At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

by Tsh Oxenreider


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400205592
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 04/18/2017
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 195,906
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Tsh Oxenreider is the author of Notes from a Blue Bike and Organized Simplicity, and is the founder of the community blog The Art of Simple. She’s the top-ranked podcaster of The Simple Show, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, CNN, Real Simple magazine, and more. A graduate of the University of Texas, where she studied English and anthropology, Tsh currently lives in Austin, Texas, with her family and eats tacos several times a week.

Read an Excerpt

At Home in the World

Reflections On Belonging While Wandering The Globe

By Tsh Oxenreider

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2017 Tsh Oxenreider
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4002-0560-8



The prayer labyrinth is two hundred feet away and the kids are climbing rope nets on a playground next to a babbling brook. Bare feet are required on a spring day like this, textbook with chirping birds and budding leaves, as is a walk through the village park. After several hours in the car, my legs need to stretch. My husband, Kyle, returns from his loop around the walking trail, so we switch shifts, his turn on the playground bench to supervise the kids and my turn on the dirt. In the distance, the kids take turns on the slide with young locals, a revolving door of squeals and dares, the metal slide proffering a taller and steeper drop than anything found stateside, something more risky, as most good European playground equipment is.

Grass sways in tufts against the early spring zephyr, kelly green and iridescent. I walk across the gravel path and onto the grass, remove my sandals like it is holy ground. The dirt is chilly and there is still a bite in the air, not yet dissipated by the April sun; I have no idea where, specifically, we are, but I know we're in Germany. This is our farewell to the country; we'll soon reenter France a few kilometers away. I walk to the labyrinth.

It's not terribly impressive and looks like it hasn't been used for its intended purpose for maybe a decade. It's a circular concrete interruption in the swath of grass, a winding detour on the way to a makeshift neighborhood petting zoo at the park's opposite end. Cars drive past on one side, heading to the grocery store and dance class; teenagers recline on each other atop the park benches on the other side, examining each other's tonsils with their tongues, oblivious to the fact that this is some sort of sacred prayer space. Ordinary life hums around this ordinary town, and I am here, alone in front of a prayer labyrinth in the Black Forest region of Germany.

I take one quiet barefoot step into the labyrinth and turn left, starting the winding path in and out and around itself in symmetry.

I begin the monastic prayer I learned six months ago at the Ignatian monastery in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where a woman named Nora taught me letting go would do me well: Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me. Rinse and repeat.

We have two weeks left of our journey around the world, and it is time to begin the nebulous process of landing the plane. Prayer in a labyrinth will help.

I pray through the circle's narrow path, stop once I reach the center, look up to the sky in gratitude, then sling my sandals in my hand and walk back to the kids. They'd enjoy this German petting zoo on the other side of the park, but I'll need to show it to them now — we will soon drive away from this village and have dinner in France.

* * *

I have lived in twenty-two homes in just under forty years; the vast majority as an adult, having spent age two to eighteen in the same house. In my university years, friends joked that if you wanted to get married, you should live with me; almost all my roommates got hitched the summer after moving into my place. It wasn't really my college goal to keep cardboard boxes at the ready in case I needed a new living situation, but this is what happened in my early foray into independence. I'd finally settle into the nooks and crannies of an apartment or rental house, only to hear the squeal of a roommate bursting through the door after an eventful date: "He asked me! And I said yes!" A few months later, I'd drag out the boxes and change my address at the post office again.

In hindsight, this was a good thing — I now know I thrive on change, and five different pads in five years of college saved my sanity and kept me going during the bookish years of study all-nighters and shifts waitressing at the local diner. In the thick of it, though, when the lights were off and I was alone in my twin bed, roommate snoring nearby, I'd wonder, What sort of jinxed roommate potion did I drink? It became an annual assumption that I'd need to find a new rent-sharing companion every May, a new place where I could hang my growing collection of gently worn bridesmaid dresses.

I was happy for my friends who found lifelong love so early, but I was also relieved I hadn't. I hoped the person for me was out there somewhere, but in my early twenties, I felt as young as I was. I did the math, calculated how much time I had to enjoy being called wife even if I waited a solid decade to marry. When it was my turn to graduate, there were blessedly no suitors on the horizon.

Instead of settling down into family life, I applied for a teaching position that required a move to Kosovo, a war-torn pocket in former Yugoslavia, a country fresh from a genocide spearheaded by the dictator Slobodan Miloševic. This was my resistance against registering for tea towels and gravy boats and settling into picket-fence suburbia.

* * *

This postgraduate season of teaching English to Albanian teenagers, conserving water by taking weekly showers, and cursing a spotty, generator-powered Internet connection in a tiny Albanian village was, somehow, dreamy. I lived in a second-floor apartment on a nameless street in a village of a thousand people who seemed suspended in time. Cars had rolled in only twenty years earlier, and those same cars traveled these streets. My landlords and employers were an American family helping repair the devastated land and its inhabitants, and I took my cultural cues from them. That year I learned how to sit with my thoughts and go without English-speaking companionship in my age bracket (quite the change from university life, mere months before). I learned how to start a wood-burning stove and felt like Ma Ingalls with a navel piercing. I learned to make do without a clothes dryer, as most of the world does, and I learned to burn my trash instead of carting it to the curb on garbage day.

I also learned home mattered to me more than I thought it did. After a childhood spent under one roof, I blossomed in the hodgepodge experience of college, and was convinced that normal things — like predictable water output from the bathroom sink — weren't my highest priority. I categorized myself an Adventurer, someone who flies by the seat of her pants, who needs the next thing around the bend so long as it isn't settling down. I sought out experimental food from the local hole-in-the-wall café — fish still with its head, rabbit casserole — and shunned any resemblance of a self-initiated menu plan.

But after months of daily work in the village, riding the bus into the capital city once a month to call my parents from an international phone, and sleeping under a borrowed blanket I'd never pick for myself, there it was, an innocent little truth staring me in the face six months into my life in Kosovo: I liked the idea of home. Things like wall colors and candles mattered to me more than I had guessed, and it felt freeing to admit it. I wanted to sink into the unpredictability of a cross-cultural life, yes, but I also wanted a bona fide home. This was a season of refinement, of acknowledging there were multiple sides to me that were equally true.

I was infected with an incurable sense of wanderlust, but I was also a homebody.

I matured into adulthood when I acknowledged this truth.

* * *

We may not have soul mates in this life, but most of us have my-Godif-I-don't-walk-through-the-rest-of-my-life-with-that-person-I'm-an-idiot mates. Kyle was a like-minded American living a few villages over, rebuilding houses for widows who had lost everything during the horrific genocide instigated by Miloševic. We hit it off instantly. There was someone else in the world willing to work a horribly paying job in order to play a small part in restoring a ravaged country to its former, if not makeshift, ancient glory. I wasn't looking for him, but when you find that special someone swimming with Albanian teenage boys in a lake potentially swirling with all strains of hepatitis and you're still attracted to him, you don't walk away.

We were fast friends, and we spent all our time together. We helped widows and the poor; we unearthed smoky, seedy jazz bars in the capital city; we took rickety buses to Thessaloniki and found cheap hostels on the beach. And when we weren't together, in the quiet of my own apartment, I wondered whether Kyle was thinking of me as much as I was of him.

We married two years later and vowed to spend our life thick in adventure. Preferably overseas.

* * *

God has a sense of humor.

Ten years later, I tuck my youngest son into bed and creep back downstairs to finish the dinner dishes. Kyle tosses toys back into buckets, both of us grateful for this time of the day, when quieter hours bookend nighttime kisses and passing out from the day's toil. Our home is of the typical suburban variety, freshly remodeled with our own hands. When I chop carrots, I stand on trendy distressed wood slats; when I empty the dishwasher and toss the silverware into its drawer, the track silently glides shut like a modern marvel. We don't suffer from an overload of stuff by normal American standards, but I am still nagged by the notion that our closets are too full. I am happy to have these dishes to wash, because it means our family eats well, and the tucking-in ritual means the children have a comfortable place to sleep. I know from our years living abroad this is no small thing for many parents and their children.

Kyle and I — we are still the people who met in Kosovo, and we are the couple who later moved with their toddler to Turkey and lived there for three years. I am the one who gave birth to our second child in a Turkish hospital, where I barely spoke the language and almost left the building with a needle still stuck in my spine.

It's now ten years after we met in Kosovo and two years after we moved back to the States from Turkey, and something is missing. Our inner adventurers hug the walls as shadows, eclipsed by parental and culturally expected responsibility. I still think of myself as a vagabond, and yet these days I only travel for work. I am a writer and Kyle works from home for a small company, but we feel the heaviness of our ordinary life. It is a reasonable weight; we aren't overcommitted, and I am mightily grateful for the years of exploration behind us. But our existence is still heavy with midlife expectations — mortgage payments, schlepping the kids to karate and gymnastics, cleaning the gutters.

Tonight, the air is thick with the conviction that there is no reason for unhappiness. We are in our thirties, doing work we enjoy after having spent most of our twenties traveling, and we are finally settling down to become the Normal People most of our friends became ten years earlier. Over kitchen cleanup and toy redistribution, I admit what I know is true: "I miss the Adventurers. And I think it's time for them to come out again."

Kyle knows what I mean. Now is as good a time as it will ever be to move beyond dreaming and playing with the idea we've quietly cultivated for several years. The kids are all potty-trained, they're astute travelers for their age, and yet they are still young enough to be unrooted.

"Let's do it," Kyle says. I dry my hands with the kitchen towel and find the calendar.

* * *

This is our grand idea: we'll circumnavigate the earth in one direction, kids in tow, for an entire school year. We'll show them what it means to get lost in the world. It's a dream we've put on hold, one Kyle concocted a few years ago. I was nursing our youngest, and he bounded down the stairs, plopped down on the couch next to me, and said matter-offactly, "I have an idea." It was crazy and irresponsible and no right-thinking parent would toy with such an idea. But also, it was fantastically brilliant and I said, "Thank you for bringing it up first."

Two years later, in our kitchen in the Pacific Northwest, we circle a square on the calendar. I like having plane tickets in my name on the horizon, and this is close enough: we are going to stop brainstorming the idea; we're going to do it.

We've been earmarking money for several years for our travel fund, and though we haven't yet reached our financial goal, we do the math and calculate how much we'd need to earn working from the road. It's doable. I research flight patterns and travel gear and create a burgeoning to-do list. We'll continue homeschooling our kids, but they'll carry the heft of their spelling lists in backpacks and times tables on portable tablets.

I reject any speaking opportunities for the next twelve months, jokingly adding, "Unless your event is located on an island in the Indian Ocean or on an Icelandic volcano." Kyle meets with his coworkers the next day, asks if they're on board with his working remotely for the foreseeable future. We make a checklist of things to do in central Oregon before leaving for a year.

We prepare ourselves in the ways we know how. We will never be fully ready, of course, because how do you prepare to circumnavigate the globe with three kids in tow?

* * *

Two opposing things can be equally true. Counting the days till Christmas doesn't mean we hate Halloween. I go to church on Sundays and still hold the same faith at the pub on Saturday night. I shamelessly play a steady stream of eighties pop music and likewise have an undying devotion to Chopin. And perhaps most significantly, I love to travel and I love my home.

This is my one rub with the trip idea. All these years, I'd been plagued with longing for a return to my global explorative roots, but I also want nothing more than to curl up in my armchair with a good book. I dream about places unknown, but I also buy throw pillows for the couch and mull over the just-right master bathroom paint color. I want the perfect shade of sea-glass green both in tile above my sink and in water below my boat.

Every memoir I leaf through in the travel section at the bookstore tells stories from people in search of themselves on the open road. Usually they are young and single. The occasional volume carries the story of someone older, often in search of healing after unfathomable grief. Their stories are a pre-travel life that is rough at best, soul-sucking at worst. Nobody seems to embark on a massive journey because their lives are already full of meaning.

I look out beyond the precipice into a year of global nomadism and a pang of guilt gut-punches me: I wonder if it's selfish to uproot us in the name of itchy feet.

There is, of course, the immeasurable good fortune that Kyle is also plagued with wanderlust. This is no small thing. I know lopsided couples, one dying to hop on a plane and the other wanting nothing to do with the idea. The travel itch spills into our children as well, besotted with our DNA. Finn, our preschooler, doesn't know the difference between a county and a continent and is along for whatever ride the rest of us venture. But Reed has an unrelenting interest in Turkey, his birthplace that holds little memory, and Tate misses her life as the token blonde kid in a sea of dark heads, with more stamps in her passport than counties in Oregon. Our entire little collective misses the world, and this counts for something.

This is key, I think, to my acceptance of the For Sale sign in the front yard. If we store our earthly possessions for a year in a storage unit, it will benefit all five of us.

We pencil in a hard date.

The house sells ridiculously fast.

* * *

Selling the house is just one piece of the puzzle; we must also decide what to keep, where to keep it, what belongings we need for the year, and what travel plans to reserve in advance. Trekking around the world will be more enjoyable, we deduce, if we don't schlep much around, and so we narrow down our list of possessions to only what will fit in packs on our backs. We also need to buy said packs, along with the smallest version of gadgets we can afford — only the ones that will make our travels better.

In all this bustle, the questions churn. Do we bring all the toothpaste we'd need for a whole year? What about an extra power cord for my laptop, in case mine bites the dust in the middle of nowhere? Will the kids have regular chores? Will they still earn allowance? The answer to all is wait and see.

On the cusp of homelessness, there's no turning back.

We make several trips to the local travel gear outfitter and try on backpacks half the size of our bodies, weighing them down with beanbags to simulate a full load. Reed, age six, wavers like a drunk through the aisles, knocking down compasses and water bottles. I worry about his ability to carry all he needs for the year, with his low muscle tone and his penchant for surrendering to exhaustion when things get physically challenging. The only pack that fits our four-year-old is school-sized, with just enough room for his clothes, a toothbrush, and a notebook. Maybe a stuffed animal, if we squeeze.


Excerpted from At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider. Copyright © 2017 Tsh Oxenreider. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part I 1

1 Leaving 3

Part II 17

2 China 19

3 Hong Kong 39

4 Thailand 43

5 Singapore 63

Part III 69

6 Australia 71

7 New Zealand 87

8 Australia, Again 95

Intermission 107

9 Sri Lanka 109

Part IV 123

10 Uganda 125

11 Ethiopia 141

12 Zimbabwe 151

13 Kenya 159

14 Morocco 169

Part V 179

15 France 181

16 Italy 197

17 Croatia 211

18 Kosovo 219

19 Turkey 225

20 Germany 237

21 England 249

Part VI 255

22 Returning 257

Epilogue 265

Acknowledgments 269

About The Author 273

Notes 275

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At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was filled with all of my favorite things: family, travel, culture, good food, and a look inside the author's search for spiritual growth. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm hooked!!! This book doesn't just transport me to another place, it also allows me to dream while sitting in my comfy house clothes surrounded by chores. It really satisfies all the reasons i ever pick up a book: entertainment, learning, making a difference in this was a perfect little gift every single time i opened the cover and lost myself in the story.
StephEbert17 More than 1 year ago
Something I appreciated about this travel memoir is Tsh does such a great job of putting you in the location--whether it’s the splash of Victoria falls, the spicy tea in Turkey, or the colors of the Great Barrier Reef. She manages to weave in both reflections on what it means to be at home wherever you are, and enough concrete details about the practicality of traveling with 3 young kids. It satisfied both my desire to reflect more deeply on what it means to find “home” even in constant transition, as well my more practical curiosity. (Really? 3 kids? How did you manage that?). This mix of sensory detail, travel strategies, and deeper reflection weaves together into an extremely satisfying read. Exactly what I want in a travel book!
Anna08 More than 1 year ago
I received an advanced copy of this book, and what a joy it was to read! As you journey with Tsh and her family around the world this book gives you the opportunity to take a journey from the comfort of your own home. Through this chronicle of their journey Tsh reminds us that community can be found everywhere, that humanity is humanity everywhere we go. Moreover, as she writes of how the family lived their simple life on the road, working and schooling through their travels she encourages readers to contemplate the meaning of home, reminding us that it is in the everyday rituals of life: In our rituals of bread making and wine tasting, tucking our kids into bed and watching stars flicker from a chair on the back patio, we are all daring to find ourselves at home, somewhere in the world."
Marnina More than 1 year ago
I received an ARC copy of this book. I was very excited to read it because I have followed Tsh's writing and podcasts for years, and it did not disappoint! I loved every chapter of this book. Tsh did an incredible job of stoking my wanderlust and making it seem manageable to share that passion with my kids (I've now been dreaming of our own around the world trip!). At the same time, she made me appreciate the time we spend at home. I love how she highlights that one can love both adventures and being a homebody. I enjoyed the prepub copy so much that I ordered my own paper version. I wanted to wait for the paper copy to arrive, but I couldn't stop reading. I'm sure I'll be reading it again and sharing it with friends. Thanks for the inspiration, Tsh!
Rachel-Vasquez More than 1 year ago
If you don't already yearn to see more of the world through travel, pick up this book and immediately be transported, all the while soaking up the reflections of Tsh Oxenreider and her family as they journey across the globe! As a cross-cultural worker who has lived and traveled across Latin America, I resonated with so much of what she shared. It made me want to love and appreciate my current home even more, and to take in the beauty in every day life while also dreaming of seeing new places in the future. Also as the parent of two young children, I have hope that we can also show our children what a wonderfully diverse world we live in, and live to tell the tale! A quote from Tsh that sums it up: "Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It can be found anywhere on the globe...In our rituals of bread making and wine tasting, tucking our kids into bed and watching stars flicker from a chair on the back patio, we are all daring to find ourselves at home, somewhere in the world."
thelifeofawifeblog More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book! I'm a fan of Tsh Oxenreider, and this is her memoir of the year she and her family spent traveling around the world. I've been looking forward to reading this book for months, and I was lucky enough to get an early copy from the publisher! Their family visits countries in 4 different continents, and each chapter of the book is dedicated to each particular country they visit. I couldn't put this book down! I love traveling, and I loved how Tsh's wrote about the places I've visited and the many, many places I haven't (yet) visited. Each chapter covers both the touristy things they did in each country, but also the time they spent just doing life in that culture. Tsh also spends a lot of time writing about what home means and how you can feel at home in more than one place in the world, yet at the same time long that for that one place that feels like home. If you love to travel, if you love hearing about different cultures, if you want to learn how to travel with kids, read this book!
laurelmae More than 1 year ago
I challenge you to take a peek inside and not find yourself transported to another place while you find yourself tucked into the warm blankets on your bed, sprawled out on the warm grass in the sunshine, or speeding along on the musty metro to your job. It will incite wanderlust, either sparking movement to research flight information to that next city on your bucket list, or take you within the realm of your imagination, compelling you to revisit some of those seemingly far off places you’ve travelled once before that, in truth, aren’t all that far off. It’s an adventure to read. And its a compelling inspiration to find adventure of your own, personally or with your favorite travel companions.
mollyebrewer More than 1 year ago
For the longest time, I found myself at odds with a love to travel and explore, and love of staying home and watching movies on my couch. I didn't quite know how that worked, but I'm not alone, and At Home in the World is a good reminder of that idea- finding a home anywhere you go. I absolutely LOVE travel memoirs, and AHitW did not disappoint. It's a beautiful journey reading about how Tsh and her family prepare and launch into the world for a year of travel. A YEAR. It's full of not just the wonder of travel, but the reality- like sleeping on a batting-covered board for a mattress, or exploring marketplaces where you can buy pretty much anything- from scorpions to deep fried crickets. It's wonderful to see how real people travel, the choices that the Oxenreiders made as they experienced a warm Christmas in Australia and navigated the Beijing metro. My deep desire to travel was satisfied- temporarily, but I can't wait to get out there again. I heartily recommend!
KCobb More than 1 year ago
I absolutely adore this travel memoir from Tsh Oxenreider. I'm a longtime fan of her blog, The Art of Simple, and her podcast, The Simple Show, and this book is like a longform version of both. Tsh's voice is clear, lyrical, and honest. She absolutely brings her #WorldWideOx travels to life in these pages, and you'll find yourself both eager for adventure and grateful for home, exactly as she intended. You'll enjoy your own perfect tension between wanderlust and cozy hominess, both/and. You'll want to scoop up your kids and take them to see where you met your spouse, and watch their eyes light up at a great wonder of the world or UNESCO world heritage site, and see them make friends everywhere in the world despite the lack of a common language or culture. I can't wait to read this book again and to give it to friends to read for the first time. And I'll be honest and say I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion while reading. Perfect gift for the parents that gave you your own wanderlust, the recent graduate, the empty nesters debating their next adventure, and the mom sitting next to you at school pick-up every afternoon. *I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*... but I also bought a hard copy for myself with my own cash-money!
caroline More than 1 year ago
I have always felt most at home when I'm outside, surrounded by the world and it's beauty. In reality, the beauty of the world is the people. The people I'm doing life with each and every day, near & far. I'm most at home, with them. Tsh writes, "Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It can be found anywhere on the globe." I wholeheartedly agree!