Slow Living

Screen Shot Unplugged Nation

Friends, our television episode aired last week! I wanted to give everybody a heads up, but the production company forgot to let us know in advance and since we don’t have a TV, we watch the episodes (well, those that aren’t locked behind a cable key) via our computer after they’ve aired.

Last week I was standing outside our house when a neighbor went by and said, “Hey, I saw your show!” And I actually said, “What show??” … so far was it from my mind. Then B and I stayed up way too late that night and watched it. It was fun to see how the episode turned out, but a few things to keep in mind if you watch it…

This is reality TV… which means that what you see is not always how it was. Plus, it was an entire week of footage reduced to 48 minutes (or whatever it is without the commercials). There were things we were pretty sure would be in there and weren’t; and things we hoped wouldn’t show up and did (like the shutter on our house that broke a few days before they came to film).

I do want the interwebs to know that my husband has been fishing before and actually has very good balance. (And he wants everyone to know that he really didn’t swear in front of the kids.) Also, I wasn’t obsessed with room sizes despite what it seems, and our children didn’t need a break from playing computer games and watching TV since they don’t do much of either at home. But the Billy goat escaping was true, and his name really was “Rambutt.”

Did I mention it was hard to watch myself on TV?

But I remain really glad we did this. We wanted it to be a fun memory-making experience for our family and to learn something about off-grid living and about ourselves, and we did all that. And now we have the show to look back at and remember… and laugh at a few things, of course.

Alrighty, here it is. Let me know what you think!


Unplugged Nation!

August 17, 2015

North Carolina

You may recall that back in May we traveled to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to film a show about off-grid living. We didn’t quite know what to expect, but ended up having a fantastic time. The experience opened up some great conversations and has helped shape some of the future plans we have for our family.

The show is called “Unplugged Nation” and recently debuted on the FYI channel (part of the A&E Network). You can view a couple episodes that have already aired on the FYI web site and/or tune in on Saturday evenings at 10PM EST right after “Tiny House Nation”).

I’ll be sure to put a link up here and on my social media when our episode airs. I’m excited to see it, but also slightly apprehensive… wondering what the editors chose to keep and to cut, how they spliced it all together, and just how badly I’ll hate my wardrobe choices and bad haircut.

I’m hopeful, though, since we’ve watched three episodes so far and really enjoyed them all. Can’t wait to see the rest. Let me know what you think if you catch the show! (Here‘s an article in Mother Nature Network about it.)

Image: North Carolina, Zoe Saint-Paul



Have you ever heard of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or the Danish idea of Hygge?  I hadn’t until I saw this article in Mother Nature Network about seven different cultural concepts from other countries that aren’t common in the U.S.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term and refers to something called “forest bathing” which involves spending time in the woods and natural areas as a way to prevent illness. There’s apparently science behind this idea: As MNN’s Catie Leary writes:

“The “magic” behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.”

As for hygge, it’s a Danish concept, loosely translated as “togetherness,” and related to the concept of coziness, but goes beyond that, as it’s more of a mental state than a physical one. According to VisitDenmark (the country’s official tourism site):

“The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.” Hygge’s high season is winter, and Christmas lights, candles galore, and other manifestations of warmth and light, including warm alcoholic beverages, are key to the concept.

Hygge might be why Danes have long been considered some of the happiest people on earth, at least for as long as people have been studying them, even though they have long, cold winters.

I can really relate to both concepts, though I never had descriptors for them. I grew up in nature and still find it very therapeutic. And despite the fact that I hate the cold, there is something I really miss about the winters I spent growing up in Nova Scotia and I think “hygge” sums it up well.

There are five other concepts in that article that are equally interesting, and among people I know, I’ve seen them practiced in some way here, but not as concepts or practices that pervade American culture. That doesn’t mean we can’t adopt some of them as individuals and families, though.

The writer’s other point about traditions and holidays is interesting and worth a conversation, but I’ll save that for another post.

Do any of those cultural concepts appeal to you? Are there others you might put on this list?

Image: Jordan McQueen at picjumbo 



Life of Pix Ocean & iPhone by Jordan McQueen
I avoided Facebook, like, forever. I didn’t think I wanted everyone from my past “friending” me, plus I know a lot of people and am part of some very diverse circles — how would that work? I was also afraid it would suck up a lot of time; I was online enough already.

When I started SlowMama, I did create a Facebook fan page since many people don’t visit blogs directly; they read through social media. But increasingly I was missing out on information, events, invitations, and conversations that I couldn’t access with just my fan page and were only available on Facebook — particularly relating to parenting and adoption. So I finally raised a white flag and opened a personal account.

Although I rarely post anything to my personal page, I don’t regret signing up — those resources I was after really are super helpful. I find helpful things for my work — and admittedly, I love seeing photos and reading updates from friends and acquaintances.

But Facebook also drives me crazy. As predicted, I end up spending too much time on it… because… well, there’s always an article, a quiz, a cute baby, a heated conversation,  a whatever, to distract me. I’ve also been surprised, even dismayed, by posts and comments from people I know that reflect opinions I wish I never knew they had. Ugh.

I’m not only taken aback by what people post sometimes, I’m amazed at the kind of time they spend there. Don’t people have jobs? Kids? How do they find the time to post so much? I still haven’t figured it out.

So, yes, it’s a love-hate thing with Facebook and I don’t think that will change.

What about you? Are you a big Facebook fan? Or are you one of the rare creatures who has managed to not drink the Kool-aid? Do tell!

Image: Jordan McQueen at Life of Pix


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Austria by Marco Berndt
I enjoyed this interview in Kinfolk with Carl Honore, a journalist who’s essentially made himself the go-to expert on all things “slow” since his best-selling book, In Praise of Slowness, came out eleven years ago. Have the concepts of “living slower” penetrated the culture at all since his book came out? That’s what Honore discusses in Kinfolk — which, by the way, is a gorgeous magazine. Pick up a copy up if you ever get the chance!

Here are a few excerpts from the interview, but I encourage you to read the whole thing, which isn’t super long:

Is there any way that technology can help us slow down instead of speeding us up?
Absolutely. People often assume that, as a proponent of the Slow movement, I must be against new technology. They assume slowing down means throwing away the gadgets, yet nothing could be further from the truth. I am no Luddite: I love technology and own all the latest high-tech goodies. To me, being able to speak and write to anyone, anytime, anywhere is exhilarating. By freeing us from the constraints of time and space, mobile communication can help us seize the moment, which is the ultimate aim of Slow.

But there are limits. The truth is that communicating more does not always mean communicating better. You see parents staring at smartphones while spending “quality time” with their children. Surveys suggest that a fifth of us now interrupt sex to read an email or answer a call. Is that seizing the moment, or wasting it? ….


What other countries are approaching work-life balance in an interesting way?
Germany is a shining example at the moment—its economy is a powerhouse of productivity, and yet Germans work far fewer hours than citizens of most other countries. When they’re at work, they focus—checking Facebook is verboten—and get a lot done. And when they’re away from work, they leave the office behind and focus on friends, family and leisure pursuits. They also put up a firewall between work and private life: Leading German firms such as Volkswagen, Puma and BMW have stopped staff from sending or receiving email outside working hours. The German Ministry of Labor has done the same, and has banned managers from contacting staff at home except in emergencies.


A lot of people feel like they don’t have the time to be slow. What steps can we take toward a slower life?
My response would be that if you don’t have the time to be slow, then you aren’t really living properly. You’re racing through life instead of living it. People worry about missing out on life if they slow down, but life is what’s happening right here, right now. As for steps to lead a slower life: Do less. Buy less. Consume less. Drive less. Unplug more. Walk more. Sleep more. Stop multitasking and do one thing at a time. Embed slow moments and rituals into your schedule.

How are you doing when it comes to slow living? Does life feel like it’s going at the right pace for you at the moment?

Image: picography


Off Grid Adventure

May 1, 2015

Bokeh bark Tomorrow, our family is off to North Carolina for a week to film an episode for an upcoming series about off-grid living. I can’t say much about the show, being sworn to secrecy and all, but I expect we’ll learn a few things and hopefully make some fun family memories in the process. If the back-story filming done at our home last month is any indication, we should prove to be amusing subjects for the show.

I’m excited but also a little nervous, not knowing quite what to expect, and hoping the girls do well and we all stay healthy, etc. Plus, I have to do one of my least favorite things before we even start: fly. But I’m trying to have a spirit of adventure about it all.

Because I’ll largely be offline next week, posting will be a lighter than normal around here. I’ll have one of my monthly links post earlier in the week and Mags will be here on Thursday. I look forward to telling you more about our experience, though I won’t be able to give many details until the show airs. I’ll also try and post some shots on Instagram, if I can, so you can catch a few glimpses there. Wish us well!

Hope you have a peaceful weekend and terrific week ahead.

P.S. I’m happy to report that things are a little calmer here in Baltimore. It sure was a wild sight to see the streets and businesses I frequent lined with National Guardsmen and state police all week. Here’s hoping the protests happening today and this weekend are peaceful and it all leads to reforms, change, and healing that is long overdue.

Image: Dave Meier at picography


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


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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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


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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