A Writing Retreat

I love that we can learn new things at any age.  In my first writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School two years ago, not one of us had ever before attempted writing our own life stories.  And we were a group with participants in their 20’s up into their 70’s.

My experience there has led to all kinds of wonderful things.  Not only did I recognize a talent for and a love of writing stories, but I got the motivation to keep it up: a group of us stayed in touch and started an on-line writing group.  The first of every month we send pieces out to each other for critique. This past March four of us from the group reunited at the Folk School for another writing class.  And now we’re planning our own yearly writing retreat!

I would love to again have that feeling of being so excited about life that I can’t wait to start each day.  But in the meantime, what keeps me going are  trips.  A while back I came across a website for a place specifically dedicated to hosting writers for a week to months.  I sent it out to our group saying it seemed possibly “too quiet.”  That’s when I was thinking of going alone.  But to host our group it is perfect.  Five simple but beautifully furnished rooms, large front porches, all overlooking the James River in Virginia.

One of the many fabulous things about my on-line writing group is that when someone throws out an idea, the responses are usually nothing but the enthusiastic let’s-do-it type.  The plans are coming together.  I volunteered to supervise the food schedule.  Each of us will have one night we’re responsible for the meal (there’s a communal kitchen).  Each of us will also serve one night as the sous-chef.  And yesterday I called and e-mailed The Porches to inquire about our dates.  We’re planning for next summer, but a few of us will probably go this summer to “check it out” as Lois says.  (Really, of course, we just can’t wait a year to see each other again, to get away, and do some writing!)

So you know all those things I say about how good it is to do things alone once in a while?  Here’s another reason: you may make some fabulous friends and years later find yourself in a beautiful old home with them overlooking a river, laughing, cooking, and writing.

What You Think You See Is What You Get

There are messages that pop up over and over in my life.  God realizes I don’t always get them the first time, so he keeps on sending them.  And even when I do get the message, invariably sometimes I forget.  And then he sends another reminder.  We work well in that way, me and God.

The lesson I was reminded of yesterday was the one that says that you perpetuate that which you think you see. If you think your life is miserable, you notice all the things that make it miserable.  You use those to support your theory that life is miserable.  If, on the other hand, you acknowledge your miserable life but instead of looking for evidence to support it you start to notice places where it’s not miserable, things very well may turn around.  They may not, but it’s a lot easier to get through tough times when you’re recognizing, and giving thanks for, the good things.

I’ve been pretty good lately at acknowledging and giving thanks for what I have.  Mainly because I have committed to putting it to paper each night before bed: five things for which I’m thankful.  But on occasion, I’ll wonder what on earth I’m doing.  I’ll think I my life is miserable.  I have no regular job, no steady paycheck, no knowledge of where I want to settle.  I think I should just cash it all in; get a full-time job, a steady paycheck, buy a house – all those things you’re “supposed” to do.  Then I remember my friend Lois who wants to start a blog called “Who says?”  I can hear her in my head.  “Who says?” she asks.  “And by the way – since when do you like doing what everyone else is doing?”  Lois is not the only one who tells me this.  My friend Tara talks me off the ledge on occasion.  “Rebecca, you’ve done this successfully for ten years now,” she’ll remind me.  “You will find something to do next – you always do.”

Then I start to look around and recognize all that I have: a home I love going home to, a family I love to spend time with, a lifestyle that allows me to take a walk to the library at 10AM, a lifestyle that gives me the opportunity to take 6 weeks of vacation every year, a lifestyle that gives me new challenges, friends that love hearing what my next adventure is.

So here’s a thought.   If you think life is crappy, do me a favor.  Try thinking it’s not.  Then see all the wonderful things that come your way.  They were there all along, of course.  You just didn’t notice them before:)

You Get What You Ask For

For years I have wanted to become a professional organizer.  Friends and family have heard me talk with great excitement about helping people declutter their houses to the point that one, each time I bring it up, says, “Do you hear how excited you are talking about this?  Get out there and do it!”  For a girl who usually just “gets out and does” a lot more things in a year than most do in a lifetime, it was a mystery to me why this one was so hard to tackle.  I knew it was fear, on some level.  But fear of what?  And then a couple years ago a spiritual director I was seeing got it out of me.  It was a fear of failure.

I don’t mind “failing” in general.  In fact, I see it as part of life.  To the point where, when people ask about my failures, I struggle to think of any as I view them all as what was meant to happen.  I view them from an angle at which I can see that, without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.  Failure has such a negative connotation, so I don’t use it that much.  Things others would consider “failures” I don’t see very negatively at all.

But when it came to starting an organizing business, the idea of failure paralyzed me.  Here’s why:  I had been dreaming of doing this for years.  If I failed at it, what would I do then? I would have no more “What I really want to do….” because I would have tried it and failed.  This idea had always been on the horizon.  If I failed at it, what would be on my horizon now?  This is really a poor argument from a girl who finds new things to do nearly every month, if not every day.  My spiritual director then wondered if I fill my life with all this variety in order to avoid doing that which I’d really love to do.  Hmm.  It’s a thought, but honestly I think the variety is just who I am.  And this organizing idea could fit right into it.

The idea for this business didn’t just come out of the blue.  I’ve moved ten times in ten years and my favorite part is getting rid of all the stuff I don’t need anymore before I move.  I also absolutely love helping other people pack and unpack, figuring out what they need to take with them to the new place and, once they get there, where to put it all so they can find it again.  My closest friends call me with their move date knowing what joy it brings me to help them.  But it’s not just friends and family I like helping.  I can walk into a strangers house and if they happen to mention in conversation something about a spare room that’s unusable because it’s a collection spot for who knows what, my first reaction is to go in there and help them clean it out.

There’s always more to learn.  I’ve read about the psychology behind why we keep what we keep, the processes by which one is able (or not) to part with things.  I’ve watched the organizing shows on the home channels and I want to be the one going in there to help those folks!

So I’ve been in a limbo state with this idea for quite some time.  The entire plan sits in my head.  And if someone asks me about it – how much would you charge, how would you find customers, could this idea really work – I’ve got all the answers.

I’ve said before that some of my ideas I act on immediately, and some percolate for a while.  This one percolated and sometimes the idea would bubble to the surface and I would take some sort of action.  Well, those actions finally got somewhere.  And that’s what I’ll be writing about over the next couple of posts.

(For those of you wanting to know the rest of the “How I Got Here” story, I’ll get back to it sometime!)


A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying some of the first supplies for my Camino trip.  I still have not picked dates or solidified anything, but have had a few signs that my timing is perfect.

In yesterday’s mail I received the quarterly newsletter from the Congregation of Notre Dame.  My first experience with the CND’s was when I did a Spring Break Service Trip in 1996 in Vicksburg, MS.  A week working at the Good Shepherd Community Center with Sr. Cathy Molloy made me a lifelong supporter of these women and the work they do.  Sr. Cathy now lives in Cameroon and does amazing work on things like the OK Clean Water Project.   But prior to her leaving, she introduced me to other CND’s who have enriched my life.  I now participate in a yearly retreat run by the CND’s each June in Quononchataug, RI and had the pleasure two summers ago of being a volunteer cook at their retreat house for ten days.

Each season, I look forward to the CND newsletter.  I met many CND’s while cooking at the retreat house and have been invited to Golden Jubiliees where I met more of these incredible women.  So now when I open up the newsletter, I can see what inspiring things they are now doing.  Well, in this Spring’s edition there was a story about the Camino!  It turns out Sr. Ona walked the Camino last year.  And the best part?  She wrote a blog about it!  I spent this evening reading every post, and then sent the link on to my mother who, upon reading my blog, wondered recently what other kinds of blogs are out there.

Then, today, I was driving home listening to my Sirius satellite radio.  I’m no hard-core Catholic, but there’s a show on the Catholic Channel called Busted Halo that I’ve heard is quite good.  However, I’m rarely in the car when it’s on the air (7pm).  But tonight, I caught the introduction.  And guess what?  One of their guests this evening was someone just back from walking the Camino!  And not only did this guest write about it, but the group he was with even has some videos on their web site.  I have yet to watch these  because as I write this post it is nearing my self-set “turn off the computer” time (10pm).  But I will watch in the coming days I’m sure:)

I get lots of “signs” about things.  Call them whatever you want.  Some say coincidence.  But I’d rather like to think the universe lets me know when I’m on the right path.  It’s so much easier than feeling like I’m on my own:)

My “Impractical” Convertible

My father said I should think about buying a new car.  My current one was seven years old, and according to dad that was old enough.  However, my current car was the first car I had actually paid for with “my own money”  and I had never envisioned getting rid of a perfectly drivable vehicle.  Prior to this car, dad had provided us with what he called “kid cars” – old clunkers that got passed from sibling to sibling until they eventually died.

But he was right.  I bought this car when I was 23.  It’s time had come.  But like many Renaissance Souls I was overwhelmed with all the options.  Do you have any idea how many types of cars there are out there?

At first, I was practical.  I didn’t want a gas guzzler, so trucks and SUV’s were crossed off the list.  I didn’t want anything too expensive, so I eliminated those fancy cars.  I knew friends that had some bad experiences with certain makes, so those were out.  However, I still had a large list.

Then I recalled a trip I took with two girlfriends a few years back.  We all met up in Miami, rented a convertible, and drove it to and around the Florida Keys for a week.  It cost extra if we told the rental agency that all three of us were going to drive it.  So we just didn’t tell them.  But we all got to try it out, and I thought it was fabulous.

What about a convertible, I thought.  My heart jumped in with one word, “Perfect!”  I tested the idea out on a few friends and some relatives who knew cars and got some suggestions.   Then I did what any non-married Italian girl would do – I consulted with dad.

“Impractical,” he said.  “Why would you want a convertible?”

The only answer I could come up with was just because it would be fun.

“And what are you going to drive in the winter?” he asked.

“Convertibles can be driven in the winter!” I argued.

“You should get something more practical.  Like your sisters.  Get a Honda.  Nothing ever goes wrong with them.”

The logical part of me said, “Your dad knows a lot about everything.  Including cars.  He’s right.  Practical is the way to go.”  So I pushed aside my heart telling me to get a convertible and started to think about a Honda.

I debated between the two options for months.  I even called the guys at Car Talk and left a message asking if I should go with a practical Honda or an impracticable Beetle convertible.  They didn’t call me back.  But I knew what they’d say.  It was the same thing my heart was telling me.  “You’re thirty.  You have no kids to haul around.  Why not?”

I realized that for my father a convertible was impractical.  The man carries more junk in his vehicles than could fit in a convertible.  Papers would be flying out of the car as he drove down the road.  And you can’t fit a couch in the back of a convertible.  Between his five children moving and his wife’s love of finding antique furniture when they’re on road trips, he needs a car that can fit a couch.  That’s why mom has a Honda Odyssey even though her youngest child is 24.  And that’s why dad drives a Chevy Silverado.

I also realized that, though I liked to have his support, I really didn’t need it.  I was the one that was going to pay for it and drive it and going to live with the consequences if I made the wrong decision.

My mother had listened quietly to the debates between me and my father.  One day when dad wasn’t around and we were looking for something to do she asked, “Why don’t we drive down to the VW dealership?”

“Sure,” I said.  In all of this debate about cars, I had yet to actual test drive a single one.  However, the whole concept of a test-drive is a little odd to me.  You get in the car and drive it around for a few miles.  And that’s supposed to tell you if you like it?

Well, mom and I drove down and did our test drive.  A car is a car.  I wasn’t buying it for its “smooth handling” or “anti-lock brakes” or whatever else they say on car commercials.  I was buying it so I could put the top down!  It’s true I could have test driven other convertibles, but the fact is I wanted a cute one – not a sporty looking one.  And everyone knows that the Beetle is just about the cutest convertible there is.

The sales guy quoted us a price.  I said I knew nothing about prices, but I’d consult with dad.  Back at home, dad couldn’t believe the price I quoted him.  “No – can’t be,” he stated simply.  “It’s last years model, they’re trying to get it out of the showroom,” I explained.  “Well, I’ll just have to go down there with you and talk to the guy.  They wouldn’t sell it for that.”

As dad and I drove down to the dealership later that week, he told me to let him do all the talking.  One day, I know, I will have to buy a car without my father around.  But while he’s still here, I’ll watch and learn.  As I was showing dad the car, the kind sales guy from earlier in the week came out to talk to us.  I introduced them and dad hardly even greeted the guy.  “I understand you quoted my daughter a price on a car yesterday,” my father boomed, his arms folded, his head held high.  “Yes, sir, I did,” the sales guy replied.  “What was that price?” dad asked.  The sales guy told him the same price he’d told me and mom.  Dad didn’t let on his surprise that I was right.  In fact, he started negotiating lower!

And an hour later I was the owner of a Beetle convertible.

I might also note that every time I pull into mom and dad’s with the top down, dad says, “Man am I jealous.”  “It’s so impractical, though,” I’ll mimic.  “Yeah,” he says, “but that’s one cute car.”  With the excitement of a child asking for a trip to the ice cream store, he asks if he can drive it to run errands while I visit with mom.  I’ve even been woken up on Saturday mornings with a call from dad: “It’s gorgeous out there – do you have your top down?”  “I’m not even out of bed yet,” I’ll reply.  Some days I wonder who’s more excited about the car – me or my dad.

The Internships

As part of my physical therapy program, I had to do four internships.  As I looked through the list of potential sites, it occurred to me that I could use this as an opportunity to see another part of the country. This is something us renaissance souls do quite a bit – we use what we have to get something we want.  I had to do an internship.  I wanted to travel.  Bingo.

I had done my fair share of traveling as a child.  Their were army reunions every two years for the group my dad was in Heidelberg with during Vietnam.  They took us to Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee.  There were trips to Dairy Queen conventions (dad’s business) that brought us to Florida, Hawaii, and Washington D.C.  In high school, I traveled by myself for the first time – as an exchange student for a summer in Switzerland.  From my host family’s home outside of Fribourg, I traveled wherever the train would take me.

But it wasn’t until college that the idea of plopping myself down in a place where I knew no one became crystallized.  I don’t recall what prompted me to choose Portland, Oregon – perhaps it was the farthest place on the list.

When friends  heard I was doing an internship far from our northeast Pennsylvania university, their first question was, “Do you know someone out there?”

“Nope,” I said simply.

There are a lot of people out there who can’t imagine traveling alone, let alone spending eight weeks in a place where you know no one.  I credit my four siblings with giving me the craving to be on my own at this point in my life.  (See earlier post on doing things alone).

It turns out that outside of Portland we had distant relatives with whom I stayed for my first week.  Then, I moved into housing on the medical campus and was on my own.  I spent every spare weekday moment talking to friends in the dorm and planning my next weekend trip.  I drove down the coast one weekend, drove the Columbia River Gorge another, saw Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helen’s.  I don’t know that I spent one weekend in the town of Portland, though it was a nice town.

Five months after leaving Portland, I moved to Asheville.  I knew no one there.  I lived with two medical students – one very sweet North Carolina native, and the other an orthopedic resident with the last name “Cash.”  Mr. Cash sat around the house shirtless with an electrical stimulation machine on his stomach to work his abs.  He thought he was God’s gift to women.  His two roommates didn’t think so.

I toured the sites of Western North Carolina every weekend – the Biltmore, Carl Sandburg’s home, Chimney Rock.  Each week my colleagues at the hospital would give me suggestions as to where to go next – often to places they themselves had never been but had heard were great.  (The same way there are plenty of New Yorkers who have never been to the Statue of Liberty.)

A few months after my return from North Carolina, I found myself graduating. I was one of just a handful of us PT majors who had a job to go to after graduation.  It was the only job I applied to.  Actually, I didn’t even have to apply.  I called a facility at which I had worked one summer and asked if they needed any help.  They said yes.  It was that easy.  The entire class knew that since my sophomore year I hadn’t wanted this degree.  And here I sat with something they all wanted but most didn’t yet have: a physical therapy job.

Follow Your Heart – part 1

You’ve probably heard it before.  It has many forms: follow your heart, follow your bliss, go with your gut, etc.  Some refer to it as the “voice” in their head, some even refer to it as a higher power speaking to them.  Whatever it is, I’ve learned that when I follow it, I can’t go wrong.

It’s opposite, or complement, is your mind.  The logical part of your thinking, the one that tries to justify all your decisions with a “good reason.”

For example, I stop at my local coffee shop once a week for their Morning Glory Cookie/Muffin.  It’s full of good-for-you stuff and keeps me going until lunch.  Lately, though, whoever was baking the Morning Glories was cooking them a little bit longer than I would have liked.  So I went in a couple weeks ago, looked at them, and when the usual woman went to get my usual morning order, I stopped her saying, “They’re a little to well done for me today.”  She expressed her concern.  I said not to worry about it and bought a fattening sugar coated goody instead.

This past Tuesday, I was debating to stop in to see if the Glories looked any better.  My logical mind said, “You went back a couple times and they weren’t good – why try again?”  But my heart said, “Just give them one more chance – trust me.”  So against my better “judgment” I went with my heart.

“You’re back!” the woman behind the counter exclaimed as soon as I walked in the door.  “LOOK!” she said, and spread her hands out before her encouraging me to look at the plate of Morning Glories.  They were perfectly golden – not too dark or overcooked.

“Perfect,” I said, “I’ll take one.”

“Oh, good,” she said.  “We didn’t want to lose you as a customer!”

A younger employee hurried over.  “I’m sorry – I just started taking over baking them.  They’re good?”

Before I could answer, the manager came over.  “It’s on the house today.”

I thanked them all, assured the young baker she was doing a fine job, and left with a smile on my face.  My heart was right – but beyond any way I could have imagined.

Of course, this is also a lesson in stellar customer service, but that’s a story for another day.

Now, you might be thinking “it was just a muffin.”  But sometimes when following your heart, you start small.  Like with a muffin.  And once you see how well it works, you go with it on larger things.  That’s why this is just Part 1 of this segment:)