Slow Living

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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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


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


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