Looking Forward to a Slow Year

Another year has whooshed by. I feel like I stepped out for intermission, and when I came back the show was over. As this new year begins, I’m contemplating how I can stretch the time out, engage fully and be present through the passage of days. I’ve been thinking about this idea of slow living a lot. We have slow food, slow stitching, even slow travel. I want to live slow. I wondered if like the other slow movements slow living was also a thing.

Lo and behold! It’s a hashtag, and apparently has been for quite some time. Since moving to Australia four years ago, I’ve seriously unplugged from the internet, as is evidenced by my infrequent blog posts. I do a quick morning scroll through Facebook to see what my US or traveling friends are up to, then a glance at Instagram for a dose of pretty pictures, and that’s pretty much it. Rarely, I will get sucked into Pinterest, and I almost never read blogs anymore, unless there is some particular subject I’m wanting to know more about, such as slow living.

I started poking around to see what others were saying about the subject. According to Wikipedia, “Slow living is a lifestyle emphasizing slower approaches to aspects of everyday life.” That sounds good. Then I started looking for those hashtags that I usually ignore. That’s where I found the insta-version of slow living. This version seems to be about arranging your life just so, in order to be instagramable and beautiful, having the hip products and accessories to place in those photos. It’s more consumerism. One more ideal to live up to. Another good impression to be made for a faceless internet world. Something else to stress over.

Although it’s become a fad, I do believe that on some level it is based on a longing for a simpler, quieter way of being. People just got waylaid again by that need for outside approval.

My own idea of slow living is about ridding my life of the distracting clutter, not just the physical clutter that the blog posts tell us to tackle, although that is definitely a part of it, but the mental noise. It’s about defining my priorities and values, focusing on them, and letting go of the pointless activities that don’t support my goals. It’s losing the “shoulds” nagging me in my brain to live up to the perceived expectations of others.

It’s about being still.

My lesson in stillness began last May, while I wiled away the quiet hours inhaling the scent of my newborn granddaughter.

And then I lost sight of it again.

Upon returning home from ten sedentary weeks in the US, I was over-eager to get back to my exercise routine. A lapse in judgement led me to think I should take up running as well. I was very aware that this choice to run was based on a desire to metaphorically run away. I didn’t really want to run away; I simply wanted that feeling of breaking free from whatever was holding me back in life.

But, no. There would be no running anywhere. The Universe, Fate, my arthritic hips – something – stepped in to say, “yeh neh, you’re not going anywhere, mate. Sit right down and have a think about life for the next few months.” (read this with an Aussie accent)

I found myself mostly housebound from late September through mid December. Unless my husband drove me somewhere, I was staying put. No more treks about town, no hopping on trains to go explore this suburb or that. I was angry and frustrated and scared. I had lots of FOMO. I was going stir crazy and had to make the most of this enforced stillness or else fall into a depression. I was quite surprised that didn’t happen.

My doting husband took exceptional care of me. It was a marvel to sit back and allow myself to be cared for, attended to. This unfortunate circumstance that hobbled me allowed him to fill the space that opened up when I sat quiet. Through these long months he has been there, patient, kind, loving. The stillness made room for a new intimacy to grow between us.

The quiet time has allowed me to see what is truly important to me. I have had to learn that it’s ok to be idle and do nothing. I tend to buy into the busyness and productivity model of what a successful life looks like. I feel lazy reading books, even though it’s an activity absolutely in alignment with my priorities. Through intensive reading I both expand my mind and I improve my writing skills. Spending time on the internet researching Slow Living induced feelings of guilt, of wasting time. Doing even less can make me nervous indeed. In his book The Importance of Living Lin Yutang tells us that great ideas are born from an idle state. He writes about the art of lying in bed doing nothing. He says to curl up with big soft pillows and to place your arms behind your head. “In this posture any poet can write immortal poetry, any philosopher can revolutionize human thought, and any scientist can make epoch-making discoveries.”

As the weeks pass, I am becoming aware that as well as being allowed to spend time doing nothing, I also don’t have to do everything. The world isn’t falling apart and I feel happy. My new goal for life has become to live it, to embrace joy and fully engage with life, not rush through it. As I regain my mobility, I want to be careful not to lose sight of this new goal. I have another tendency and that is to get all excited about an idea, and then forget to actualize it.

In the midst of slowing down, I still have goals I wish to achieve. I still have a house to clean, a novel to finish editing. My challenge is to accomplish these things without driving myself crazy again. I want to be flexibly organized. I want rhythm, not routine. In her A-Z List of Simple Living, Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home says of being organized, “You need to leave space for life to happen.” She also talks about the concept of “tilting.” This was a major takeaway for me. I’m always trying to achieve balance in my life, my days. “I’ll devote an hour to this and an hour to that and an hour to…” but there were never enough hours in a day or a week to do everything I thought I should be doing. McAlary says balance is a myth, that instead it’s ok to tilt toward one priority or another as the circumstances call for. Tilt the other way another day.

Right before my hips went out, I had jumped on the Bullet Journal bandwagon. I did see enough of the internet to hear of that particular thing. Mostly my entries in the journal have been about healing and pain levels. I’m ready now to delve a bit deeper into the process and use the method to stay on task and attain my goals. Sometimes I believe that the tools that are supposed to help us focus can become a distraction in themselves. Another bit of pop culture that has sifted through to my consciousness is the extreme decorating of Bullet Journal pages that people do. It seems like another time sink. Although, I can see how for some this could be a meditative practice and if that aligns with their values, then good for them. For me, there is the danger of it becoming another stress inducer as I buy into the belief that my BuJo needs to be pretty.

If I can follow the basic principles of the Bullet Journal method, I suspect it will be a great help. In his book The Bullet Journal Method Ryder Carroll says it is in the intersection of productivity and mindfulness where you find intentionality. Living with intention is what I believe slow living is about. Ryder says that “mindfulness is the process of waking up to see what’s right in front of us. It helps you become more aware of where you are, who you are and what you want.” The Bullet Journal is meant to be a method of bringing your actions into alignment with your values and priorities.

Both McAlary and Carroll talk about “knowing your why”. Why do I want to slow down and simplify my life? Because I want to be here now. I want to embrace life and live abundantly. I want to witness the small wonders, like watching videos over and over of my granddaughter laughing, or seeing the morning sun drifting through the kitchen window. I want to focus on my priorities of health, marriage, writing, family and friend relationships, and exploring this beautiful world.

As I move forward into this new year, I aim to take with me the lessons in stillness that I’ve been learning over the last few months. I’m going to make a card to hang where I see it often. It will list my values and priorities, and I will make a habit of reading it often and asking myself, “are my actions right now in alignment with these values and priorities?” I’m going to sit here at my desk, stare out the window at the swaying eucalypts, watching the antics of the butcher birds and magpies, and just be.

Freelance Article on Fermentation

freelancewriterarticleonfermentation (1 of 2)Kombucha sampling at Wild Kombucha in Leichhardt

I am so thrilled to have published my article covering the local fermentation scene in the Sydney Inner West’s Ciao Magazine. Fermented foods and beverages have been a big part of my own diet and quest for health for a few years now. Upon arriving in Sydney, I was pleased to discover that there is a good size community of fermentos (people who ferment) here.  And although I set out simply to write about fermentation and the people who were doing it in the area, what I discovered is that it is very much about community building and nurturing. It further strengthened my own belief that our journey to a healthy society is going to be a group effort.

Read the full article, Fermenting a Community, here!

freelancewriterarticleonfermentation (2 of 2)Massive kombucha SCOBYs at Egg of the Universe in Rozelle

The Dangers of Living in the World

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Recently, I read a very disturbing article in my AARP magazine.  Just the fact that I receive and read AARP magazine is disturbing enough!  This article was about “sneaky culprits” that might be contributing to weight gain.  It mentioned BPA and that thermal cash register receipts are a significant source of the estrogen-mimicking chemical, which messes with your hormones and metabolism.  I immediately thought of my purse-full of receipts.  I started obsessively internet searching for articles on BPA.  I got myself sufficiently freaked out and started throwing away all of my plastic leftover containers and checking labels for BPA free bottles and bowls.  Now whenever a checkout clerk hands me a receipt I just want to ask, “are you trying to kill me?”  I know they think I’m crazy when I look at the receipt in their hand for a minute before sighing and then gingerly taking it between the very tips of my thumb and forefinger.

The BPA-ridding frenzy wore off; I relaxed a little.  Then I read this Mother Jones article that says even BPA free plastics can have estrogen-mimicking chemicals in them.  Now, I’m worrying about the super protective mattress cover we have and wondering if I’m soaking up these chemicals while I sleep.  Or try to sleep instead of worrying about this.

The Mother Jones article does also mention that there is some skepticism about the research and who was funding it.  I would certainly like to see some non-biased research done.  It disheartens me that our current way of life is such a health risk.  We have all of these things that are supposed to add convenience and make our lives easier, such as processed foods and plastic storage containers.  Plastic everything.  Corporations push these things at us, telling us it’s all good and good for us, when in fact most of it is slowly killing us.  It’s all down to money and people getting rich off the masses who eat their pretend food and use their BPA-laden products.

In Salt Lake the air is poison, but the people in control won’t put restrictions on the factories belching out the fumes because some rich bigwig will lose money.  Someone told me recently that Salt Lake’s mosquito abatement program involves adding a chemical to our water.  Our drinking water!  I haven’t been able to find anything to back this up, and I don’t know who is getting rich off that or whose life is made easier by it.  All I know is I think life is killing us.

Out in the Field with Sister Helen

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One day Craig and I had the opportunity to travel out to the surrounding villages to see another side of life in Uganda.

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We went with Sister Helen, a nun at Kitovu Hospital, who is also a dietician and has worked in Africa for many decades.  With Joseph and Stella, local social workers, Sister Helen does outreach in the villages, making regular trips out to visit with widows, the elderly, disabled, and people who are sick, most often with HIV/AIDS.  They talk to people about their diets and other health needs.

This child has lost both her parents and is being raised by her grandmother.  Stories are getting blurred in my head; I think that her father died from AIDS, the mother died in childbirth, and she was premature.

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This is a daughter-in-law and baby who also live in this small mud and brick house.

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We encountered a great deal of obeisance that day; I found it terribly uncomfortable.  This woman is the wife of a local minister.  They both have HIV.  She welcomed us to her home, directed us to sit on benches, then came to us on her knees, clasping our hands in hers and greeting us each in turn.  We witnessed this same knee walking in a couple other homes as well.

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Most of the people we visited lived in mud or mud and brick, thatch roof huts.  The kitchens, like this one, are typically separate from the houses.

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This is the inside where the cooking is done on a very smoky wood fire.

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Here is the stove.

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This is another kitchen, where the woman is showing us the mortar and pestle which is used for grinding maize, peanuts, or coffee beans.

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This woman has been living with a man for 20 years, they have 4 children and have lost two.  The husband has HIV/AIDS and TB.  They have never had a legally recognized wedding, so if he dies, which he will, his family could, and probably will, come in and take over the house, displacing her and the children.

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She makes baskets to supplement the family’s income.

Everyone we met that day was carrying a huge burden, either illness, lack of food, or loss of a family member.  One woman had lost her husband to AIDS, she was also so sick that she could no longer work, yet she was caring for her children, plus the children of her husband’s brother who also died from AIDS.  She had something like 14 people living in her house.

Even in the face of so much hardship, everyone was welcoming and cheerful.  They brought us into their homes and let us take photographs.  The contrast between what we saw in Uganda and the luxury that we have here in America struck us hard.  We swore that day that we’d never complain about slow internet again.