I’m feeling the pressure of life a little at the moment. Many of us, whether we have high powered careers or are stay-at-home mothers, may feel our lives have become overly frenetic, and I know many of us find ourselves chasing our tails in an attempt to keep up. Making sure the wheels carry on turning in this merry-go-round of the 21st Century can be difficult, especially when the urge for instant gratification is all the rage.
I think it’s indisputable that life has changed pace dramatically from when many of us were children; now it seems to be all about speed, fast food and a quick snatched conversation if we’re lucky; often it’s just a text when there’s a moment to spare.
I know from talking to lots of you, that many of my virtual friends would like to step off the carousel and slow down for a while but it’s just not always possible or at least it doesn’t seem like it is. But there are little things we can do to restore the balance and this week I have been making sure I practice what I preach.
This is where we really can learn from the French and I am sure you have guessed where a part of this is leading already – down the well-trodden route towards the market, slow cooking, food and family meals.
We all have to eat and what we eat directly affects our well-being, our mood, and even our relationships. As a family we always make a point eating together, no matter what we are doing; it’s the one time during the day that we can all chatter about what has happened at school, review fun things, cry over sad things, and discuss the past and the future. There is rarely a set agenda, and our topics flicker about the table from fast tongues – it’s a gabble of ideas, but best of all – we just talk. Oh, and phones are absolutely not allowed!
I also like to know where my food comes from, I like to support the local growers and farmers and I like to discuss what we are eating. One learns not only about the food, but also about the people who grow it, and over time I’ve garnered a much better understanding of our region. These evenings around the table are a part of the lifestyle I want to pass on to our children.
I know my life may be a little hectic, to say the least. It appears to some to be the most wonderful lifestyle – and it is – but I still have the same worries as everyone else, along with the same lack of time and the ever-present burden of financial pressures. I find I rarely get enough sleep as I tend to finish at midnight what I wanted to complete during the daylight hours. But along the way I have learnt the importance of taking just a few minutes to enjoy the simplest of things.
For instance, I will walk whenever I can rather than taking the car; an obvious choice right? But instead of marching along, hands thrust firmly in pockets, deep in thought, I tend to look around. Take this quite unremarkable street.
There is nothing immediately noteworthy about the houses until one peers a little bit closer. A broken pane of glass in a door speaks of neglect, but then as one takes a longer look the character of one’s realisation changes as the doorway reveals its age.
The stone frame is incredible, if local knowledge is correct, and it usually is, this house was built in the 12th century, right around the time the church nearby was built. The same hands that built the soaring archway over the church door may have put together this dignified portal. It may not be too elaborate but all the same, it’s a humbling thought, that this stone was carved nearly a thousand years ago. As always when I find old stone like this, I will stop and stretch out a hand to touch and feel the stone – it’s a tactical appreciation of history that always leaves me wide-eyed with wonder.
And another thing I tell myself whilst walking; look up not down (perhaps another hint to put that mobile device away). One positive of doing this is that when we are hunched over studying our phones, our posture is really quite poor, a pose which in turn can insidiously make us feel quite negative about ourselves. But by standing tall, shoulders back with head held high, one can stride forward purposefully and not only will we see so much more but we’ll also start to feel good; a brisk pace always gives me that feeling that we can conquer the world.
‘Slow Living’ – I recently discovered – is actually a thing, I’ve championed the Slow Food movement for a while, but this “Slow Living’ is new to me, maybe because I don’t think everything needs a sticky name to hang one’s hat on. But it is a way of life that just makes so much sense; I truly believe it’s something we can use to navigate the tricky path through the minefield of our incredibly fast-paced existence, a way to actually stop and enjoy life a little more.
Take for example, a ‘fast-food’ meal versus a home-cooked meal. The former typically entails time spent in a car, perhaps sitting in a line listening to the grumbling of every other gas-guzzling engine as you slowly creep forward one vehicle at a time, one hand on the wheel, the other surreptitiously messaging the kids to make sure they are doing their homework. Or one can alternatively stand over a stove, gently stirring a pan of lightly chopped vegetables as something roasts in the oven, with a glass of wine sitting on the side; the children are still doing their homework but we are also there, listening.
A 17 year-old’s maths, Latin, Chinese or German might be beyond our capabilities of helping, but all the same we are around if needed, even if only to offer encouragement. It’s a convivial scene and instead of life feeling rushed and tense, everything feels good (in fact, scratch that, it feels fabulous!).
Just for this very reason switch off the tv and reach for a good book instead.
and kick some leaves
and then bring just a little bit of nature inside. Flowers may be scarce at this time of year and not everyone can afford a weekly trip to the local florist to make elaborate arrangements, but I find what I can. The very last of the roses brighten the kitchen table, a good end for them as no one will take much notice of them in the garden in November, but indoors they are appreciated all the time.
Sometimes I simply cut some leaves,
evergreen or autumnal oranges and russets, the choice is yours, but a big armful in a large vase can make a real show; I always go over the top, for bigger is better in this instance!
It’s suddenly turned really cold here; last week we were smugly enjoying an Indian Summer and eating lunch outside, and then this week the wind changed as a northerly air stream came to visit and daytime temperatures have struggled to get into double figures (celsius that is); then add the wind chill and ‘brrrr’. I found myself waiting for one of the children close to the beach on Tuesday. I had two choices; I could remain inside the car, staying warm and content while browsing through some emails whilst embracing the ease of modern living and a technological world permanently at our finger tips; or I could be tough on myself and force myself out into the cold, despite the fact that I wasn’t really adequately dressed for a walk. It was a no-brainer, really, for a walk always trumps over just sitting, warm or not. As I strode along the beach path, there was not a soul in sight save a lone fisherman patiently waiting for his supper.
The summer hoards have long since departed from the coastline. This is when we get the beach to ourselves.
and instead of people watching we can truly acknowledge our surroundings, a lone purple flower refusing to give in to the encroaching winter.
The fading blooms of the wild yukka which grow so abundantly here were a reminder of the coming season.
And then it is finally time to collect the children and return home, my cheeks rosy from the fresh salty air, my hands numb and my teeth chattering. At times like this, home seems like the best place on earth, especially when there’s a warm fire waiting.
I truly believe that when we take, snatch, grab or steal just a few minutes out of each day to slow down, to appreciate the simplest of things, to really talk to someone and listen, then we find a far greater emotional balance in our lives which in turn makes us happier both personally and professionally. It’s a little balancing act that needs to be restored to its equilibrium every now and again, and ultimately I think this leads to far greater satisfaction. I would love to know what you think. How do you slow down?