I recently took out my grandmother’s sewing machine, after 10 years of storing it under the bed. I was inspired by the Sew Many Bikes Pedalpalooza ride, which life has twice prevented me from attending, but I am keen to learn from anyway. In addition to the sewing machine, I also had a friend teach me a knit stitch, and on a recent evening I put on an old record (yes, on a turntable) — one that had been unopened in its package for decades — and I sat in a chair to listen and knit.
It struck me particularly (as I bemoaned my inability to join the summer’s Sew Many Bikes ride) that sewing and biking is a most fitting combination. Folks who sew are doing something slow in the face of fast fashion. They could more easily buy their garments, yet they are doing the slow work of making their own outfits, not unlike a person riding a bike, who could ride in a faster car, but who chooses the slower way. Something slow, something lovely, something that takes work. But is totally worth it, both in the achievement of the end, and also for the joy of the journey.
Yes, a Pedalpalooza bike ride got me thinking about an entirely slow life, and how much it might be preferred to a fast one. Slower things, like biking, books, old records, and sewing machines.
Amid the holiday rush, I find myself hesitating. I look at my bike, and now at my sewing machine, and my record player, and an entire library of un-read books and think: Do we have to start rushing from now to Christmas? And in any season, do we really want to schedule so many things that we always feel overwhelmed and crazy-busy? If I sign my kids up for another extracurricular, another team, another formal activity, will we feel stressed and reduce our family time to fast food dinners because our lives are too busy to cook, eat together, and enjoy our family life?
I’ve begun to wonder if this rushing-around lifestyle is due to a car-centric society. Would we always feel so stressed and rushed, would we pack our schedules so full of far-away activities, if we were bike-based instead of car-based?
Maybe we can make different choices, and live differently, even during this notoriously “busy time of year.” Maybe choosing to bike is only part of what we need. Maybe we have been trying to fit biking into a car-centric lifestyle. And what we need is a completely different framing, a completely different idea of “normal.” Something as different as sewing an outfit, instead of ordering one online. Something as different as biking, instead of driving.
So before the “holiday rush” returns, we’re taking time to slow down and to make a deeper examination of what we value and how we actually, intentionally, want to live out our family life. I asked my older kids (ages 10 and 8) to think about how they want to live, and how we should spend our time together, before they grow up and move out. To my surprise, both of my older children considered carefully and then answered, each in their own way, that we should read more books, make more tea, and spend more cozy evenings at home.
I think that’s just the sort of change I need this holiday season. We don’t have to try to keep up with a car-driven lifestyle, or any lifestyle that we don’t actually want. Biking has taught us that we can be happier If we live more slowly, consciously, intentionally, and locally. For us, biking is our mode of travel on what has become a happy journey to a slower life.