Author Interview – Tsh Oxenreider


Photo Credit: Holly Fish, photographer


Hi Tsh! Thanks so much for joining us over on Notes on Bookmarks today. I am so excited about your new book! As part of the Launch Team, I got to read it early, and I can honestly say that your memoir about your travels and the search for home spoke to me in so many ways. It felt like you wrote it for me! You can read a whole post with my take on the book and where I feel at home in the world here

So, let’s get this party started with the five-minute Tsh intro and then a little something not many people know about you!

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

Hmm… I guess maybe the thing people don’t know about me is my name really and truly is spelled T-s-h on my birth certificate. The quickest explanation for it is it was the 70s, and my parents were in an experimental mood (my brother was born five years later, in 1982, and they named him Josh, one of the most common names of the 80s). My dad says I was named after a protagonist in a book he read while my mom was pregnant with me. It’s set in the Soviet Union about a MI-6 pilot that was shot down in Moscow, and he falls in love with a woman named Tsh. But fun fact: I’ve been to Russia, and I’ve asked around – it’s an unusual name even for there! So I’m fairly certain the author just made up the name.

19 At Home in the WorldIn your new book, At Home in the World, we essentially get to journey with you and your family (husband and three kiddos) as you circumnavigate the globe. When you left for your big trip, you sold your home, eliminated many belongings and put the rest in storage, so you were essentially homeless for the year. As the author of Organized Simplicity and the creator of The Art of Simple, it seems like there might not have been much to let go of, but I’m guessing that a family of five, even one that lives simply, still has plenty of belongings. Can you tell us a bit about your “preparing to leave” process and what surprised you as to what you wish you had kept when you came home or what you wish you had been more ruthless about eliminating?

We still had to decide over every little thing, using the question, “What do we think we might need for the next year?” If you think about it, that’s pretty challenging to predict. We got rid of some stuff, more in the natural decluttering process people naturally do when you’re planning to fit everything into a storage unit, but we didn’t really get rid of a third more of our belongings until we returned home. We pulled up that storage unit door and immediately thought, “Why on earth did we keep these things?” It was glorious to have so little for a year—it taught me first-hand how very, very little we need in this life.

We ultimately each had about 3 tops, 3 bottoms, and 2-3 pairs of shoes for the year, and we were more than happy with this. So when I went through my clothes when we returned—even with my already limited wardrobe–it all felt a bit ridiculous. I know extended travel isn’t normal life, so I get why we have more clothes in the here and now… but it was still dreamy to have such a tiny amount of laundry for a school year.

Something I’ve been thinking about as I let your book marinate a bit is how you so perfectly capture that tension that we’ve all (I assume) felt between wanting to see this big beautiful world, and wanting a place to come home to and feel comfortable in, and recognize as a place of belonging. I myself can so sympathize with the fact that, even when we go away for just a few days, I am so GLAD to get to sleep in my bed again when I get home! Almost always, that is the thing I miss the most when we travel (that, and our pup). But that doesn’t squelch the desire to go, either. You slept in, and oftentimes shared, so many beds and spaces during your year abroad. If you can pinpoint the THING you missed the most during that year, what do you think it would be? (Other than the broader idea of “a home”, I mean).

For sure, it was my bed that I missed the most. I don’t have a fancy bed, but it’s mine, and it’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It represents being home to me. I didn’t realize how picky I was about things like sheets and pillows until I slept on a bajillion of them, all slightly different from each other. Plus, once we came back we slept in other people’s beds stateside because we housesat or stayed with family while we figured out where to live. We were more than ready for our bed when we finally came back… The first night on our own mattress was heaven.

A close second to my bed was my white owl coffee mug I’ve affectionately named Hedwig. He represents being home, too, and I missed having my morning coffee with him. It was so fun to unpack him and get him back in my coffee rotation.

thesimpleshow-artYour podcast, and your new-ish addition of rotating co-hosts, has really brought to life the three aspects of this work that I really love: home, travel, and books. All three are encapsulated here! People who are interested in the book, but haven’t yet ordered, can listen to the entire first chapter on audio by checking out episode 65 right here! Since the book itself captures the tension between travel and home, can you tell us a bit more about the books of your travels? You mention reading on your loaded Kindle Paperwhite during the trip, and I’d love to hear which books really stuck with you or will always remind you of a certain place. I know when I read somewhere unique, the place often gets solidified in my memory as part of the book, so I can just imagine how some books from that year must be inextricably linked for you to the places you got to visit!

My daughter and I both read Red Scarf Girl in China, and it really helped us both better understand the Chinese mindset. I picked up Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden in a used bookstore in Chiang Mai, just for fun (because I still prefer paper books over the digital version, all things being equal). I read The Storied Life of AJ Fikry in Australia, so I will always think of our quiet, slow time in the Sydney suburbs when I see that book cover. I re-read my friend Emily’s book A Million Little Ways because it was in the library of the Sole Hope guesthouse in Uganda, and that was fun – felt like talking to a friend, which helped with the loneliness. Probably most significant for me was reading All the Light We Cannot See while we were in France—it just so happened that it was finally my turn from the library’s wait list while we were there. It literally happened when we were in the air from Morocco to France, so it was a lovely surprise when it auto-downloaded the next time I opened my Kindle after we landed. That’s now one of my favorite books, and I think it’s partly because I read it where the book largely takes place.

As I read through your book, one of the first things that happened was a conversation with my darling husband about how we dated, engaged, and were married with travel as one of our guiding principles (we visited 7 countries together before we had kiddos!), but having three kids seemed to have minimized that desire. Despite our prayers that our children would travel to experience, see, and love the world, we became daunted by the idea of road trips and plane flights and sleeping in hotels. The conversations spurred by At Home In The World have already led to two upcoming family vacations planned (along with the other travels we had planned for this summer) and discussions about a bigger, overseas trip for next year. And all that it took was a reminder from you that WE ALSO love to travel! Even though this is a memoir, and not a how-to guide, what are you hoping your readers get out of this book? How do you hope they apply your story to their own lives?

I have heard so many stories like this, and I absolutely love it! It thrills me to no end to hear of adults being reminded of their love for travel after reading this book, then deciding to go ahead and book flights for an adventure with their kids. I can think of no greater outcome. Even if it means starting with a weekend venture only a few hours from home, that’s worth it to me.

I also genuinely love hearing from people who say they really have no interest in travel, and they love that At Home didn’t shame them for it. I truly want people to feel at peace wherever they call home, and perhaps take their own, unofficial form of a Vow of Stability.

Whether or not people actually take a big round-the-world trip with their kids, I want people to not idolize travel, and instead remember the privilege it is to see the world so easily in our modern age. And yet, it also means so many people from around the world live near us, more than ever before. I hope it also encourages people to reach out to those who might seem different than us—maybe we don’t share a first language, maybe our neighbors were born in another country—and get to know them just as people. What a great outcome that would be for this book!

I feel like the desires you express for your travel in this paragraph from the first chapter are so practical and small that they make it seem doable for each of us:

“I want to see a thousand tiny places, smell their flowers, and taste the sauces made by their people. I want to feel the difference between the textures of grit in Sri Lanka and Morocco. I want to meet the woman who bakes the best bread in the smallest town in New Zealand. I want to find the best vantage point to see Bosnia from Croatia. What do the Grand Marnier crêpes taste like in Rouen? In Paris? There are untold numbers of tiny places and extraordinary people who occupy them. We will perhaps see a hundred of both.”

PrintYes, we may want to see the whole world, but that’s impossible. And it’s certainly impossible to see and appreciate and know the whole world. So let’s remember that we are tiny, that the space we take up is minute, and embrace the actual physical space and people that are around us this moment. As Jill Briscoe said at this year’s IF: Gathering, “My mission field is between my own two feet.” Do you feel like you were able to achieve all of these small desires for your travels? Do you feel like you will ever go and see all the places you want to visit? Do you feel like the desire to travel will ever be satisfied? Or do we all embrace the tension, and live in the already/not yet of home and away, the impossible search for heaven on Earth?

I know I won’t ever see all the places I want to see, and that’s an okay place to be, because this side of heaven, we won’t ever feel fully satisfied. As CS Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in the world will satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Our year of travels taught me that the beauty of exploring the world is best tempered with the beauty of the ordinary life of home. I love my home more because I enjoy time away from it, discovering new places. And I love traveling because I know I have a home to hang my backpack when I’m done.

Thank you so very much, Tsh. For being here, for sharing with us, for your beautiful book. I can’t wait for all my friends to read it as well. It really is one of my favorites I’ve read this year and I cannot wait to see where it gets to go! #AtHomeInTheWorld

Thanks, Kaytee!

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