My Chincoteague Retreat



Original painting with a view east to Assateague Island.
Original oil by Tesha Lewia with a view east to Assateague Island.


What’s the difference between a sabbatical and a respite?


Merely length of time.


I’m down at the Chincoteague house, the house that  Woody and I renovated in 2001, and from which we were returning to Philadelphia when he dropped his fateful “Let’s join the Peace Corps” announcement I wrote about in At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir.


It’s the house with the sun porch overlooking the canal and on which I sat each morning for those seventeen months before we left, reading, journaling, and imagining. And it’s the house we returned to for twelve months before settling in Vermont.


It’s a house I once called home. It’s a rental house now, a mere shell of its former life. But I come down here each year to see what needs to be repaired or replaced. And each time I return, I am reminded that what’s important to me — friendship, family obligations, routine, and familiarity that form the mosaic of my life — are all now in Vermont.


And still I come.


I look at my trips to Chincoteague as a kind of sabbatical, a break with my routine, a respite.  At least that’s what I like to tell myself. If I thought of them as all work, I’d despair.


I plan always to intersperse my days of washing bedding and scrubbing windows and walls with hours hiking the nature trails, strolling along the beach, or biking through the wildlife preserve. Too often, though, I don’t.


This trip is different. I have carved out a special week amid the month I’ll be here and have surrounded myself with four women I’ve met over the past year and a half through the magic of the Internet.


Women I want to get to know better.


Writers all, memoirists more specifically, we each have a weekly blog. We also have grandchildren, husbands, and disposable income.


We’ve had varied careers, come from different backgrounds, and live in different parts of the country (though we’re missing someone from the west).


Will it be a writing retreat? Will it be a pajama party? Will it be a time of great introspection and personal growth? Will it be a time of recreation and renewal?


I hope it will be all of the above.


No longer will I ask “what’s the difference between a sabbatical and a respite?”


I’ll just call it a retreat. A writer’s retreat.


"Now just where is this place called Shink go teek?"
“Now just where is this place called Shink go teek?”



How about you? How do you carve out time to replenish yourself?


17 Responses

  1. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    It sounds like a great place and I know you will have fun with your new friends!! Wish I was there

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hey Susan, how nice to have you join in. Thanks so much. And, you never know. This could turn into an annual event, or more. My colleagues this week are talking about spreading the word (and the rental agents URL).

  2. L. E. Carmichael
    | Reply

    Sounds lovely – have a wonderful time!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Lindsey, It’s been magical. Women I knew only from their blogs (and their books, and their facebook posts: Social media. Women gathered together for mutual support and growth can create powerful energy. It was the right group at the right time in the right place and for the right reason. How could we fail? Stay tuned. I believe we will each of us get a blog post out of this. So glad you stopped by.

  3. marianbeaman
    | Reply

    How do I replenish myself? Carving out a week to meet other writers and explore new territory in a flex-time setting. So grateful for the renewal, the recreation, and the riting – oh, make that writing!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I love that Marian: renewal, recreation, and riting. Funny. Glad you made it home safely. (And, welcome back).

  4. Shirley Hershey Showalter
    | Reply

    I feel honored to be part of your respite, retreat, resuscitation. 🙂

    By any other name, it would smell as sweet.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      We’re all so good at the alliteration! (Respite, retreat, and resuscitation? And after Marian’s Renewal, Recreation, and Riting) If I hadn’t read your book, I’d feel pretty certain you were raised with the same Baptist minister I was. How they do love alliteration. It was indeed the right time, place, group, and task. How could we not hit the mark! (Welcome home; hello to Stuart)

  5. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, I feel so blessed to be a part of this soul-nurturing time of rest, renewal and enrichment. What a beautiful, memory-making gathering.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Ah, Kathy. I couldn’t have held this without you. Thank you for making the trek. (I’ll refrain from making any more comments about alliteration.) It was indeed a week of rest, renewal, respite, retreat, and relaxation. Then, coupled with riting, rexercise, and reating — we mustn’t forget the reating (yum) — how could we go Rong?

  6. […] This style of living has been a great blessing to me. I relish waking up in the morning to a list of tasks to accomplish — and even more, going to bed after I have crossed them off my list. I even made a list of things to do when I went to a writers’ retreat! […]

  7. Elaine Mansfield
    | Reply

    What a terrific idea, Janet. So glad you could gather with these friends. I know some of them in the same social media way. My mythology group creates retreats at least once a year. We plan together and share leadership. We have the best retreat imaginable and they don’t cost a dime. Here’s to the power of women who know what they want and make it happen.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Elaine, hello and welcome. Were your ears burning last week? I heard many wonderful things about you, so I’m particularly pleased to find you visiting today. I love your line, “Here’s to the power of women who know what they want and make it happen.” Amen.

  8. Kelly Boyer Sagert
    | Reply

    I long so much for a retreat! I’m reading The Cloister Walk, a quirky sort of memoir where a lukewarm Protestant becomes a Benedictine oblate, which is making me long for it, even more. But, I’m only able to carve out hours, not days, thanks to all the catch up in my life still needed after a couple of years of health issues. Hope yours is fantastic!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      HI Kelly, Wonderful to have you back. I think we all carve out what we can. I’m very fortunate that I needed to be down here almost a month and it just worked out. Each of us will be writing about our experience in our blogs this coming week; first one hits on Monday morning.

  9. […] Friend writers retreat. My last one was with this group in Chincoteague. […]

  10. […] 1, 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 […]

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