Slow Living

Why Do You DIY?

August 15, 2013

by Margaret Cabaniss

Why Do You DIY?

If you’re reading this right now, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re a DIY fan. Most of us here probably aren’t going off the grid anytime soon, but SlowMama readers tend to be an amazing bunch of bakers, crafters, knitters, gardeners, sewers, and general-interest doers of things with your hands.

So here’s my question: Why? What is it about these hands-on, old-time-y pursuits that appeals to you?

Recently I picked up Emily Matchar’s new book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which is what started me thinking about our current DIY mania. Anyone with eyes and an internet connection can see that the “New Domesticity,” as Matchar calls it, is big business these days, but where did the boom start, and why?

Matchar has a few theories (quoted from her book):

  1. A rising sense of distrust toward government, corporations, and the food system
  2. Concern for the environment
  3. The gloomy economy
  4. Discontent with contemporary work culture
  5. The draw of hands-on work in a technology-driven world
  6. An increasingly intensive standard of parenting

Homeward Bound

I wouldn’t say all of these apply to everyone, but at least a few of them apply to me — particularly 4 and 5. When I started writing for SlowMama, I was working from home for an internet-based company; I enjoyed the work and my coworkers, but when all your efforts are stored in 0s and 1s in the ether, you really start to crave an outlet with actual results you can see and touch (or eat).

Matchar goes on:

[Author Matthew] Crawford thinks the current mania for “the home economics of our grandmothers” — the knitting, the gardening, the sewing your own clothes — is really about the search for purpose in an increasingly impersonal high-tech culture, a struggle he sees as being “at the very center of modern life.”

Add in the political, environmental, and economic instability that we read about in the papers today, and the consumerist culture that dominated for the past few decades definitely starts to lose its shine. When you consider that it was only within the last 50-100 years or so that the average person could get away with not knowing some of these skills, our culture’s renewed interest in them today starts to look more like a simple return to form.

Of course, most people likely wouldn’t answer the question in such global terms; usually, it’s much more personal. As I put it in my very first post for this site:

I realize what a rare thing it was to have a mother who could cook homemade meals every day, or sew our clothes, or whip up little crafts…essentially, do any of the number of things that she did all the time without a thought. Now that I’m on my own, I understand how valuable those skills really are — not just as ways to save money, live simply, and be more self-sufficient (though of course those, too), but as ways to show our love for and connection to the people and things we care about.

There’s so much else to talk about in Matchar’s book — the history of homemaking; the modern rise of DIY blogs (ahem); the real benefits of the modern blog explosion (greater community, work-from-home opportunities, creative outlets), as well as its drawbacks (blogger envy, unrealistic expectations for home life)…if any of this interests you, I definitely recommend picking up a copy.

For now, though, I’m curious: Why do you DIY? What do you think of Matchar’s explanations for the new DIY movement?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss, Simon & Schuster

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by Christine Nelson

Beekeeper at Work

Beekeeping first caught my attention about ten years ago. I was a mom living in the suburbs, and the thought of “free” honey sounded appealing. I was already raising chickens for eggs, so why not bees? I reminded myself I was a mom with young toddlers and put the idea on hold. Then, about three years ago, my normally productive vegetable garden was no longer productive. The plants were healthy, but there was little fruit to speak of—no cucumbers, few tomatoes, few squash. It occurred to me I hadn’t seen many honey bees or pollinators that year.

The drumbeat of media attention on the demise of the honey bee had already begun. Combined with my own experience, I realized that I needed to bring honey bees into my garden — and my sweet tooth loved the idea of a regular supply of honey. But I had to persuade my bee-phobic husband.

Equipment for Keeping Bees

With my husband’s eventual okay, last season was my first beekeeping season. Armed with an eight week beekeeping course and a smoker, I was excited to take on two hives. I loved watching my bees expand and grow throughout the season. Is there any creature on earth that works harder than a honey bee? I marveled how such a small insect could seem so intelligent. I fell in love with the honey bee. But my bees never survived the winter. I wasn’t alone; beekeepers across the nation were also experiencing huge losses. A local farmer who also keeps bees said to me this past spring, “Thirty years ago you couldn’t kill the honey bee; now it is a struggle to keep them alive.”

Honey Bee

I knew by January of this year that they were gone. And I had a moment when I thought this fun hobby was hard. It was time to dig deep. I spent the rest of the winter reading and then reading some more about what had gone wrong and how I could prevent it. I researched favorite nectar plants for honey bees and planned out which ones I could add to my yard.

To add to the challenge, I wanted to keep bees organically: I became determined that bees should not receive a potent cocktail of antibiotics and pesticides (which most beekeepers are taught to administer), all in the name of keeping them alive. I wanted to raise healthy bees, bees that could survive — and thrive. It was no longer about me and my need for honey and pollination, but about them. I wanted (and still want) to keep bees to help them survive.

Bee Hives

So how are my bees doing this season? I started with three new hives, but had to combine two of the weaker ones. One hive is particularly strong. It’s still too early to say if they’ll survive, but I’m cautiously optimistic. My dreams of honey will have to wait — for now, at least — and that’s okay.

Would you ever consider keeping honey bees?

Images: Christine Nelson. Christine is a stay-at-home mom in central Massachusetts. She shares her home with one husband, two kids (ages 14 and 9), one dog, two cats, a rabbit, chickens and, of course, bees.

 

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Is Social Media Stressing You Out?

Last month, the Huffington Post highlighted a survey taken by more than 7,000 moms that showed that social media is stressing out 42% of us. The main reason — according to the survey — is that social media conveys picture-perfect lives, leaving moms feeling inadequate and anxious. Apparently, Pinterest in particular makes moms feel pressured with its intimidating photos of DIY projects, professional-looking parties, and perfect food. Moms don’t feel like they can measure up.

Is this true for you? I know I’ve often coveted the craftiness and decorative skills of those behind the gorgeous pics I pin, but I gave up hope of being another Martha Stewart long ago. I’m usually happy to see what others can create — and what I can aspire to when I dare. As a blogger, I already know that blog posts, Pinterest pins — really, any photos online — are just tiny snippets of a life, not reflective of what goes on in someone’s daily reality.

The stressful part of social media for me is not what I see or read but keeping up with it at all. If you’re a blogger trying to build traffic to your site, it’s important to be active in social media, but I find it next to impossible to keep up with all of it. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn…each appeals to different people and serves different purposes, so it’s easy to feel like you have to be on top of it all. I’ve decided not to even try — it’s not exactly very “slow” of me, after all — and to focus on a couple I enjoy the most and where I think my readers spend their time.

I still don’t know how some people manage to keep an active blog going, get a new tweet up every 20 minutes, boast a Pinterest following of thousands, keep conversations going on Facebook, and put up great pics on Instagram every day. Someone must be making meals at their houses, paying attention to their children, and maybe even sleeping for them. Who knows?

I love to be connected online, but making myself step away sometimes is important (as my husband likes to remind me). Whether it’s one day a week, or certain times a day, or an “unplugged” vacation once or twice a year, a little time away helps us unwind from some of the stress that we can find ourselves feeling from social media.

I’m curious: Do you feel pressured by all the picture-perfect stuff you see on sites like Pinterest? Do you struggle to keep up with it all? What is your favorite social media platform? Where do you hang out the most, and why?

Image: Social Media Cupcakes made by Crazy Moose Bakery, posted on Flickr by Geek Cake Love

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Raising Nature-Loving Kids in the City

I grew up on 75 acres of oceanfront property on the north shore of Nova Scotia. There were fields and woods, brooks and marshlands all around me, and I was outside all the time. But here I am now, raising kids in the city and trying to find ways to foster a love for — and knowledge of — the natural world in my girls. While it can never be like rural living, there are simple, thoughtful ways to help children be in tune with nature amidst concrete and sirens. Here are some of the things I’m doing and highly recommend:

H Splashing in Puddle

Get outside every day. Even in less-than-ideal weather.

When I was a kid, we were outside all the time — rain, snow storms, and wind were just extra incentives for us to venture out. As adults, we tend to think we should stay inside whenever the weather isn’t pleasant. But why? Unless it’s dangerous, throw on the appropriate gear and head outside with your kids. Maybe you won’t be able to stay out very long, but let your children feel the elements: Let them get wet, feel the wind in their faces, tromp through the snow, and sweat a bit in the heat. To help them cope better, make sure you have plenty of water (when it’s hot), extra mittens (when the first ones get sopping wet from snow), and fun rain boots (to wade in the puddles). Believe me, this will be good for you, too.

Take walks along regular routes and point out the seasonal changes.

For the first four months our girls were home, we pretty much walked the same way to the same park every day. The girls watched the leaves change color and fall to the ground, the trees grow bare, the cold of winter arrive, and the signs of spring pop up; now it’s summer and everything is green. Every time we walked, I pointed out the changes — even when the girls probably didn’t understand what I was saying. Now they point out the changes they see when we’re out.

Insect Finding

Call attention to your natural surroundings wherever you are.

Your children will notice whatever you take time to notice. Look out your windows and mention what you see: What’s the weather like today? Is there a squirrel on the balcony? A bird sitting on the tree branch out front? Stop and smell a flower and encourage them to do it, too; bend down and look at the beetle crawling across the sidewalk; point out how green the grass is now; make note of any new flowers planted in your neighbors’ planters. Can you see the sunset? What about any stars or the moon at night? Nothing is too small or insignificant to point out.

B and Girls Hiking

Research the best parks nearby for hiking and take regular nature walks.

B and I have turned into hikers as parents. Who knew? We’re fortunate to have many parks within an hour’s drive with good family-friendly hiking trails. Our girls are small, so we stick to short and safe routes, but there’s always a lot to explore with them. They enjoy packing their backpacks (just like Dora the Explorer, of course) and discovering new trails. We discuss different kinds of plants, trees, and creatures along the way. We practice being quiet and listening for nature sounds. A couple of weeks ago, we got to experience a large buck barreling through the woods behind us.

If you don’t have nearby parks with hiking trails, you may live near bodies of water, mountains, or farmland. Whatever it is, take your kids out and experience it together. (And, of course, be sure to bring water and snacks for the kids!)

Create simple projects and activities that encourage exploration of nature.

I loved doing this stuff as a child — I think all kids do. I love this neighborhood tree guide project from KidWorldCitizen. In the fall, collecting leaves and making something with them will be a perfect craft. My daughters are petrified of bugs (not sure why, though we saw no bugs in Ethiopia except for the odd mosquito), so I’m planning an insect project of some kind with them soon. Butterfly nets are now on the girls’ birthday wish list after they recently used a couple belonging to some new friends. Just laying on a blanket and looking at cloud formations is fun on a lazy summer afternoon.

Bring the outside in.

Let your children bring home leaves, flowers, and things they find outside. There are limits, of course — no injured birds allowed in here (or poisonous things)! And we do teach them that some things should not be picked but left alone to grow and be enjoyed. My girls like picking little flowers and finding leaves.

Nature-Loving Kids

I like to keep natural elements in the house…a dish of seashells in the bathroom, wooden bowls, interesting rocks. I also make a point to keep fresh-cut flowers on the dining table and live plants in the house. Bringing natural things into the house, and letting the kids do the same, helps connect you all to the world outside.

Raising Nature-Loving Kids in the City

Plant something together. 

A couple months ago, we bought sunflower seeds and each of my daughters planted a few of them in two tiny pots and placed them on a sunny windowsill. When the seeds sprouted, I helped the girls replant them in a larger pot and we placed it in their bedroom. I remind them every couple of days to water it, and we note how it’s growing. Of course, if you have space for any kind of garden and can get your kids involved, all the better! Tending to something from the time it’s a seed not only teaches children about how things grow but instills in them a sense of responsibility for something living.

Plan vacations that get you out into nature, and take advantage of ways to learn about nature in your area.

Maybe it’s the beach, or the mountains, or a national park, but plan some trips that allow your children to explore and enjoy nature. And consider something new — even challenging — like tent camping or mountain climbing or sailing. Don’t forget little getaways that may be closer to home; overnight or weekend trips can be just as memorable. With young children, it’s always best to keep it as simple and stress-free as possible. Many cities have destinations like arboretums, aquariums, planetariums, etc. We’re fortunate to have the National Aquarium right down the street. It’s not cheap, but it was fun to take the girls recently and witness them seeing sharks, dolphins, jellyfish, and many small ocean creatures face-to-face for the first time.

At the Aquarium

How do you foster your children’s connection to nature, especially if you live in an urban area? I’d love to hear about it!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Architecture by studio OLKRÜF

Until I lived in a ten-foot-wide row house, I never thought about how the size of my living space affected my consumerism. With little room for much and no storage space, B and I had to get rid of a lot of stuff when we moved in, and we got used to looking away when an awesome piece of furniture caught our attention.

Now, after nine years in this little house, I realize that while my dream house is a little wider and has more shelves and closets, I don’t ever want a huge space. I don’t have people to fill it; I don’t want to spend time cleaning it or paying for the heat and air conditioning; and I don’t need to fill it with unnecessary things. Not that you have to do any of that with a large home, but what’s that saying…nature abhors a vacuum? We seem to fill whatever space we have.

Graham Hill, a wealthy serial entrepreneur, learned this for himself. In a piece for the New York Times, he describes how, before the age of 30 and flush with cash, he bought a large home in a tony Seattle neighborhood and hired a personal shopper to help him fill it. Before long, he was plagued with the stress of so much stuff:

My life was unnecessarily complicated. There were lawns to mow, gutters to clear, floors to vacuum, roommates to manage (it seemed nuts to have such a big, empty house), a car to insure, wash, refuel, repair and register and tech to set up and keep working. To top it all off, I had to keep Seven busy. And really, a personal shopper? Who had I become? My house and my things were my new employers for a job I had never applied for.

Hill says it took 15 years of travel and falling in love to cure him of his need for stuff. Still successful, he now lives in a small studio apartment with six dress shirts, 10 bowls, and a fold-down bed. He says his space is small but his life is big:

Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.

I like material things as much as anyone. I studied product design in school. I’m into gadgets, clothing and all kinds of things. But my experiences show that after a certain point, material objects have a tendency to crowd out the emotional needs they are meant to support.

Reading Hill’s words got me thinking again about what kind of house I want to live in next, and the kind of consumer I want to be. It also made me realize that the home we have now could be used more efficiently, and be less cluttered and better organized. So I don’t have to wait: I can learn to live better in the space I have right now.

What about you? Could you live in a much smaller space with much less stuff? Could you imagine pairing down as much as Hill did?

Image: Haus Rüscher (designed by OLKRÜF) in de zeen magazine

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by Alissa Lively

IMG_1443

In my first post for SlowMama, I talked about the cyclical nature of living with children and how it can sometimes be a difficult adjustment. I must have been in a pretty positive place at the time, though, because I was working on enjoying that cycle and the little people that keep things constantly moving.

But, as I mentioned, life is cyclical, and this winter found me in a slightly less uplifted frame of mind. I realized that I’ve been backsliding into my old attitude of getting things done in spite of my children, instead of with and for them.

Unfortunately, I only had this realization in the middle of planning my five-year-old’s birthday party. As I was running here and there doing errands to make this party happen, the birthday girl was waiting at home, because I wanted to bang out as many stops as I could with as little distraction as possible.

When I finally gave in to her requests to come with me, we had so much fun picking out plates and napkins and oohing and ahhing over our pretty invitations that I forgot how much faster I’d be getting this errand done, or how more quickly I could be in and out of that store, if I were by myself. Instead, I was enjoying the little girl that all the effort was for and remembering why I wanted to celebrate her life thus far.

I’d love to tell you that my wake-up call brought about a lasting change in my attitude, but even in the completion of said birthday party preparations, I reverted back to my old stand-by of “you kids run and play so I can just get this done.”

So in an attempt to refocus my approach, I’ve started making small (read: heroic) efforts to incorporate my children into more of my daily activities, rather than treat them as impediments to finishing those activities. Some of my recent successes have been: including them in making our meals (chopping what they can, getting things from the fridge); cleaning up around the house (they’re obsessed with washing windows and dusting); and, most heroic of all, allowing one of my daughters to “help” me with the painting of our living room. Granted, her painting was of stick figures on the wall before I rolled over it, but we had a blast being together. I’ve noticed (again) that it’s more fun to embrace the chaotic and less-productive process with my kids than to ignore them in order to “just get it done.”

As our spring break draws to a close and the last leg of the school year looms, I hope that I can keep these changes in mind during the return to our regularly scheduled programming. Wish me luck! Or just give me advice: Do any of you dear readers have any thoughts/tricks/words of wisdom for me? How do you keep your kids involved and your lives running smoothly? I’d love to learn from your experiences!

Image: Alissa Lively

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by Ann Waterman

Car-Ride

In January, we said goodbye to our hip and sporty SUV and embraced the patently uncool minivan: Hello automatic doors, rear back-up camera, bluetooth phone, and room aplenty! Besides, being cool doesn’t matter when you have more cup holders than passenger capacity.

As much as I love all the family-friendly features our van boasts, the one feature we opted not to get was the television entertainment package (much to my seven-year-old’s disappointment). Part of the reason was financial — the upgrade would have cost more than we wanted to spend — but the other, more important reason was that we wanted to avoid requests to turn on the TV every time we got in the van. I’m not anti-TV, but I am anti-TV-all-the-time, and my husband and I felt it would be best for our family to simply steer clear of the temptation entirely. Besides, in the time we’ve gotten by without a television in our vehicles, we’ve discovered the wonderful world of audio books and great music to entertain the kids — why would we want to mess with such a good thing?

I picked up my first audio book while perusing the shelves at my local library. My son really loved being read to, and I thought he might enjoy listening to some stories while we ran errands around town. Boy, was I right! As soon as we came to end of the audio book, my son enthusiastically asked if I’d play it again. And again. And again. I counted down the days until the return date so we could pick up more audio books (for both our sakes).

Since that time, we’ve listened to many different books, as well as some really great kid’s music that even my husband and I enjoy. Our audio system serves a larger purpose than simply entertaining the kids, though: It’s become an important part of after-school learning (even though our kids would never think of it in those terms). Many of the audio selections we’ve chosen cover history, classic literature, and music education, but they’re presented in such an engaging manner that my kids eat it up — and mom and dad find themselves learning a thing or two along the way. Here are a few of our favorite audio picks for kids:

Rabbit Ears Listening Library — For classic stories and fairy tales narrated by great voices such as John Hurt, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep, check out this fantastic audio series. It delighted both my kids and me.

51nEfAT9YwL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_ Tubby the Tuba — I used to love listening to this story (on vinyl, no less) about a tuba trying to be more than just the accompaniment in his orchestra and was thrilled to share it with my kids. It’s a nice way to introduce kids to orchestral instruments and the sounds they make.

The Story of the World — This is a four-volume series narrated by Jim Weiss (whose voice has been described as “liquid gold” by CNN-TV) that covers history from the nomads up to modern times and was specifically created for children. I was fully prepared for my son to declare it boring, but much to my surprise, he ate it up and listened to the 7- disc set of volume 1 (nomads to the fall of the Roman empire) about ten times over — I kid you not. He was into the series so much that he wanted to name his baby brother Julius Caesar (Theseus was a close second). Jim Weiss’s narration is captivating, and even my husband and I couldn’t wait to get in the car just so we could listen to it — well, at least on the first round.

Human history can be brutal at times, so you may want to use some parental discretion and be prepared to have some discussions with your kids about why people act the way they do. My son was 6 the first time we listened to the series, and while he had some questions that generated some good discussions, he was comfortable with the material.

51y-NNpzKeL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_

Beethoven’s Wig — A musical friend recommended this series that grafts witty lyrics onto great classical masterpieces. The lyrics tell you a bit about each song’s composer and highlight certain unique characteristics of the song. It’s a little zany, but it will leave you and your kids in stitches and a little more educated about classical music.

Putumayo Kids — Let’s be honest: Some kids’ music makes you want to poke your eyes out (or at least pop in some ear plugs). This globally inspired series must have been created with adults in mind, because I’ve enjoyed every CD I’ve listened to. Each disc highlights music from a different culture and features lots of international artists. The music is fun, beautiful, and is a great opportunity to introduce your kids to different languages and countries.

We’re always looking to expand our audio collection. Do your kids have any favorites?

Images: Ann Waterman, Amazon

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NeilKrugPolaroid

Before having her baby, Ann wrote about her hardest trimester of pregnancy — the fourth: those few months after the baby is born when everything is chaotic and out of sync and you’re all-consumed with the needs of a newborn. She mentioned — as did numerous commenters — that she hates asking for help, which is another reason the newborn days can be hard.

It got me thinking about this whole notion of asking for help — something so many of us find difficult to do. I know it’s certainly been true for me, though I’ve gotten better over the years. This past year in particular I made huge strides, as I had to ask for — and receive — help in some significant ways.

Most moms I know have a hard time asking for help — heck, pretty much everyone I know does. Why is this? I have a few theories. Personality comes into play: Some people are very independent and feel better when they can do everything themselves. Others are private and uncomfortable with having people in their personal space or “knowing their business.” Most of us just don’t like the idea of imposing on or burdening others, and we assume that asking for help fits that category.

Past experience can also deter us. If you’re an oldest child who’s used to being in control (ahem), asking for help doesn’t come naturally. And if asking for or receiving help in the past has been painful for you, it can be hard to go there again.

But I think a big part of our hangups about asking for help is cultural. In our society, it’s considered a weakness to need help; it’s interpreted as being incapable or irresponsible. In other cultures, needing others isn’t a weakness but simply a part of what it means to be human, a member of a family and a community. In fact, it would be considered rude and strange not to receive help in many cultures, especially during  a time of high stress, like a birth or illness.

If we truly believe in building more close-knit families and communities, it’s important to ask for help — and to receive it willingly. Depending on each other this way brings us closer, helps us learn from one another, teaches us humility, and makes us more grateful. I learned so much from the generosity of others this past year; it changed me and (hopefully) will make be a better neighbor, friend, sister, and parent for years to come.

What have you learned from asking for help? What makes it easier for you to ask for — and receive — assistance?

Image: Neil Krug

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by Margaret Cabaniss

happiness

It seems like every few years a new study makes the rounds about how people with children are less happy than their child-free counterparts. According to an article by Emily Esfahani Smith in the Atlantic, that may well be true — but it misses an important point about what makes life worth living:

“Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy,” [social psychologist Roy] Baumeister told me in an interview.

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

This is definitely true. Sherbet makes me happy, but it’s not going to give my life meaning or get me out of bed each morning. (Well, it might if I were Alissa, I don’t know.) More:

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,” the researchers write. “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.” That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

Having negative events happen to you, the study found, decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. “If there is meaning in life at all,” Frankl wrote, “then there must be meaning in suffering.” [emphasis added]

Again, this makes perfect sense to me. No parent would say he or she necessarily enjoys the daily struggles and infinite little frustrations involved in raising children — but no parent I can think of would say that it isn’t worth every minute.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the child-free (like, uh, myself) lead meaningless lives. As Baumeister says, it’s a human impulse to reach out to others, to want to care for one another and contribute to the common good beyond ourselves — and that can look different for every person. Faith, family, service work, research, community engagement…we all find that meaning in a variety of different ways, and in ways that require us to move beyond our own pleasure or comfort to something deeper, more permanent.

It’s an insight that resonates with the idea of slow living: that we can find greater fulfillment in connecting with the people and world around us, which requires us to approach them with more care and mindfulness — and that even the smallest pleasures, by slowing down to enjoy them, can in turn point us back to those deeper truths.

The article closes with a final thought from Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist whose time in a Nazi concentration camp led him to these insights about the importance of meaning:

The wisdom that Frankl derived from his experiences there, in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, is just as relevant now as it was then: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself — be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is.”

Read the whole thing here. Do those studies about parenting and happiness-versus-fulfillment ring true for you?

Image: Instagram user aquinus

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by Abby Scharbach

Scharbachs

As a homeschooling mama, my new year really begins in September when I brush the packing peanuts off my new curricula and carefully list my resolutions for the school year ahead. September is always full of hope and promise — but by the time January rolls around, I’m clutching to what’s left of my school-year resolutions as the hot rod of time accelerates. Somewhere in the midst of soccer, carpooling, baby naps, visiting relatives, holidays, and many, many meals, I lose my compass. January’s new year gives me a chance to pull over for a pit stop and ask myself: What did I want to accomplish this year?

Because I’m perpetually looking for new methods to make life with nine work well, I picked up a present for myself while Christmas shopping: a little book by Mary Carlomagno called Secrets of Simplicity.

Carlomagno challenges her readers to let go of some things in order to accomplish the new. For every activity I want to add to my life, I should have a corresponding thing to remove in order to make room for it.

Is this why New Year’s resolutions don’t work? Most of us want physical fitness, deeper relationships, creative work, and on and on, but we don’t take anything off our already full plates to make room for the new goals.

Above is a recent picture from a walk I took with three of my kids. I set aside my to-do list and fulfilled a promise to them: to take them bike riding that day. In the city, they can’t set out on bikes by themselves (like I did as a country-living kid), so I planned to load them into the car and go to a county park with a bike loop — but my eldest daughter’s midterms got in the way, and we didn’t make it. It was tempting to put the bike ride off; after all, the day didn’t go as planned, and there was dinner to make. But their bikes were by the front door, and their anticipation was palpable, so I squeezed a local bike ride in before dinner and work — and it was probably the best thing I did all week. The air was balmy, and the city was quiet as night fell. It was just the break from busyness that my soul needed — and as a bonus, I got to spend time with my littles. This is exactly the kind of thing I resolve to do more of this year.

How about you?  What can you take off your plate to make room for the goals that are important to you?

Image: Abby Scharbach. Abby is a homeschooling mama of seven based in Baltimore, MD.

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