Monday, March 28, 2011

Hosting Your Own Retreat

 My sister Kate is a master organizer and planner, so here she is with our final retreat installment to share a few of the ins and outs of our annual getaway, and how to host one yourself.  Here we go!

When I talk with my friends about Sister’s Retreat, they always want to come. But when I suggest that they start their own tradition, they tend to shy away. Why? Here are the usual obstacles, as well as road maps around them.

I don’t have sisters. A good friend of mine, an only child, has carved out a biannual (that means twice a year, right?) Girl’s Weekend with four friends. Our oldest sister, Noel, has been attending the same Scrapbook Retreat with the same core of friends for fifteen years. If you don’t have “that kind of friends,” do yourself a favor and go make some. Today.

I don’t like my sisters. We get that. We do. Our first few retreats were a little rocky. One tradition that helped us change directions was taking turns saying our favorite traits of one another. Another event that helped was Noel saying, “I’m not the same person I was when we last lived together. I’m no longer the mom.” That helped the rest of us to re-see her, to enjoy who she is now. Building up fun memories and following those up with frequent phone calls between retreats helps us to be current, to keep from slipping back into inaccurate stereotypes about one another.

Breakfast at Charity's, 2003

It’s too expensive. Not necessarily. If the hostess can kick her family out (to go stay with grandparents, an uncle, friends), you have lodging. When everyone contributes a dish or two, food isn’t a big financial burden. You can always paint each others’ toenails instead of springing for pedis. And talk is, after all, cheap.

My husband would never go for it/ I don’t have anyone to watch the kids. Then you are married to a poop. Our husbands were not crazy about the idea, initially, either. Who would cook? Who would clean? Who would entertain the kids? Gradually, though, they learned that they could get away with Arctic Circle every night we were gone. They could have tickle wars without a referee saying, “Isn’t that a little rough, honey?” They benefited from their wife’s well-fed souls upon return. For those with uncooperative exes, our hearts go out. To you we say, you need a support network anyway. If you have one, they are happy to help. Grandparents, brothers, friends, out-laws (your ex’s family), even a trusted college student, can be recruited. These people love you, and are uplifted by your happiness. Give them an opportunity to serve you.

I’m just not creative. Creativity is not the gold standard of Sister’s Retreats. Go to the movies together. Do the standbys. If you long for an out-of-the-box experience, brainstorm with your eccentric friends. Do some online research. But remember that the activities should be restorative to you and your sisters – no one else’s ideas will fit you better than your own. Just pay attention to what you desire, and then make THAT happen.

In the end, it usually doesn’t come as an invitation to a ready-made event. It is the product of pulling out the planner, making phone calls, and just doing it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sister's Retreat Recipes

Here's installment #3 of 4 (feel free to skip the next one if you've had enough with the retreats).  So I'll let Kate, a gal who spends a lot of time in an apron, share a few favorite recipes.

Usually we are all about finger food – spinach focaccia, seven-layer dip, salt ‘n vinegar potato chips, chocolate. That hits all the major food groups, right? But last year, inspired by her Scrapbook Retreat’s system, Noel suggested we each cook one meal for everyone. What a brainchild! We all pitched in to help, of course, singing and chopping and cleaning together in the kitchen. We ate like queens. You can too.

Tricks for a Perfect Panini:
  • Start with dense bread
  • Use unusual combinations: mayo and pesto with four cheeses, pears and nutella, asparagus with turkey
  • Pile on the caramelized onions
  • Coat your bread with olive oil instead of butter
  • Press the Panini flat with a spatula (or a brick wrapped in tinfoil)
  • Cut them on an angle so you always have a point to dip
  • Trader Joe’s makes the best marinara sauce for dipping
  • Make a ton; Panini leftovers rock!
Bistro Tortellini
Saute carrots, mushrooms, and hearts of palm until tender. Toast almonds and pine nuts. Boil package of frozen cheese tortellini until done. Pour cream sauce (1/2 stick butter, 1 c Parmesan, 1 c cream, melted together) over vegetables and tortellini. Also good with sausage.

Mock Mint Julep
Combine 2 c cold water, 1 ½ c sugar, ¾ c lemon juice and 6 mint sprigs. Let stand for at least 45 minutes. Discard the mint. Place 5 c ice cubes and 2 ½ c ginger ale into 2 small pitchers or 1 very large pitcher. Add lemon mixture and serve.

Dinner at Noel's 2011
(Hey, girls, if you have any recipes to add, send them my way and I'll update).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sister's Retreat: Highlights

The next in Kate's series on retreats.

Kate & Charity 2010

Our Sister’s Retreats are punctuated with little surprises for one another. One year we were staying in a cabin (read: castle) of Noel’s friend when we heard a knock at the door. Curious, we answered, to find five Mayday baskets hanging on the doorknob! Charity had sneaked out and planted them, then acted innocent as we oohed and aahed over our treasures. Another year, we were presented with spa kits of hair and body products Lain had won in a design contest. A favorite keepsake: we had a professional portrait taken, and sent a copy to our dad for Father’s Day (needless to say, these pictures have a prominent place in each of our homes). We each have a matching red velvet notebook in which we keep discoveries and quotable quotes from the retreats – these were also a gift.

It’s not all luxury and pampering; we also believe in growth. Most years we try to have a book club discussion on the book I provided the previous year. One time I gave a little communication workshop based on one I’d attended and loved. Dani, of course, encourages everyone to bring current pictures of their homes so she can help overcome design problem areas. Lain gives hair cuts or makeovers. Charity leads early risers in yoga routines and teaches us about homeopathy and healthy food. Noel is our parenting guru, bringing wisdom and perspective that elevate our understanding. She’s also our cheerleader, quietly approving, believing in us until we gain confidence in our own abilities.

And then there are the anti-highlights: getting kicked out of our hotel room for giggling too loud, too late. Being at a restaurant, seeing the actor from the play we’d seen the night before, loudly repeating his best line in front of the other diners, then realizing it wasn’t him. Four hour phone calls to fix a son’s abscessed tooth on a Saturday from 500 miles away. Hurt feelings. Crying. Wild mistakes in yard sale buys (turn-of-the-century corset, anyone? Non-working lamp of W.C. Fields? A carousel horse, even though traveling by train?).  No matter. No matter. We are together.