Monday 4 January 2016

Nurturing Self Care & Creativity, or, How I Broke Apart & Started a Retreat to Fix it

There are times when my deeply instilled love for efficiency and ability to visually 'Tetris' things comes in handy, as was the case one weekend this September where I managed to pack what was essentially a generous helping from each aisle of an entire No Frills grocery store into the trunk of my friend's tiny car. 
My European roots (and likely my love for leftovers) translated into a menu that could easily serve an Italian family reunion but was meant instead to nourish a group of very special women who gathered together for three days in an old house called Loretto Maryholme on the shores of Lake Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. 
Let me tell you how we got there...
In the fall of 2014 I found myself at a crossroads where the key element of self love was missing - I was living life like a cake without a rising agent. 
Hung over from a (well-catered) pity party I threw myself, I sat there in my living room and let the stillness speak and something small but fierce started bubbling up in me - a feeling of worth despite my flaws. This acknowledgement within elicited a hunger so strong to ignore old pathways and start showing up in my own life. 
I gave myself permission to do things that brought me joy (cooking, photography, music) and discovered the key to loving myself was to immerse myself in creativity. For me, it was (and continues to be) the ideal way through the murky terrain of my past and navigating the accumulated consequences of decisions I'd previously made from a place of fear. 
I was particularly moved by a line I heard that resonated to my very core: "bend to where there is fruit." 

Food and the art of cooking has long been a place of personal ripeness for my soul and I liked the simplicity of the phrase - stick to what yields fruit, turn away from the barren, the uninterested, the misaligned. 

Turn towards what makes your heart light up. 
For as long as I remember I have felt comfortable and happy in the kitchen and particularly fulfilled in making meals for others and sharing them. Infusing love into the food I make has always fed me with love right back. 

I've nurtured a dream since childhood - restoring an old farmhouse and fostering a welcoming space, a nourishing community for creative people to create while I feed them. A sort of 'coworking-catered-by-Kinfolk' bed & breakfast/working farm. 

A serendipitous encounter with a local entrepreneurial 'fairy godmother' sparked the idea to take the first step towards this dream by renting a rural location & hosting a weekend retreat. Thus, Nurture: A Retreat was born. 

I poured my heart and soul into every detail, and made exactly 89, 541 mistakes along the way. Luckily that small-but-fierce voice inside continued to whisper to me and turned those mistakes into lessons that I know will help me the next time around. 

The universe conspired to call in the talents of three beautiful women who agreed to embark on this initial adventure with me. 

I had envisioned hosting workshops that spanned the fertile and inspiring places of Hearth, Garden, Parlour & Field and Jessica, Amy & Tahlia pulled out all the stops to share the important message of self care through their creative hearts. 



Jessica Hunter, of A Fine Medley, speaks in flowers like Wordsworth speaks in verse. Each floral offering is a poem of an arrangement. 
For the Garden workshop, she showed us how to take our foraged branches and greenhouse buds and place them in our vessels according to our hearts and what felt right to us. She pointed out how bigger blooms carefully chosen can punctuate a more run-on-sentence of bracken, berry & blossom. 

I loved seeing everyone reflected in their arrangements, how each woman blossomed from being granted permission to choose the flowers that spoke to her. 
Working with the fleeting beauty of flowers teaches us how to be in the moment, to appreciate how things come together only to fall apart, decay and provide the necessary nourishment for the next cycle of growth to begin. 
As Jessica spoke, this lesson rang especially true for me as I recognized the fertilizing quality of my own inner breakdown only months before and how it had nourished me this far. 
I was astounded and profoundly grateful for the beauty it was now creating in myself and in the immersed and engaged faces of the women around me. 
~ ~ ~ 
Often, in both our inner and outer winters, it can feel like all there is is fertilizer. 
The accumulated detritus of our mistakes, patterns, broken promises, heartaches and expired relationships lies scattered at our feet in various stages of decay and we can't take a step without being reminded of it. 
Enter the alchemical process of art journaling. 

Amy Leigh is an arts therapist-in-training & a social worker whose ability to balance both patience and passion on the canvas of her life is highly inspiring. She stood in front of our group and cracked the spine of an antique accounting ledger that she'd transformed into her latest art journal. 
It now contains collages, smears, imprints, burning words, pent up and spit out. 
Her raw emotions are processed on each splayed page offering glimpses of beauty & pain, notions of healing & hurt, artifacts of her year-until-now in patchwork images & phrases that sparked her heart.
She showed us a page she'd made when her grandmothers passed and we all felt its beauty and the hit to the solar plexus of shared grief because art is a personal way of translating universal essence. 
Each of us, armed with a pair of scissors and a buffet of stamps, paints, stickers, curated papers & assorted magazines, started out on our own art journal journey. 

Heads bowed in concentration, as though in prayer, we communed with these scraps and somehow found the holy in our messes. 

A balm. That's what we needed after exposing and expressing our hearts on the page. So, it was fitting that our tender emotions and stress-accustomed bodies were soothed by some restorative yoga (that turned into laughing yoga when we all caught a case of the giggles and couldn't stop) and the skillful apothecary concoctions that Tahlia Dyer (Sunfire Herbals) made with our group. 

Tahlia loves to grow and make and she loves to give. She's a woman wise to the healing properties of plants and natural ingredients and she gave us all the gift of making our own herb-spiked bath salts & sugar scrubs flecked with petals from the bounty of her own garden.
She encouraged us to be present to every sense while we slid our hands into bowls slick with organic coconut oil, coarse sugar crystals, geranium essence and Tahlia's own sun-dried rose petals. The smell of this, coupled with the tender self love we all infused into this mixture was so potent and intoxicating I have been tenderly rationing my jar at home. I will be very sad when it's finished as I am swept up in a cloud of warm memories and good vibes each time I open it at bath time. 

The care and respect with which Tahlia spoke of, cultivated, and worked with her ingredients, drove home the important lesson that treating our bodies with kindness is just as important as being kind to our minds. 
The act of hands-on, loving body care inspired us to move sumptuous beauty rituals from a place of pampering to the everyday. 
Oh, and the food! 

Those who know me will not be surprised at the fact that designing the menu was the first thing I did. 



A name? 


Nah, all of these played second fiddle to lovingly obsessing over what would be in season and how I might nourish the souls and appetites of the ladies who blessed this inaugural venture of mine with their attendance. 

You can tell a good house when the soul of its kitchen has a magnetic quality that draws in those who are living or staying there. 

The pull of the kitchen at Loretto Maryholme is strong, although I will admit the wafts of fresh coffee & buttery fruit-studded scones may have helped. Butter always helps. 

I was in my element in this kitchen, sharing my love of cooking with love. 

My philosophy is that nothing is too humble a meal to be made with love. A tender swoosh of peanut butter on a saltine can be a holy thing. 

However, we outdid ourselves - our ingredients may have been humble, but we feasted like queens. 

We joined together in the kitchen that first evening to witness the magic of milk, cream & lemon juice curdle to a rich ricotta, which we subsequently baked into our scones at breakfast and dolloped liberally onto our homemade pasta for dinner. 

We spooned hearty chili onto skillet cornbread and spoke about the state of our hearts. 

While diving into our art journals, our hands alternated between picking up scissors, glue, and ice cream sandwiches crafted with my world-famous ginger cookies

Roasted seasonal vegetables that had marinated in a bath of garlic and fruity olive oil topped fresh bakery ciabatta, and whipped egg whites magically transformed into pillowy pavlova nests for local berries drizzled with vanilla-bean speckled custard sauce.


Warm, garlicky naan acted as a vessel for shakshouka, a middle-eastern dish of eggs poached in a hearty pepper & tomato sauce sprinkled with liberal amounts of sheep's milk feta.

These meals brought us together in that particular type of fellowship that only large bedecked tables laden with good food and kindred souls around them can bring. 

We laughed, we cried, we even postponed dinner to jump in the lake under a double rainbow and the most beautiful sunset that acted like a real-life Instagram filter.   


We ended our three days in the most profound and fitting way. Loretto Maryholme boasts a large outdoor labyrinth, constructed with stones and lots of love in a clearing of a pine grove. The pattern of the labyrinth is modeled after the famous one in Chartres Cathedral and has a simple circle of trees at its centre. The eleven of us walked the winding path towards that circle, honouring our time together with this sacred ritual. I was full of gratitude, my heart swelling with emotion, as I looped and wove in and out, out and in. The path lead me seemingly away from the centre but inevitably drove me back to it and I realized again that cycle of birth-death-rebirth resides in everything. 

The effects of this weekend have lingered in me and in the other women who participated. We joined together to feed ourselves well - with good food, natural beauty, tender care & hearty conversation, and we did it by bringing our hands and hearts together creatively. 

As I look over the photos while putting this blog post together, as I daydream about the next Nurture: A Retreat which will take place in the spring, two things come to mind: 

1. The inner sanctuary I tapped into while dreaming of this retreat and bringing it to life is available to me, to any of us, at any time. We simply have to enter. 


2. Among the 5438 things to get done before the next retreat, rest assured that the menu is already planned. 


All photos from this post are taken by the talented Alyssa Wodabek of Alyssa Wodabek Photography and Evonne Bellefleur. These women ooze talent and warmth and I am forever grateful to them for documenting this inaugural retreat so beautifully. 

Care to join us in May? We'd love to have you! Our next retreat will be held May 20-22nd, 2016. Registration is now open and all details can be found at

Interested in joining the Nurture: A Retreat team? If you live and breathe self care through your creative endeavours and have facilitation experience, please email to learn more.


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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks so much Little Miss Gourmet! The beauty of the weekend is still with me. :)

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