Tips on Creature Comforts from my Facebook Posse! (Beds, Bras, Skin-care, and much more…)

olive grove-001It seems I’ve tapped into some serious zeitgeist over on Facebook in the last months, as I’ve been exploring some of my creature comfort needs…and it’s turned into some mighty social media crowd sourcing!  Thank you to all of you who have given me your tips on things like, you know, bras.  And skin care products.  And beds.  And tea.  And happy songs.  And a lot of other things too.

It all started with these words:  ”Help!  My face has fallen and it can’t get up!”  That got 97 comments in about half an hour.  Then: (heck– why not)  ”Help!  My boobs have fallen and they can’t get up!”  64 comments, rapido rapido.  Beds:  75 great tips, and fast.  The ultimate Earl Grey?  Lots of Earl drinkers out there, turns out.  Even names for a strong female protagonist (213 comments).  In fact, my Facebook friends have helped me so much, that I thought it would be helpful to create a list of some of their best tips, with some of the comments, here on my blog.  So here you go.   I haven’t tried 99.9% of any of them yet.   Still sleeping in a 15 year old squeaky bed, using water on my face, period, and am helplessly devoted to a few old jog bras.  But looks like that all might change!

Creature comfort wisdom from my Facebook friends. 

SKIN LINES

Beauty Counter  (started by a friend of mine!)

From the Lab  (started by a friend of mine!)

La Mer – “pricey but worth it”

Coconut Oil – “eat it too!”

Indian Meadows Herbals – Love your Face Cream “Love Your Face Cream – Original Formula. It’s fabulous. I like all of their products. It’s made with 76% organic herbs, oils, and aloe. I use it every day, and I’m 57. If only they’d invent something that works for under-eye circles!”

Dermalogica – “ used Dermalogica for 25 years. Night repair creams, oils, and masks are important now, especially in MT. Above all drink an insane amount of water to keep your brain and skin hydrated.”

Rodan + Fields – “#1 anti aging skin line in America and I’ll give you the “author” discount”

Amlactin – “You can purchase it over the counter in any pharmacy. It’s an alpha hydroxy lotion. That combined with Retin A – which you need a prescription for. I use Retin A every night and Amlactin twice a day. But be careful using Amlactin till your skin adjusts to the Retin A because it can sting when your skin is fragile. Takes time to adjust to Retin A. Go super sparingly in the beginning! This is the regimen recommended by my deem. I think it has helped my skin!”

Tata Harper

Cetaphil – “Recommended by my dermatologist. Followed by some Paula’s Choice products.”

Paula’s Choice

Oil of Olay

Nerium AD

Kiels – “no more expensive products”

Roc Moisturizer

Arbonne – “Arbonne is by far the best. I am 64 and have been using it for 7 years. Seriously, Laura, it’s good stuff. I just got back from a Convention and they reformulated the RE9 line and it is super clean and nontoxic…..I can give you some samples when I get to town.”  “Loveeeee anti aging line, pure ingredients, safe, green, just as beneficial as the number one skincare line but has safe ingredients!!”

Mary Kay – “You wouldn’t believe how forward thinking the company is now and it exceeds European Union standards as far as cosmetic companies go.”

Dr. Hauschka

Boots UK

No. 7

Image Skin Care –  https://www.imageskincare.com/ “I am not fifty, but I do love the changes I’ve noticed in my skin since using their ageless and lightening lines (tighter, brighter, less fine lines) and am all about preventative care. Raw honey makes a fantastic face cleanser.”

Zillis Zen Renew – “It’s got Botox effects without the Botox. Ladies are going crazy over it”

Elta MD Sunscreen –  It’s medical grade , affordable, and has no nasty parabans, etc. Aside from that, I use botox and Instagram filters.” “I agree, I use their tinted sunscreen”

Shisedodo

Beauty Counter

Plexus

Synchronology Skincare – rocks and is reasonably priced

Clarins

Rosehip and Baobab oil – “as a moisturizer.  Also Emu oil if that’s up your alley.”

Ponds Night Cream – “ My grandmother swore by ponds night cream under the eyes every night. I am sticking to it! Plus, the smell is soooo nice.”

Cerave - “ especially if you have sensitive skin. Dermatologist recommended this years ago.”

Botox

Skin Medica TNS – from a derm nurse

My Prime Transformative Cream –  It is a little $$ but worth it. I also love

YBF Correct eye cream – “but this one’s too $$ for me, so I don’t use it any more.”

Kar Gran Cosmetics –  I wrote an essay for them because I love their clean, aromatic oils: https://blog.karigran.com/wearyourselfin/new-test-article/

RoC

Envrion – “it’s amazing”

Beyond good lotions & potions, get good consistent sleep, hydration (H20) and avoid salt and alcohol as much as you can stand and still ‘live a little.’ Plus Retin A. And exercise to get the blood flowing.

Neutrogena - “works well with all skin types”

Grace green Beauty –  https://gracegreenbeauty.com/

Loccitane Immortelle Divine Cream

Salt water rines (made with sea salt and bottled water. Use coconut oil as moisturizer

Chanel Sublimage – Cleanser, Serum, Eye Cream Moisturizer – “the best”

Willing Beauty –  “just launched this month its a sister company of origami owl, I have been using a week and it’s AMAZING “

Lancome Renergie – at Costco online

Differin – “which basically Retin A started out as — is a prescription strength form of retinol sold over the counter. My dermatologist made me start after I had some burn related discoloration on face. But it is a miracle worker on fine lines and such. I use one week on one week off.” “ Differin is $13 at Target recommended by my dermatologist instead of Retin A.”

Olay Regenerist

Orgins Drink up Intensive Overnight mask – “use it all winter”

Skinceuticals

Laurel Whole Plant Organics – “100% natural”

Murad – “scents aren’t overhwleming and they dont’ engage in animal testing”

And this one made me LOL.  I’ve never done Botox, or a Medical Peel, but this person has a lot to say about it, and she’s funny!

Medical Grade Chemical Peel - “ I don’t believe in spending $80 on a jar of cream when you can spend $80 once a month for a medical grade chemical peel at a medspa. In the city, you can get Botox for $4.50 a unit on Groupon and for 30 units, not have a wrinkle for the next 4 months. I tell my aesthetician that I want to look young but still be able to shoot a look across the room to my son that says, “Knock that shit off right now.” She somehow nails it every time. I have total movement. Yes, I think doing a peel four weeks apart makes so much difference! I do them for four months in a row and then bask in the glory of nothing for six months and then start them again. Also, my partner is an anesthesiologist and he just did one treatment with an in office thing called a skinpen and his colleagues all said he looked 15 years younger. I am going to try that next. It’s around $125 for one treatment and he had one six months ago but is about to have another one now before his daughters grad school graduation.

Here’s the thing about chemical peels – for the first one, if you had a loaded gun in your hand you’d shoot yourself because you just can’t believe it’s okay and that the pain will actually stop. It does stop. Five minutes in. The second time you have it is much better. The first one is just really nasty because you have so much old skin to burn off until you get to the dermis. The third time, I could be emailing colleagues it’s so easy. Like Botox, the more you do it, the more it starts PREVENTING damage. Mostly because you always have fresh, new, glowing skin. But if you have dark sun spots, like my partner, then you’d be amazed at the skin pen in between a chemical peel. For me, I had an issue with old red healed acne spots. They disappeared the very first peel. It’s really incredible witchcraft. Oh – also, if you are considering derma fillers, I can update you. The old issue of lip injections, etc. is that it used collagen. Now, it uses a type of ingredient that already is in our skin and our body removes naturally over the course of six months or so. But here’s the witchcraft – if you don’t like it, there is now an antidote! So they inject the counter to it and it dissolves right then! It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come. Because of this, I’m considering fillers now. But they do fillers and chemical peels on hands now that swear makes an 80 year old look 20. You can google before and after images online of restalyne hands and be amazed. In the US, it is illegal for a pharmaceutical company to use before and after pictures without indicating how many treatments they have received. With restalyne, it never says because it’s only ONE TREATMENT! AMAZEBALLS!”

 OK…now on to my next one, “Help, my boobs have fallen and they can’t get up!”  Such great “support” from my friends!

BRAS:

Wacoal – “game changer, underwire or not” https://www.wacoal-america.com/all-bras_wacoal-bras-catalog/

Rosa Faia – “very pricey but a game changer. So comfortable” http://www.anita.com/shop/en_global/soft-bra-serie-twin-24ebd5.html

Chantelle - http://www.chantelle.com

Soma Intimates – “enhancing shape bras!” “love soma”

Madewell “comfy t-shirt material bras”

Coobies – “very comfortable and seamless. Sometimes i sleep with them on.” “Very comfortable but not a whole lot of support. But they don’t feel like you’re wearing a torture device”

Sage and Cedar, Whitefish, MT (store)

Target’s Champion line “great lift andshaping. And non underwire.”

Underarmour – “good underwire”

Adore Mr. – “well made and inexpensive”

Third Love

Olga and Warners

Knix Wear - https://www.knixwear.com/collections/evolution-bra

Soma

The Pact – “camisole with built-in bra.”

Tommy Hilfiger

Title Nine/Anita Sports Bra – “wear it all the time for everything. Soft and uplifting, but no under wire. If you are a booby girl, but narrow set in the chest (not too to broad in chest measure but larger in cup size) this may work very well.”

And here’s where people created our own personal consumer report!

14656327_10153757139241266_4563344988189324412_nMATTRESSES

Temper Cloud Supreme Mattresshttp://www.oprah.com/gift/Tempur-Cloud-Supreme-Mattress?editors_pick_id=27470   “I bought the one Oprah recommended a few years ago and it was terrible. I think it actually got pulled from the market it was so bad and we got our money back. It was the Dr. Breus mattress and it was THE WORST! it completely caved in in the middle.”

Tempurpedic Cloud with Supreme Breeze for cooling. “ Got the adjustable frame even though we didn’t think we were interested. Don’t regret a thing!” “Tempurpedic with all the cooling stuff you can get. It feels weird at first but once you get used to it every other bed feels like you’re laying on wadded socks.”

Temperpedic – “best ever $$$$ that’s what we use” “We have one too. Love it. We even got the adjustable frame” “best sleep ever” “We love our tempurpedic mattresses. Best nights sleep even with a back full of titanium!”

Sleep Number - “So worth the investment.” “The way to go. Love mine” “We JUST bought this during a Sleep Number half price sale. It’s too new for me to properly review — I haven’t finished setting up all the interactive functions. (It assesses the quality of your sleep each night via their app!). So far, so good…https://www.sleepnumber.com/…/Innovation-Series-Beds/p/iLE”  “it’s an air mattress with two sides (but you can’t tell it’s an air mattress–it seems totally like a normal mattress). But this way you can have a hard mattress and your partner can have it soft or whatever.” “Even my spinal doctor and the neurosurgeon who put my broken neck said the same.”

Coco-Mat USA -” check out this place for toppers and pillows! I know you asked about mattresses and they probably make them too, but my pillow from there is the best. It was an investment, but worth it.”

Double Seely from Sears – “Box spring, mattress, delivery, removal of ancient set cost less than 600 clams.

I’ve never slept better…not just the bed structure, but how nice not to go into debt for slumbering:

Duxiana

Wyndam – “wyndam that sells beds..hotels…always comfy. I would consider for my next purchase.”

Four Seasons Hotel – “sell complete sets: mattresses, sheets and duvets by Frette or Pratesi. Worth asking them.”

Keetsa

Memory Foam Mattress – Having worked years in natural medicine, with a focus on toxins, I have to say that an organic cotton (3 stack for comfort) futon mattress is the only way I go. My boys often try and steal into my bed, still, because of the comfort. Just beware…you will want to sleep all the time on such support. Our spines are best served when we mimic sleeping on the soft ground. Anything else I sleep on makes me ache, in one way or the other. When we spend a third of our lives sleeping, best to avoid such high toxins so close to our preciousness. Interested to see what you conclude. http://www.sleepjunkie.org/are-memory-foam-mattresses-safe/

Northwest Bedding Legacy 200 – “$1,000 recently on a new mattress….I see it as an investment in my health, and am very happy with my choice.” “ There’s an all natural one made from bamboo. Pricey but we never regretted it!”

Casper

Sterns and Fosterhttp://m.macys.com/shop/mattress/stearns-foster-mattress?id=25946  “I love mine” A firm Stearns and Foster with a 2″ memory foam topper to remove discomfort at pressure point

The Davenport – “delicious”

Wrights sells bed

Tuft & Cotton – $600. It was guaranteed. If after 90 days I think it was – if you don’t like it. Donate it – they will refund your money. Do your homework – there are a lot of brands out there that broke the code on overpriced mattresses. We simply Googled – what is the best mattress/why/traditional vs foam etc. there are lots of options & plans. Treat yourself to sheets too. I bought a 2000 count and felt like a queen.

Starwood properties – Don’t think twice call and get their heavenly bed same as in hotels is amaze

Saatva Mattress - They have a traditional mattress and a memory foam mattress. No showroom, you buy online. Delivery charge includes full installation. We love our memory foam mattress and wouldn’t sleep on anything else now. About 1200 for a king, 3 pieces. Very firm. The edges of the mattress are reinforced so there is no sagging if you frequently sit on the side of the bed. We’ve had ours for about a year and a half and it still feels great, no sagging, and no permanent indentations where we sleep. “I love my Satva mattress. Natural no outgassing and amazing comfort for less than mattress store prices”

Hunter and Co – organic – Savvy Brand can customize for your needs.

Vispring – Was expensive 20 years ago. All organic and natural fibers.. Mine is almost 20 years old and still wonderful. Have a list of hotels where you can test drive. FSelected this mattress because it was incredibly firm with a pillow top built in. Web site lists hotels to trial. Test drive to see if it works for you.

Tuft & Needle – Not quite memory foam – but firm and amazing. www.tuftandneedle.com

Ikea Beds – mostly organic, great varieties and super inexpensive!

Eclipse Mattress –  I love the Eclipse we bought for my mom. It’s a dream. Salesman said it’s organic or nontoxic or something too… which I never investigated just how “eco” it was… but is a nice added perk! We got a “natural seasons” http://www.eclipsemattress.com/…/perfe…/natural-seasons/

Cannot recommend it more. I can’t wait for mine to wear out so I can get one for me!

Wrights Mattress store – We just bought one from Wright’s. They use solely a bed manufacturer in Spokane. Our whole house sleeps on their beds. We just got one that they customized with an organic topper for a very reasonable cost. Message me if you want more info!

General advice on beds:

1.) Buy from a place that allows free returns, such as Mancini’s Sleep Works, because you can’t tell by lying on them in the store. 2) Get a FIRM classic innerspring bed if you have a bad back. 2) Sealy Posturepedic almost always has a model at the top of the Consumer Reports list. 3) Add a thin layer of memory foam if it’s too firm. 4) Yes, pure memory foam is too hot. We have a “hybrid” innerspring Sealy Posturepedic w some foam and I find it comfortable but sometimes too hot in the middle of the night. 5) There is no relationship between price and comfort. 6. Most mattress salesmen are full of it. 7. I really liked the salesman at Macy’s in Terra Linda/San Rafael, he was knowledgeable, informative and realistic. 8. Consumer Reports has excellent mattress ratings to help you reduce the dizzying world of choices. Pay $35 or so and use their online algorithm.

You first have to decide about broad categories: FOAM? INNERSPRING? HYBRID? BLOW UP “SLEEP NUMBER” BEDS

Hope you all enjoyed this list and got some good tips.  Now back to writing about writing, and writers, and Montana, and life…  And if you’d like to be part of my Facebook posse, follow me here!

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

 

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Teacher Appreciation– Three of my All-Stars

Teachers: giving us gifts we'd likely miss on our own

Teachers: giving us gifts we’d likely miss on our own

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve picked a few of my major influencers and asked them to fill out the below Q&A.  Here are their responses.  I encourage you to reach out to your teachers and ask them to share their wisdom. They’re swamped this time of year, so this Q&A is a good way to tease out their pearls without giving them “homework.”  And I encourage you to share their answers with your peeps.  Let’s shine a collective light on those who have been the wind at our backs!  THANK YOU, TEACHERS

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!  Do you have a teacher you would like to sponsor, or ARE you a teacher who needs to fill up YOUR cup?  Haven has worked with many educators, and I have seen it be the very thing that has them return to their students with renewed spirit, conviction, and useful tools of inspiration.

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 18-22

#1 Nan Caldwell

Nan Caldwell (Lake Forest Country Day School, Spanish Teacher and much much more) was a huge part of the formation of  my spirit and mind.  She showed me, by her sparkling example, how I could be myself in the world, without compromising my heart.  She was the reason I spent a year in Italy, my junior year in college, which I have written about in my memoir and elsewhere, and will be talking about on my deathbed.  And she also taught me a love for languages, and took me to Spain and Portugal with our 9th grade Spanish class, which primed the pump for a lifetime of devoted travel and open-minded/hearted-ness.  Thank you, Nan! You know how much I adore you and always will.  And you know how many many young minds and spirits you have help formed. Here are her pearls of wisdom:

Q&A for Teachers.  (all questions optional but encouraged)

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she/he has one?  You are ready to sacrifice a higher paying career for one that truly may make a difference in the world.

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)  It must be DNA.  I have two uncles and three aunts who are teachers.  My father followed a business career, but I’m a throwback!  I always wanted to be a teacher- even when I was little.

What got you out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)  Duty!

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, esp if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)  I think that in today’s world it is important to help students stay grounded and focused on values. Faced with ubiquitous social media sway, it is easy for them to fall prey to materialistic and/or cruel outlooks that influence their behavior. Honesty, kindness, and generosity never go out of style, but it takes some targeted work to maintain that perspective.

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)  One time, I had the students draw monsters that they later had to describe in Spanish for their classmates.  One little boy drew something that looked like a monster octopus.  In his description, he said that it had tentacles coming out of his head and tentacles coming out of his body and six tentacles for legs….except he had the word for testicles!  Heh!  The kids had no idea!

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)  Let your children make mistakes.  Don’t get involved in social problems.  Offer your child some advice, but step back.  Remind them always to be kind and inclusive, no matter what.

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck–  3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)  Food.  It works. They love games, too.  And stories!!

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life…)  Up at 6:00, at work by 7:15.  Teaching, hall duty, study hall, recess duty, lunch duty, coaching after school, clubs, service projects, 400 emails to answer….home around 6:00.  Make dinner, eat, grade papers until around 10:00. Watch the news so that you are prepared to be a teacher the next day!

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling?   Private schools are as varied as public schools- some excellent, some not much better than a good public school.  The good ones can provide extra personal attention to the individual needs of each child.  That attention and care can usher a student to more fully explore and achieve his/her potential.
College is the right place for academically minded and socially concerned students.  I do not think that every student should feel that college is the only route to a successful career- especially if he/she is passionate about a specific field- gaming, coding, arts, trades, etc.

What is a moment in your teaching career that makes you especially proud?  (BOAST, PLEASE!  You deserve it!  Or…full disclosure.  ie: The day I nailed Suzy in the face with an eraser for picking on Matilda.)  Occasionally a former student sits down and writes a thank you letter.  Getting one of those makes every day worthwhile!

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)  Set realistic goals.  Don’t overreach and try to be super-teacher.  Take one challenge at  a time and strive for patience and good humor.

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)  All of society’s challenges and solutions begin with families and schools. Plain and simple.  Start there.   

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?  As a teacher of world languages, I hope to open a door through which my students can more authentically explore the history and cultures of other peoples, global issues, and our responsibilities as Americans.  We become not only better guests in other countries, but better citizens of our own.  The path of this knowledge can lead to professional and personal opportunities that are not as readily available to monolinguistic people- opportunities that may begin with friendships, jobs and travel, but ones that also have the potential to telescope toward international relations, human rights and peace.

Will books ever die? I hope not!!!  Please don’t let them!

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

#2 Janet Edmonds

Ms. Ed (Janet) was my boarding school English teacher (Westminster School) and I think she taught me something about Hawthorne, (“yea verily” comes to mind), though what I remember most was her love of words.  She had that English teacher wonderlust for books, liked she’d torn herself away from one to get to class, and was eager to feed us with its (and her) knowledge.  Somehow she waded through the classics with us and took us along with her.  She didn’t stand on any desks and speak in Latin…but she did hold us in the elegance of words through the ages, and often when I’m sitting alone with a book, trying to understand just what the author is trying to say, or writing one and doing the same with my own muse,  I think of her quiet countenance and take heart.  Thank you, Ms. Ed!  Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?  Love, Laura

Questions and Answers for Teachers.  

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she or he has one?

They bend and hold us so we can see the light.

They bend and hold us so we can see the light

My hunch is that answers to this question will be like fingerprints, like the unique patterns on whales’ flukes. I think you have a teaching spirit if you start teaching and find that you like it. Plenty of people start teaching and leave after a year or two, but some of them may have turned into excellent teachers had they stayed in the work. There are many factors that go into loving or liking teaching besides your subject and students. You have colleagues, managers (going by names such as the dean and the principal or headmaster), and the rules and values of the institution where you work. A problem in any of those areas can drown a teaching spirit. I loved my subject, students, and colleagues (your best teachers at that school, Laura, were also my best teachers), but as strict as I might have seemed at times (maybe you all saw through that), I could not stay on board with the conservative ethos that existed in many boarding schools in that era. I did not think it was fair or caring for some students. I fought it and I left.

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)

I wanted to be a teacher when I was in sixth grade because my English teacher assigned a couple of amazing novels and opened up the worlds in poems as if they were flowers with hundreds of petals blooming slowly under a warm sun. I just wanted to be able to do what she did—understand novels, stories, and poems. Of course I discovered that being serious and enthusiastic in a field did not mean I could “make” another person feel the same way. And when we got right down to the purpose of teaching and learning English in high school, what was more important than literature was strong, clear writing. I was 22 years old when I started teaching high school students, and even though I often miss it 30 years after leaving it to work in publishing, I know I wouldn’t have the nerve to try again. I would no longer dare to hope that I could teach someone who doesn’t write with even a tiny bit of ease or who sees no point in acquiring some fundamental skills. Maybe that’s the biggest problem—conveying to a student that there is some long term relevance to them about what you trying to teach.

What got you out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)

A clock radio.

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, especially if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)

May I please have an extension? I have some good battle stories: What it felt like when the faculty met to discuss a wonderful boy’s discipline record and whether his most recent infraction merited expulsion, and I was the only one to raise a hand saying no; Why I left . . . .

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)

I need an extension for this question, too. You told me you would send a few questions, but you’ve sent term paper assignments. Did you know that? For now I will only say that the funniest things that happened with you guys in and outside of the classroom do not require any “ripping” on you—just joy and gratitude for the warmth and laughter the memories bring.

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)

Please, please, please try to realistically understand and love your child’s strengths as a wonderful person instead of crushing him or her with totally unrealistic demands about what college you want him or her to get in to.

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck– 3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)

 May I contort and distort this question in order to retort and report, Laura? My tricks were all to avoid connecting with my students. I used pop quizzes, extra laps around the field . . . .

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life….)

Again I want more time to answer, but here’s my short answer that applies to teaching in a boarding and day school: Responsibility and discipline. Teachers are responsible for the intellectual, physical, and emotional safety of many teenage human beings. It’s a huge responsibility, and there are school rules to help ensure that safety. Violating the rules can have serious consequences such as suspension and expulsion.

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling? 

I wouldn’t want those things to go away, but I’ve long thought that a person who really wants to learn is going to learn at any institution he or she goes to. It’s the student and not the school that makes the biggest difference although graduating from a school with a widely respected name can be an advantage.

The people who have taught me what I love and how to learn more about those things, who helped me discover the things that give my life meaning are people who did not go to college or end up getting a degree.

Do you believe in the liberal arts education?  If so, why?  If not, why?

Emphatically yes and no.

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)

 Go on a Haven Writing Retreat. (This experience is on my bucket list.)

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)

There are things I can’t say, but I’ll start and stop with saying that principals and superintendents who are a) afraid of parents and b) unwilling to support the decisions of teachers in classrooms over complaints of whiny parents should not be principals and superintendents. If you won’t allow teachers to insist that students behave in classrooms, there will be no learning. Grrrrrrr

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?

Realize that you are “the decider” in your life. You get to say “yes, I can” and “no, I won’t.”

Will books ever die?

Maybe in a long time, there will be few paper books. In a long time.

What will you/do you miss about teaching?

You guys.

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

#3 TERRY HAIGHT

Mr. Haight (Terry) was my grade school History and Social Studies teacher and maestro of a 50s a capella singing  group called Terry and the Terrifics, to which I attribute my still-love of singing in harmony and busting out of Shaboom and Goodnight Sweetheart around campfires.  He taught us by DOING, and perhaps this is why my teaching style is yes, instructional, but mostly, experiential.  Total immersion is the best way I know.  And I still know the difference between Ionic, Corinthian, and Doric columns, thanks to one of our Social Studies projects and my girlish moxie to ask ladies of the fine Lake Forest, IL mansions of my youth for house tours, the way t0 describe Raphaels’ lighting and spout off about it at the Louvre last winter, and got to the steps of the Parthenon, first chance I could. Thank you, Mr. Haight.  Lonnie ding dong, a lang a lang a lang…boom boom…wah dah…a doobie doobie day-ee, indeed!  Love and deep bows to you always!  Laura

Reply to questions from Laura Munson:

My replies are in no particular order and are not answers to specific questions. Rather I am writing thoughts encouraged by your questions.

I wanted to be a teacher for a long time. I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Kechuwa, run by Charlie Leake, for the summers of 1965 and 1967. Then I worked at the Hull House camp in East Troy, WI for the summer of 1968. My Father was a professor of History at Lehigh University, my maternal grandfather help found Lake Forest Day School, and my three sisters taught. So you could say there was a tradition of being an educator (and probably a tradition of enjoying summers in Ontario.)

Perhaps most important, I was a weak student and struggled with school. I wanted to make it fun to be in a classroom: A place where hard work was expected but also a place students wanted to come back to. So if there was a “Teaching Spirit” for me it was that I wanted kids to enjoy learning through doing. I remember there being plenty of nights when I’d find myself awake on the edge of my bed pretending to be teaching a class. Part of the “Spirit” was to begin the year by teaching, maybe even telling, and ending the year as a facilitator, as a Watcher of students learning.

To achieve some of this we introduced lots of ways of learning. We often had a “Social Studies Week,” listened to Amahl and the Night Visitors around Christmas, did a lot of group work focused on team play, map making, Word Games if there was extra time, singing, play reading, biography impersonations, and on we went.

Teaching was a joy, but it was hard. I had my students do lots of writing, but that meant hours of corrections and comments. If a student did poorly on a paper or test they could always retake it to improve. And effort really mattered. That meant lots of time to edit and support. There were long days. I remember right after I retired walking thorough the down town area around 11:00 AM. I couldn’t understand what all the adults were doing out and about. As a teacher there was no down time, and I’d feel guilty ducking out to get a haircut.

I taught at the Lake Forest Country Day School from 1972-1999. Aside from the students, the thing that kept me going was the advent of the computer in the classroom. And it was not just for adding up grades. I found the computer presented a more level learning ground for my students and me. “Oh, Mr. Haight. Why not try plugging it in?” “Mr. Haight. Let’s format it this way.”

I attended three summers worth of a great course of using the computer in the classroom put on by Summer Corps. I remember my right hand being so sore as I learned to use a mouse. Am I a supporter of Teacher Professional Development? YES. You should try something like a Writing Retreat. They say the Montana air and beauty will get your writing juices flowing.

I didn’t have any favorite students. I see many of them around town as they have moved back. I see some during the summer. And I see some in faint pictures wearing T-shirts and singing Terrific songs, a 50s a capella group I led with students for years.

I was fortunate to teach in a school that had a tradition of learning and expectations of excellence. We also had a terrific group of parents who supported their children but also the teachers. For parents I encourage you to learn about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, accept and support both, hug them all the time and love them madly.

THANK YOU TO ALL THREE OF YOU for indulging my questions, and for giving them your heart language and wisdom.  You inspire me.  Please consider reaching out to your teachers and shining a light on them!

 

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Mother’s Day

(as featured on BlogHer)

Give your mother, your daughter, yourSELF the gift of  a Haven Writing Retreat!  

Now Booking 2017

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 18-22

The other day I was wondering about my great-grandmother and the land she came to Illinois to Homestead with her husband and eight kids.  I have a photograph of the family in my office, all seated in their finest clothes around a buffalo hide rug.  Mid 1800s.  She looks like she could kick your ass if you were good enough for an ass kicking.  If not, she’d just turn her boney Yankee shoulder to you and you would understand for the first time what it is to be on the receiving end of disdain.  I wanted to know about my mothers. Especially this one.  I wanted to know what she was like outside this photo.  If she had a soft side.  I was wondering about the farm she’d left in Manchester, Vermont.  If she ever looked back.  And I was wondering about the china tea set that somehow made it to my china cabinet in Montana a hundred and fifty plus years later, along with a caned birds-eye maple chair…and if she’d like me to use them more often, or take care of them differently, or better yet, I wanted to know the story about them.  How she chose what she chose to make her covered wagon crossing from Vermont to Illinois.  I was wondering how I can serve her memory.  Mostly, I was wondering if I have her in me.  If I can look at my life like chapters instead of a tower of blocks that add up to some sort of art in the end.

So I called my mother.

My father is dead. This was his side of the family.  But my mother is the sort of person to marry it all—not just the man.  I’ve traipsed through cemeteries all over New England and Illinois with my mother in search of my ancestors’ resting places on both sides of the family.  She calls us “cemetery people.”  I never knew what that meant.  Now, in middle age, I think I do.  It means that we hold our deceased in story and artifacts and we don’t let them go.  We firmly believe that we need them.  We believe that they are in our lives holding us from a mystic zone that might be called Heaven.  (We are also Heaven people.)  My mother actually prays for our deceased ones.  And asks them to protect us.  Like we go God both ways.

“They left in a covered wagon for central Illinois because the land was rich and they didn’t rotate their crops in Vermont so the soil wasn’t any good,” she rattles off like a memorized soliloquy from the phone between bridge and altar guild.  “I have some of their letters if you want me to Xerox them and send them to you.”

And suddenly I am in a panic.  She’s in her 80s.  She’s vibrant and frankly looks better than I do after a rough Montana winter…but like she says, “Nobody cares about you quite like your mother.”

She’s always telling me how sad it is for her, an only child, to accomplish or experience or suffer something, and not be able to call her parents anymore.

“They thought I could do no wrong.”

Suddenly, I am imagining that day for myself and I dread it.  It will be a claustrophobic feeling:  I need my mother.  She’s not here.  There is quite possibly no one who has the answer to my question left on earth.  There is quite possibly no one who cares about my little story or my little panic or my little woe.  Who do I call?  A friend?  It would sound too needy or too braggadocio.  A child?  Children shouldn’t bear your emotional burdens.  After your parents pass…who is strong for you?

I called her the other day to find out about my great-grandmother, and ended up learning all about my mother.  I asked her questions instead of just monologuing about my life and my victories and problems.

She talked about the view from her bedroom window in Chicago’s Whitehall hotel.  “The Water Tower.  I believed it was my fairy princess castle.”  There is a newspaper clipping I’ve seen of her as a white-gowned debutante with Buckingham fountain behind her and the Chicago skyline.  “Virginia Aldrich has the City of Chicago in the palm of her hand.”  I always loved that my mother was such a beauty.  I haven’t told her that.  There is so much I haven’t told her.  (And I have to add here that when I asked her to send me a photo of her as a young woman…without letting her know what it was for…on top of the fact that she was packing to go to a fundrasier in Washington, she sent me this LOVELY photo of herself.  She is so loyal that she took the time in her nightie which you can see reflected, to do this for me, having no idea what I’m up to.  You can see it in the reflection and that is such a metaphor for who she is to me.  May we all have mothers like this.  Busy, in our nighties, who pull through in the eleventh hour for our daughters and sons…)

So, in honor of my mothers, and Mother’s Day, I’d like to tell her now.

Mom, I love the way you like to dance with abandon.

I love that you are a flirt.

I love that you have a big laugh.

I love that you love to skip.  I am sorry I stopped skipping with you when I was a teenager.

That’s Mom in the bottom left!

I love that you love Gran Marnier soufflé.

I love that you give things up for Lent and stick to it.

I love that you never missed one of my school plays, and even drove the station wagon from Illinois to Connecticut to see me in Guys and Dolls and The Fantastiks.  That would
not have happened without you.  Dad wouldn’t have made that effort.

I love that you always make the effort.

I love that you know what time my flights leave and track them until they land.

I love that you read every single thing I write and I love knowing that you will read this.

I love that you told me to go to Italy for my junior year in college instead of Vienna.  I loved that you cried about it, knowing what cloth I am cut from.

I love that you go to church.  That you value community service and volunteer endlessly.

I love that you have your own business and are good at what you do.

I love that you gave me a solid foundation and did not make crazy in my life.

I love that you don’t watch a lot of TV.

I love that you are a good friend to many.

I love that you aren’t wasteful.

I love that every single time I call you, and ask what you are doing, you give an exhilarated sigh and say what you are doing.  Which is always a lot.

I love that you don’t “sit around and eat bon bons all day” and never would.

I love that you made us read aloud a Bible passage every night at dinner.

I love that you made us say Grace.

I love that you made us wear shoes at the table and learn where all the utensils are supposed to go and to say, “are you finished” instead of “are you done” and taught us to Remove from the right and Serve to the left.

I love that you made us take piano lessons.

I love that you were never late.  Never.  I am usually five minutes late.

I love that you sang to me and read me stories when I was little.

Where all the snapdragons and pansies and pink roses grew.

I love that you had me take horse-back riding lessons but told me that it would be too pressured a life if I got into competing in the horse world.  You were right.  I was not cut out for that kind of pressure.

I love that you framed my childhood art.

I love that you love pink roses and snapdragons and yellow pansies.  I love that you made little arrangements of them and put them on my bedside table.

I love that for someone who sure does know a lot of influential people, you aren’t a snob.

I love that you wear the same sweaters in 2017 that you wore in 1950.

I love that you love yourself.

I love that you love me.

At my hometown book signing– look how happy we are. Wow.

What a class act.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Teacher Appreciation Week: A Q&A for your favorites!

Haven Writing Retreats

Helping the written word be the teacher it is!

I never thought I’d be a teacher.  I still don’t actually call myself one.  I’m more of a facilitator.  The design of my Haven Writing Retreat is the ultimate teacher.  The writing exercises.  The readings.  The guided feedback.  The community of word-lovers.  And of course, Montana.  I hold the whole thing, ’tis true.  And I love it with all my heart.

Doing this work has had me in reflection about the teachers who have shaped me, some of them no longer with us, but forever in my head and hopefully in my prose.  Favorite lines like, “Get rid of the bombast and the deadwood!”  (Gordon McKinley, Westminster school).  ”Good Morning, Miss Munson,” (Malcolm Coates, yanking on my pony-tail as I was nodding off, making me read William Safire On Language out loud from the NYT magazine.  9th grade.  Lake Forest Country Day School).  Memorizing Desiderata in 7th grade and reciting it as a class.  (Scott Bermingham, LFCDS). “You will get an automatic F if you use the Passive Voice.”  (Thank you, English Department, Westminster school.  BTW, I can still recite Sonnet 18.  Shall I compare thee…).  ”You really should think seriously about going abroad for an entire year.”  (Nan Shiras.  Spanish class.  6th grade.  LFCDS).  ”It was supposed to be an hour-long presentation on the Bruges Madonna, Laura.  Not a short story about it being stolen by the Nazis from Mary’s point of view.”  (D minus.  Later published in a literary journal.  Rab Hatfield.  Junior Year abroad.  Syracuse University.  Florence, Italy campus).  The answer Yes to this:  ”I’d like to do an independent study on crayon drawing.  But what I’m really doing is buying time to work on a novel.”  (Tony Stoneburner– Senior year.  Dension University).  And perhaps the defining moment of my life:  ”This is not cinema, Ms. Munson!  Take this (full length screenplay) to the fools in the English Department!” (Elliot Stout , Cinema department– Denison University).  And the consequent, “Where have you been for the last three years?  I’m putting you in the advanced Creative Writing class.”  (Dick Kraus, English department– Denison University).  Bless you people.  And so many more, of course.

Last week, I was inspired by a two time Haven Writing Retreat alum and retired teacher, Donna Naquin, to honor some of my favorite teachers.  By the magic of social media, I found them, and asked them if they would answer these questions, or at least a handful of them.  I will be posting their responses here on May 15th.  I invite you to use this questionnaire with your favorite teachers.  Feel free to email the responses to me and I will post the top five here.  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com  

Q&A for Teachers (current and retired)   (all questions optional but encouraged)

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she/he has one?

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)

What gets you (got you) out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, esp if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck–  3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life…)

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling? 

What is a moment in your teaching career that makes you especially proud?  (BOAST, PLEASE!  You deserve it!  Or…full disclosure.  ie: The day I nailed Suzy in the face with an eraser for picking on Matilda.)

Do you believe in the liberal arts education?  If so, why?  If not, why?

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?

Will books ever die?

What will you/do you miss about teaching?

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

For more info and to set up a time to talk, email Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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Mentoring Muses

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 10.53.53 AM

If you want to see pure passion in action, click here!

KATE’S GO FUND ME DRIVE IS A SMASHING SUCCESS!  THANKS TO ALL WHO CONTRIBUTED!  Now for Haven to hold her muse!

Do you ever meet a young person and think:

That’s me. Decades ago. I can see their heart and their passion and the very real struggle ahead of them. And I know an excellent cure!

And then you reflect on your life:

It took me until now to find it– it took me years and years of brutal searching and suffering. If only they would do this one thing NOW, instead of wait…  How can I save them that long slog? How can I watch them struggle when I know there’s a solution right in front of them? And why does it have to come down to money?

Years ago, I served as a local judge for a national student’s writing contest here in Whitefish, Montana. Year after year,  from elementary school to middle school, and finally high school…there was one writer whose work leapt off the page and into my heart. The authors’ names were kept secret, but I couldn’t help but open her entry, read a few sentences, and think, I bet that’s her again. I can hear her voice. It’s growing and getting better. Good for her! As much as I considered all of the entrants, she was the winner. She had to be. She was that good.

I yearned to mentor her, yet I had to remain anonymous. Still I’d go to the award ceremonies and privately cheer her on, just to see her in body, not only muse. She truly shone– a town golden girl. Eventually, I heard that she’d been one of the rare ones who’d gone off to the Ivies back East. They, I’m sure, courted and cajoled her, and I wondered if she’d forget about her writing once she got to the land of such spit and shine. I knew full well what that life inspires. I’d lived it. And I’d left it because I knew that if I stayed in that world, I’d never be true to my muse. And I’d probably never be successful by society’s standards, either. Still…I had to heed the call, and to do so, I headed west– found myself in the very town she’d eventually launch from. Mostly, I wondered if she’d forget her muse and her Montana and give herself to all of those brass rings.

And then one night this spring, I went to our local Whitefish Review launch to hear one of my favorite all time writers (and friend) David James Duncan speak, walked in to the venue, and there on a stool, reading with poise and passion…was…

Kate:
…I met author Laura Munson, officially, at Casey’s Bar in Whitefish, Montana several weeks ago. We were at a release party for The Whitefish Review, a reputable journal based in Whitefish. I’d been accepted for publication and was reading part of my story. After shakily sharing my words with the crowd, Laura embraced me. “I’ve read your work since the beginning,” she said. She’d been the secret judge of all of those writing contests, the ones I entered every year as a child. “Here you are.”

There I was. After the reading, Laura and I kept in touch. She shared her story. She validated mine. Her Haven retreats, nationally known and highly respected, emerge from her own story of the pursuit of words, one that feels similar to mine. Laura herself gave up the hallmarks of the east, the shininess of ambition, to come to Whitefish and write. Her retreats scrutinize what is powerful; they encourage conviction. They work mindfully and rigorously through the art of retreating within, and telling a story, and sharing one’s particular voice.

When she suggested that I attend her retreat in June, I felt honored. I felt once again, for the thousandth time, that curious emotion of surprise: “If I was still in New York….”  I said I would come.  But I had no idea how…

Laura:  

It was true.  Kate had stopped writing.  And then the shininess became un-shiny, and after enduring an abusive relationship, she bravely returned to her roots, this time in another small, vibrant Montana town.  I am thrilled to say that she is writing her first book about…you guessed it:  Montana.  Needless to say…I want her at Haven.  It is exactly what she needs.  I know it the way I knew her muse all those years ago.  Haven would be the very thing to set her up emotionally, psychologically, craft-wise, and project-wise to have the writing support, mentorship, and community that she deserves.  I am holding a space for her in June, but it comes down to cost.  The Haven Foundation has given her a substantial scholarship, and now she needs help raising the rest of her tuition.  No one likes to ask for money, and she is the last one to even consider it.  I have encouraged her to start a crowd-funding campaign on Go Fund Me.  Please…if you have ever looked a young person in the eyes and thought…I am she/he…consider donating whatever feels right, to her cause.  

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, (and Kate’s too),

Laura

To donate to Kate’s fund, click here!

To donate to future scholarship funds for Haven Writing Retreat attendees, contact Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

The Haven Writing Retreat 2017 Schedule:

June 7-11 (one space left)
June 21-25 (one space left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

For more info, and to set up a call with the Haven Team, click here!

Also, I’d like to use this page as a forum in the comments section:  if there is any young person you know who is raising funds for their dreams to come true, add them there, and hopefully we can be the village to help our next generation bloom into their wildest dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning How to Ask (and receive)

If you’ve wondered what is behind the scenes at a Haven Writing Retreat…watch this video:

What Haven is all about.  Click Here to watch video!

Click here to watch the video!

A word on learning how to ask for what you need… (as featured on Thrive Global)

You hear this message in different word arrangements from different wisdom spinners, including your grandmother:  what goes around comes around, succor life and it will succor you, practice right actionbe of service.  I come from Midwestern farm stock and I’ve been grandmothered into this message from the beginning, as stalwart and straight forward as a row of corn.  I watched my mother and father live by it, and I paid attention.  But it wasn’t until my fourth decade that I realized that it was actually driving the essence of who I am.

It happened one day, a very bad day, when my world was being met with rejection on every front—marriage, career, teens…  And I sat in my office staring at a blank screen, thinking, Why do I do this writing thing with such devotion and fervor, and for so many years?  Nobody asked me to do it.  It’s financially counter-intuitive.  And it’s damn hard!  And out of my fingers poured these words:  “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.”  There it was:  Service.  Service to others.  And service to myself.  Huh.  My career started approximately 24 hours later.

You see, that one line was the defining moment when I held the mirror up to my heart, my intention, my intuition, my passion—everything that drove me…and staked my claim on it all.  This is what I’m made of, and why I can continue my writing life, regardless of promises.  That was my service to self:  getting perfectly clear about what makes me tick.  And so it makes sense that in only five years, I was not just writing out of service from my little office in Montana, but actually sharing what had held my muse with hundreds of people in my neck of the woods.  People from all over the world, coming here, to work with me, and be of service to their muses.  And yes, consequently, to others, in community, and with all laud and honor to the written word.  The ripples of have been the most life-affirming endeavor I’ve known outside of motherhood.  And this branch of my career has stabilized my life and brought with it great richness, and opportunities.  But there were a few missing pieces in my business that required help.  Big help.  Help I had no idea how to ask for.  So I didn’t.

One thing that my grandmother would never have said to me, or modeled, or urged me to sew into my modus operandi, was ask and you shall receive That one was skipped over.  You didn’t ask.  You served.  And you didn’t serve to get anything back.  You served because that was the right thing to do.  Period.  Sure, giving the shirt off your back had its perks.  Someone might do something nice for you, and you’d receive that gracefully and with the appropriate card stock and your best cursive.  But ask?  Uh-uh.

So here’s what happened:  Anyone who has a business these days knows they should have a website, and what’s the most powerful tool on that website?  A really great professional video that nails what your business is all about.  Fawning, swooning, oozing testimonials don’t hurt.  But it’s the moving, speaking, feeling humans that tell the story of what it is that you do…that really seals the deal.  Everyone told me:  “You need a video.  A really good one.  Professional.  With drones and stuff.”  The problem was:  I lead very intimate, private, gatherings of seekers who do my retreats and workshops to leave the world of moving and shaking and being on the hot seat or in the fish bowl, very deliberately behind.  And bringing a videographer into the equation felt incongruent with the safe haven I promise.  In fact, it’s called Haven Writing Retreats.  I try to be only of service to my clients.  To ask nothing of them other than to put their hearts in their hands, check whatever currency they possess outside of their ability to be honest, kind, supportive, and wildly creative…at the door.  I don’t ask them to fill out evaluations at the end.  There’s no gift shop.  No T-shirt.  No mug.  No incentivized marketing scheme.  If anything, I’m chasing them out the door with writing prompts!  But man…it was true…a video would really help me get the word out, both as a service to those whose lives  could be changed by this experience, and to me too, as a business woman.  It’s a lot of work to find the right 100 people a year to come to Montana for this deep, reflective experience, and I knew that a powerful video would be a great tool to build those bridges.  But ethically…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

And then something happened that has changed my faith in the world.  I was sitting at the dinner table with my February 2017 Haven group.  It was my advanced Haven II program for alums of the retreat, (for which you don’t have to be a writer to attend), who are now dedicated to finishing books, soon, and with the support of my Haven method and the group.  It was the last night.  We’d dug deep, we were all as tired as we were alive with new breath and new beating hearts.  They were talking so eloquently about their experience, and about the future, a reunion, how they were going to fight for it all, especially each other’s books.  And they were saying things like “How can we help you, Laura?”  

Haven Writing Retreats

Click here for more info and to set up a call to talk about your creative journey…

Even though I fought it, tears broke from my eyes and slid down my cheeks, and I hoped they wouldn’t see it in the candlelight.  But they did.  I confessed.  But I did not ask.  I spoke to my needs.  “I need Haven.  For my own writing.  And I can’t find anything like it anywhere.”  And then these words slipped out:  “And I need a way for people to know just what this program is all about.”

The next day, there came a surprise.  The women had talked.  “We’ve all agreed that you need a professional video.  We’re filming it tomorrow morning instead of you taking us out for breakfast.  We’ll eat before.  We’re giving testimonials.  You’re getting interviewed.  It’s our gift.” 

Everything in me wanted to say noI can’t.  Thank you…but…

“And we also want you to come to our reunion.  Not as the teacher.  But as one of us.  We’ll teach each other using the Haven method.  And you’ll get to receive what you’ve created!” 

I looked into each of their eyes to see if there was any reserve from any of them.  They were all beaming and nodding.  And suddenly I was too. 

Haven Writing RetreatsIn a symphony I could never have orchestrated, one of the attendees made a phone call, and the next morning she showed up with two videographers who’d driven two and a half hours in a snowstorm.  They set up professional lights and cameras on tripods.  All I had to do was straighten a few pillows and put a little make up on.  And the rest of them arrived, smiling and beaming.  I could go on and on about the blessing of that day.  The gratitude circle that one of them suggested—the way each of them honored each other, one by one, sharing words of thanks.  How they each offered testimonials and discussed what makes Haven so special.  I have never been more speechless, more touched, more grateful.

Thanks to these loving women!

Thanks to these loving women!

And here’s the thing:  I didn’t have to ask.  Instead, I watched service whip around the woods of Montana and land in the palms of my grateful hands.  Thank you to everyone who has shared their Haven experience over the years with others, and especially to these incredible angels at my table.  Ripple on! 

Please watch the video at the top of this post, and if you like what you see, please share with anyone you know who is looking for their voice, loves the written word, who has a book project in them, or simply needs to reclaim the heart of who they are…in the woods of Montana.  Sometimes…you do need to ask.  I’m trying to learn how.

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats

June 7-11 (a few spots left)
June 21-25 (one spot left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

Film credits to Thomas Kurdy and his Ndigena video production

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Full Nest

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Listen to the sounds of my Montana marsh

Every spring when the birds come back I feel so grateful, and also, a little bewildered.  Are we really that worthy?  How can they leave Belize or Costa Rica and do quick fly overs in New Mexico and Arizona and want to brave the jagged frozen Rockies and the turbulence and the cold to come back to Montana?  How can they look down over white-out and say, “There.  That’s where I’ll land.  That’s where I’ll make my home and my family and teach them everything—absolutely everything.  And then send them off.  And then empty my nest of even me and leave again…back down to the desert and to the jungle and to the sea.  Only to do it again.”

Just when I’m thinking that I can’t stand it one more day—my life in infinite shades of grey, ice shrapnel defining my every winter step….they come back, casting their votes on this place I call home without migration.  They need this place of echoes and countenance I guess, to do the work of their lives.  As they’re heading north, I’m telling myself I need what they’ve had– color and light and for my body to be winged and nimble…and not braced against the air outside my front door.  I’m tired of my daily buck up—the forced flinging open of my front door every morning to feel Montana’s fresh slap—you’re alive and you can take it.   So that I can be grateful then, for the retreat back to the warm woodstove breath of my house.  Even in spring.  It won’t be a warm outside welcome for months.  Not Belize warm.  A Canada goose stands on the ice of the pond in the meadow.  A mountain bluebird on my hoar-frost encased mailbox.  I look at the chickadees and ravens and magpies and flickers—are we really worthy of all their faith?

I have watched.  For twenty-five years I have watched.  I know them by their faces, their nests and feathers and flocking.  I know their symphony, and sometimes Stravinsky cacophony that is the world outside my door beginning in March.  Oh that cunning allegro, oh that fine mezzo again, oh that tricky staccato followed by that day-is-done decrescendo.  But I have never really learned who is singing what.  I don’t know why.  It’s similar to the way I go through an art museum:  take it in first.  Then step forward to read the plaque.  What’s in a name, if you don’t feel your way to it first?  It was the same way with trees and wildflowers when I moved to Montana.  I needed to feel the wholeness of it all and know it by season.  Know that when the dandelions are out, that the bears are coming to the avalanche chutes.  Know that when the calypso orchids are blooming, it will be time to celebrate my first born’s birthday.

But yesterday, it was time to know the symphony by its players.  It overcame me like a long lived itch that I suddenly needed to relieve.  I don’t know exactly why and maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe because I’m finishing a novel I’ve been writing for two years and I already miss its characters.  Maybe it’s because a year from now, my youngest child will be planning his college migration.  For whatever reason, yesterday, I sequestered myself to my bed and cranked open the window as wide as it would go.  And I listened to the marsh below, piece meal.  Song by song.  All day.  Picking out their riffs and going on the internet to birding websites to hear the songs from the singers I suspected.

Who knew that a little thing like a nuthatch made that roadrunner’s meeep meeep?  I’d thought it must be a furry creature all these years, slicing through the forest’s music.  And that upward aria I’ve heard for so long, usually at dusk?  A little thrush I’ve never laid eyes on but who surely lives in my back yard, faithfully and hopefully:  the Swainson’s thrush.  I knew the bossy red-winged blackbirds, of course, because how can you miss them?  And the ubiquitous robin’s song.  You have to be paying no attention at all to miss those.  And the chickadee’s my tree, this time of year.  But the one I really wanted to know, was what I’ve always thought must be our western version of the mockingbird—that schizophrenic song that doesn’t know quite what it wants to say.  And yet it says it over and over.  I scoured the internet and my bird books trying to find what bird was behind this rote sentence in too many genres.  I’ve always wanted to tell it to settle on one.  I like the poetry at the end, personally, not the throat-clearing at the beginning, or the screeching in the middle.  I figured it had to be something rare.  Something elusive.  Maybe even exotic that I’d missed in all my wandering in the woods, looking up, paying attention.

Finally, at the end of the day I thought, What about a sparrow?  A regular old sparrow.  What song do they sing?  And you guessed it.  That one.

My son came in and said, “What are you doing?”

“Learning my bird songs finally.  Did you know that the most simple birds make the most unique songs?  And the smallest make the loudest.  And the biggest birds, sometimes the faintest.”

“I’m going skiing.  It’s the last day the mountain is open.”

“We need to make that list of colleges to look at, you know.  Soon.”

“I know.”

Then my daughter wrote me a text from her college dorm room in California.  “I’m going camping for my birthday.  You know I swam with a blue whale over spring break in Baja.  I don’t think I told you.”

And I wrote her back, “I’m so proud of you.  I hope you know that.”

And I thought…maybe it’s time to learn them all…so I can say a proper good bye.  Because they come back, you know.  They come back.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11 (a few spaces left)

June 21-25 (a few spaces left)

September 6-10, 20-24

October 4-8, 18-22

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The Melt. Are you listening?

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As winter melts, let’s listen to its last messages of sacred stillness. For it is in silence that our voices are born, fledge, and take wing.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11 (still spaces)

June 21-25 (still spaces)

September 6-10, 20-24

October 4-8, 18-22

I feel invisible in winter.  Every year, I steep myself in the varying greys, and even with a bright orange scarf…I feel like the palest grey.  I’m speaking of my internal landscape.  It is penury and I like it that way.  Northwest Montana matches my mood– sonata after sonata of greys from October to April—sometimes panorama, sometimes stuck in treetops.  But with the exception of the here-and-there sapphire skies, the blanket of snow I sleep under is a stark white-grey against the steel-grey sky.  Where I tap my keys, solo with accompaniment:  she is always my muse.  Always.  And no, it is not depressing.  Not if you need to be very very quiet for a while, and I do, if I am going to hear what it is that I am to understand and say when the world wakes up.  Even the Netherlands for the holidays matched my winter mood, only there it was in countryside mud walks and slick streets along the canals of Amsterdam.  Still grey.

I went this winter of 2017 with purpose, and it was with this purpose that I did this parsing.  What makes a person visible?  Knowable?  Seen not for the orange scarf, but for the woman wearing it, under the frozen bedsheets?  I wanted to know what this question of voice really means.  I spend so much time talking about how writing can help you find your voice.  But what does that really mean?  Because I don’t mean soap box.  Have you ever been on a soap box?  It feels good for about two seconds.  But it also doesn’t feel good watching someone on a soap box and thinking that you’d never have the guts nor the words to ascend one.  If we don’t listen in sacred solitude, how are we to hear behind the lies that say:  I don’t have anything to say that’s important.  Even if I had something to say, someone probably already said it better than I ever could.  Who am I to take that stage anyway?  It’s self-indulgent at best.

15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_nI live in an almost mute life in Montana in winter.  Unless I am leading Haven Writing Retreats or doing a speaking engagement, I’m quiet.  Writing.  Watching snow fall in swirling fury one minute, and then flake by floating flake.  Sun peeks.  Shies.  Retreats.  Raven flies by.  Chickadee and deer and squirrel prove themselves Bad Ass.  Icicles form, drip, break.  I see it through my window—the ozure dogwood, the only red. The Doug fir and larch the only green.  Except my dirty truck.  Which I leave in the driveway unless I am out of almost everything.  There is always something in the pantry.  I want to stay invisible.  I have thinking to do.  Writing to do.  Quiet to learn.  Restlessness to remind, because stillness is a better boss.  Because…I have learned…that stillness is where the true voice lives.  Like the frogs who will soon fill the marsh with mating cacophony.  Real voice comes from quietude.  Prelude.  Sonata.

It’s over now.  The ice dams are crashing off the roof.  There is gravel showing in the tire ruts.  I heard a red-winged blackbird yesterday.  I saw a V of Canada geese too.  Today the first robin pecked at stiff stink bugs on my roof.  The deer and chickadees tell them tales of stillness and staying and yes, penury, unimpressed with stories of migration and color, juicy bugs and monkeys.  My orange scarf will soon enough become kindred and invisible, next to wild honeysuckle, poppies, climbing ragosas.

And I ask:  Did I listen well?  Was I quiet enough?  Did I sleep or sleep walk?  Will I get wooed by all the waking?  The color?  The voices of spring that aren’t my own?

Because now is the time for greening and saying.

What is it that you have to say?

Listen to what’s left of the grey, as it melts.  It is speaking to you.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #9: Finding your Voice

Being passionate for our safety first is our bottom line non-negotiable.  Maybe then, pain wouldn’t have to be gain.  And walls would become doors, and pain would become passion and possibility.  And I’d like to think that a little writing along the way helps…At Haven, I teach people to find their voice, their passion, their sustainability through writing, in whatever form they choose. I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice, but what does it really mean?

Here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression. Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #17: Beyond Silence by Caroline Hemphill

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After tucking us in to bed, my mother would bring a bottle of wine and a glass down to the basement, shutting the door behind her so we wouldn’t hear her sobbing. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, given six weeks to live. My brother and I would sneak down to the kitchen and press our spying ears against the basement door. If I skated across the floor in my footed pajamas, my brother waved me back. We kept vigil, knees on the chessboard linoleum.

For a year after her death, I barely spoke. My voice seemed buried with hers. I was shy of life, timid, afraid to breathe. Writing was a way to become real. Over the years, I practiced all kinds of lives on paper. I wrote stories in the voices of animals. I wrote pastoral poetry while living in a trailer. In college, I went to plays, trying to figure out how to bait a line like Tennessee Williams:

Margaret: Y’know what I feel like, Brick? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Brick: Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off it, cats jump off roofs and they land on their four feet uninjured!

I wrote poems where it snowed and snowed. I copied other writers, their confidence, their daring. I wanted to be a writer but it felt like pretending. I wore concrete shoes. I typed with my eyes closed.

One morning, I woke from a nightmare that my boyfriend had run off with my best friend. I told him the dream over pancakes. It was real, I said. I’m here. With you, he said, annoyed. Within six months, he had stolen my truck and driven all night to bed her. I can’t blame him—she was beautiful—and I can’t blame her—she was beautiful. It freed me, and I am glad, now, though not about the truck. That experience told me to trust my dreams so I started to write them down. Chagall painted his dreams. Mary Shelley, Stephen King. Dreams allowed me to go further into the woods than I would venture in daylight. Within a few months of writing down my dreams and working the images into lines, I published my first poems.

When I write, I try to kick that basement door open. I take an ax to it. I run down the stairs to my mother. And she is never there. In reality, the door had no lock. I tried once to turn the tarnished brass knob. My brother grabbed my wrist. Listen, he whispered, and we pressed our ears to the door.

Before I could piece together my memory, I had to hear the silence after my mother stopped crying. I had to allow it to flood and erase everything in its wake. I became driftwood, an empty bottle, a plastic bag pulled by the current. Silence wins. But there is something on the other side of silence. It’s startling and sudden and not yours to keep like a piano spilling onto the street. The whole world is a door.

 - Caroline Hemphill

 

 

Essay #18: I Will Stand Up by Lauren Dembo Menis

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Here is my promise to you. I will stand up.

As a Jewish, South African woman, I have never felt the sting of racism or hate. I have been part of the oppressor class, and I carry that with me each day as a burden of guilt. I watched through a child’s eyes as my society, empowered by the rule of law, treated an entire race of people as a different class. I am no longer that child. And I will no longer stay silent. I will stand up.

Throughout my childhood, I saw my beloved Ray-Ray, a woman whose only choice, which is no choice at all, was to work as a live-in maid, to cook and clean for my family and to raise me while seeing her own daughter only once a year. I watched as she hid under the bed while policemen banged on the door, ready to take her away if she didn’t have the right stamps in her passbook. I saw her “home” in the back of our house, a room with a concrete floor, a bed and not much more. To Ray-Ray I promise that though I did not before, I now will stand up.

To Liz Thompson, whom I know only from a Facebook post, who held her purse and her tongue on the New York city subway while a man spewed his vile racism at her, while everyone around sat mute, I say this. I will stand up.

To those of you who were there, who watched as she was berated and did not stand up, I say you are complicit. Whether you were stopped by fear or civility or just shock, whether you are still adjusting to this new world where people suddenly feel they are allowed to bring their prejudices and hatreds from the darkness within which they reside out into the light, know that there is no longer room for complacence. This is not a time for silence. We must act. We must stand up for those among us who are targeted. Never mind that it could be you next. That is not the point.

The thought of Ms. Thompson, holding her purse and her words while her tormentor was allowed to rant, will not leave me. I wish you bystanders had stood up. Because it is no longer okay not to. And so I make this pledge to you. I will not stay silent. I will not watch as anyone is threatened or treated like they don’t belong or made to otherwise feel less than. I will use my voice, my words, everything I can to speak up for you.

To my Muslim friends and those in my community, when I hear someone tell you you are not American, that you don’t belong here, that your religion is not acceptable to them, I will stand up.

Last week, when the words of anti-Muslim hate allegedly from a city employee were captured from a Facebook post, we fought together. Through emails and phone calls and research, we spoke up. And we won.

To the self-hating bottom-feeder from my home state of Georgia who posted an ad for a barbecue grill as a “Jewish baby stroller,” while you are not really worth it, hiding behind your screen, you have been outed. You are nothing. And we will not let you win.

I am not poor. I am educated. I have white skin. And while I am suddenly aware of my Judaism like no other time before, it is not something you can see on me. But I will not be silent. Passivity is no longer an option.

To the man in the East Atlanta coffee shop who took a photo of the woman in the hijab and then called her names, she stood up. She videoed him and outed him. He was identified and shamed. And this is what it takes.

And so I ask you – who are you going to be in the strange new America we now live in? No time before in my lifetime has the cliche that there is strength in numbers been more true and more of a call to action. I heed that call because numbers start with one. We have marched and we have made phone calls and we have commiserated about the madness. But we must, as individuals, fight for each other. Because each act of hatred that is faced, each time a person who feels they have permission to engage in repulsive behavior is called out, is a victory for our humanity. The small acts are as important as the larger ones. We must stand up.

 - Lauren Dembo Menis

 

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #8: Finding your Voice

 

Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out. 

The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? 

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #15: Why I Write by Carol Howard-Wooton

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We arrived at a Youth Hostel somewhere between Banff and Jasper at 4 pm. I claimed my mattress in the girls’ dorm and returned to my three-speed Raleigh bike to retrieve the green spiral notebook from one of the saddlebags. Finding a quiet place with enough light, I wrote about exuberant physicality – pedaling as fast as I could downhill chased by a snorting bear cub – escaping danger by what I now call grace. Back then, it was yet a another wonder I had to write about. Equal to the first time I washed my hair in a crystal clear waterfall, or that I was fine with only the clothes that fit in two small saddlebags, or that time Eddy, the cute older trip leader and I stood beside one another on an alpine slope, right after a thundershower – our eyes riveted by the danger that did not befall us and a luminous sunset-pink sky between two distant mesas. And I got the guy! I didn’t dare tell anyone, not even my best friend. It was Private. Writing captured awe, wonder, and heart-throbbing longing, and protected me from the stinging shame that always followed even good-natured teasing. I thought I was smart to not be stupidly trusting enough to speak my truth.

That little green book is safely packed in a box in my closet. Every time I hold it I am reminded of my Dad who worked in hot NYC that summer to pay the bills, and the generous, wise parts of my Mother who let me go on that first adventure where I formed my inner self through writing “in-ventures.”

Deep Time opened up again at age 38 after a stroke knocked me off the express train to success by 40. I wrote because I had time – lots of it. And was alone more than I’d ever been. I couldn’t drive. I wrote because I could. And, I was fascinated by being this bewilderingly strange me in a new body and brain. I’d watch and feel my hand slowly move across a blank white page. I’d try one kind of pen, then another, or a different color ink. I was doing something! I’d watch the hand that still knew how to form letters and mostly how to spell words. Words that represented my inner knowing even when it was so hard to walk down and then back up 32 stairs at our San Francisco flat. I wrote because I could hardly work. I wrote to name, feel, explore, understand who I was now and what all the loss meant. I wrote because, even with all the disability and uncertainty, I felt safe – held by an abiding love. I wrote because I was amazed the stroke led me to my life’s work: leading groups for Folks with Strokes.

The first poem of my own I dared read aloud wrote itself through me. On the last morning of a retreat on a mesa above the Pacific ocea for patient-oriented holistic medical professionals, our guide invoked the spirit of service that had called us together. She invited us to write prayers for our work. Spirit, voice, mind, heart, hand and service aligned. I trembled as my shy wisdom voice read. I looked up into the shining eyes of those whose arms helped me climb up from the beach the day before. I was whole here. Our guide called a few months later to ask permission to include my poem in a book she was editing. I said yes. You can find “Group” in Wounded Healers, edited by Rachel Naomi Remen.

 - Carol Howard-Wooton

 

Essay #16: Finding Your Voice by Patricia Viscione Young

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In all honesty, I never lost my voice, how could I? I’m half Italian! To vocalize and express ourselves is one of the things we as a culture do best. That being said, in 2014 over time and under the pressures presented, I dropped to my knees, my voice hardly a whisper.

I found myself echoing other voices, but not conveying any personal impressions. My own sound and pitch became monotone. Life had thrown too many challenges at me so fast and furious that I did not even bother to get out of the way. Leaning on defeat was easier, I accepted failure, wrapping myself in pity and sadness was frightenly comfortable.

Laura Munson made it possible, in a ridiculously short amount of time, to empower my voice and turn up the volume of life. Haven is an abridged version of a writing-retreat-self-discovery-get away-reflection-sanctuary. I hardly have time to unpack and settle in before it began.

I can only share my own experience, for me it started with an unexpected emotional deluge of tears. Once the storm passed, my words revealed so much more than I anticipated. It was a cleansing of sorts, when I look back at my notes, my needs and desires were clearly articulated. Communication with myself spoke and guided me to believe I can do this – I can write and make myself heard. I can write and people enjoy reading what I’ve enjoyed creating. I can write just for myself and value what is written. My voice opened the doors into publication only a handful a weeks after I returned home from Montana. My voice was so much more than I ever thought it could be, it was the beginning of self-worth – I am worthy, I am enough. I am a writer.

Rediscovering my voice was what I needed to do, but it unexpectedly allowed me to find other voices. Once the confidence grew, I found many writers that were just as passionate, responsive and excited about their voices. We harmonized well, supported and nourished one another. It made me think of a soloist who sings beautifully. However, when you put a choir together, the richness of tone is fuller and the sound of many voices singing in unison is amazing and powerful. Thus writing took on many connotations – there is always something to learn on your own. There is always a group you can sing with and enjoy, and if you do not enjoy them – move on. Take your voice and share it until you find the right melody.

Writing is also a solitary art I love, when my muse whispers to me and the words flow.

Currently, I am a handful of pages away from the final rewrite of my first novel. My editor – author Susan Strecker has shared her voice with me, challenged me, pointed me in new directions and given me a deeper understanding of this journey. With a little luck, query letters will be sent and I will wait to hear from the powers that be at the publishing houses. Good or bad, it’s all part of the process. Yet now, after writing and rewriting, and many months of reflection, if the publishers pass me by – so be it. It it will not silence me. I will self-publish this novel, and proudly place it on a shelf in my home. It is after all, written in my voice.

- Patricia Viscione Young

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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