Hearing stories from slow-living modern parents around the world never ceases to impress me. Today, in another edition of the Modern Parent Series, I’m sharing more amazing ideas from, Willow, a mom living a slow and intentional life in the winelands of South Africa.
Willow has some great insights (that we probably all should tape to our bathroom mirror) to remind us about the real priorities of parenting. She shares some wonderful suggestions about how she maintains focus on what really matters. You’re sure to love her!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, where you live, etc… What is the Willow 101?
I was born and mostly raised in Alaska by proper wild hippy parents. As we always rebel against the ‘norm,’ I decided to be an academic rather. My academic pursuits brought me to South Africa, where I worked on a job skills training project in an impoverished area outside of Cape Town.
Like many people, I fell in love with this beautiful city and just never left. My early years in South Africa I married young and divorced young, I worked odd jobs and made it work. My career never really took off, but I got to live in a country I had grown to love.
I got involved in the travel industry completely by accident and found something I really loved doing – researching incredible places for people to experience the wilderness. I met a kind and generous man around the same time, and we had two boys in quick succession – the most wonderful and agonizing 2 years of my life. I chose to live in the country for those hard years so that my kids could run free in nature and experience their mom being relaxed and peaceful; most days I’m still not, but the environment in Franschhoek is so beautiful and we have a really simple, uncomplicated experience out here.
Currently, I live full time in the winelands just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. My husband is a pilot so we travel regularly to Namibia, but that contract is ending so we can be together more. I only travel about once on a big safari every year, and try to keep my other ‘research’ trips to lodges etc local so that I can minimize time away from the kids at such a young age.
Have you always pursued a slow life or is it a practice you came to more recently?
Parenthood and living partly in the desert have taught me a lot about living in a quieter, more wholesome way. These are the most important lessons I’ve learned
1) The to-do list and inbox will always be full, so I always leave loose ends if they are not urgent
2) You can always make more money or spend more time with friends, but you never get the time back in the early years of your children’s life – cherish it.
3) Mothers are wired to think of EVERYTHING for their children, so doing something you cherish daily is absolutely essential to enjoying motherhood.
4) For the first 5 years of your children’s lives, your work can move slowly – it’s okay. Invest only as much time as you need to pay the essentials, and reward yourself with quality time with your kids / husband / yourself.
5) The most important things in life are not things, so you never need as much money as you think.
6) Try to turn off your devices from after dinner until after you’ve done your morning ‘routine’ – I find social media and apps and computers and etc can lead to major overwhelm.
7) There is no emergency that can only be resolved by you; if you need to switch off, switch off completely and enjoy knowing the world will keep turning
8) Do something every day to be quiet, whether it’s going into nature, visiting an art gallery, meditating, yoga, or the spa. This allows you to rejuvenate and do the million things women need to do daily, better.
You share on Instagram about your appreciation and love for roaming. Can you tell us about one or two of your favorite travel experiences and how it helped you slow down, connect with yourself and your family?
I wouldn’t say that I’m a nomad like some people, but I’m a natural adventurer. After all, I was born in Alaska and made my home in South Africa so clearly!
I really enjoy being in the African bush on safari, if only because it’s the one experience that forces people to universally sit still. Out of respect for the wildlife, one sits and just observes nature doing its thing. You can be in a vehicle with ten other people and you won’t hear anyone uttering a sound. As a result, my clients tend to return from safaris utterly transformed just because they’ve given themselves the opportunity to harmonize themselves with the rhythm of nature.
I’d say my first big trip with my husband to Himalayas and Philippines was also really life-changing. We were quick to marry, and this trip had massive challenges that really brought us together. First, an unseasonal monsoon brought massive snowfall to lower Everest, leaving us to drudge through hip deep snow at a dizzying altitude. Then when we thought we could relax in the Philippines, the biggest typhoon in recent history hit us. We held it together for each other, and we are incredibly strong as a unit now.
What are a few tips to help others capture simple yet meaningful experiences in their everyday lives?
I enjoy creating adventures every day, and this can make you feel really alive. For example, I recently discovered a secret waterfall about 5km from my house, and I sneak away regularly to skinny dip and sit quietly in the sun. My kids and I turn on party music in the evenings and have a dance off before bed time. I go to the top of a mountain to watch the sun setting. If there is surf, I take the day off work and just get in the water. We go to the outdoor cinema. I even ride my bike to work every so often. Anything to mix up the hum drum of daily domestic life does it for me.
You shared on your blog that you recently cleaned out your closet and replaced it with a whole new capsule wardrobe. Can you tell us more about this experience?
I LOVE my capsule wardrobe. A few years ago, I made a commitment to purchase clothing mostly made locally and always from at least 80% natural fibres. In South Africa, it’s very rare to find this. I threw away most of my clothes, and realised I was in a bit of a pickle when I didn’t have a single pair of jeans to wear through the very cold winter.
I heard about the capsule wardrobe vibe, and turned to Pinterest to pick out the looks I liked. then I did an online survey of my coloring (Soft Summer) so that I could choose a color palette. Now, my wardrobe has very little but every single piece is something I really love which goes with everything else. I have to save for months to buy one thing as natural fabrics are expensive, but then I really value those items.
Is your family on board with a slower life and more mindful consumption and living?
I’ve noticed that my kids become absolute cherubs if I am living slowly and mindfully with them; they naturally get it. Their world is one of complete surrender to each moment, and I admire that so much about them. It’s on the hard days when I’ve been alone with them for weeks, that I feel like running again.
Because I’ve chosen to commit fully to being exactly where I am, I have to stop myself within the chaos of two boys under 3, and do whatever I can to be still, even if that means the cartoons need to come on so that mom can just sit and breathe and find peace inside. If I am operating from that place, I can just climb into their world and fully inhabit it. I see how they transform when I do this, and how my heart just feels full, so it’s worth the effort.
My husband has been harder to nail down, but he cherishes his time with us so I’ve learned to guide him in a simpler direction.
Your photos are absolutely beautiful. What’s your secret? Do you have a background in photography?
I have always loved beautiful imagery. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover Instagram. I always thought it was a bunch of teenagers snapping pics of their meals and posting which didn’t appeal in the least. When I really got into it, I was in love and realised I found my calling. I’m aiming to help people fall in love with life, with daily adventures and wild places all the same, through visual storytelling.
I’m lucky that my husband is an incredible photographer with a natural knack, and I can play around to eventually get it right. I scour Instagram for accounts I love, and I have chosen a few presets that work with the environments I will be shooting in.
The images come to me in dreams at night and hit me over the head in the daytime. I usually can’t wait to get out and shoot because otherwise I won’t sleep. It’s challenging to work the shooting around kids, making money, shopping, and still living slowly, but I try to just be ready to take images at every moment and work in the big adventurous shoots on full days away from home. It’s hard, but soo sososososo worth it. I love it.
Where else can readers find you to follow along on your adventures in slow loving?
I’m busy working on a platform for “Slow Life Experiences,” so watch the space. I will be creating one-off experiences (through travel and retreats) that are fully tailored to the individual. For instance, if I am organizing 5 different honeymoons, no two would be the same as they will be crafted for the individual. Watch Instagram for updates!