As 2013 rolled into 2014, I read a number of magazine articles and blog posts sharing the resolution to slow down in the new year, to stop and smell the flowers (even if the seeds of those flowers in many parts of the country are buried under a blanket of snow, fearful of the subzero temperatures that await above the soil). These writers promised to spend 2014 looking their partners in the eye, paying more attention to their kids, taking time for long walks and home-cooked meals with locally-sourced ingredients.
What troubled me about many of these posts was that the authors offered up “Live more slowly” as just another task to be added to an already bloated to-do list, right under “Buy more coffee filters” and above “Make dentist appointment.” These writers felt too busy and longed for stillness, but their antidote to busy-ness was to try to do more without taking anything away.
Right around this time, I also read Tsh Oxenreider’s newest book, Notes From a Blue Bike, in which she recounts her family’s efforts to translate values they gleaned from their years living in the relationship-based culture of Turkey to the productivity-based culture of the US. Like some of the writers of these articles and blog posts I’d just been reading, Tsh values slow living. She wants to do things like walk everywhere, eat seasonally, and linger over meals drawn to a close with a generous mug of tea. But what Tsh acknowledges that the others didn’t is that slowing down involves not only good intentions, but also saying a rather loud “No!” to a culture where worth is often tied up in busy-ness and productivity is a primary goal.
Reading Tsh’s smart, thoughtful book made me think about my own family’s values and how well we do at living them. I gave us a gold star for choosing professional paths that allow us both creative satisfaction and flexible, family-friendly schedules. I offered silent thanks to the person – whoever it was, I can’t remember – who encouraged me never to sign up a child for more than one activity at a time. I thought happily about our Friday night secular Sabbath, when we gather as a five-some to sing, share allowance money with our family tzedakah box, eat pizza, and watch a movie.
But even while I gave us credit for the things we do that are in keeping with our wish for a slow, peaceful, family-centered life, there were other habits I had to question: like saying yes to every birthday party invitation that arrives in my kids’ cubbies even if it means adding yet another commitment to an already full weekend, and getting a prickle of satisfaction when every line of my weekly calendar is full. And I realized once again – as Tsh reminds us throughout Notes From a Blue Bike – that every one of these obligations that leaves us feeling depleted, that steers us away from the life we want to live is a choice, that we are too often opting in to a culture of busy, that “no” is as viable – if not always as easy – an answer as “yes.”
In her book, Tsh encourages us to look both at our values and the choices that we make to support them. She shows us the ways in which her family and others navigate lives of intention where they accomplish plenty – both by Western cultural standards and their own – without feeling emptied. It’s refreshing and inspirational not only to read about good intentions, but also to see those intentions carried out.
Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Check out the book trailer below and then grab your copy here. This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here. (Tsh provided me with a complimentary review copy of her book. Opinions expressed here are my own.)
Do you prefer living fast or living slow? Do you ever feel like you and your family are swimming against the cultural current?