At the end of our Peace Corps service, Brian and I heard a lot about the challenges of transition, how hard it was adapting to life back in the states. I can picture how I rolled my eyes at the notion. One, because I was in my early 20s so I thought I knew a lot more than I did, and two, because rolling my eyes had become an automatic response to any flip-chart presentation, and three, because how could life in the US be hard?
Life in a small Russian village was hard. But life at home? Where water came out of a tap rather than the well down the road? Where you turn the thermostat to heat up your home rather than chopping wood? Where you literally push a button to wash your clothes? I struggled to remember what exactly we had found burdensome about laundry prior to our life in Russian and I couldn’t fathom it.
So, despite all the forewarnings, I was slightly blindsided by my struggle. I loved the return to running water and to our family and friends. But it was also hard. Hard to find our footing, and hard to carve out a new life.
At times it seemed we didn’t fit in anywhere. Our old friends had been busy pursing careers, often ones we were shocked to learn they didn’t like but wouldn’t consider changing. Around our Chicago friends, who all had homes and children by then, we seemed like perpetual adolescents. Around our nearest Peace Corps friends, who were living in a tree house--yes, a real one, and still chopping wood for warmth, we seemed like sell-outs and rank&file capitalist.
If comparison is the thief of joy, then reading---or more preciously, rereading is the balm of sorrow. I turned to an old favorite, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I knew these lines from Chapter 2 by heart and they had helped me explain why I wanted to join the Peace Corps in the first place:
This time, though, it was his final chapter that helped me make sense of my own state. “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.”
And a few paragraphs later:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
He named what I had been struggling to pinpoint---the kind of success I wanted to pursue: success in the common hours. We needed to imagine for ourselves the life we wanted to live, rather than look to others. We would try to avoid unintentionally falling into a route or rut. We would reject an “off the rack” life---one of busyness and materialism, and instead, seek to define our own version of success: community, simplicity, and unexpected joys. And when I began this blog in 2007, that was the reason for its original name: in the common hours.
I’ve just discovered a new book, sure to become an old favorite too. Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, by Tsh Oxenreider, reads like a modern-day Walden, if Thoreau had to make dinner for three kids and go to Parent-Teacher conferences too. Like most of my favorite places online, I first discovered Tsh and her site The Art of Simple via Ali Edwards’ blog (her site was Simple Mom back then---and I remember the first post I read too: http://theartofsimple.net/20-tips-for-finding-your-routine-with-kids/---five years later, it’s still worth reading).
All great writing fuels my desire to put our story into words, thus this late night blog post when I really should be sleeping. What I love most about Tsh’s book is that she never takes a preaching tone. She doesn’t claim to have figured out how to live a perfectly intentional life. Yet she’s brave enough to share her imperfect journey toward simplicity. Her writing style is always more descriptive than prescriptive---and I thrive on that. It’s precisely why I enjoy blogs---not because I want to do what they’re doing, but because looking at their choices helps me examine my own.
Here’s the official description:
Part memoir, part travelogue, part practical guide, Notes from a Blue Bike takes you from a hillside in Kosovo to a Turkish high-rise to the congested city of Austin to a small town in Oregon. It chronicles schooling quandaries and dinnertime dilemmas, as well as entrepreneurial adventures and family excursions via plane, train, automobile, and blue cruiser bike.
The book is divided into sections on food, work, education, entertainment, and travel. I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of the book, and want to dive into it more deeply here on the blog over the month of February. If you’d like to be part of the Blue Bike Blog tour too, you can learn more here.
If you’re one of my clients and a new mom, you will find inspiration as you begin tailoring your own life to fit your vision for your family. If you’re an old friend, then you’ll get why I love this book---it reads like a chat over a cup of tea, and celebrates how small choices in how we live our ordinary days have huge impacts---often met unexpectedly in the wonderfully common hours of our lives.
Grab a copy here, and join me with your favorite hot beverage to dive into the food chapter on the 15th. Happy reading & happy living.