Tsh Oxenreider is a homebody. She is also an adventurer with a relentless case of wanderlust. I love this paradox almost as much as I love the way she takes us along for the ride in At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe, released last month.
I have to admit, this book took me by surprise. Usually I look for a topic and read descriptions of books, debating which ones to buy and how soon I might get around to reading them. Or I’ll be waiting for a book that I know one of my favorite authors is writing. One idea I had for this blog was to watch for when my favorite authors were releasing new books, and support them by preordering and then writing about them. This was the first one, and I had somehow missed it. It wasn’t on my radar until March. I even considered skipping it because travel memoir is a bit removed from the productivity genre I was planning to focus on. I’m so glad I read it.
Here are my main takeaways from the book, starting with the most obvious, and ending with the surprise.
- If she and her husband can take their 3 kids age ten and under around the world for 9 months, my husband and I can take our 4 boys age 7 and under on a weekend camping trip several times a year. We usually make it 2-3 times, regardless of the age of the baby, so we’ve been doing well. But I want to go more often. I want it to be normal, and I know the more often we go the easier it will be.
- New Zealand is beautiful, people in Africa are some of the friendliest you will meet, Europe is amazing, etc. The only other book in the travel memoir genre I’ve ever read was Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country about Australia. I did go to Uganda on a 2 month mission trip in college. It was fun to read about her experience there and it helped to give me some context for the other places she went.
- Home and belonging is a profound concept. Because Tsh and her husband sold their house before they left, throughout their journey they were watching for a place to call home, a place that might speak to them in that special way. In celebration of the book’s release she invited readers to post on their blogs and social media about places they feel at home in the world. (Read my post here) When she talks about feeling at home on the other side of the world, house sitting for a friend, and at the same time feeling a sense of loss and displacement, which she partly attributes to having sold their home, what she says resonates with me, I feel like I can understand how she feels.
- We are small. It is both glorious and frightening that the world is such a big, big place. Her desire to be reminded of her smallness in the world is wise. I think we all can benefit from a larger perspective, and we often do whenever tragedy strikes somewhere whether in the news or a friend of a friend. I think it’s wonderful that simply traveling and seeing some of the many many people in many different places who also inhabit this world can do that for her, and for us to as we get swept along on her journey with her.
- I don’t want to travel the world, at least not soon with small children. I am quite content to get a glimpse through her eyes, and schedule a camping trip on our calendar for the Appalacian Mountains or the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
- She hints throughout the book at her own spiritual journey, and I am amazed at how much those few pieces resonate deep in my soul. Here is one:
“I have embarked on this year of travel…feeling less confident than I did a decade ago about what I believe to be true, and how that truth intersects with who I am. I am weary from game playing and formulaic answers, and the evangelical-Christian hat that I have worn daily with every outfit since I was fourteen feels too small, headache inducing. I fidget daily in its discomfort, but I don’t know how to exchange it, how it should be resized. Perhaps I can stitch a new hat from scraps I find scattered around the globe.” (52)
I seek out new ideas like she seeks out new vistas. She didn’t travel to ‘find herself’, but she also doesn’t claim to have all the answers. She and her husband traveled because they knew who they were, adventurers, with a desire to impart some incredible truths and experiences to their children. I think I’m on the right track because this blog will keep me reading, writing and thinking. I wouldn’t say I need to find myself like a young person does, but I think I’m still growing into my identity as a mom.
- Her biggest takeaway was the overarching value and significance of community. Their favorite places were the ones in which they enjoyed longer stays, settled long enough to cultivate some relationships and feel a bit settled in a place. This was the biggest factor in where they finally decided to make their permanent home after the trip. I want spoil it except to say that they chose those they loved over exotic, historic places.
After reading At Home in The World and American Mania partly overlapping, I can’t help but draw some connections. As human beings we are naturally homebodies, but as Americans specifically we have a novelty-seeking side of us that we can’t escape. I think that as women we each need to grapple with the convergence of these two opposing instincts and find an answer that fits our uniqueness, and nourishes and strengthen us and our families.