Chincoteague 2015 Writers’ Retreat Redux


Four women came from different parts of the country to join me in my rental property on Chincoteague Island, Virginia last week. It quickly came to be known as the CincoChincoChics Retreat (first annual?)


We were together seven days: seven breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; and seven mornings, afternoon, and evenings.


And it was grand.


We hadn’t planned much in the weeks before we met, only learning each other’s food idiosyncrasies and that each of us would be responsible for one dinner. We ate out twice and had five slow-food evening meals:

[learn_more caption=”Turkey and Black Bean Chili — Monday”]

From Janet:  This recipe, from Weight Watcher’s Comfort Foods cook book, serves four.  I doubled it and we had leftovers for lunch one day. (I also replaced the fat-free items with tasty ones).

  • 2 t olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 greeen pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ lb ground skinless turkey
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14 1/3 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1/2 t salt
  • ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup sliced scallions

Heat the oil in a large nonstick saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt; bring to a boil  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.  Serve with the cheese, sour cream, and scallions.
[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=”Caramelized Onion, Mushroom, CheeseFrittata — Tuesday”]

From Joan Z Rough:   Caramelize 2 medium to large sweet onions in butter, until a golden brown and set aside

In the pan that you will cooking the frittata in, melt 2 TBSP. butter and saute about 8 oz. sliced mushrooms, a handful of sliced red, yellow or green pepper, and any other vegetables that appeal to you.  When the veggies are just beginning to soften add a big handful of chopped Italian parsley, a TBSP. of chopped fresh rosemary, one or two minced cloves of garlic, salt and pepper,  a big handful of fresh greens, such as kale or spinach, any left over precooked vegetables you have.   Add the caramelized onions and take off heat.

Beat 1 dozen eggs, adding salt and pepper and pour over the vegetables.

Sprinkle the top with about 1 cup of shredded sharp white cheddar cheese or any other cheese you desire. Place pan back on heat and watch carefully as it begins cooking.  You can run a knife around the edge as the eggs set.  When the eggs are almost completely set, place the pan in the oven and bake until the frittata is puffy, and golden brown.  Serve with a fresh green salad.  This feeds 4 to 6 people.





[learn_more caption=”Stuffed sweet potatoes — Wednesday”]

From Marian Beaman:  Bake 5-6 sweet potatoes in oven 45-50 minutes. (To cut baking time, microwave on the “fresh vegetable” setting first.)

Cut baked potatoes lengthwise to add the stuffing ingredients, which have been sautéed in 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar:

  • 2 apples, diced
  • ½ cup chives
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 stick of chopped celery, more or less

[learn_more caption=”with Cabbage Salad”]

Grate one small head of purple cabbage + add a grated carrot stick for color.

Mix with light vinaigrette dressing just before serving. Bon appetite!

[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=”Broccoli soup — Thursday”]

From Shirley Showalter:  Sauté one onion in a pan. (in bacon fat!)

Chop into pieces and cook two heads of organic broccoli. Cook until soft. Add two quarts of organic chicken broth. Then use immersion blender to turn into smooth soup.

Add a heaping teaspoon of cumin. Salt and pepper to taste. I would have used curry if it had been in the cupboard.

Voila! Can add potatoes and carrots to this soup for variety and a little more substance.

[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=”with Waldorf Salad”]

Chop six apples, three stalks celery, and 1/2 cup walnuts in large bowl.

Dressing. Equal parts mayo, sugar, and vinegar, about 1/2 cup each, whipped together with whisk.

Can be mayo only.






[learn_more caption=”Pasta Fagioli — on Saturday”]

From Kathy Pooler:  Saute one medium onion, 3 cloves of garlic  ( more or less to your liking) and bacon bits in olive oil. You can use chopped pepperoni aa a substitute for the bacon. ( 1/4 cup is enough for flavor)

Add 32 oz chicken broth, 32 oz of diced tomatoes. Simmer

Rinse two cans of cannellini beans and add to liquid. (I have substituted garbanzo beans or great northern beans)

Mix 1 cup of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese with 1 T. parsley, 1/2 tsp of oregano and a pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and to the pot.

Add greens—spinach, kale, escarole. I use half a bag of frozen spinach.

Let simmer.

Boil ditalini or any kind of small-sized pasta (i.e., elbows) separately and add to soup at the end.

Serve with garden salad and crusty bread.






We had a salad with every meal (and wine), and consciously had no desserts except ice cream one night when it just “fit” and Shirley’s yummy apple “pie.”

[learn_more caption= “Here’s her recipe.”]
Wash, core, and slice a nice big apple.

Slice into thin slices and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Voila! Low cal apple pie.



Not since my years with my colleagues in Kazakhstan, have I felt such sustained joy in the presence of other women.





As I wrote in the final chapters of At Home on the Kazakh Steppe, I’d been afraid I’d never again find such camaraderie as I had with my colleagues. But after this weekend, with these four particular women, I know better.
Magic happened when we put our egos on the shelf. For one week, we focused on connection, companionship, generosity, kindness, respect, and fun. And, oh yes, we got a LOT of work done too.

Here’s a recap of how our week shook out.


Shirley guides us as we break the week into parts
Shirley guides us as we break the week into parts


We chose the warmest day of the week to hike on the beach,

















which, because of the wind, became a hike on the Woodland Trail,


Winding path


to see the ponies






which led to a hike on a second side trail to see the water,


which turned out to be the wrong trail, resulting in a call for an unanticipated rescue vehicle.


Our one-mile walk on the beach had, according to someone’s pedometer, turned out to be three times the distance. For one of our party, that was simply too much.


Ah, the memories.



Scene break Kazakh

We fixed our own breakfasts and lunches and wound up together on the sun porch overlooking the canal, visiting, exploring ideas, and telling stories as we ate. And laughing. Always laughing.


Following each breakfast and lunch, we were on our own to write, read, edit, or explore.


IMG_0633 IMG_0634

IMG_0635 IMG_0636


Some took writing breaks and walked around the neighborhood. Here’s a shot that Shirley took at the end of my street.





After dinner, we gathered more formally in the living room. From 7 to 9 (or later), one of us had the spotlight: an opportunity to talk about, ask about, or read to the rest of us whatever she wanted.


Here’s Shirley exploring her “box in the basement” with us.


IMG_0628 IMG_0630




We each sought clarity in these sessions and, from all accounts, we each got it.


We also got to know one another in a new way during these talks. We learned of our early struggles, our future goals, and our ever-present challenges.


When it was my turn, I got a surprise.


After getting feedback on a few “shimmering images” I’d written, I asked about my blog. These were women whose opinion I trusted.  My blog had been, after all, how I’d come to know them. And last week, my blog had me stymied.


“I thought I knew you,” came the important comment. “But you are much funnier, livelier … in person.” It didn’t take us long to go from that to laughing about the possibilities in store for me as And So It Goes (“what does that mean?”) became


Janet Unleashed


“But I did that with that breastfeeding one,” I protested, referring to my post of January 28, Bringing Cultural Differences Home. And I waxed on about how that story had first landed on me: with a gulp and a gasp and an OMG or two.


“Write that,” exclaimed the blonde one. And she gave me a homework assignment!

As a result, “eyes high on my forehead” and “eyebrows in a permanent arc” shall live forever in my blog of February 11, Breastfeeding Six Year Olds.


I don’t know if I’ll be able to maintain my newly unveiled voice of mirthful irreverence in isolation. This part of me, what these women called my sense of humor, doesn’t appear on demand. It’s not like I control it. Instead, I feed off the straight lines of others and I’m not sure I can feed alone (in the tank, as it were).


Time will, as it generally does, tell.

Today’s post is coming one day early so that
the women I mention below can coordinate our blog posts.
I’ll be back to my Wednesday schedule next week.

I’ll close with two of my favorite photos from our week and some links.


IMG_0644 IMG_0645










From the left, with links to their website/blogs, are: Joan Z Rough, Kathy Pooler, Shirley Showalter, and Marian Beaman.

For those of you who normally follow all five of our blogs, I can only say,  “Hang in there. And notice the differences.”

We all experienced the same week together; yet, we will invariably have remembered it differently. I’m eager to learn just how. I hope you’ll visit their sites too and see just what these differences are. After all, isn’t it the differences among us that makes life interesting, gives it its spice?


20 Responses

  1. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    I wish I had been a fly on the wall during this spectacular event. It sounds great fun and the image of Janet Unleashed really had me chuckling. Are you going to do a video diary of it next time?

    Well done girls, it’s good to see a bunch of authors can meld so well together and have fun as well as being constructive.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      HI Ian, Always good to have you join me here. We did indeed meld well. Shirley attributes that in part to the fact that we were all either the first born or an only. No older siblings to do whatever older siblings do. I’m looking into that for a future post. We also had much in common; common interests make for great reparte. But mostly, I think, we all wanted it to work. And it did. More than, I think, any of us expected.

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    A lovely melody to the tune of “joy.” Your captured our harmonious week to a tee – and it was all your idea. We’ll never forget that!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      A “good idea whose time has come” is a force to contend with. Such was the case here. DIdn’t it just fall into place; no one forcing anything. That, to me, feels organic, natural. Right. I’m enjoying watching all the support your getting for your last blog. I have three more sign pictures to send you. Have to figure out the best way.

  3. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Yes, Janet, I agree with Marian. You captured our week to a tee and it indeed was grand. It plays like a movie I want to keep watching. Thank you for making it all happen!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Kathy, I shall miss your warm and wise additions to my blog over the next many weeks. And, that’s OK. It’s good to be missed now and again, huh? May your Lenten sabbatical from social media bring you all you hoped for, and more.

  4. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I found this through Marian’s post about your week. It sounds like all of you had an amazing time. I will now have to check out your breastfeeding post, since my last published book was a Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast. 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Merril, and welcome. How nice to have a new “face.” A “Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast.” WOw; how I wish I’d known about that when I wrote that post. Can you give us just a hint of the Why and What? It reminds me of that scene in Notting Hill with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. The Julia character says something to the effect of, “what is it with breats anyway? What’s the big deal?” And Hugh Grant, not missing a beat, climbs over the bed covers to her and says, “I don’t know exactly. Let’s have a look.”

      Did that make it into your Encyclopedia?

  5. […] 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. […]

  6. […] Here’s the menu: Turkey Chili; Caramelized Onion/Mushroom /Cheese Frittata, Baked Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Walnut/Apple Topping & Cabbage Salad; Broccoli Soup with Waldorf Salad; Pasta Fagioli. The other two nights we dined out on seafood. Hungry yet? Here’s the  link to the recipes on Janet’s blog. […]

  7. Shirley Hershey Showalter
    | Reply

    Sorry my website is down at the moment. Should be back up soon however. You found a neat way to include those recipes without taking up too much space in the text.

    I’m so glad that food was an important part of our being together. It gave the week a sacramental flavor, as we brought together our various traditions and cooked with the greatest sacrament of all — love.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I had the same thought about our eating together. I loved the different rituals we all brought to that moment of “grace,” too. Did you see Like Water For Chocolate? I think that was the first time I appreciated the power of expressing love through food. Too often in our culture showing love through food had gotten a bad rap, overweight kids, and pushy moms. I love this more positive take on it.

      I trust your website will be back up soon. As your final blog post, before you start your Sabbatical tomorrow, is a keeper.

      I shall miss you. And that’s just as it should be.

  8. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    Oh how Grand it was and without you, Janet, it never would have happened. You are an amazing hostess, letting things take their sweet time and in the manner we all found appropriate. You’ve covered it all from the laughter to delicious food and how the time slipped away as we all worked our fingers on our keyboards and shared who we are! Thank you so much for having us!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      We really were great together, weren’t we. Magic. that’s what it was. We can’t force magic. We just let it happen and when it does we hope we’re paying attention.

      We were all paying attention last week and look what happened.


  9. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    SPECTACULAR! You’ve simply gotta LOVE it!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Did the picture of those chairs spark this? I hope. I love that picture. Only wish I could have captured the faces better while still getting the letters. Oh well. It is what it is.

      Were your ears burning last week, Laurie? You are muse to many of us. Someday, we shall meet. I believe. (Have you found my cousin yet?) 🙂

  10. Mary Gottschalk
    | Reply

    Janet … as I said in a comment to Joan’s blog … I am green with envy at the time you all had together … I feel that I knew each of you, but only part of each of you, and would love the opportunity that you all had. !

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Mary, you are one of the Grand Elders in this brave new world. And, I am conjuring up visions of what may come next. We’ll see how it all shakes out. I would welcome the opportunity to meet you in person.

  11. […] Last year’s retreat was such a success, I wanted to do it again. […]

  12. […] 2000  Woody and I closed on the Chincoteague house that I’ve written so much about (Here and Here and Here and Here). And on July 19, 2007 at a little past 10 o’clock in the morning, Woody […]

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