Living at a Proper Pace

Slow and Simple/ Living the Proper Pace of Life

In moving to France, we willingly gave up a larger life—a bigger house full of appliances and modern conveniences, a larger budget, luxury cars and prepared meals. Changing places we traded things for time and for a proper pace of living. We’ve discovered that savoring a glass of local wine in an outdoor café can provide as much pleasure as an expensive bottle of wine in a five star restaurant. Building relationships with neighbors and having the time to eat meals together as a family provides community and a quality of life that is priceless. It’s not that we don’t still love and desire beautiful things and elegant clothes, but living a slower and simpler life has given us such joy, pleasure, and perspective that we are willing to make some tradeoffs we weren’t prepared for before. Our values have shifted and new priorities and goals have emerged.

Experimenting with a new pace of life was a major goal of ours. It’s not just about being slow and simple, as we are not naturally slow, simple people, but about finding the proper pace of life. Driving to Nimes, 35 minutes away to see a movie in English requires planning. Taking the train to visit museums in Paris requires even more planning, and finding great deals to travel to Morocco, Crete, or Africa requires a lot of forethought and research, but life on a daily basis seems to flow at a proper pace. Changing place and moving to France during our time off has allowed us to try on a new pace of life.

“I talked to Craig and Mike in San Francisco today. They reminded me once again how life in the bay area is so wired and people especially in the business world are expected to be available 24/7. Craig asked me what we thought about coming back into a life that was 24/7.”

“We definitely have to be clear and strong on our priorities if we go back to a place that values work, work, and work above everything else. Or we have to know it may only be temporary until we can move to the place that will support the proper pace more easily.

Being here in France has allowed us to see that a different place definitely supports a different lifestyle and speed of life. Yes, we are living in a small village and don’t have to drive to school or work, but that is just cream on the cake. It’s the way the French embrace family and lifestyle over work that enables the people to pace themselves. On Sunday’s, for example, all the stores are closed. It’s not a choice to go shopping and spend your Sunday consuming. Families and friends have lunch together and take walks in nature or swim at the rivers, oceans, and pools in the summer. The streets, trails, beaches and hills are covered with walkers leisurely enjoying the afternoon. Not having the choice to go shopping or for a walk in nature makes it so much easier to choose what will replenish our souls - nature.

“I love San Francisco,” my friend Craig said. “But I can’t say there is a feeling of community among our neighbors. In fact we are the only people who have lived here longer than ten years. We live so close together, but no one knows each other and no one says good morning. I truly don’t know why.”

For us, our village is one big community. Our neighbor on one side, has lived in his house for three generations, next door the family have lived there for twenty years and Lilou the Potter for at least ten years. Everyday we walk Zoe-Pascale to school we say bonjour to at least five people and stop to kiss a few on the cheek as well. The thought of living in a place where people don’t say good morning seems so odd. Our priorities have shifted. We are loving the simple things in life. And simultaneously we miss our good friends and family who know us well and have been part of our lives. Good friends are not easy to come by. They are built overtime and have more and more importance as we realize how hard it is to make new good friends as you get older. It’s funny though, sometimes it happens. This past spring we met a new English couple who Jean and I both adore and they seem to like us to. Something that is hard to find actually where you both like both of them. They live here six months a year and in England the other six. They love the simple life for six months, but also miss the excitement of London and their friends and family. Is that the answer we ask ourselves? Is it two homes? Does that make life simpler or more complicated or does it allow you to truly regroup when it gets too much?

Our broad shouldered, thick necked builder with a large stomach is fixing the roof this month. He arrives promptly at 8 am and leaves at 12 for a two hour lunch break with his family. I’ve seen him pick up his son at school on the way home. He is always smiling when he returns at 2pm. He works very hard, but never overtime. At 5pm promptly he and his workers are gone. They’ve toiled for eight hours with no noticeable break and step back to admire their work. They are pleased and ready to go home.

Reading has always been a love and a luxury for Jean and I. It always seemed to have come last often at 10 or 11 at night right before we would fall asleep. Here I am always reading. I pick a book up for 30 minutes after lunch or an hour before dinner. I read at night in bed without any TV to hypnotize me and I read snuggled up next to Zoe-Pascale, who also now is reading like a fish. I love books, I love learning, and here I am able to feed this desire so easily. Some books I buy on the internet and have them shipped, others I find in the used bookstore or at a Vide de Grenier (attic sale). Never before did I have time to go to a used bookstore. Now Zoe and I go to the Used Book Store after Ballet every Wednesday to buy and sell. She’s become a collector of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck French comic books. Her collection now toping over a hundred books is her love. She’s given up Barbie for Mickey. I’m trying to teach her inspite of her hoarding of the comic books, that we need to sell some to get more. Sell three for 3 Euro and buy five for 6 Euro. The Boekinier (bookstore seller) makes some money, we learn the value of recycling and we manage our collection.

Not having a TV, I believe, and Jean has come around to believing so as well, has been one of the best things in the world for all of us. Not having so much negative energy come into the home is so soothing. This is especially true with the newsreports of the Iraq war depressing us more and more each day. Instead of a TV blasting in the background Jean selectively watches ABC News on the internet and has now found a movie channel we can tune into through TV Links. We all watch DVDs and Zoé plays computer games and none of us miss the TV commercials we used to watch every 7 minutes on TV. Yes it is important to stay connected to the world, but we are learning to observe it and not absorb it as the media so wants us to.

Jean and I have been keeping work hours for our writing, research, and coaching about six-eight hours a day. It seems to flow differently here. Three hours of productive work in the morning or afternoon followed by email, administrative tasks, and some more productive work later in the evening for Jean. So sane, so freeing. We have time every morning to have breakfast with Zoe-Pascale and get her off to school, followed by a walk in the country. Our walks have become as important to us for exercise as for spiritual sustenance. Our heads get clear, we have time to talk (or not) and we can sit in front of the computer for much longer periods of time as a result. Some days I insert French class or yoga into the morning and a little shopping at the Farmer's Market on Friday. It all seems to flow and finds its proper place in the day.

We’ve been trying to practice 15 minutes of meditation everyday. Something we have tried for years and have found so difficult. I sit on the terrace with a soft pillow under my seat, turn on baroque music on my IPOD and tune out. In breath to four counts, hold four counts, out breath four counts. It’s hard work to keep my mind still, but I’m beginning to trust that it might make a difference in living in this world peacefully than not. Jean loves to sit in yogi position in the living room. He too struggles and finds it so calming to him, so we keep practicing. Another change of pace for us. To allow the time, just 15 minutes to meditate. It’s hard to find fifteen minutes of quiet time. It truly is. We’ve discovered however it isn’t about finding the time, it’s about making it a priority everyday and then the day seems to go better. I wonder how hard this will be to keep up in a wired 24/7 world?

I started to knit. Who had time before? Who has time now? But I like it and I find I am happy when I knit. I am calm, and I am relaxed. I knit in the car when Jean drives or in the evening for ten minutes. At this rate it could take me a long time to finish my project but it is okay. I’m knitting an ambitious sweater for Zoe-Pascale now with these tiny, tiny needles. What was I thinking? I just hope I will finish it while she is still a size 8. Creating something and using my hands (other than on the computer) is so important now. I’m painting a lot too. I just sit on the terrace and paint a picture from a photo or copy my favorite Zanella painting from his brochure. My mind is so happy.

This pace of life can only be said to be proper in my mind. It flows, it is sane, it is healthy, and I am at peace. So what have we learned that we can take with us forever and can we live somewhere wired 24/7 and keep this same pace. Is it possible?

“Our goals are getting clear and our priorities are clear, we want to create a lifestyle that allows us to live at the proper pace, in a home we love, with work we love, around people we want to be with, without financial stress.”

“Yes, the work is coming together as we are clear on whom we want to work with, and the type of work we want to do. Jean, finishing his PhD. will open up more doors. We are no longer the same people we were two years ago in that we have left the fast paced work oriented world where work and money are king, living up to the Joneses is important and life is measured by how many toys you have. We are willing to make choices and know what is important. Now to trust in the universe that we can create our life as we wish is our major task.