The Gifts Of Friends And Time

Send to Kindle
Janet opening uncorking wine.

Janet opening uncorking wine.

Just a week ago this past Sunday, I found myself on Chincoteague Island. The day time temperature was about 60 degrees and the sun was sparkling away on the water. I was with four other women, who I’d first met on the internet as I began my journey as a memoirist.

Known for the book, Misty of Chincoteague, written by Marguerite Henry, and illustrated by Wesley Dennis, Chincoteague is where every summer the wild ponies of Assateague Island are sent swimming across a narrow inlet to Chincoteague, where many go up for adoption to families looking to make a child’s dream of owning a pony, come true. It’s a way of managing the ever growing herd, leaving space for the next year’s babies.

Shirley preparing Waldorf Salad.

Shirley preparing Waldorf Salad.

There was Shirley, who I’d met first a couple of years ago. I’d been following her blog and knew she lived about an hour away over in the Shenandoah Valley. I was considering taking a class about book marketing and knowing that she had taken the same class earlier, I called her hoping she would give me an honest opinionn of her experience. She was just finishing work on her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. I invited her to come and stay with me during the Virginia Festival of the Book, held here in Charlottesville, every March.

She came and spent several nights with me. We enjoyed the book festival and spent lots of time talking about our writing projects. Shirley’s generosity in sharing what she knew about publishing and writing memoir was beyond anything I’d dreamed of. A few months later, I visited her for several nights in her home. She read the first couple of chapters of my book, made extremely helpful suggestions, and provided encouragement. I will be forever grateful for her views and her friendship. On this trip she was a awesome roommate and my chauffeur extraordinaire.

Janet was the second of these women I’d met in person. We’d been following each other’s blogs and chatted by email about dealing with aging mothers. I discovered that she lived in a town in Vermont where I had lived for thirteen years, and had recently written a memoir about her Peace Corps years, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe. I knew I had to meet her. On a trip to up north last fall, I gave Janet a call and we met for lunch. I read her book, and loved her story about her experiences living and working in Kazakhstan for two years. I hoped we’d get a chance to get together again. Finding out that she had a home on Virginia’s, Chincoteague Island, about 5 hours away, I invited her to come and visit anytime she was in the area. We talked briefly about how much fun it would be to get together with Shirley, and several other memoirists we both knew on the internet.

Magnificent Chef Kathy!

Magnificent Chef Kathy!

One of those other writers was Kathy, whose blog, over at, Memior Writers Journey, is one of best places to learn about blogging and writing in general. Her interviews with other memoir writers have been invaluable for me as I continue to work on my own book. She invited me to write a guest blog for her, which I did, and I cheered her on as she published her memoir, Ever Faithful to his Lead, a story about her experience finding her way our of two abusive marriages. When I asked her to be a beta reader for me I found her generosity and willingness to help me  far beyond any expectations I had. I knew I had to meet her someday.

Marian, the charming and entertaining writer over at Plain and Fancy, a blog I’ve been following for over a year, was the one I knew the least about. But her stories connecting her childhood to present day happenings is delightful, as is her use of old memorabilia, from photos to recipes, as the basis for her enchanting writings. She has just begun writing her own memoir about growing up Mennonite and her move away from being plain to a fancy member of the world. Captivated by Marian’s sense of humor and openness, I’m happy to have been able to spend time with her, and get to know her better. Despite our different backgrounds, we have a lot in common.

Marian, Kathy, and Me.

Marian, Kathy, and Me.

I know the moon and the tides played a part in sweeping us all ashore together for an unforgettable week of writing, eating healthy, home cooked meals and sharing unending laughter. Janet’s log cabin was a perfect place for such a retreat and her hospitality was unending.

Just over a week later, as snow is falling and accumulating outside my window, I’m remembering those seven days I spent on Janet’s warm sunporch, where I set up my computer and revised seven chapters of my upcoming book. Inspire by Shirley and Kathy taking a hiatus from social media for Lent, this will be my last post until April. I will not be present on Facebook or Twitter, two places that take too much of my writing time. I plan on continuing the revisions of my book, shoveling snow, and watching the crocuses and daffodils reach for the sun when all the snow is gone.

For information about renting Janet’s cabin for your own retreat go here.


  1. I appreciate how you devoted a paragraph to each attendee, detailing our separate journeys that converged one fine week in early February. (Honestly, I doubt that the weather since would have permitted our scheduling any other dates. ) I’m so thankful that we could share the week together and realize there are striking similarities in our childhood years. I’ll never forget your encouraging words to write my truth.

    There is gratitude in every line of your post, and I feel the same. Yes, it was a week of feeding the body, soul, and spirit.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Marian, I miss you, Lady! My gratitude to you and your kind words will never end.

      I look forward to reading your truth in your memoir. Never give up! You are an import part of this puzzle called humanity!

  2. Joan, thanks for your reflections here and for your generous descriptions of all of us. Now that six of us bloggers have declared our desire for a social media sabbatical, it will be interesting to see what happens.

    Each person took a slightly different slice of the pie away from Chincoteague and the same will happen during the sabbatical.

    You have learned to trust the truth of your body and spirit, and therefore your friends trust you and learn to trust themselves through your example.

    Many blessings as you revise your story. I eagerly await the day when I “cross the mountain” to attend your book launch.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m excited that I made the decision to join you in taking a sabbatical. Since January 1st, I’ve had the yen to start keeping a visual journal. I plan on using my blog writing time to do that and hopefully will share it here on my blog come April.

      Thanks for being a friend. I breathe deeply, knowing that the day will come when I’ll hand you my finished book!

  3. Dear Joan, thank you for this beautiful and heartwarming description of our precious time together. I appreciate how you devoted a paragraph to each of us. Thank you for your kind words. It’s been a joy to get to know you all and to relive the experience of our magical week together through each person’s unique perspective. Sending you blessings as you work on your final push to publication and step back from social media to focus on the things that matter the most.

    • Thanks, Kathy. I’m so pleased that we finally had time to connect and get to know each other. I’m excited about taking the time off for important things. Blessings right back at you.

  4. Joan, you added a depth to our week that was a privilege to experience and now a joy to read. I took a picture of one more sign, this one tucked over my bathroom sink. Alas, I can’t post here. But it says “Enter with a happy heart and stay awhile.” We certainly did that, didn’t we.

    • We sure did, Janet, and the happiness continues. It was unforgettable, a delight, and I thank you for sharing your space with us. It was such a privilege to be with you all.

  5. Lucky you Joan!
    It sounds like such a refreshing and nourishing time away … of course, warm weather helps too!

    • Thanks, Val. It was totally refreshing and yes, I feel lucky to have a group of writing buddies who share my passion for the written word and all of life.

      We have 8 ” of snow on the ground here, but it could be Boston. No complaints here!

  6. Your shared retreat sounds divine… sisters of the soul sharing of their lives and work with one another.

    Joan, I wish you all the best with your revisions. I look forward to reading your memoir. And I hope our paths will cross in person someday soon.

    • Saloma, Thanks so much for your best wishes. It was a wonderful retreat and I hope someday soon we too can get together and do some laughing and sharing!

      I thought of you last night as a puny 8 ” of snow fell here. I hope you’re keeping warm and shoveled out. It’s been one wicked winter up your way and I hope spring will come in with a burst of warm and sunny weather for you and all my New England friends and family!

  7. Joan — No words can describe my joy for each of you. All I can say is yes, Yes, YES!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Laurie, Thanks. It was a yes, Yes, YES, event and love your words of support! I hope one day we meet!

  8. Joan … how lovely to read about the days commingling with your “internet” friends, all of whom have become internet friend of mine, but I only had to opportunity to meet Kathy P. How lucky you all were to find the time — and make the time — to put tones of voice and senses of humor to the names and biographies. I hope to meet the rest of the group before too much time passes.

  9. What a soul enriching experience. The perfect writer’s retreat. The Lenten social media fast is something I have been considering for some time. You and your friends are an on-going inspiration to me. Thanks for sharing your journey and pieces of your life. I look forward to hearing from you when the crocus bloom.


  1. […] sure to check out posts from Janet, Marian and Joan this week as we all have our own spin on the our writers’ retreat.  Here’s the link to […]

  2. […] the left, with links to their website/blogs, are: Joan Z Rough, Kathy Pooler, Shirley Showalter, and Marian […]

  3. […] the writing retreat I took with four friends back in February, Shirley and Kathy talked about taking a Lenten […]