Category Archives: Winter Joy Retreat

Winter Joy Retreat: Food & Laughter

Day 6: Food & Laughter.

Once a long time ago, we ordered two pizzas from Little Ceasar’s. When we went to pick them up, they had the wrong toppings. They apologized and made us two new pies. We waited for them, and when they were ready, we checked and they were wrong too. They were so sorry, apologized and apologized, made us two more pizzas, this time with the right toppings, and begged us to take all SIX pies home with us. We called Eric’s sister, told her to bring her husband and our three nephews and meet us at my mother-in-law’s house, where we had an unplanned pizza party.

We never ordered from Little Ceasar’s again, (honestly, we were sort of burnt out on it after that), but whenever I hear one of their commercials, especially the “pizza, pizza” at the end, I have to laugh, and think to myself “nope, it’s actually pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza.”

Winter Joy Retreat: Food & Freedom, Food & Childhood, Food & Generosity

Day 3: Food & Freedom

I got behind on these prompts. One reason is because I was busy last week, with work and various appointments, and because there are people here working on the bathroom, I didn’t have the same safe quiet space I normally do to blog. The other reason, however, is probably the real reason: this particular prompt was difficult, a sticky subject.

I could have answered it light and breezy. I could have talked about how when we were kids, we never got brand name cereal, so both my brother and I, when we finally moved away from home, lived off Captain Crunch for weeks, happily shredding our mouths with it. Or I could tell you about being in high school and driving in to “town” (about 30 minutes away) late at night to eat at McDonald’s (there wasn’t one in our tiny little community), and what a big deal it was, how grown up we felt doing it.

That would have been true, but not the whole story. Which is why I avoided answering this prompt. I’ve been a disordered eater for decades, and because of that freedom is never something I associated with food. Food was either about restriction or rebellion, but not freedom — never that.

Until now. Over two years ago, I gave up dieting. After years of being either starving or stuffed, decades of categorizing food as either good or bad, and having a long list of things I wasn’t allowed to eat and if I did I was bad, I let myself eat what I wanted, when I wanted, as much as I wanted — complete freedom.

It hasn’t been easy. I am trying to shift a way of being that is old and deep, sticky. And it’s not just about food. It’s about everything. But it’s so worth it. I get to choose. It’s my decision. I struggle with it, I’m still learning, but I am practicing freedom, and that changes everything.

Day 4: Food & Childhood

Dinner at the Farm. My grandparents had a farm, and it’s the place we all gathered. For holidays, birthdays, and other various celebrations, and sometimes for no other reason than to sit down and share some food. There was a long counter in the kitchen that transitioned into a built in dining table. Food would stretch the length of the counter, fill the table, and even spill around onto the back side of the kitchen counter, with enough dessert to fill the table a second time stored on the enclosed porch next door until after we ate our meal. The line of people was so long, they were barely through before someone was already done and up for seconds. Everyone brought something, all of it homemade. Some of my favorites were Aunt Monica’s taco salad, Aunt Mary’s calico beans, my mom’s crescent rolls, and Aunt Cindy’s German chocolate cake. There was so much food, but since my grandparents had 12 kids, and most of them had kids, and we all came, there were plenty of people to eat it. And we all enjoyed it, appreciated it.

When I was older, there was one smaller dinner with a few aunts and uncles and a cousin or two at another table when we were stuffing ourselves with the most delicious food, and as we ate, we were reminiscing about all the good food we ate as kids. I laughed and told them, “I know you are my people because we are stuffed, but we keep eating and talking about all the other good food we aren’t eating.”

My grandparents are both gone now. We are lucky and the Farm is still in the family, (that doesn’t happen so much anymore), so that place still exists, we can go there and visit — but it’s not the same. My cousin, his wife and kids live in the house and another uncle runs the farm. Those family dinners I remember haven’t happened for years, although the family still gathers from time to time and there’s still the food. The memory of dinners at the Farm is bittersweet, a tender mix of happy and sad. It reminds me of this scene from the movie Garden State,

Andrew Largeman: You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew Largeman: You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

Day 5: Food & Generosity

This happened a long time ago, probably close to 15 years ago at least, but it’s still the first thing I think of when I read this prompt. Coming out of Old Chicago’s, carrying what’s left of the club sandwich I had for lunch, I am approached by a woman. She is shorter, like me, but older. She is wearing a black leather biker jacket, worn jeans and dirty tennis shoes. Her dark hair is streaked with gray and her face is hard, cracked with lines from too much sun, too many years of smoking. She has just taken a long drag from her cigarette and the smoke underlines her words when she speaks. She points to the white Styrofoam container in my hand and asks, “Are you going to eat that?”

I take her question literally and answer, “Yes,” and keep walking. Slowly, as I make my way down the sidewalk towards my car, I realize what she was really asking. Shame washes over me. She was hungry and what she really wanted to know was if I could spare some food, and I said no.

There’s no real moral to this story. I didn’t turn around, find her, give her the sandwich. At that time, I had a very different perception of poverty, homelessness, panhandling, and what my response should be — I regularly refused people who asked me for spare change, or whose cardboard signs explained their bad circumstances and requested help. I was jaded and certain that they would spend the money on alcohol or drugs, or that they really weren’t that bad off, but instead were looking to make some quick easy money. I had seen the stories on the news, read reports, heard rumors. I didn’t want to enable addiction, didn’t want to give the money to someone who didn’t really need it.

My attitude has changed, even though I still am not sure what the right thing is to do. I’m not sure exactly how to help, how to make things better. All I know is that I don’t want people to suffer, and no one should ever have to go hungry.

Winter Joy Retreat: Food and Love


Prompt: Tell us about the food of love. (Or your love of food, as the case may be.)

When Eric and I first lived together, in the basement of the house on Locust Street, we didn’t have much money, or much of anything except love. We would order two large pies from Big Time Pizza, one pineapple and canadian bacon, and the other pepperoni. They were two for $8 and would feed us for the next three days. We ordered at least once a week. When I called, as I explained what I wanted, they’d say, “is this Jill?” and they knew to come around to the back door (since we lived in the basement, that was our “front” door).

23 years later, married and living above ground, Eric makes us pizza for dinner every Sunday night. He even makes the crust from scratch. The toppings aren’t exactly the same, (although I still love pineapple and ham). We add basil from our garden when we have it, and sometimes I make a salad. So much has changed — Big Time Pizza closed a long time ago, we can afford to feed ourselves better, and Eric is a real cook. And yet, so much is the same — we still have more love than anything.

Winter Joy Retreat: Comfort Food


recipesPrompt: Tell us about your comfort foods. Where do they take you? What houses, seasons, cities, and life changes circle around those foods that made you feel everything would be OK?

Homemade bread still warm from the oven. My grandma was magic when it came to making bread. She had 12 kids to feed, so got lots of practice. I especially loved her cinnamon swirl. When I was older, sometimes she’d bake a loaf for me for Christmas.

Chicken noodle soup, homemade baking powder biscuits with butter and jam. That year when I had pneumonia and missed so much school I was worried I’d have to repeat the fifth grade.

Annie’s macaroni and cheese, white cheddar shells, supplemented with grilled ham and peas, with a biscuit or toast on the side.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Always, at every moment of my life these two have been absolute perfection — store brand canned and fake orange slices on white bread, or made from tomatoes grown in my garden and sharp fancy cheese on thick organic bread. Either way, it just works.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas, my current favorite. They make everything better.

Honestly, anything bread or potatoes, any time. This is and always has been my go to, bread or biscuits, soft and warm straight from the oven, or toasted with butter and maybe some jam. I also love donuts and cake and pie crust, which are breadlike enough to count. And potato chips, yes please. And my mom’s crescent rolls? I can’t even talk about them. I might cry.


Winter Joy Retreat: Edible Memories

nourish2015As you may or may not remember, my word for this year is nourish. I don’t blame you if you don’t remember, kind and gentle reader, as it has slipped my mind at times too. I picked it initially because I loved its double meaning: to feed and to cherish. Those were both things I felt I sorely needed.

The last traditional New Year’s resolution I made was to be a better friend to myself. After that year, I heard about the practice of picking a word instead, a single word that would guide me and help me focus on what I really wanted, an intention that would act as a sort of mantra. The first year I picked retreat, then freedom, then home, and this year nourish. Those first few years I was more immediately focused, had a clearer intention, even did mid-year reviews on the blog.

The first part of this year, I thought a lot about what nourish meant to me, what it would mean to have that in my life, to experience it. But then I got sick and was down for a long time, and when I was finally better, my foot was hurt and has taken such a long time to heal. I tried to rest and take care of myself, but I was confused about what was happening and what I really needed, what I was “supposed” to do, how to “fix” it. I got depressed.

Just recently, however, I’ve felt the fog lifting. I’ve been practicing, reading and listening to podcasts, taking part in some ecourses and other experiences that have helped me see truth. Some of the things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

  • I need more rest, and that is NOT a sign of weakness. I am allowed to rest, it’s okay to be tired. Sometimes the wisest, most compassionate thing is to quit, to do nothing.
  • Because I’m sensitive and tender and keep my heart open, the will it takes to just get out of bed or to leave the house on some days is fierce. This can get confusing when I need rest or quiet or to be alone, because that big will wants to say “suck it up, keep going, get out there,” but that only leads to collapse. The trick is to balance the will with gentleness, to know when and where.
  • Heart-centered work isn’t just about what I can offer the world, it’s about supporting and nourishing me too.
  • Discernment and receptivity are essential to my process, to my life, but they also require a lot of effort and therefore a lot of rest.
  • I am driven by what other people need and want. I have to be so careful to not abandon myself in the pursuit of easing the suffering of others.
  • Breaking old habits takes a really, really, really long time, especially under stress or in chaotic conditions.

WJREdibleMemories600x481As the holidays wind up and the year winds down, I am doing a few special things to support myself, to treat myself. One is taking part in the Winter Joy Retreat hosted by Jena Schwartz and Cigdem Kobu. Just to be clear, I’m an affiliate for everything Jena and Cigdem do through The Inky Path because I absolutely and utterly believe in their work and their mission, and want to share it. Separately these women offer amazing things, but together they are a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve done Winter Joy Retreat before and loved it. I am so excited about this year’s focus on writing and food, and the women contributing are some of my favorites. Edible Memories: A Writing Retreat on Food as a Metaphor and a Feast for Memory is described as “a 14-day annual end-of-the year event that combines inspiration, introspection, connection, fun, and creative expression. It is a fabulous way to relax, rekindle your creative spark, and reconnect with yourself and others as one year finishes and a new one comes along with fresh new possibilities.” Yes, please!

Something Good

0. It’s Margaret Atwood‘s birthday today. She’s one of my favorite authors. Why “0” instead of “1”? I am mentioning it as a way to sneak in that it’s also MY birthday today — Hello, 46! Another birthday, and sharing it with one of my favorites is something good for me.

1. Question #11, Courtney Putnam’s beautiful answer to my questions about grief.

2. Wisdom from Hafiz, “The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”

3. “A Writer Writes.” Tips for Living an Authentic Life. from Elephant Journal.

4. Good stuff from Be More With Less, One Little Simple Step and Seek out the Joy, (p.s. the “open-hearted Jill” she refers to in this post is ME!). Also from Courtney Carver, but on Medium, Plan to Be Surprised.

5. Good stuff from Seth Godin, Not a gift and Sure, but he’s our bully and Bullying is theft.

6. Wisdom from from David Whyte,

Why is it so difficult to take that first, necessary, close-in, courageous step to reclaiming our happiness in life? Perhaps, because taking that step leads to a kind of radical internal simplification, where, suddenly, large parts of us, parts of us we have kept gainfully employed for years, often rehearsing the old story, are suddenly out of a job. There occurs in effect, a form of internal corporate downsizing, where the parts of us that do not wish to participate or have nothing now to offer are let go, with all of the accompanying death-like trauma, and where the last fight occurs, a rear guard disbelief that this new, less complicated self, is all that is needed for the new possibilities ahead. It is always hard to believe that the courageous step is so close to us, that it is closer than we ever could imagine, that in fact, we already know what it is, and that the step is simpler, more radical than we had thought: which is why we so often prefer the story to be more complicated, our identities clouded by fear and the answer safely in the realm of impossibility.

7. How animal adoption & rescue has transformed my life from Kris Carr. I have been loving following Buddy’s story, and Kris’s post here is further proof that when you rescue a dog, they rescue you right back.

8. Everyone’s Talking About What This Shy Photographer Did. When You See This, You’ll Understand Why on Viral Nova.

9. When fat things happen to good people. On being thin, fat, and your false assumptions. from Drop it and Eat.

10. Your Most Precious Thing. Shaking up your attachments. from Danielle LaPorte.

11. My adventures into healthy cooking from Kelly Rae Roberts. I like the idea of cooking a week’s worth of essentials so that when you are hungry, you can just eat, however I am one of those people who worries about eating something that’s been in the fridge for longer than 2-3 days. I need to ask Kelly Rae how she handles that.

12. morning thoughts on Doorways Traveler.

13. Bodies are NOT a Problem (Despite Some Yoga Pants’ Attempts to Make Us Think Otherwise) from Curvy Yoga. Anna also shared this great quote on Facebook from Sharon Salzberg,

As I go through all kinds of feelings and experiences in my journey through life — delight, surprise, chagrin, dismay — I hold this question as a guiding light: “What do I really need right now to be happy?” What I come to over and over again is that only qualities as vast and deep as love, connection and kindness will really make me happy in any sort of enduring way.

14. 420 Square Feet Apartment Miracle! I don’t plan on going this small, (our house is 1088), but there are some really good ideas in this space.

15. Wisdom from Phillip Moffitt,

It’s possible to transform what has been a hindrance in your life into a teacher of the heart. “Transform” does not mean to fix or make go away whatever trauma and scars you may be carrying from childhood; instead, you slowly develop a new relationship with your difficulty, such that it is no longer a controlling factor in your life. What may seem like an intractable wound may even become a point of inspiration and deep understanding for you.

16. From Your Inner Pilot Light,

Somewhere inside of you lies a healer. Regardless of what’s printed on your business card, you were put on this earth to help others, to love others, to make this world a better place. If you’re not yet sure how you might use your healing superpowers in service to the world, that’s probably a sign. You and I aren’t close enough yet. Will you be my BFF?

17. How To Help Typhoon Haiyan Survivors on Huffington Post and Avoiding despair when disaster hits: aid, advocacy, action. from Marianne Elliott. I always am looking to ease suffering, and in some cases choosing exactly how can feel overwhelming. I was thankful to have this help and thought you might be too.

18. Wisdom from Pema Chödrön, “In any encounter, we have a choice: we can strengthen our resentment or our understanding and empathy. We can widen the gap between ourselves and others or lessen it.”

19. Announcing the New Improved Jonathan Fields (Just Add Water)
and Plan B from Jonathan Fields.

20. 11 Little Signs You’re Doing Just Fine from Marc and Angel Hack Life.

21. Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences on Zen Habits.

22. Welcome to Dinovember, on Medium. This is 14 kinds of awesome.

23. Wisdom from Kute Blackson,

It’s when you accept life as it is and as it isn’t that you bring yourself into the flow. When you no longer resist life then you can meet the moment powerfully.

And this,

When you acknowledge your deep intuition, and live in accord with your deepest truth, you become the truly powerful being that you are.

And this brainteaser,

Sometimes what you want is actually not what you REALLY want but what you think you want based on who you think you currently are.

And finally this,

The most powerful prayer is simply to SURRENDER. To give up what you think your goal and vision should look like, to give up your attachments to the form, and to open yourself to the highest good unfolding for all concerned.

24. Daily Rocks: your daily rock : be generous and your daily rock : just be.

25. Wisdom from Marianne Williamson,

The only way to gain power in a world that is moving too fast is to learn to slow down. And the only way to spread one’s influence wide is to learn how to go deep. The world we want for ourselves and our children will not emerge from electronic speed but rather from a spiritual stillness that takes root in our souls. Then, and only then, will we create a world that reflects the heart instead of shattering it.

26. Be Your Own Beloved Mentoring, what looks to be a fabulous offering from Vivienne McMaster.

27. Meet Ippo, The Adorable Zonkey Who is Half Zebra, Half Donkey on Bored Panda. Oh, the cuteness.

28. The Season of Kindness…to Yourself from Brittany Herself. I’m in. Are you?

29. This hilarious parody of Gravity set in IKEA is spot on.

30. Wisdom from Anne Lamott on Facebook.

31. Where the Divine Show Up (It’s not where you’d expect) from Ronna Detrick. I’m not gonna lie, this one is blowing my mind a little bit.

32. Trying to describe your delightful new project — and drawing a blank? Start here. from Alexandra Franzen.

33. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Quinoa and Cranberries, a yummy looking recipe from Thug Kitchen.

34. Two good posts from 3x3x365, 11/13/13 and 11/15/13. Amy McCracken (in the third spot) is both one of my favorite people and one of my favorite writers, and Burg one of my favorite dogs.

35. A beautiful quote from Meade, “To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart, and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.”

36. Catch My Fall: The Healing from just Lara, who is anything but “just.”

37. I was so sad to learn DJ Cheb I Sabbah died. He made beautiful music. I bought his first album in 1999 and have loved him ever since, donated money to help pay for his cancer treatment last year, as he was a musician with no health insurance. NPR ran this piece on him after he passed, Remembering Cheb I Sabbah, DJ Who Built A New Musical World.

38. A heartbreaking post from Humans of New York.

39. Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook, posting about something I know a lot about — canine therapy and amazement.

40. Just showing up from Christina Rosalie.

41. Dani Shapiro: Self-doubt is a writer’s best friend on Salon.

42. Winter Joy Retreat with Cigdem Kobu. This is the second year Cigdem has put together a program like this, (last year it was Reset. Revive. Restart.), and it’s looking like it’s going to be a yearly holiday tradition for me.

43. Wisdom Notes for a Well-Fed Holiday with Rachel Cole is becoming one of my other yearly traditions.

43. Dog tired! Adorable toddler and his ‘puppy brother’ Theo who nap together every day is stupid cute, (i.e. someone or something that is so attractive it disrupts your ability to intelligently process information while looking at it, something so unbelievably cute it makes you stupid). I am a sucker for black and tan dogs, also for naps with cute boys. Here’s her post about adopting Theo, Wishes Granted: Theo and Beau, and here’s where you can follow her on Instagram for all the cuteness.

44. Good stuff from Chookooloonks: #naphopomo 2013, day 16: redone office (and a giveaway)! (I love getting to see people’s workspaces, and this one is particularly cosy), and #naphopomo 2013, day 18: cutting back, shooting forward.

45. Wisdom from Nadia Bolz-Weber, “But being good has never set me free the way truth has.”

46. This is why I am doing too much: people I adore come up with fun stuff like this, Kickin’ It Old Skool Blog-a-thon.

47. Help Me Attend Earth Activist Training, another one of my cousins trying to do good things.

48. Dog Songs: Mary Oliver on What Dogs Teach Us About the Meaning of Our Human Lives on Brain Pickings. My favorite line from this book is “A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing.”