I plan to have occasional guest posts, and my contributors will still be here, too: Ann took a break for part of the summer, but will soon be back once a month, and Margaret will be here every other week starting in September. And I’ll still be posting to Instagram (my favorite social media platform) and Facebook, as well.

I’ll evaluate all this as I go along; I’m hopeful that, by organizing my time differently and slowing my blogging schedule a bit, I can be more present to each thing on my plate.

As I consider my posting schedule over the next few months, I’d love to know if there any topics you’d like to read about on SlowMama this fall. Please let me know in the comments! Are you planning any changes in the upcoming year yourself?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Dragonfly on Rock
If truth be told, I’m only into “living slower” to a certain degree. I’m all about things like simplifying life, good craftsmanship, beauty, sustainability, eating seasonal and local foods, honoring traditions, and building community. But when it comes to physically moving more slowly…well, that kind of drives me nuts. And I’ve become much more aware of my impatience now that I’m a mama of two little girls who don’t know what “hurry up” means.

I spotted an article in Christianity Today recently titled “What Slowing Down Teaches You That Rushing Never Will,” and it resonated with me. It’s about the lessons a little girl with Down Syndrome is teaching her writer mom, and I saw myself in this paragraph:

I do love the idea of slow food, slow reading, slow and thoughtful living. But not on a Monday morning. Because on Monday, or any school day, I don’t want my children to live slowly. I want them to get up, get dressed, and catch the bus so I don’t need to wait in the jumble of cars outside their school and then stand in the Parent Line of Shame to receive tardy slips.

Around here, we may not be catching buses for school in the morning, but I don’t care to count how many times I’m frustrated because my daughters are moving so slowly. I’m a fast-paced person by nature — I walk fast, I talk fast; I don’t like to spend a lot of time in “transition” moving from point A to point B — but with kids, as any parent knows, it’s a whole different ballgame. I know it’s good for me to use the opportunities that come up with my slow-moving daughters to grow in patience and learn to appreciate a different way of being in the world — one that isn’t solely about deadlines and speed — but I resist a lot. It’s something I need to work on.

At any rate, do read Elisa Fryling Stanford‘s full article; it’s really lovely. Then tell me: Are you the same way? What lessons have you learned from the times you’ve slowed your pace? Do you find it challenging?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Nutrients
Have you heard of Soylent? (No, not that soylent…) It’s a new Silicon Valley product — a nutritional supplement of sorts — being touted as the answer to all our food needs. Basically, you just blend up a drink of this gritty beige powder, add some of the oil the company sends with it, and you’re good to go: all the nutrients your body needs, with no grocery shopping, slaving over a hot stove, or taking time to prepare meals.

The New Yorker interviewed one of Soylent’s creators:

Rhinehart, who is 25, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me.

Rhinehart is wrong. Food is not primarily an engineering problem; it’s a cultural keystone and a huge part of what it means to be human — not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. The philosophy behind Soylent is exactly the opposite of the Slow Food approach: Soylent’s creators view food in a strictly utilitarian way, and human beings as machines. In their view, all we need is nutrients, optimized for functioning, and we’re set.

Slow Food, on the other hand, emphasizes what the Soylent makes miss: pleasure; hospitality; comfort; and an abiding connection to memories, traditions, culture, the land, and each other. Gathering around a table of flavorful, wholesome food does a lot more for us than simply provide nutrients. (And even there, holistic nutritionists would disagree with the makers of Soylent that food is merely the sum of its parts: There is general agreement that eating whole, complex foods is superior to popping vitamins.)

I agree with Michael Brendan Dougherty, who wrote about the “tyranny” of Soylent in The Week, when he says:

What Soylent’s proponents don’t seem to understand is that food cannot be reduced to mere nutrition anymore than all of movement can be reduced to simple exercise, or sex and parenthood to mere reproduction (although in the latter case, the more strenuous socialists have tried!). Mealtime is a place of communion, conviviality, even sensuality. It is where we learn to be human.

Sure, there are days I wish I didn’t have to put meals on the table — what parent doesn’t fantasize about that sometimes? — but reaching for something like Soylent? Nope. Frankly, I can’t imagine Soylent ever really catching on, except among the kind of guys who created it. Or maybe it will become a popular weight-loss product? For anyone tempted to try it, though, I’d just recommend getting a Vitamix instead: A nutritious, delicious smoothie will make you feel a lot more human.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I’m curious: Does a product like Soylent give you the willies, or do you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing? Would you ever buy a meal replacement product like this?

Image via Pinterest

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The Need to Be Busy

April 28, 2014

Vintage Clock
Last week, Mags sent me a post by KJ Dell’Antonia of Motherlode about the whole notion of being busy. Dell’Antonia says that, as a working mother of four, she doesn’t consider herself busy — that she refuses to be busy — and her explanation for this seems to lie in her definition of the word:

Busy implies a rushed sense of cheery urgency, a churning motion, a certain measure of impending chaos, all of which make me anxious. Busy is being in one place doing one thing with the nagging sense that you ought to be somewhere else doing something different. I like to be calm. I like to have nothing in particular to do and nowhere in particular to be. And as often as I can — even when I’m dropping a child off here or there, or running an errand, or waving in the carpool line — I don’t think of myself as busy. I’m where I need to be, doing, for the most part, what I want to do.

I think my own definition of busy is slightly different: It isn’t always stressful or negative, but it’s usually about not having enough down time or breathing room between commitments and activities. I’m doing a lot of things that I want — and choose — to do each day, but sometimes it still feels like too much, like I’m rushing. I blame this, in part, on the fact that I can’t always estimate how long it’s going to take us to get somewhere and on the unexpected things that come up and can’t be ignored.

I do agree with Dell’Antonia that much of our busyness is within our control, though. We choose to do most of the things that cause us to say we’re busy. We often act like our life is pulling us around against our will, but that’s mostly not true.

It does makes me wonder, though: If we stopped saying we are busy, what would happen? Would it feel like we’re not doing enough, or like others might think we’re slackers? Would we feel less valuable and important? Maybe part of our need to feel and say we’re busy is something that runs deeper: insecurity, a need for validation and acknowledgement, a fear of not being good enough. I know that, for me, sometimes it seems that unless I complain or mention whatever craziness is going on, others will think that my life is always grand and easy.

But is that all bad? There’s something refreshing and inspiring about being around a person who seems genuinely happy about her life. At the very least, I know I could stand to work on being more present to whatever I’m doing in the moment, especially on those “busy” days.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you define busy? And what do you think is behind our common tendency to respond, “I’m so busy!”?

Image: rise n’ shine on Flickr

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SlowMama in 2014

January 13, 2014

Snail About to Jump

All the talk of New Year’s resolutions lately got me thinking about some resolutions for this little blog. Sometimes I find myself surprised that it’s still alive and well, given what my life has been like the past two years, but here we are! I’m excited about what’s in store for SlowMama in 2014, and I wanted to share some of it with you, as well as ask for your input…

Of course, much will remain the same: I still plan to show up here at least three or four times a week with posts on the usual lifestyle and parenting topics. (I do reserve the right to skip a day or two every so often, to help preserve my sanity.) My regular contributors — Margaret Cabaniss and Ann Waterman — will also be here; they always bring so much to the table with their skill, creativity, and reflections, and I’m glad to have them. I’ll continue to have guest contributors stop by occasionally, too.

I feel like it’s time to freshen things up a bit, though, so you can expect a few changes this year. The first is a site redesign — nothing too drastic, but something that enhances what I’m trying to do here and makes our content more accessible. I’m not promising a date, but I really hope to launch it this quarter.

I’ve got a couple of projects in the works that I’m not ready to talk about quite yet, but I look forward to getting to a place where I can share them. I also want write about some topics that I haven’t addressed as much I’d like: aging, style and beauty, health and diet, homeschooling, multicultural education, and more. I’m also considering a new series or two, and here’s where you come in…

More than anything, I want SlowMama to be a global community of people who care about living well in a fast-paced, busy world — so I’d really like to know what would help you live better. Are there are topics you want to read about here, issues you’d like addressed, information or inspiration you could use? If you’ve got a few minutes, here’s a short survey I’d love you to answer in the comments:

  1. What do you enjoy most about SlowMama?
  2. What would improve your experience here?
  3. What kind of information would most help you in your life right now?
  4. What currently interests or inspires you?
  5. What social network platforms are you most active on — Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? Instagram? Others? None?
  6. Are you a parent, a non-parent, a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, etc., and what part of the country or world do you call home?

Even if you don’t tend to comment on blogs, if you like SlowMama, I’d love to hear from you. (If you’re still just too comment-shy, feel free to email me your feedback.) Here’s to a great 2014 here at SlowMama!

Image: via Pinterest, source unknown

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Beating the January Blues

January 6, 2014

January Scene

While I always love the fresh start a new year brings, January has been a hard month for me since I became a mom — and I’m really feeling it this year. Our Christmas vacation was lovely, but not long enough. Just as I was beginning to think I might get to my list of “stuff I want to do while I have some extra time over Christmas,” that time was gone. And the extra days together as a family, with no school to think about and fewer work-related commitments, are hard to say goodbye to. Yesterday I realized I needed a concrete plan for addressing my January blues.

Although it doesn’t sound very inspiring, the first thing I’m doing this week is making sure I have what I need to be organized. I’m trying to manage so many details every day right now and feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. Keeping it on paper (or gadgets) declutters my mind, and that goes a long way.

I have a few celebrations to look forward to this month, including B’s birthday and a small party for a friend. Planning for special events like these will lift my spirits as I get back to the regular routine. I’ve also got exciting longer-term goals and plans for 2014, and I know that reminding myself of these and working on them step by step will motivate me.

January is also good time for a little pampering. While it’s hard to imagine adding anything else to my schedule right now, I’m going to commit to something that feels a little decadent: an aromatherapy bath by candlelight one night, a pedicure or facial or massage…

The last part of my plan is to sit myself down, take a deep breath, and refocus my attitude. I want to be grateful — I have so much to be grateful for! I want to be hopeful. I want to be excited about what this new year will bring.

Amazing how just writing this down in a post was helpful. What about you, friends? Are you feeling the January blues? Do you have a strategy for overcoming it? I’d love to hear!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Traveling by Train

December 23, 2013

Steam Engine Train in Germany

If you’re traveling this week to see loved ones for the holidays, are you going by plane, train, bus, or automobile? (Or bicycle or boat?) If I had my druthers, I’d always choose a train. (Unless I were going somewhere far, and in that case I would choose that beam-me-up-Scotty machine from Star Trek that I’m still waiting for someone to invent so I don’t have to fly.)

I’m such a big fan of trains that one of my fantasy jobs is taking over Amtrak and whipping it into shape so this country can have a proper train service. There’s something about traveling by locomotive that can’t be beat… I’ve had some of my best creative ideas while riding trains, and I’ve met the most interesting people. Once I went all the way to New Orleans from Washington, D.C., and paid for sleeping accommodations. I thought it was the coolest: There were linens in the dining car, polite service, and chocolates on my pillow. I had lunch with an aspiring musician and dinner with an astute Louisiana businessman. I shared tea with a novelist and sipped evening cocktails with a motley crew who otherwise would have never cross each other’s paths, save for their common interest in traveling long-distance by rail. For some reason, trains allow for conversations that you can’t really have on other forms of transportation, at least in my experience.

Given all this, it looks like I should consider moving to Britain: A recent piece in The Economist reports that Britain has 108 steam railways — who knew? — and they’re extremely popular:

In 2011 they carried 7.1m passengers—25% more than four years earlier. Passenger trips on boring ordinary railways went up by 20% in the same period. Some heritage railways are little more than a few men in overalls tinkering with locomotives. But most are semi-professional, backed by trusts and staffed by volunteers. Some 18,500 people volunteer on steam railways, and the number is rising.

Interesting, huh? Frankly, I’ll take any kind of train — steam engine, high-speed…whatever is well-run, clean, and gets me where I want to go. To be able to relax, talk, write, pray, think, eat, drink, and stretch out on an actual bed while never having to leave the precious ground is pretty darn fantastic, if you ask me.

What about you: Do you like trains? Have you ever had an interesting experience traveling by rail? No matter how you’re traveling this week, be safe — and enjoy your holiday time!

Image: Steam engine near the eastern German city of Wernigerode, Matthias Bein / AFP – Getty Images

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by Kathleen O’Beirne

Zebra

The British essayist G. K. Chesterton once said, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.”  I sometimes wonder if Chesterton wasn’t perhaps an extrovert, because this is exactly the kind of thinking that lands me in too many activities.

I don’t know if over-scheduling is necessarily a problem unique to the extrovert, but I often blame my tendency to put too much on my plate on my extroverted, sanguine side. Sanguines traditionally get pegged as both sociable and impulsive — and that, my friends, is a recipe for one crazy calendar and one burnt-out mama.

This fall, I began working part-time as a teacher for the first time in seven years. I also found myself trying to homeschool one child, send the other kids to two different schools, advise students at yet another school, host a monthly book club, take a class on the weekends, volunteer at church, and keep some semblance of order in my house. New moms needed meals, my kids needed rides to music lessons and birthday parties, library books needed returning, and bills needed paying.

B&W Girls Playing

By the first week of September, my head was spinning. I can’t remember whether it was the third Back to School Night or the sweltering heat from the 500 hotdogs I volunteered to grill at the parish picnic, but somewhere in the chaos I had a come-to-Jesus moment: I realized I had ignored all the things I normally consider before taking on a new obligation. As a result, I felt like one of those sheets of phyllo dough — you know, the ones stretched so thin they might break at any moment.

I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself smacking your forehead because you just hastily agreed to host one of those Stella and Dot parties during the first week of school while your spouse is out of town (I wish I were making up this example), but I thought I’d share my hard-learned lessons just in case:

Embrace the power of “maybe.” Often I say yes when asked to make a commitment in order to avoid saying that uncomfortable word “no.” When I tell someone “maybe” or “let me think about it,” I give myself time to consider the matter fully and avoid rash decisions.

Kathleen's Daughter

For every new obligation, there must be either a delegation or an elimination. New commitments will always eat into the time and energy given to other activities, and as the old adage goes, “Something’s gotta give.” When I take on a new task, I try to either remove another commitment or delegate it to other family members or outside resources. When I went to work part-time, I knew the bathrooms would turn into Petri dishes for new and interesting types of bacteria if I didn’t rework our current cleaning system. I decided to budget for a cleaning service twice a month and put my kids to work in between those beloved visits from the cleaning fairies. On another front, my daughter wanted to try piano this year, so we dropped soccer. Making cuts can be brutal but freeing!

Drop the junk. Sometimes I really want to take on a new and noble cause or some fun activity, but I feel too overloaded. I find it helpful to look at my day and make sure I’m giving my time to things I find truly enjoyable or necessary. Is Facebook and blog reading (except SlowMama, of course) keeping me from opening a new Etsy business or meeting my neighbor down the street?  Whenever I take an honest look at my how I spend my day, I’m always amazed at the random time-sucks that routinely clog my schedule.

Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.  I know there are many worthwhile ways to spend my time, but I try to remind myself that I cannot do it all.

What do you do to streamline an ever-expanding schedule?

Image: Kathleen O’Beirne. Kathleen is a wife, mother, teacher, and extrovert writing from Arlington, VA.

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Extracurricular Activities

August 20, 2013

by Ann Waterman

Extracurricular Activities- Goggles

I’ve been relishing these last few weeks of summer vacation before our schedules ramp up again with the start of school — and, with it, the start of after-school activities. I avoided enrolling my eldest son in any extracurricular activities when he was little (except for swimming lessons, which I consider important for safety reasons). It was only last year when he turned 7 that we started a few other activities in earnest — and even then, I made sure they had limited time commitments. In the end, those activities were enriching without putting a strain on our family schedule, so we’ll continue them this year.

Part of my aversion to extracurriculars comes from my own experience as a small child. I did gymnastics, baton, and a summer camp, but my mom never signed me up for subsequent classes: At that young age, I made it clear (mostly through feigned illness) that I just wanted to be at home and play. Eventually I fell in love with swimming, and when I was 8, my parents signed me up for swim team, where I thrived.

I appreciate that my parents followed my lead and never pushed me until I was ready. Obviously, the right time to introduce extracurricular activities varies depending on the child, but from what I’ve seen of my own kids, they’re happy with lots of unstructured time playing by themselves, with friends, or with their siblings, just like Zoe discussed a few weeks ago.

Extracurricular Activities-Under water

The other reason we’ve limited extracurricular activities is because I’m fiercely protective of family time. For now, I’d rather spend Saturday mornings having brunch with the kids and enjoying my coffee than hanging out at the soccer field. I know extracurriculars will become more important as the kids get older, but for now, while they’re still so young, I feel our time is better spent together rather than rushing them to various practices and games.

We’re also committed to a slow lifestyle. With three young kids, life can be chaotic even with a clear calendar. After making it through the week, my husband and I need the weekend to recover together — not with one of us running one kid to a scheduled activity while the other stays at home to keep on top of nap schedules.

Extracurricular Activities-Swimming

Just to be clear, I’m not anti-extracurricular activities. I think they can be a great way for children to develop valuable skills and hone their talents, but I’m also keenly aware of how they can become all-consuming and keep family members running in different directions. I approach them with caution and try to carefully consider how each activity will affect my children and our entire family.

How do you handle extracurriculars in your family?

Images: Ann Waterman

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Rushing Our Kids

August 19, 2013

H Looking for Flowers

Show me a person who isn’t guilty of rushing her kids and I’ll show you…well, a person who isn’t a parent. Even I — a woman who runs a blog called Slow Mama — finds herself saying to her daughters on a regular basis: “Hurry up, we’re going to be late!” and “If you don’t stop [fill in the blank here], we’re going to be late!” and many versions of the same. The irony is not lost on me that one of my daughters often says, “Mum, I don’t like fast; I like slow.” I’ve even started calling her “slow girl.” (Who knows, maybe she’ll start a blog!)

An article by Rachel Macy Stafford in the Huffington Post titled “They Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up'” got me thinking about how I want to be more intentional about when I rush my daughters. Because while it would be nice to say that I’ll never say “hurry up!” again, there’s storybook land and there’s real life, and I inhabit the latter. It’s not horrible for children to learn that accommodations must be made for appointments and deadlines and other people, and that the universe does not revolve around their need to chase a butterfly down the street or change their shoes for a fourth time. But the truth is, rushing children all the time denies them a huge part of what it means to be a child.

Children live in the moment, not by clocks; they notice details and take time for intangibles; their pace isn’t driven by perfectionism, compulsions, or others’ expectations. This will dissipate with age, but if we rush them into that change prematurely, we don’t just rob them of the specialness of childhood, we make it harder for them to know how to live meaningful lives as adults — because adults who can’t slow down and be in the moment are usually not as happy.

This doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition: Hurrying our kids is usually a reflection of our own failure to accept the way kids are wired and to plan accordingly. It’s entirely possible for me to make it to an appointment on time (or thereabouts) if I remember that I may be able to get out the door in three minutes, but my girls need at least fifteen. If I overestimate the amount of time it takes them, we might actually be somewhere on time — or even (heaven forbid) early. Either way, it takes the rush out of it, and we all remain in good moods.

The other thing I’ve found helpful is to minimize the number of trips we make each day. If I have errands to run, I try to do them all at once when we’re out. Children have a harder time transitioning from one task or mode to another, so the fewer times I have to break my daughters’ concentration to get them out the door again for one more thing, the happier everyone is.

This point about transitions is key. It helps to know what motivates your child to move to a new task and to give warnings in advance that a transition is coming up. You can set a timer to help keep everyone on track; some parents even use written schedules that their children can read and follow. I’ve started telling my girls in the morning about how our day is going to go, then I give them a 20-minute warning before a big change is coming (going out, meal times, etc.), and then every 5-10 minutes after that.

Does it always work ? No; baby dolls will have diapers that suddenly need to be changed, of course. But overall, it has made a difference.

Allowing extra time for a child’s pace means having less time for to-do items on our own task lists. But every day, we have to make decisions as parents about what gets top priority. Daily life with our children is a lot more enjoyable if we’re not stressed and rushed and annoyed with them — and in the end, that’s more important than whether we got 15 things checked off our list instead of 10.

Do you struggle with this? Have you discovered any strategies to help reduce the “hurry ups” with your children?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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