Evening at For The Joy Of It!
When I first opened For The Joy Of It! to overnight guests, I had no idea what was in store for me. Isn't that how life is when we set out on some new adventure? We have an idea and take our first tentative steps aiming in the direction we want to go, then life takes us for a ride. I'm three years into this adventure, and I am completely delighted with how it has turned out so far.
The vast majority of my guests have found me on airbnb.com. I will be forever grateful to them for initiating the idea of sharing spaces with perfect strangers and the radical trust it is based upon. Mendocino is a tourist destination so by now I have had hundreds of guests. Many have returned, a few have returned again and again, making this their home away from home. Anniversaries have been celebrated, and wedding proposals have been made here. I've met babies who were not yet born when their parents first visited. So many celebrations have taken place. I'm so appreciative of each and every one who has come to stay. It has been a great gift to me. It has opened my world in such a delightful way. I thought you might like to hear a bit about what goes on here.
These three years have been a time of experiment and change. For The Joy Of It! is dedicated to "the healing power of nature and the arts" and I feel like guests are experiencing just that. My proof lies in what I call "the before and after." The faces I see when people arrive and the faces I see when they leave are testimony to the rest, relaxation, and restoration they have experienced while here. Vacations are wonderful but for me, the true test of a good vacation is that it sends me home with a fresh outlook, some awareness that can brighten my more ordinary days at home. So I always wonder how the refreshed energy guests experience here will manifest when they return home.Nature at your doorstep.
Sometimes I get to hear about the changes made. One family from London stayed for a week. They had two adorable little daughters who were calling me Nana by the end of their stay. When they returned home they moved to a new area a bit away from the center of London where their girls could have a yard and more time outdoors. I was delighted to hear that their time here is what tipped the scales toward making their move a reality.
It thrills me when guests also dip into the creative offerings on my property and increasingly that is just what is happening. Artists, writers and musicians come with an idea of what they might find and often choose to add the yurt/art studio to their stay. But it isn't just folks who know they are creative that are enjoying the creative opportunities offered here.
Businesses have discovered my place for work related retreats. Recently a young woman, whose art was discovered on etsy.com by a stationery company, came to stay in one of my upstairs rooms. She and her product manager met in the yurt for planning sessions about further projects. The yurt had everything they needed to bring the creative flair their planning required. It is a real pleasure to host these kinds of events.
I love when writers come to stay. One guest, a writing teacher, had a habit of traveling and writing. He found that moving around to different environments kept his creative juices flowing. He stayed here for several nights before moving on to his next stop. I was surprised recently, to find a piece of his writing published in The Sun magazine.Music at For The Joy Of It!
Another writer came for a five-day writing retreat. We got a good writing space set up for her and she stuck to her plan, only going out for meals now and then. Her focused energy crept down the stairs and into my living space, quieting me. I wrote a lot that week myself. Her creative energy was contagious, filling the whole house.
I have two pianos, a grand piano in the house and an upright piano in the yurt. While some guests spy the grand in my photographs and ask ahead if they can play the piano while they are here, others are more reticent. When I ask guests if they play the piano, I often get a far away look as they tell me they played as children, but haven’t touched a piano for years. If they do sit down to the piano, they are often surprised to find they remember more than they thought they would. It is a deep pleasure to watch that creative spark be rekindled as I left my own music behind in my early twenties and didn't find it again until I had small children some years later. I know something about the joy in that reunion.
Guests who have come for facilitated creative retreats find the experience deeply nurturing and profoundly supportive. They stay in the house and have the yurt available for their own personal creative exploration. Throughout their stay, they meet with me for creativity sessions aimed at enhancing their exploration and discovery. Couples have opted for creative retreats too, loving the discovery of a different way of being together.Painting at For The Joy Of It!
Not everyone comes knowing they are looking for creative pursuits but they stumble into their curiosity when they are here. I find it a special joy when guest like these step into the yurt and can’t stop them selves from trying a few things. My yurt is set up to encourage easy exploration with areas dedicated for different activities. The goal is to have fun and if you can keep that as your goal, you really can't go wrong.
Creativity is for us all. It is something we share, because we are human. We knew this as kids. I just painted with a three year old. There was no critic inside him yet, just the fun of seeing the color go on the paper. He was totally absorbed. We can find our way back, to the little one we left behind, and that child is just waiting for us to come out and play. The yurt is a great place to make that re-connection.
I love supporting creativity in a world that sometimes forgets how important it is. It is so easy to get lost in our busy schedules and never give a thought to the fact that we are, each day, creating our own lives. When we open our eyes each morning, we may think we know what is in store for us, but do we really? The fact is, anything can happen at any moment and we are called upon to respond. When life runs off the track we need our creative spark so we can improvise what happens next. My father used to say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Not possible, I say! In fact our bones, in particular are recreating themselves from moment to moment, as is the rest of our body. There is no way to step outside of creation. It is inside of us, and outside of us. We are creativity.
Nothing makes me happier than hearing that guests have gone home and gotten out their old music, have gone to the art supply store and stocked up on paint or other art supplies, or have started collaging again. Some have returned home and signed up for the piano lessons or that special art class they have wanted to enroll in. I have received poems inspired by guest’s time here and heard songs, newly created here. I have been treated to many concerts in my living room. One guest left me a book and a CD of music he had composed.
The creative spark is contagious. Once it lights up, it goes with you everywhere you go, work, play, family, even when you are alone. It is the quickest way I know to bring sparkle to a life that has become too much the same. When guests take that spark home, I know I’m living up to my business name, For The Joy Of It!, because I know joy will be the outcome.
These three years have gone by in a flash. If you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing today, I would never have guessed that my life would have headed in this direction. Isn't that how life goes if we listen to that still small voice within. It will send us this way and that. One step leads to another and suddenly we find ourselves on a whole new path in a whole new world. I trust this creative journey that is life and enjoy letting it take me where it will. I can't wait to see what happens next.
It was just one year ago that I opened my property as a retreat center. The idea came in a burst of new energy after caring for my elderly parents for seven years. In the beginning, I was quite concerned about putting myself on the internet and inviting strangers onto my property. In my fear, I planned to put a door in my entryway so that I could lock the downstairs of my house while guests stayed upstairs. But the door I wanted to install was an odd size and not easily found, so I abandoned that plan and just dove, head first, into my new venture. As this one year anniversary comes round I find myself remembering back to that very first night.
Five days after placing my ad on the internet, I had guests registered for upstairs and in my yurt. The guests had been in touch with me as their day evolved, but darkness fell that evening before either of them arrived. I began to wonder about the wisdom of my plan. "So you put yourself on the internet and invite strangers onto your property. You have only dealt with the men in these couples and now they are arriving after dark! Maybe not such a good plan." I said to myself. A friend called, "If anything seems weird or uncomfortable in any way, come sleep at my house," she offered.
It was nearly ten o'clock when the first guest arrived. He was a very kind man. I invited him in and we introduced ourselves. Then he noticed the stair lift that I had installed on the stairway for my mother, and he commented on it. I explained that I had cared for my elderly parents in my home for seven years. There was a moment of silence and then he offered that he was here in Mendocino because he was caring for his elderly father, who was in his 90's and had dementia. In that single moment, all my concern vanished. Over the last seven years I had sought refuge from the demands of care giving many times and here now, my very first guest was in a situation I knew from the inside out. This moment seemed to me, one of those little miracles that life scatters along the way for us to discover. Recognizing it made me feel like I was indeed on the right path, and heading in the right direction.
About fifteen minutes later my yurt guests arrived. Peering through the darkness, it was clear to me, from the very first moment, that these were fine folks. Upon learning that they had quite a bit of luggage, I offered my golf cart to carry us all out to the yurt. We piled the suitcases on the back. I hopped into the drivers seat, the wife jumped in next to me and the husband got on the back with the suitcases. My lighted path to the yurt is narrow so we headed off on a wider path, used during construction of the yurt, but I had forgotten that it hadn't been trimmed in a long time. The little light on the golf cart tried to penetrate the darkness as we made our way through the woods. The low hanging branches of the trees whipped against the golf cart as we bumped along. "Are you all right back there?" I yelled to the man on the back. I heard a somewhat hesitant "yes" from behind me and we all laughed our way to the yurt. What a wild beginning! For both of us, I am sure!
The next morning I had a very heart felt conversation with the man upstairs about caring for our elderly parents and the folks in the yurt changed their two day stay into five, when in a spontaneous flurry they decided to explore Northern California instead of going south and they even stopped for yet another nights stay on their way back home.
So that door I wanted to lock became symbolic and the wild ride through the darkness, the unexpected brushing up against us as we made our way, symbolic as well. I can see now how they were portents of what was to come. After a year, I can say that I love the "open door" that opening my house has provided. I have enjoyed meeting all the folks who have passed through. Each new guest is an "unexpected surprise" and in getting acquainted, my heart opens with new delight. Like waves lapping onto the shore, the guests flow into my life and then disappear back to where they came from. I'm touched by each one. I hope my guests return home, touched by something they experienced here, in this forest, in the beauty of where I live.
Expressive Arts Experience
There is a certain freedom in stepping towards the unknown. As terrifying as it may be, it is the place from which all creation springs. It is the "friend" we live with each day though we spend much of our life determined not to acknowledge it. We prefer to think we direct our lives and we do but....the unknown is always there beside us and can wreck havoc with our "best laid plans" on a moments notice. Seems like a relationship worth exploring. Take a moment to contemplate your relationship with the unknown. Make a drawing that expresses something about that. Afterwards, have a conversation in your journal between you and "the unknown."
This blog is dedicated to the healing power of nature and the arts. It encourages a different way of looking at the purpose of the arts in our lives. While we can all appreciate well known artists, musicians and writers, it is good to remember that expressing ourselves through the arts belongs to all of us. It is part of being human. The arts and time in nature take us out of our small selves into something so much bigger. We need this larger perspective to guide our daily lives. I have a Masters Degree in Psychology, am a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist and am owner and founder of For The Joy Of It! Creative Retreat in Mendocino CA.