Author to get away from it all

First Posted: 9/27/2009

One local authors personal odyssey of simple living takes a new turn this fall as she travels to Poland for a long-anticipated sabbatical.
Wanda Urbanska and her 12-year-old-son, Henry, will spend a school year overseas exploring Polish culture and family roots, while attempting to eat as many pierogies as possible without affecting cholesterol count or clothing size.
Ive always tried to live on less, to reduce my footprint, Wanda says. On this sabbatical, my experiment in simplicity will take a new turn. We plan to stay in Warsaw but without a car, so well have to walk everywhere or use public transportation. Were renting two rooms from a gracious Polish woman and will attempt to blend into her household as seamlessly as possible. The total number of possessions Ill have are what I can fit into two suitcases. My office will be my laptop.
Inspired in part by Leonard Kniffels remarkable memoir, A Polish Son in the Motherland: An Americans Journey Home (Texas A&M Press: 2005) which recounts his eight-month sabbatical in 2000, as well as by a moving essay by Wanda Muszynski in the new anthology, Less is More, Creating A Life You Love, Urbanska decided to try her own journey of discovery and exploration to the motherland, or fatherland in her case. Edmund Urbanski, Wandas late father, was a native of Poland.
A Poloniophile my entire life, I seized this opportunity to go to Poland and really dig in, Wanda says. Its equally important for me to provide an enriching cultural experience for Henry.
For his part, her son flew ahead of his mother as an unaccompanied minor so that he could start school with his new classmates on Sept. 1.
Henry is already immersed in the study of Polish and French, along with Polish history, science, math and English at the Canadian School of Warsaw. Via email, Henry reports that the hot, homemade lunch served daily in school of fresh local ingredients makes his standard-fare peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich back home pale by comparison. The meals are great: soup, a main course and then dessert! he wrote home recently. Im having so much fun here. School is a blast!
Until his mother joins him this week, Henry is living in the home of Oliwia and Jarek Malinowski and their sons Bart and Wiktor. The Malinowski family has rolled out the red carpet, offering their own version of Polish hospitality. Urbanskas cousins, Monika Malcher and Ewa Zbierjewska, have also extended themselves to welcome their young American cousin.
Ive been leading your mainstream sustainability activists life for some time now, Urbanska said. You know my type: the dedicated recycler, Prius-driving, garden-growing, committed exerciser who tries not to multi-task. In my life over the past decade, Ive attended green conferences around the country, advising others how to simplify their lives. Ive suggested countertop composting, eating organic, eating local, eating lower on the food chain. Ive urged people to walk more, save more, engage more fully in community life. Ive warned about the perils of global warming and urged people to carry travel mugs, reusable bags and Tupperware to restaurant meals. Ive invited people to slow down, put vegetable gardens in the ground and buy used. My best all-time line just popped out one day during an interview with a journalist here in North Carolina: Living in the present, I said, has become a thing of the past.
Urbanska said that all of the things that she has been advocating have finally come to pass.
People are paying more attention, driving less, saving more, and so forth. Americans have gotten the picture and quickly that living large is not the best way to go. It has caused us to biggie-size our bellies, to stuffocate our homes, and to create more angst than happiness. That Americans need to live on less is no longer in cyberspaces outbox but its landed in our cultures sent items box, she said.
Urbanska said while Americans continue to thirst for information about lifestyle simplification, she personally is ready for a break to break some new ground of her own.
I want to pare it down further, to dig deeper, to get closer to the core. Through my almost two decades of simplicity advocacy, Ive often remarked that many Americans who embrace simplicity come at it from having lived abroad, in cultures that were less materially saturated than our own.
So now it is Urbanskas turn to de-saturate, as her experiment in simplicity continues. This Wednesday she will leave Mount Airy for Charlotte for an overnight with a friend where together they will celebrate the 82nd birthday of another friend. The next morning, shes off to Chicago.
Again, in slower-travel fashion, Ill spend an afternoon, evening and a full day in the windy city with another set of friends before boarding an overnight, non-stop flight to Warsaw via LOT, the Polish Airlines.
Then, her nine-month adventure begins.
In Poland, in quarters sight-as-yet unseen, Ill live on less. Via email exchanges, a friend of a friend and I struck a deal for me to rent two rooms in her townhouse for nine months. There, Ill have no cell phone, no car, and only as much stuff as I can carry in two suitcases. Of course, Im also bringing my laptop in order to do my work and reach out to the world.
In Warsaw, I fully expect to meet new people, to hear the language Ive loved my entire life but never mastered. Im taking my fathers journey in reverse. He was an exiled Pole, forcibly torn from his family and the country he loved, who started his life over in the New World with an American wife (my mother). I am a non-exiled American who is voluntarily taking this journey to the Old Country. I have found the money and made the time for this moment. I will miss my mother, sister and close friends, but my son will be at my side to share the experience, to learn the language, to drink in the wisdom of these sagacious, tenacious people, Urbanksa said.
While she prepares for her departure, shes packing boxes, giving as much as she can to Goodwill, to Habitats Restore, to friends and family. Shes taken loads to consignment stores and she is trying to eat through her pantry and freezer. Shes laying out the clothes she plans to take on the bed in her guest room, all the time wondering if she can live with these clothes for nine months. And she said she wonders, what will be that mystery item that she forgets when she gets to Warsaw?
In one more step towards simplicity, she recently took her two-and-a-half-year-old Prius down to Winston-Salem where she sold it to Carmax.
Id debated for months whether to keep it. You wont be able to buy this car when you get back for what youll get for it, one friend cautioned. And its paid for.
But if you keep it, another friend remarked, youll have to find a place to park it; a friend to drive it around the block every couple of weeks. Youll have to keep it insured. Finally, when my sister and my CPA weighed in on the sell-it-now-camp, I was sold. I was sold because theirs was the message I wanted to hear. I want to be unencumbered. I want to live without a car. I want to simplify my life, she said.
In Warsaw, I aim to thoughtfully possess those fewer things in my life. And having fewer things in my life will free me up to embrace the non-material: new friendships, observations, the passing scene. Over there, I want more than anything to live in the present for living in the present to become a thing of the present.
Contact Mondee Tilley at [email protected] or at 719-1930.

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