2016 Brave Writer Retreat Recap
Life-Changing, Mind-Bending, FUN
by Tia Levings, Conjurer of Contests and Campaigns
“The key factor in your homeschool is each person’s experience of home.” –Julie Bogart
Crossing the border from the Ordinary into the Extraordinary involved driving past rolling green hills of community gardens and turning the corner into The Centennial Barn’s parking lot. The barn was built in 1898 and converted into the space the retreat attendees came to know and love. Inside were arched doorways and twinkle lights, dance floors and cans of crayons, swag bags and signs that read, “Hello Gorgeous!”
In every nook and cranny, every garden, and every moment of the 2016 Be Good to You Retreat groups of women talked with their hands, dabbed their eyes, laughed uproariously, and lived honestly. The connections made were nearly palpable—visible bonds linking story to story—and to quote Melissa Wiley’s insightful child, “every face was beautiful.”
Seventy-two hours, give or take a few, became the safe space of insight, pixie dust, and imagination for 140 women from all over the United States and Canada.
As women arrived Wednesday night, and hung their amazing muslin squares (image by Alexandra, Life on Island), the Brave Writer team knew that it was go-time after nearly a year of preparation and hard work. This baby conceived in love was about to be born and we couldn’t wait to do everything possible to make it an amazing time for every single attendee.
And then came our rock star, Julie, in a red dress and cheetah heels, coming down the stairs, welcomed into thunderous applause. Any lingering misconceptions that this was going to be your average curriculum event were finally (and vibrantly) eradicated.
After Julie’s keynote on Updating Charlotte Mason, heading to the hotels for some solid sleep was a good idea; not many after-parties could be heard on the first night. But the coffee hadn’t even gotten cold before the ideas were flying Thursday morning with the early birds in the yoga room and the jet lagged making it in for the first keynote.
Melissa Wiley in the house!
What an exciting keynote speaker! Melissa reintroduced her life-giving rhythm Tidal Homeschooling and how it fits with the Brave Writer Lifestyle—and all of a sudden no one felt like they had to “do it all, all at once” anymore.
Then we hit the workshops! Each one ran twice, allowing the most possible attendance for those who had their interests pulled in various directions.
- Alexandra of Life on Island (Prince Edward Island) led clusters of “Crouching Woman, Taking Photo” outside to study the grounds
- Rita Cevasco of Rooted in Language helped identify useful strategies to address the issues struggling readers face (and their stressed out, worried moms!)
- Stephanie Elms of Throwing Marshmallows (and assistant coach in The Homeschool Alliance) shone a light into the clouds of anxiety surrounding high school and college prep
- Jeannette Hall of Cliffs & Wings (and Brave Writer social media fairy) illuminated the path to bringing the not-so-user-friendly fine arts of opera, ballet, and Shakespeare to you and your homeschool.
Dance your hearts out mamas!
The phrase, “line dancing” doesn’t really do what happened on the oak floor justice, once Cincinnati dance instructorgot everyone out under the lights to boogie-woogie, slide, dab, stomp, and shake. But we wiggled and grooved in more-or-less lines until the stars came out and it was time to wrap the day…which, for many, meant…
After parties at the hotels! These women came prepared! Tables were filled with chocolate frosted cupcakes, fudge, candy bars (we can buy them now that there are no children around to say no to!), and “grown up drinks.” The riotous ruckus that ensued ran the gamut of subjects as this rising generation of homeschool mother-revolutionaries showed how smart, talented, and courageous they are, perfectly poised to raise children equipped to take us into a new century. It was inspiring.
We slept a few hours and wasted no time getting back to the barn, hungry for more sessions and connection.
Can comics make you smart?
Well, actually… yes! Melissa dove into how comic books can actually have a swift impact on your children’s reading, vocabulary, poetry, and fun! (Here are Melissa’s Kids’ Comics and Graphic Novel Recommendations.)
The Invisible Education
Julie’s final keynote (Part One and Part Two) honed in on all the pain points everyone in the room was already thinking would be the obstacles to implementing all these great ideas. What about when kids won’t cooperate? When they won’t stick to a plan? When you can’t measure progress? When all they want to do is play? And when you feel badly because you’ve yelled, used punishments, and made “doing school” something miserable.
Julie asked us all to spend a few moments freewriting what it felt like to be a child in the home where we grew up. Do we want a similar experience for our children? Are we pursuing a different one?
Tears ensued, enough of them that we had to retrieve and pass the Kleenex and turn off Periscope. The Invisible Education is a keynote that Julie had not given before; it was written and designed specifically for this retreat. She brought home to our hearts with precision exactly where the challenge resides—its so much more than a curriculum choice, a lifestyle, a learning difficulty—and how to tap into our power to go home and change our families toward the good.
The testimonials in the Q & A jerked loose any last tears hanging back. This room got real; these women let themselves be known and they embraced the vulnerability it takes to cut the junk and #tellthefreakingtruth.
Julie and Melissa ready for Jimmy Fallon!
After I shared the story of how our Poetry Teatime tea cozies came to be (and that session was a hard one to follow, let me tell you!), Julie had one more big surprise for everyone. She and Melissa, both Dorothy’s in childhood Wizard of Oz performances, lip synced to “Home” from The Wiz. Haven’t seen it on Dani’s Periscope yet? Here it is!
Stephanie reassured us on the Facebook retreat group page:
Something to keep in mind as you make “re-entry”…you will in all likelihood find yourself a mess of conflicting emotions as you begin to process everything and that is ok! Don’t feel that you have to figure out any answers quite yet. There is value to sitting with the questions and allowing the answers to reveal themselves over time. And you do have time.
Most importantly, remember to be gentle with yourself.
Our time together ended with a lovely slideshow put together by photographer Alli Parfenov.
Stories, Memories, Reflections
Enjoy these inspirational blog posts from those who attended the retreat:
Brave Writer Retreat Recap on Periscope by Melissa, Here in the Bonny Glen
Brave Writer Retreat: Thoughts Upon “Re-Entry” by Nadine, Up Above the Rowan Tree
Finding Home after Oz by Jenny, Where Life is Real
Reflective Moments on Compassion: The Brave Writer Retreat by Audria, At the Well
Thinking about the Brave Writer Retreat by Angela, 200 Days of Homeschool for That Family
Reflect~The Brave Writer Retreat by Angela, Nurtured Roots
Brave Writer Retreat~Wow by Alexandra, Life on Island
Our Charlotte Mason Tidal School by Dachelle, Hide the Chocolate
The 2016 Brave Writer Retreat by Tracy, Trekking with Tracy
Special hat tip to
Debba Haupert of Girlfriendology who decorated the space among many other things!
Paula Horton who made sure everyone was well fed, well rested, and well organized. She also moved, lifted, carried anything that needed moving, lifting, or carrying.
Cindy Clark who ran the product table and helped in countless ways.
Alli Parfenov, our event photographer, who captured the retreat in images and created the fabulous video above.
Stephanie Whittenbaugh who took photos the first night when Alli was stranded at the Chicago airport.
Mary Wilson of Not Before 7 who took excellent notes on the sessions.