This book starts with a quote prior to every section and is broken out into seven main topics: Awakening, Food, Work, Education, Travel, Entertainment and Revival.
Her story begins in Turkey and draws the reader in. She begins with something as simple as milk bottles. In Turkey, milk was expensive and delivered to their door in a 1 liter bottle and not every day. The milk would only last for 24 hours, after that it would spoil. Stop and think about that for a moment. Here you can get milk whenever you want. You can buy small or large containers and it lasts for at least a week. It is not a precious, creamy substance that you must really consider what you want to use it for prior to its arrival.
This beginning section introduces the reader to Ms. Oxenreider's family and shows the reader what helped shape their mindset regarding the idea of living intentionally.
The family returns to the U.S. due to some health issues and is quickly swept back into the hurried lifestyle that most Americans live. Even as the family moved again, this time within the U.S., they still cannot escape the typical American lifestyle. This led her to the realization that:
"To live intentionally we have to make intentional choices."
Although this may seem obvious, making the decision to alter your lives can seem and feel huge. Ms. Oxenreider started with making a list to help her clear her about what she loved about her life overseas. She put a lot of thought into what exactly she loved, making a more detailed list, realizing that she couldn't make her U.S. home the same as it was in Turkey but she could begin to make small and daily choices to reflected the type of life they wanted to live. These small choices are her story.
This is the section that I found resonated with me most. I already try to make a lot our family's choices, with regards to food, intentionally. The kids only eat food that is organic with no processed sugar. We don't eat anything with palm oil in it. I cook from scratch. I understand the labels, however since we don't tend to eat processed food, labels aside from the organic label have very little impact on our diet.
This section though really made me think deeper. Let me ask you, when you think about your day, how many intentional choices do you make a day? When you brew your coffee in the morning, are you aware of where it came from and whether the company is socially, ethically and environmentally responsible? Do you even care? When you add your sugar, what kind is it? Where does it come from? What kind of cream do you add? How are the cows that provide it treated? This isn't meant to sound like a guilt trip and the book doesn't make you feel that way at all. The idea is more about have you chosen this choice intentionally or not.
Ms. Oxenreider talks about how the food they were eating were good enough. She would have the best intentions of cooking from scratch, she had read the books and watched the documentaries but when push came to shove, her and her husband were exhausted at the end of the day and settled for eating food that wasn't junk but it also wasn't local or seasonal. She missed that while she was abroad local and seasonal was the only option.
This had me think, yep, that's great and rather feeling good about myself because, while I haven't watched the documentaries, I do have strong opinions about the food be consume, truly believing we are what we eat. The occasionally donut at a friend's house or some non-organic candy here isn't going to kill me. Then I read pages 32-33 when Ms. Oxenreider says:
I was ashamed to admit that I didn't spend much time researching which food companies operated with shady practices that hurt the environment or people (or both)... I wrote myself off as clean because I didn't shop at the obvious places. I turned a blind eye to my pantry because I wasn't quite sure what I was supporting in there. We weren't doing badly, I admit. But in my gut, I knew we could do better."Bam! It made me start to think about the things that we do consume that don't fit with my values. The cocoa I have in the pantry that I rarely use - I know it isn't organic because I bought it before we had kids, but it is Hershey's and that is a good brand, right? Same with the chocolate bar my husband and I have sometimes. Plus some of the spices I have that have literally been in our pantry for years because it takes forever to use up a small container of allspice! Not to mention the small box of cornstarch that we never use! The cheap bottle of white vinegar in the pantry that I use for cleaning - how was that made and what was sprayed on the items that they used to make it? What practices am I supporting by purchasing it? What about our organic flour. We bake with white organic flour from a relatively local business that I purchase through our distributor but what about trying to use more heritage options such as spelt and whole wheat? Wouldn't that be better for us and the earth? I could drive myself crazy thinking about all of these things, which is probably why I hadn't given it much thought in the past. This book though, reminded me that I can do better. We do a pretty good job right now but I still have room for improvement. I can do better, not only because it would be better for us but because of what I want for my kids; I want them to have a great place to live and be healthy enough to enjoy it. It can be overwhelming but if we start with the thing we use most in the kitchen such as meat or veggies or flour and then move on down the list, each time we make an intentional decision, we will be doing better.
So I continued to read and I continued to think about what areas I could do better in. One of the things I have always prided myself on has been our budget. We tend to live on a grocery budget of less than $200 a month. Considering most of that is organic and unprocessed, with the odd box of organic macaroni and cheese thrown in or the Hershey's chocolate I mentioned about, I would say that isn't too shabby. Then I started reading the statistics about food budgets. Americans spend less than 7% of their income on food. Other countries spend quite a bit more such as the Chinese who allocate 32%. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we "balk at rising food prices, refusing to spend more in order to eat higher quality." (p. 49) In 1949, Americans spent 40% on food. Why?
I honestly don't know the answer but it made me wonder about our culture and food. People spend a lot of money on television per month but what if they spent that plus their food budget on food and instead of watching TV, they used the same time and money to invite friends over for dinner. Wouldn't we all feel better? Would those relationships make our lives richer?
Dinner in this country tends to be a rushed affair, something to hurry through. I have been guilty of this myself, even with the whole family at the table. It is getting late, the kids are talking about this or that and I realize that it is 20 minutes from bedtime and if we don't hurry up, we won't have time for teeth brushing, stories and be in bed on time so that tomorrow they aren't little sleep-deprived zombies who try my patience. I rush them through the rest of their dinner and upstairs we go. Wouldn't it be better if I had started dinner 30 minutes or an hour earlier so we could linger with them and relax? My husband might not be home from work yet but there would be no rushing. If we finished early, well we could do a puzzle or read an extra couple of books. My husband might miss dinner but the evening would feel less rushed. So what is more important: the entire family for dinner but have a slightly rushed meal or have most of us together for the meal and enjoy a relaxing and calmer evening? Some days it is a difficult decision to make and it isn't the same every day. It is something that by 4 pm in the afternoon, I have to make a decision and I am trying to do a better job of making an intentional decision instead of a rushed decisions.
While the story was interesting and I enjoyed reading her section on work, since I am not an entrepreneur and my husband does need to keep his 8-6 job at the moment (hello health insurance, baby on the way!) this wasn't really a defining section for me. One part I did find interesting and worthy of note is the classic fable of the Mexican Fisherman and the Businessman in which the business man tells the fisherman how he needs to work more than he currently is, despite earning enough to enjoy his life, so that he can make millions and then retire and enjoy his life. The idea being that you do the work you need to in order to make the life you want for yourself. It was a great reminder to me. Having recently stopped working, I often miss the small paycheck because it did enable me to not think about whether a $4 coffee with my sister was in the budget. The story reminded me that I don't need the $4 coffee, what I really want is a relaxing time with my sister. I can make the coffee at home or we can meet at the park and I can bring my own. This is probably an even better option because the kids get the park and I get the special time with my sister. Isn't that what I wanted anyway?
This section was again not earth shattering but talks about their decisions with schooling. They homeschooled and they have used public and private education options. As a mum who is considering homeschooling and feeling a lot of pressure from external sources, it was nice read about another family who tried all the different options and is continued to choose each year based on the needs of their family. As long as you make an intentional decision, that is what matters.
The travel section is fun. I have never felt any qualms about traveling with kids so this was more of a relaxing section that I just enjoyed the stories. If you are nervous about traveling with your kids, I hope that this section will encourage and inspire you. Start small and work up to whatever it is you are worrying about.
This year we are hoping to do more trips with the kids. With a newborn plus a homestead, day trips will probably be best for all involved. This doesn't mean though that we are stuck. I can easily go places that are within an hour alone with four kids. And day trips that within 3 hours (the typical newborn nursing time) should be no problem for the entire family. As we live in Upstate NY, less than 2.5 hours from Boston, NYC and the beach, we should have endless options as we navigate life as a traveling group of 6 plus a dog.
This section discussed a lot of the family's experience with television. Since we don't own one, it was just a light read about someone else's experiences.
This section has the most application feel. It discusses the idea that you must have some sort of plan, although not exactly something that is super details and maps out your whole day. Her family's statement states that they will focus on the following eight things:
- put each other first
- cultivate deep relationships with one another
- extend love to those around us
- live simply
- be true to who God made us
- take care of our health
- be good stewards of creation
- be lifelong learners
This list is their family's tool for helping them make decisions. They would prefer to spending their money traveling or on experiences than having a bigger house. These things are not the same for every family. The idea of this section is that if you wish to make some changes to our life to live more intentionally, here are some tools that the author and her family found useful. It also talks about all the things we hear about: taking care of yourself, spending a little more time gadget free, owning your decisions and doing it gleefully, they are after all your decisions to make. Each one of these comes with a story about Ms. Oxenreider. They are not demands, merely information about some choices that made a difference in their life and inspiration for you to make the best decisions for yourself.
It is now two months later and I have continued to renew this library book. I haven't reread it, although as I typed tonight and referred to my notes, I reread small parts. The little parts I read tonight inspired me just as much as they did the first time. I will be returning this to the library tomorrow right before story hour but I think that I would like to reread it again in six months to a year. I don't often find books I would like to read again but there were plenty of gold nuggets in this book.
Have you read Notes from a Blue Bike?
This article was shared on From the Farm, The Chicken Chick Wildcrafting Wednesdays,