Scenes from a Writing Retreat

It started in 2008 when four of us met in a writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. An on-line critique group was formed. Two years later we reunited at JCCFS, added another person to our ranks, and then decided to hold our own writing retreats. They were yearly at first. Now they’re every six months. The first time it was just for a week. Now, the retired folk of the group stay for two weeks.

We alternate between mountains and sea, renting a house and holing ourselves up for the week to do what first brought us together: write.

“Is that really a vacation?” a co-worker asked before I left.

Time to Read

Time to Read

“For me it is,” I said. I know it’s not everyone’s dream. But for the five of us, a chance to be free of the distractions of our lives, to write without interruption, to spend hours talking about all the books we’ve read since last we saw each other, to gather at 4 every day for wine and conversation — it is a perfect vacation.

Time to Ponder...

Time to Ponder…

Lois brings a printer and we hold at least one critique session, gathered around the kitchen table, pens poised over each other’s work, wine glasses filled. 

Time to Raise a Glass

Time to Raise a Glass

Food is plentiful – we all bring food to share, each of us cooking a night or two. (Lucky for us, Lois’ idea of cooking includes having someone else do it — and the dishes — for you, so one night we actually get in a car and leave the premises). Sometimes we escape from behind our notebooks and computers and head out for a walk. Or an artist date.

That’s where I took off to this morning — to find some art to feed my soul. As usual, that meant conversation with artists (today, a sweet-grass basket weaver) and the business owners who show their work (today, the owner of a pottery gallery). As I wandered around, I came upon these frogs — doing everything I enjoy most about these writing retreats (besides the actual writing). 

 

 

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Changing My Mind

I am very good at completely changing my opinion on something – sometimes in the space a few seconds, sometimes in a few years.

Example #1: In college I remember thinking, “I could never date a vegetarian.  I wouldn’t know what to cook for him.”  A dozen years later I’m not dating a vegetarian – I am one myself.  And can come up with plenty of great things to cook on any given day.  But I reserve the right to change my mind again: A year from now, don’t be surprised if I’m a meat eater.  Or a vegan.

Example #2: I thought for a while I wanted to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  One hundred twenty-eight square feet.  On wheels.  I even went to see one.  With my parents in tow.  And shortly after that decided I couldn’t live in one.

Or did I?  One year after seeing my first Tumbleweed, I took a class called Building A Garden Shed.  Because there’s a book that says you can build a Tumbleweed with just fourteen tools.  So I thought I’d get an idea of framing and such.  In class, I learned I have no interest in physically building it myself. God has given me many gifts.   Working with wood is not one of them.

But I still find myself tempted to own a Tumbleweed.  Especially when I read Tammy Strobel’s blog. She started by moving to smaller and smaller spaces, eventually transitioning to her one hundred twenty-eight square foot house on wheels.  Think it’s too small for one person?  Well, she lives there with her husband.

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Yesterday I walked into a friend’s studio apartment.  The bathroom is normal size.  The main room is about double the size of the bathroom.  I loved it.  The closet thing threw me though – one was filled with the washer/dryer, the other with the hot water heater and such.  Zero room to hang anything. I laughed when I realized a Tumbleweed actually has more storage space than this apartment.

Will I move to a Tumbleweed one day?  Who knows.

There are a lot of people going smaller.  Some of them then change their mind.  And thanks to them, I can spend hours perusing Tiny House Listings.

The Things I Never Dreamed Of

When I took my first writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I never had the intention of becoming a published writer.  I just wanted to write down some of my family stories.  And take a week doing so at a beautiful place in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Four years later I find myself accomplishing something I would have never predicted.  I have not only been published, but will actually get paid for things I’ve written.  I’d heard the stories of all the rejection letters one receives prior to first publication.  In February, my first writing teacher Glenda Beall helped me to get up the courage to submit my first piece. A few months letter, I got my first rejection letter.

“While you’re waiting to hear back, submit something else,” Glenda had told me.  “That way you’re always hopeful that maybe the next one will be accepted.” That was great advice.  So I submitted another piece.  That was accepted “space permitting” so I’m not sure yet if it will be published.

In the meantime, I wrote to a web site about an article I read on their site.  In the response I received, I was asked my writing background and if I’d be interested in writing something for the site.  Could this be happening?  Was I actually being solicted to write something? Indeed I was.  And today you can read that article by clicking here.

In the meantime a friend put me in touch with a web site she had written for.  “I think they’d be interested in having you blog from the Camino.”  Indeed they were.  You can find my posts for them here.

I’ve often said I think it silly to ask me where I expect to be in five years.  I always say I have no idea – because there are so many experiences out there, I’ll probably be doing something I never dreamed of.  And so it is with writing.  Five years ago I never would have predicted I’d have a blog and be a published writer.  But here I am.  Isn’t life grand?

10,000 Steps

“You’re doing the Camino?” he asked.  “Did you start practicing yet?”

“No,” I replied sheepishly.  “But it’s not until May, so I’ve got time.”

He looked at me with wide eyes.  “You should be out there – at least an hour every day.”

It was August, 2011.  I was not planning on starting my preparations until January, 2012, but this guy scared me a little.  Gerald Murphy had hiked most of the Appalachian trail.  He’d biked coast to coast. He was here at the Folk School leading paying students on ten mile hikes every day that week.  He knew what he was talking about.  But I knew that people can only do so much at one time, and my focus for the next four months was on two things: my job at the Folk School and my classes at the Folk School.

I listened to his advice, thanked him, and stuck to my plan.

On January 10th, it was time to take action.  I finally bought a new battery for my pedometer.  I put it in only to discover that my pedometer didn’t need a new battery – it just didn’t work at all.  I lamented to Glenda, my hostess, and she said, “Oh – I have one that you could use.”  It will never cease to amaze me how things turn up when I need them to.

Since that day, I’ve had my Step Into Health pedometer on my hip every waking moment.

The first week I just wanted to get a baseline reading.  I was disappointed to learn that my morning walk around Chatuge Lane only garnered me 2100 steps, so I started exploring new roads to increase my numbers.  Out onto Highway 64, left onto Ledford Chapel Road, right onto…is this a road?  Hmm…I don’t think so.  Turn around.

My inability to sit still for too long (thanks, Dad) earned me about 4000 steps each day just “puttering” around the house, cooking, and running errands.  I jotted down each days count: 6471, 8972,8935, 13172.  That last one is what happens when you spend two and a half hours at a Saturday night Contra Dance at the Folk School🙂

So what does any of this mean?  How many steps in a mile?  My pedometer only records steps, so I had no idea how far I was really walking.  A Google search tells me 2000 steps is about one mile.  Some time ago the popular view was that 10,000 steps per day was ideal.  Most people can’t get to 10,000 steps without adding in a half-hour walk, so it makes sense that this recommendation might get people out exercising.

Ten thousand steps is about five miles.  I must admit, I was pretty proud of myself.  I wasn’t too far from that number.  And if I could do five miles per day, it wouldn’t be long before I could feel confident that I could do twelve miles per day for forty days on the Camino.

On Monday I decided to set my sights for 10,000 steps.  I realized this would require not just a morning walk, but an evening walk as well.  (Or a longer morning walk, but I get bored easily, so didn’t know if that would work.)  Thankfully, I was in Florida on Monday.  And it was 70 degrees.  I met my friend Sarah for a walk around Sawgrass Lake Park in the morning, had gelato at Mazarro’s Italian Market with Stephanie, sat out by the pool in the afternoon, and then called a friend as I started on my evening walk.  I like the quiet of my morning walks, but the evening one might require a phone call for distraction.  It worked: 10,928 steps.

Tuesday we left St. Petersburg.  Six trips between the condo and the car (with three flights of stairs in between) helped rack up some steps in the morning.  After lunch, I walked a few times around the restaurant before we got back on the road.   A couple rounds around Dairy Queen while eating a chocolate cone with rainbow sprinkles helped, too.  That night, I headed to the treadmill at the hotel.  (Jessica, my marathon-runner sister would be proud, and stunned.)  But treadmills are boring.  And the TV in the gym wasn’t offering any good viewing options.  So I left with a couple thousand steps left to take, only to go back after dinner and have Jon Stewart on the TV to help me get through those last steps: 10,525 read my pedometer.

Today we drove back to North Carolina.  I walked a few laps around the Olive Garden in Canton, Georgia where we stopped for lunch.  The sign on the back door said they didn’t take deliveries between 11 and 2.  Their dumpsters are hidden behind some very nice looking gates.  After two laps, I joined my travel partners and we got back on the road.

We arrived home at 4:30.  As soon as I unpacked the car, I took off for a walk before the sun went down.  It was a balmy 60 degrees and I wanted to take advantage.  I opened my pedometer.  I was at 2400 steps.  Chatuge Lane, across Highway 64 to the lake shore, left on Ledford Chapel, up the hill, Willow Pond Lane – let’s see where that goes.  Some of these houses are obviously only used seasonally.  No one’s home – shades drawn, boats and jet skis covered.  There was no sign indicating this was a dead end, but it was.  I’m at 5000 steps when I turn around.  8700 by the time I get home.

“Were you walking all this time?” Glenda asks when I arrive home.  “Yup – three miles,” I say.  Only 1300 steps to go to reach 10,000 today.  I’m on my way.  A little later than Gerald would have recommended, but according to my timeline, I’m right on time:)

Abbondanza

“I’ll just go call Grandma,” I said to my instructor.  I was in my Genealogy class at the John C. Campbell Folk School where I had one major advantage over all my classmates: I was the only student who had a grandmother still living.  This is probably because I was the youngest student in the class by at least thirty years.  When my classmates had questions they needed answers to, they had to do a bit more searching.  I could just call Grandma.

I’d heard a lot of her stories before, but now I was going to get them straight and get them down.  Like the story of the great-grandmother who, ill after the death of her young child was told she was going to die and she should leave Brooklyn for the country (aka Poughkeepsie).  She lived to be 92.    Then there was the great-grandfather who died in an explosion leaving his wife with three children under four years old – the oldest of whom was my Grandpa Gallo.  I had another great-grandfather who took his family to one church in town until the day they walked in and were told all the Italians had to now go to a different church. And that’s just my father’s side of the family.

“I wish my grandchildren took an interest in the genealogy work I’m doing,” a classmate lamented.  “Me, too,” another agreed.  “I sometimes wonder what they’re going to do with my research after I’m gone – I hope they don’t just throw it all out.”  Our teacher, Ann Osisek, had answers to a lot of our questions – and had an answer for this dilemma as well.  She told us that libraries in the town in which our relatives lived will usually take our family history research, and have it available if anyone in the future wants to continue the search.  I, though, had something to add, which I gave in a little speech on our last day that went something like this:

“My grandmother is 87, and I just started doing our genealogy.  So don’t give up hope.  You’re all much younger than that – so wait at least til your 87 before you think your grandkids aren’t interested.”

They, in turn, told me to get my grandmother’s story down.  So that’s what I’ve started to do.  But I’ve also found I’m telling her parts of her story she didn’t know.  Just today, on my regular Sunday visit to Grandma’s for meatballs, I let her know I found the Ellis Island records of her father’s arrival in the US (see document below – line 13).  She knew he came over with his mother when he was seventeen.  But she didn’t know that they were initially detained because they had no money upon their arrival.  My great-great-grandmother (see document below – line 12) arrived in this country with two children, by two different husbands, neither of whom was still alive.  Another child – by yet another husband – was already in the US and paid for her passage.  Yes, this woman had lost three husbands by the time she arrived – and she was only 50.  I’d heard she was tough – no wonder!  Could you imagine that life?  All that for a woman whose name – Abbondanza –  means abundance, plenty, richness, and wealth.  Her abundance was not material the day she stepped foot on Ellis Island.  But she did have plenty – of hope, courage, and faith.

In March, I’m embarking on a journey, too.  I’m reversing Abbondanza’s trip – leaving from New York and heading to Avellino, Italy.  My trip will be a lot easier than hers in many ways.  But with me I’ll take a dose of her hope, courage, and faith as I try to find out more about her.

Cretic – Arrival of Gaetano Urciuoli – Line 13

 

Students and Teachers

“So what did you think of blacksmithing?” friends ask.

“I loved it,” I say.  “Though it was one of those classes I could have loved or hated based solely on the teacher.  Thankfully, I had a really good teacher.”

In my ten weeks here at the Folk School, I haven’t just been studying blacksmithing, or cooking, or writing.  I have also been studying teachers, and myself as a student.

During my years of “traditional” schooling, I excelled.  Not because I was necessarily smart, but because I was good at doing what was asked of me: namely memorizing information and spitting in back out.  I was also one of those kids who wanted to please the adults in my life – namely my parents and teachers – and so I did what it took.

Thankfully, I’m mostly over my need to please other people.  But not completely.  Holding the beginnings of what would hopefully become a hook, I asked my blacksmith instructor what he thought of my work so far.  “Well, do you like it?” he asked.  “Yeah,” I said, wondering what that had to do with anything.  “If you like it, it’s good,” he said.  Wait – I determine what’s good here? At first it was a little alarming.  I don’t know what I’m doing.  How do I know if it’s any good? But then the idea started to grow on me.  After all, I was the one that was going to take this hook home and use it.

Later I told another student what my instructor said.  “That’s what so great about this place,” she said.  “You’re not trying to please a teacher – just yourself.”

Tending the Forge

Making a Bottle Opener

A New Use for our Garden Shed

Last month, I took Tom Dahaney’s Building a Garden Shed class.  In five days, we accomplished quite a bit.  What was left undone, we were told, would be completed by the Work Study students with the help of the maintenance department.

By Thursday afternoon, our shed was looking pretty good.

On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding here on the campus of the Folk School.  Our garden shed had never looked so good.  For it’s inaugural use, it served not as a garden shed, but as a bar.

 

Drink anyone?