What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘living the slow life’? If you are from the US, you may have a number of reactions, from ‘Yes, please!’ to ‘That sounds pretty boring!’ to ‘I can’t even slow down for a day, let alone my entire life!’.
For most of our 13 years in Seattle, Terra and I lived anything but the slow life…in fact, we’ll call it the ‘frenetic life’. On a daily basis, the frenetic life often involved waking up way before our bodies were ready, scrambling to get a $5 latte on the way to work, being stuck in traffic for over an hour on the morning commute, and immediately upon arrival at work being asked to tackle complex challenges. If we were lucky enough to have time to cook on the weekend, we may have had some leftovers for lunch (at our desks, of course). After the last meeting of the day, a lovely hour commute greeted us on the way home. But the day was not over, my friend – we had to contend with post-work emails! Our lives felt as cramped as this image of our storage unit – which basically is everything we own at this point.
This lifestyle caused significant issues, and at certain points our health really suffered. After about 10 years of this madness, we made some changes. Terra started her own business. I worked for a couple tremendous companies (Slalom and then Coppei). We sold our entirely too large house (I mean, do Terra and I need 4 bedrooms!?!).
While things were better, they certainly weren’t ‘good’. You see, life in Seattle (and much of the US) just doesn’t add up very well for most people. For us, higher salaries had the following effect: 1) increased stress leading to higher doctor bills, 2) a heightened need to get away from it all on the weekend and spend even more money, 3) a larger carbon footprint due to commuting, and 4) a desire to have more stuff – like the house – because, well…we felt that we deserved it since we were working so hard!
While we were living the frenetic life, we didn’t realize that our choices were contributing to the problem. When we started making different choices, the first thing that happened was that we had some room to breath and think. Once we started to travel and experience different cultures a light bulb went off – it doesn’t have to be this way!
This journey eventually led us to Montpellier, France, for a year – and while not perfect, it is pretty glorious. Our average day involves waking up with the sun, talking over coffee and soaking up the morning sun on our deck, biking to the beach (yes, more sun), having a great lunch, and then having time to prepare for an evening of work (as our clients in Seattle wake up at 4 or 5 p.m. Montpellier time). This schedule also allows us to bring a completely different mindset to the work that we do, because we are not bombarded with emails from the moment we wake up.
This is the slow life, and we love it. We find that we have time to think more creatively, allow the day to take unexpected turns, and focus on conversations that we have throughout the day.
Meet the Parents, Part Deux
Speaking of the ‘slow life’, you may recall that back in March, Terra’s mom came to visit us. As it was her first time in France, we decided to take her on a whirlwind tour – not slow at all. While we had such a good time, it apparently was a bit much for me – as you read in my previous blog, I was down for the count for about four weeks! The good news is that I was able to fully recover before my parents visited in May.
Prior to my illness, we were thinking we’d take my parents on trips to places like Barcelona and the Loire Valley, but instead we decided to take it slow. We really wanted to show them our life in France, from sipping coffee in the morning sun on the front patio to sipping an aperitif on the back patio in the evening sun. We wanted them to meet the people and see the places that make our life so special here – from our butcher who always teaches me something new in French, to the absolute best boulangerie in Montpellier, which happens to be in our neighborhood. Basically, we wanted them to understand and live the ‘slow life’ that we lead. And it turns out that this is exactly what they wanted!
Of course, living the slow life doesn’t mean an absence of adventure, but it usually involves one primary activity per day buffered by lots of walking, food, and drink. Instead of going through every single thing we did, I have a top five list which capture my favorite categories, along with examples of each.
5th place: random errands
Admit it, if I told you that, upon arrival in France, you would get to do some random errands with me, you would be scrambling to cancel your plane tickets. But life is made up of errands, and without a car they can be a bit out of the ordinary. Do you recall when I brought all of this back from the store on my bike?
One day, we decided to go back to the same store (Castorama) for some soil and a few miscellaneous gardening items. So we all walked a not-insignificant distance to Castorama. Of course we stopped for a great lunch at the food trucks at Marche du Lez to keep it interesting!
Now I joke with my parents about that time that, on their glamorous trip to the south of France, I walked them to Castorama. But they had such a great attitude, and they love the fact that when I reference places like that now they know exactly what I’m talking about!
Of course, there was more than just Castorama. As I mentioned previously, we visited all of our spots with them – our fruit & veggie stand, our butcher, etc. And (I think) they loved every minute of it.
4th place: the food scene
I’ve spoken enough about our love for food that I don’t need to go to in depth about this. When I talk about the food scene, however, I’m not just talking about restaurants. I’m talking also about going to the farmer’s market and picking out all of the ingredients for the lunch that day.
My parents were in France with us long enough to note the difference in quality and taste of many of the foods that they consumed locally (including butter, of course). And yet, they didn’t gain weight (see the walk to Castorama for part of the reason why). I think the French are on to something, don’t you?
3rd place: Walking and biking
I covered our car-less lifestyle in a previous post, and it truly was a joy to show my parents what it means to live in a European city without a car. We were creative with how we got to each place we went – but it almost always involved copious amounts of walking, and my dad said they averaged over 10,000 steps per day over their time in Montpellier. As I’ve mentioned before, you truly see and experience the city in a different way when you walk than when you drive.
My dad also got to experience the magical bike ride to the water – check out the look of joy on his face!
2nd place: Day trips
Just because we lived the slow life, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t do day trips. For my parents’ visit, it meant that we planned shorter day trips (4-6 hours) with the option of coming home early if we weren’t feeling it that day. For example, from Nimes there are about 3 trains running to Montpellier per hour. My understanding is that they are generally pretty flexible on which train you take home even if you have a specific ticket – and we definitely took advantage of that.
While my parents were here, we followed a Van Gogh walking path in Arles, visited the Roman Ampitheatre in Nimes, travelled to the fisherman’s town of Sète (check out my mother’s pictures on that one), took in some châteaux (apparently the plural of ‘chateau’) outside of Montpellier, and went to several different spots on the beach (more on that next).
1st place: The beach
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the beach is Terra’s and my favorite place. We get there as often as we possibly can! With my parents we branched out and tried some different spots that we hadn’t visited before.
One particularly funny story involved wandering through, shall we say, a ‘clothing discouraged’ beach. Of course, for the most part we were just making a beeline straight ahead. My mom chose this particular moment to snap a beautiful photo of the waves crashing on the shore, only to realize that a man with zero clothing was walking straight towards us! It was quite a sight, I will say…one I’d like to forget. My parents are super cool – but of all the things you can do in life, you don’t really want to hang out with your parents at a nude beach.
One of my favorite things about their trip was seeing an absolute transformation in my parents in the comfort level they had with their surroundings. Naturally when they first came we went everywhere together, but by the end they were going out on their own and bringing back baguettes! Of course, in the process they did experience a few “French fails”, but as I explained in this blog, experiencing failure is part of the process!
By the end of it, even Cammy was tired! We were sad to see them go, but ready for our next adventure – learning French!