2010.04.07: Niger RPCV Shannon Honeybloom provides picture for slow living

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Niger RPCV Shannon Honeybloom provides picture for slow living

Niger RPCV Shannon Honeybloom provides picture for slow living

"We're all hyper-connected into all this media and so structured, racing to these different activities and one consequence is people aren't learning social skills because they're always having either structured play, which is bounded by adults making sure certain things don't happen, like soccer, or they're on the computer. A lot of children today don't just play - they don't play hopscotch anymore, or marbles or jacks. They're not given the opportunity to just while away the hours."

Niger RPCV Shannon Honeybloom provides picture for slow living

Austin author provides picture for slow living

By Shermakaye Bass


Published: 5:38 p.m. Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Phaoto: Skip Hunt

Shannon Honeybloom wasn't always slow.

The Austin-based blogger, actress and author of "Making a Family Home" (an insider's look at mindful homemaking) did grow up on the granola side of things - "My mother was a hippie, and I grew up having wonderful rural experiences, living on community farms" (code for "slow").

Then as a young adult, she sped up considerably, traveling to Niger with the Peace Corps, earning three college degrees, living in Brooklyn and writing for the Rainforest Alliance, acting in plays and commercials. But when her children were born, the thirtysomething mother and homemaker regressed, in a sense.

In her recent book with photographer Skip Hunt, she shares her journey back to slow, as well as experiences with her young family (three children 8 and younger and a not-quite-so-slow venture capitalist hubby). In the process she provides, chapter by chapter (image by light-filled image), a loving and low-key guide to how families can create a conscious-rich existence focused on basic things like being together, paying attention, staying attuned to the needs and interests of loved ones.

In contemporary parlance, that's called "slow" - as in slow food movement, slow parenting, slow living. It's also tied into the Go Local and Small House movements. It's the opposite of a 21st-century über-existence, packed with educational-TV shows, plastic action-heroes, video games, cell phone beeps and dings.

Like a growing number of parents, Honeybloom and her husband, Gregg Honeybloom , have eschewed that lifestyle, and in their charming two-story house in the Old Enfield neighborhood of Austin, they have created a sunny world of handmade wooden toys, baskets and nooks filled with found objects, daffodil-colored walls hung with watercolors by the children (Zachary, 8; Sam, 6; and Zoe, 4).

In the backyard is a trellis-covered living space with comfy swings and couches tossed with bright, oilcloth-covered pillows; nearby is a playscape with sandbox and mini "rock-climbing" wall. Inside the ivy-covered home are embroidered tapestries from far-away lands, mantels covered with seashells, family heirlooms like her grandmother's antique painted-porcelain plates. And everywhere you look, books.

You won't find a television, radio, stereo or a computer - at least, not in areas where children spend time. The couple deliberately have chosen to avoid those things, for now.

"Childhood is just this finite moment, and then it's gone - like that," says the petite blonde, unassuming and clad in elegant, slightly slouchy clothes. She pauses, as if observing the thought visually, then smiles.

Actually, Honeybloom didn't plan to be a slow parent, even though her mother and her grandmother were decidedly so. It wasn't until she and her husband were living in a New York apartment, their first son just born, that she realized something was missing.

"I came from a slow-movement kind of background. ... I grew up going to Waldorf schools (as do her children today). And I lived in a lot of different homes growing up (Florida, Colorado, New York). It was a happy childhood but it was also spent in a lot of different places. That definitely interested me in 'home,' what it means to have a home," she says. "Making a Family Home," published in January by SteinerBooks, grew out of her master's thesis in early childhood education from Sunbridge College in Chestnut Ridge, NY. (Honeybloom also has a bachelor of arts degree in classics from the University of Florida and a master's in literary cultures from New York University.)

"Having a baby really forces you to slow down in one way," she says, "The immediate aftermath of giving birth and your body is in shock, and then you have to take care of this little being who you have no idea what to do with! It felt like a crisis moment in my life... I didn't immediately slow down. I knew I needed to just rest."

But like most modern mothers, she didn't think she had the option. She and Gregg - a San Antonio native - were living in the busiest city in the world, and the thought of trying to rear children there disturbed both of them. Honeybloom had had a busy career teaching high school English, writing grants for the Rainforest Alliance, acting, and now she had to reconfigure.

"Suddenly my world became very small, and I started thinking about these questions: What does it mean to be a mother, what does it mean to make a home? All these things that had always been part of my life, my interests, became more conscious for me. That was the beginning of the book, also."

Honeybloom decided this: "A home is for anybody - for a child and a grown-up. It really is the most important thing that you can give to somebody."

After their second son, Sam, was born, the couple left the city and moved to Austin - it's close to Gregg's family, and he had work here - and little by little, Honeybloom began to assemble a life, a way to live, for her family. It involves free-play, not-orchestrated play; meals prepared carefully from locally produced, whole foods; a lot of time spent outdoors; bed-time book-reading; regular craft-making and experimenting, painting, drawing.

"The natural rhythms of childhood are slow," she says. "It really is this timeless moment. And when you play with a child, you realize that. There's no schedule, there's no set agenda or something they have to do by a certain time. It just kind of unfolds in the natural rhythms of play."

Staying in the moment is a learning experience for both parent and child, she says.

"We're all hyper-connected into all this media and so structured, racing to these different activities and one consequence is people aren't learning social skills because they're always having either structured play, which is bounded by adults making sure certain things don't happen, like soccer, or they're on the computer. A lot of children today don't just play - they don't play hopscotch anymore, or marbles or jacks. They're not given the opportunity to just while away the hours."

That's the major concern for all "slow parenting" followers. But as Honeybloom and Carrie Contey, co-founder of Austin's Slow Family Living group, both point out, the movement is not a reaction to "fast" things. And it's not about saying "No" to your children. Contey says it's all about chilling people out. "In our group, we want to give parents permission to slow it down and make the connection the priority, and enjoy it. Nobody knows your child better than you. And family life in the early days is pretty short - you don't get that many years with your children," says the parenting coach, who has a doctorate in prenatal and perinatal psychology. "So, this (movement) is about not racing ahead, about connecting with who you are and who your family are... It's not born out of reaction to over-parenting, it's born out of understanding that family life is so special. Contrary to what some people might think, this isn't a dogma. We don't have a prescription!"

Nor does Honeybloom claim to have one. Her book - a lovely homage, really, to family and home - might provide some beacons along the confusing path of child-rearing, but its true point is that parents have to know their own children, forget what society tells them, and follow their instincts.

"Most of us our age do remember the time when we played for hours and had summers that stretched on endlessly, and we climbed trees and splashed in streams. We know that we had that, and we know how it feels to have had that. The sad thing is, a lot of children don't today. If we're not aware, those moments are just gone for our children. They just are not going to happen. I think we have to make sure those moments happen."

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