Honestly, in a different blogging life, I’d love to be NOTHING BUT a book reviewer! It’d be the next best thing to being a librarian.
And then I opened an email offering me a review copy of Tsh Oxenreider’s new book Notes from a Blue Bike. Tsh (may I call you that?) doesn’t know this, but… her blog The Art of Simple was an early favorite of mine when I started blogging… So…even though I rarely take on book reviews due to time constraints – to review a book by a favorite blogger – I could not say no.
In her travel-memoir, Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World (Amazon Affiliate), Tsh shares her experience learning to slow down (which she kinda doesn’t!) and live a simple life (which she does). Closely detailed mini-essays come straight from her living room (or Turkish apartment, or plane seat…).
Most of me loved this book for the storytelling. But just a few caveats: if you’re already well-along the path of simple living, or looking for a definitive how-to guide – this is not the book – and I don’t think that is the author’s intent. Consider this an inspirational look at one family’s process, with a few tips and much common sense sprinkled into the stories. Also, I’m sorry to note, there’s a clear tone of disdain for America in several parts of the book, which I’ve never felt in reading her blog… in short, I’ll just say I could not appreciate.
Still, there’s much to enjoy in this book… read on!
Is it so impossible to carve a meaningful life out of this chaotic world?
I don’t think so, and neither does Tsh. Her stories insist: we can.
Her narrative walks us through the years of her family living abroad and returning to the United States. Years that shaped her thoughts on simple living that allows for relationships, contemplation and fulfillment. Boy, doesn’t that sound like the life?
It starts with food
I found it interesting Tsh and I read the same book – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – the one that forever altered how I think and feel about food and food sources. Her Food section expressed concepts our family embraces: local, sustainable, whole foods; the family table; maintaining an 80/20 principle (that is, if you can stick to your whole foods eating standards about 80% of the time, that’s pretty good!).
What’s the point of work?
I struggle with the concept of feeling like I’m “uniquely gifted to go out into the world and do things that matter.” Being a stay at home mom and small-to-middling blogger, my world can feel a little bit like The Little Prince’s planet most days – just a few steps from one side to the other. I took heart that Tsh acknowledges the “priority and privilege” of her children over her work – a message I’d love to see shared more often with today’s mothers.
I’ll admit, her depiction of their ability to pick up and head to the airport at a moment’s notice felt a bit alienating to me. Tsh is blessed both she and her husband’s work allow so much mobility. But the majority of American families will not be able to relate to this. For our family, with a husband in the teaching field, it’s not as easy for us to vacation whenever we want, much less pick up and move to a better location to fit our family’s values better.
The world is our schoolhouse
Homeschooling allows us the autonomy that our work perhaps does not right now. I love that I don’t have to rush my kids out the door, or have their day stalled by school assemblies or waiting in lines. I can give generously of my time both in play and learning activities (which, you know is one and the same, right?).
Travel is a great schoolteacher. We’ve introduced the boys to new foods, terrain, and geographical awareness with simple camping trips around New England. Tsh’s advice to family travelers: “prioritize [the] family bond more than ‘seeing it all.'” I find the collective travel experience most fulfilling weeks and months after we’re home and yet… still talking about those moments!
Learning to entertain ourselves
As Tsh puts it, “we’re not Luddites,” but… it IS shocking to see our culture (myself included!) so swiftly and deeply plugged in to media entertainment. In the end, it’s just “pretend people living pretend lives.” I’d rather our family find entertainment in real living.
Is it easy? No! Our kids KNOW I don’t let them watch TV or videos daily (or even weekly!), yet not a day goes by that they don’t ask for one. I have to stick firmly to my intentions for entertainment because it is too easy to get sucked into the Facebook (or Pinterest) vortex!
Reviving our intentions
I love how Tsh acknowledges the times her family got distracted or off track from the way they intended to live. Her stories can be a bit back and forth: times she enjoyed a simple life (generally abroad), contrasted with periods of stressful chaos (generally stateside living). I think it would be rare to find a family anywhere in the world living a 100% idyllic life, so I appreciate her sharing the reality of her life as it shifted with moving and the addition of children.
Would you like to read more about simple living?
Notes from a Blue Bike isn’t written as a how-to or manual. It’s simply Tsh, telling her stories… making for enjoyable reading (some highlighting will be involved!).
As for my part… I’m still thinking about the concepts in this book. It’s the sign of a good read. I’m planning to work through (and write through) several of the discussion questions in the back of her book in the coming weeks.
Visit the Notes from a Blue Bike website for more information.
Thanks to Shelton Interactive for providing a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.