Category Archives: simplicity

[2003-2004: those long days]

I’ve been paging through my old, tattered journal today [something that always makes James nervous as I think he’s afraid I’m getting sad, nostalgic, or reminiscing about time before him!]…I assure you that flipping through my journal gives me great joy, which is sometimes expressed in a few tears, yes. Anyhow, today’s another day off [I’m so thankful, yesterday’s shift was just plain awful], and I’m getting all gussied up and out for a coffee, to the local grocery store, etc…and then I stop in my tracks. Why is it that my days off revolve around shopping? I know I’m a girl, I know I love to shop, and thrift, as you saw in my last post (!) but somehow, I am drawn to be a consumer, to the thinking that material purchases will just make my day. James helps me to be realistic, and realize that not all my days in Haiti were great…in fact, I spent a lot of time journaling about how lonely I was, how much I longed for home, and I cried myself to sleep many nights. So, I have to add that point, just for honesty’s sake, so I don’t have “grandma memory” and think back only on the good parts of my life there…

…but there was just something about those long days, that separation from all thing material, all things shiny and new, all credit cards and coffee shops, that made me dig down deep, and search for the true earthen handfuls of what gave me joy. I couldn’t be a consumer…the only thing I could purchase were oil, rice, mangos, and maybe some live chickens from the lady on the corner. I had no car, no way to get to the city…I had people. I had my journal. I had my books. I had God. I had myself, my thoughts. I learned that prayer is a great way to pass the time…in fact, it became my life breath in the mornings, before I started those long, hard days. I learned that passing time with people, singing, talking, many times, just sitting together [as weird as that sounds] was a beautiful way to pass time. I learned that joy was deep, it was beautiful, and it was even something that resembled pain in its beauty. Somehow, the two, real joy and deep pain, are more alike than different. They both come from this well inside, and touch that spot where it hurts, tears springing forth.

26 April, 2004, Haiti

“It’s such an enormous thing to walk and to listen” (the Weakerthans). Well, tonight I ate goat for dinner, and I hand-pressed juice from a mushy, white fruit. Not bad…After dinner I escaped just at that time of night, sun-blinding auburn, turning everything it touched to gold. As the birds sang their goodnight, I took in the laundry, piece by piece, and bathed in the quiet, brilliant, golden world. I thank you God…  Now, the rain is pouring steadily outside my window, as if I lived in a secret cove behind a waterfall. I am cozy and dry, probably unlike many around me, rain dripping in, floors muddied, blankets damp. The thunder rumbles, the sound of the heavens shifting and rolling over, all of creation groaning…but aren’t they beautiful groans? Deep and aching, like a woman who has known love and loss.

17 November, 2004, Grand Rapids

Traveling again. I can’t seem to get enough. I am frustrated with myself for being careless with my money-not living simply and thankfully, but constantly craving more. It’s the trap of this country–the trap of this life. When everything is offered and available, when everything is an option, it becomes an obsession. I may not, however, crave and choose [Haiti] because of the escape from materialism–because I will never be free from it until I am free within myself— until I can truly, metaphorically “sell all that I have” and follow You. My deep desire is to rid myself of this money-lust, this constant desire for more, more more…the American Dream. Never enough–borrow, scrape, and steal to get what it takes…I rant and rave about simplicity, but can’t seem to make it my own. It feels heavy to have so much stuff, to be tied down by money and things.  How I would love to sell it all, to break my want/need for all of it, and just live off the land somewhere, buying what I need, nothing more…but I tend to idealize poverty & what it entails–I dream of it as the lack of desire for more, when really, there’s just more space for desire and lust; besides, poverty is a life of worry and struggle…

18 February 2005, Grand Rapids

I do not long for a simple life in a romantic way, but in a real, and raw way. I do not want to be hurrying anywhere. I do not want to be in debt. I do not want to buy excessively. I do not want to squander my time spending every day to make money, to spend it again. Lord, I just want a real, simple, honest, get up and see the sun and grass sort of life. I don’t want to put on tights every day, or even dress shoes. This is not romance, this is real life, that real people have, and that I want to live. I want to watch things grow, slowly, in the ground. I tire of this artificial world of the shiny and the fast, that makes humans just burn with greed and thing we don’t have enough. Forget it. I learned. I know that it’s not worth it.

20 April 2005

It seems the intervals between my entries are getting longer with each passing month. I think that means that I am too busy. My windows are open, and the cold rain-air is refreshing….I miss the quiet nights of oil lamps and pen scratching on paper; of no choice but to accept the quiet. I detest the way my mind doesn’t often process and ache over things much anymore–life is just sort of comfortable and ok. I was dreading that complacency and I think I have to work hard to fight it…Maybe I’m just satisfying my deepest longings with other fillers…It seems that my life is too full–too many choices, and we end up doing nothing at all. Father, I need wisdom to find that sensitive balance between having too much and not enough. I don’t suppose I can run to foreign countries, to poverty and sadness, to find you. I need to see you and find you here, too–perhaps even more desperately than there. The battle is harder here. Complacency comes in subtle ways–suddenly everything is a possibility, no limitations, suddenly at the click of a button, everything is available. Nothing is withheld from me. Protect me from want and greed–for translating this realization that all is accessible into the conclusion that I need these things to be happy….that my life would just be so much more complete if I had X. It seems to surround us here, to subtly sneak into our psyches, to infiltrate our secret desires…I want to know what it feels like to be just undernourished…not quite satisfied, a bit too thin..not in my physical body, but in my daily practice… I want to be just uncomfortable enough to be alive, instead of this numb, pampered haze of minutes and hours passing, where every craving is satisfied immediately–where even the slightest inkling of desire is immediately over–gratuitously gratified. I wonder if you ever look down with grief on the sad society of dependents and addicts we’ve become. I’m sorry.



Filed under Haiti, simplicity

September chronicles: Lessons from a busy, honking life.

September Days

“September Days”

by Sarah Jane Studios

Click HERE to see her beautiful work!

Hi Friends…welcome, September! This is, by the way, my favorite month. Not only is it (ahem) my birthday month, but I get so excited about the cool, crisp air, about jeans, about bonfires and sweatshirts and football. I love back-to-school time…it’s so fresh, so motivating, so inspiring. September is a month of new beginnings, of new routines, of making phone calls to friends that I was too busy to see during the summer. September is a month for walks, for organizing, for reading, for starting up a new [desperately needed] exercise routine. It’s a month for [to quote my dear friend Kate]: “a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning,” and for “wheat bundles, throw blankets, and slippers.” I admit, I am not a summer fan (gasp!)…I know, it’s nearly heretic to say such a thing…but I’m just not a heat-lover. I don’t like oily suntan lotion, steaming blacktop, burning hot car seats and seat belt buckles that leave first degree burns. What’s more, I can’t stand the icy blast of air conditioning…it feels so artificial. Don’t I sound cantankerous? [Can-tan-ker-ous: adjective: disagreeable to deal with; contentious; peevish-aren’t these words just super?]

Anyhow, I’ m gladly welcoming these cooler, long-sleeve days. I put out my pumpkins and planted some chrysanthemums (note: Anne)  in MY GARDEN! Isn’t it great? I have a garden!

It’s been a very long month. We’ve finally settled into our new (well, new to us!) white house, painted every room, re-carpeted, re-floored….sigh. We are now to the “hanging curtains and pictures” phase, which brings a much-needed coziness to our place. In the midst of all this, I was hired at a local ER, so I’m orienting there and working 4o hours! Yay for my first job as an RN!

Jersey is so…different from Buffalo. We miss our little Buffalo days  SO much- our quiet front porch, going for walks in the neighborhood and admiring the yards and turn-of-the-century homes, the quiet nights, the slow lifestyle, the time.  Here, it seems that everything is rushing, busy, bustling, racing, sitting in traffic, dangerous, honking, uptight, and, well, somewhat blurry. It feels like this last month definitely passed in a blur…working on the house, driving from here to there, flying around doing interviews and getting paperwork signed….People seem to be so numb here, so madly driven. Why do they feel they have to rush so much? Why do they have to work so hard? I am so easily swept up in this life of the accomplishment, the next goal, the constant needing more and better.

Well, if anything, I’m learning lessons from this busy, honking life. I am learning that it’s going to take some serious self-discipline to purposefully slow down, to drive slowly, to amble, to have unnecessary conversations, to drink tea, to walk for no reason other than to enjoy the evening. I am learning to be serious and intentional about my days, my interactions, my time.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”


On the other hand, we’re loving being close to family and friends. It’s such a treat to be able to stop in at Mom and Dad’s house, to go to Will’s football game, to hang out with the girls.

Here are some snapshots from the last two months:

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Friends at our goodbye party [buffalo, june 09]

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More party fun...

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Dad's visit to Buffalo!

Kelly Van Wyck July 09 019Buffalo Waterfront

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James manning the garage sale, which was promptly rained out!  [Buffalo]

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Will’s game!

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Matthew VW, helping in our new house… [NJ]

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Cousin Steph with Melanie’s new baby [Benjamin]

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Girls’ night!

Hope all’s wel! Enjoy September!

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Filed under simplicity