Janet & Marian: A Tale of Two Houses

My writer friend Janet Givens and I have both said Goodbye to houses this summer. She, to a vacation house on a canal in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and me to our family homestead 12 miles from the beach in Jacksonville, Florida, geographically about 750 miles apart as the crow flies.

JanetMarian

Our meeting in 2014 was also geographical – and digital. I responded to Janet’s post about her Peace Corps experience in Kazakhstan, linking her experience to my trip to Ukraine, both countries with a Soviet-era history. From there the connection continued on each other’s blogs. That was until I, along with 5-6 other writers, were invited to her cozy log house on the Island. You can view the view memories of that magical first trip here.

ForsythiaLogHouse

I know many of the nooks and crannies of Janet’s special place and feel I’m such a lucky duck to accept her invitation not once but twice to the spacious log house for a writers’ retreat. I can understand her bittersweet sentiments as she lets go of it now.

On both trips, we spent time writing, eating healthy food, talking and laughing in the sunroom, and gazing at the sparkly bay, which leads out to the Atlantic.

WriterComputerHealthyFood

Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos
Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos

Ah, and seeing the ponies, personal and close up:

poniesjanet


A Vermonter, Janet is bidding farewell to her second home after 22 years. We’ve lived in our house, our primary residence, for 37 years. Pencil marks on the kitchen door record our kids heights from ages 8 and 9 ½ until they were teens. Photos of our long history there fill family albums.

KillarneyHouse2016

Of course it’s a cliché, but life really is all about trade-offs and feeling gratitude for what is now. I think Janet would agree with the J. R. R. Tolkien quote below. I know I do!

TolkienQuote

Maybe you have had attachments to a house in your past, perhaps a childhood home or one you used to own or visit.

Golly, it could be the one you live it right now.  Grab a cup of something cool or warm and let’s have a chat!    🙂

Above all, do check out Janet’s own thoughts about her love affair with the Chincoteague house here on her blog. You can also find a link to her memoir there: At Home on the Kazakh Steppe.

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Signs and Wonders: Chincoteague Island

Once upon a time, there were five memoirists who met online through their writing websites. One of them, Janet Givens, who had a rustic log house on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, invited four blogging friends to join her for a writers’ retreat: Kathy Pooler, Joan Rough, Shirley Showalter and me.

According to Janet, “It was grand.” At the end of the week, we all agreed. Now, you ask, what made the week so special?

First of all, the spacious log house was charming: LogHouseChico.VA

And there is an enclosed porch where we ate breakfast overlooking a canal and the shimmering Oyster Bay facing east.

ChairsLogPorch

All around the house were clever or catty sayings on wooden plaques: GrumpySignSmokingFireSmokingMan

No one was voted off the Island. We all stayed!
No one was voted off the Island. We all stayed.

That’s right:  Everyone behaved!

As we began, we did have a plan to include the clichéd 3 F’s and a W: food, fun, fellowship – and writing, of course. In a joint effort, Shirley recorded on paper how our days might unfold.

ScheduleSHS

Every day, we enjoyed breakfast together, one day with French toast oven-baked by our host Janet with Joan beaming her blessing:  FrenchBread

Then we had writing time and do-it-yourself lunches with afternoons for more writing or walks.

Some days it was cold!   MarianKathyJoan

One fairly warm day, we all took a hike into the Assateague Preserve to see the world-renowned ponies, made famous by Marguerite Henry’s Misty Books. According to one friend’s pedometer, we logged about 3 miles walking the beach and side trails.

And we enjoyed the exhibit at the Visitors’ Center:PonySignExhibit

Other Days, we wandered along the main road in Chincoteague. As we explored, we found some interesting sights.PianoWrapped

And a mailbox replicating the house of the owner in the distance:

Mailbox replica of house behind
Mailbox replica of house behind

Every evening, we had healthy meals: Chicken chili, frittata, stuffed sweet potatoes, pasta fagioli. This night, Joan is helping Shirley serve broccoli soup with Waldorf salad.     KitchenCooks

After dinner from Tuesday – Saturday, we gathered on the comfy sofa and chairs close to the wood stove. From 7 – 9:30 one of us had the spotlight with an opportunity to get feedback on our writing or blogging. As a beginning memoirist, on Tuesday night, I got clarity about the focus for my story. Distributing a preliminary outline, I asked, “Where in all this muddle is my true story?” Happily, I got wise words from three women who’ve already published memoirs (Kathy, Janet, and Shirley) and one (Joan) with a book poised for publication.

MeComputer

After struggling through revisions, my room-mate Kathy, gestures her approval of my story blurb and synopsis:

ThumbsUpKathy

On Sunday, our last full day together, we joined Janet at the Sundial Book store for her author talk/book signing.

SundialBooksChincoVA

JanetBookSign

Afterwards we bought books and other gifts for our loved ones. Leaving the store, we spotted the theatre marquee across the street . . .

IslandTheatreMarquee

. . . and behind the store, outsized LOVE chairs by the bridge. (Think Lily Tomlin dwarfed in a big chair here.)

LOVEchiars

Finally, we gathered again to celebrate the productive week and our deepened friendships as we watched back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey. As the week ended, we all wrote off into the sunset.

*  *  *

Our story, like Downton Abbey, proceeded in chronological time but with some flashbacks, like many good stories.

My version of The Week at Chincoteague is based on a variation of the story model by PIXAR, the moviemaker who tells perfect stories like Toy Story I and II. Since 1995, their storytelling wisdom has spawned many a tall/true tale. Yes, Shirley shared this link with me last week, which I pass on as a template for your own story. Here is the PIXAR prompt page.

AuthorLifeStory

My husband Cliff designed the cover for our photo albums of the week:

Alternate Title:  Cinco Chinco Chiques
Alternate Title: Cinco Chinco Chiques

 

In today’s post title, I promised you a Wonder, and here it is: 

Standing:  Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman    Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough
Standing: Janet Givens, Kathy Pooler, Marian Beaman
Seated: Shirley Showalter, Joan Rough

 Five writers, none of whom had met all the others, retreat to a magical island for a WONDERful time, honing their writing skills and deepening friendships.


Click HERE for more information on how to reserve Janet’s log house for a writers’ retreat or your own family vacation!

WhenGetThere

 

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