I signed up for a Food-Writing-101 class on a whim back in late February thinking it would help me become a better food writer – I mean, that’s what the title says, yes? And while I understand I am capable of putting two sentences together, I’ve never considered myself a ‘real’ writer much less someone who has studied food professionally in any form. But a funny thing happened on my way through eight weeks of class . . . thoughts, words and memories eased themselves into my consciousness . . . and I began to write them down.

Writing was, and is, exhilarating – the single flip of my childhood tummy as I peddled my bicycle to the top of a steep hill only to sail to the bottom, red-haired ponytail flying behind me, blue eyes squinted nearly shut, mouth closed to keep the bugs out – that rush, that feeling of free-falling into nothingness. Fragments of stories, moments, tastes and smells – all part of my life-quilt, begin to appear and as I stitch them together with words, my picture becomes more focused, as if being processed in an old-fashioned dark room photo tray.

A writing retreat in Santa Fe was the culmination of that first eight weeks and as the date approached, I began to feel anxious and apprehensive: ‘Everyone else knows more than I do, they are real writers, these people are working on books or have already been published,’ I would say. ‘What if they find me out? What if they discover that I’m not a real writer?’ I asked The Professor. ‘What then?’ ‘I’m not good enough, I’m a newbie, what if I can’t do this?’ And the kicker? I was to bring a piece I’d written and share with the group – as in, read it out loud – to a room full of people I didn’t know. What in the heck was I thinking? Why did I sign up for this? I’m not ready. Well ready or not, there I went.

And the experience was glorious – better than anything I could have ever imagined for myself. The retreat provided me with a daily schedule, a routine, writing peers and mentors. I was like a brand new orange-colored sponge, ripped from its cellophane packaging and plopped into a bucket of life-giving water, absorbing every crumb of knowledge within my reach – yes, life-changing.

Part of our daily routine started with a 10-minute write each morning; ‘Pen-to-paper’ Molly would say, ‘No looking backwards, just keep your pen moving forward writing down any thought or word that comes to your mind.’ And at first, it was extremely difficult to get even a paragraph written during those agonizing 10 minutes but by day four, my last morning in Santa Fe, my words began to find a rhythm, a cadence, a flow:

‘My husband is here and I find myself grateful, grateful, grateful; amazing journey, amazing people, talented writers. I have so many memories swirling around in my head. Grab a pen, gather some paper and write it all down. Will I remember this space? The laughing blue eyes, the smell of coffee in this room? Will I remember the daily fashion show of mismatched socks worn by the gentleman from Washington DC? Will I remember the creamy green guacamole, the taste of cattail hearts, the knife gliding along the cold dead trout, bright, empty eyes staring back at me as I snapped its photo? Will I remember the king-sized bed, lumpy with sheets that popped out of their restraints sometime in the middle of each night?

Fear, laughter, joy, pain that is shared, dispersed to greedy arms, open wide, willing to receive, to absorb and ease the sting of sadness, of struggle.

Four days, four glorious days of newness, of awakening, of being picked up and placed on a new path of freshly poured asphalt not too far from the uphill, bumpy dirt road filled with twists, turns, brambles, sinkholes, thorns and stickers. You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.’

Much of what I’m writing about these days won’t make its way here to this blog; I don’t really know where those words will find their home. But this journey is new and it’s exciting and I’m ready for the challenge – maybe someday I’ll be ready to share but until then, I just want to thank you for coming here.


This is not a sponsored post, no one asked me to write about my experience and in fact, The Professor and I paid to attend the retreat; but if you’re interested in honing your own writing skills, Molly O’Neill and team have already scheduled their next retreat in the gorgeous setting of Homer, Alaska – highly recommend!


  1. What a wonderful memoir of our weekend, Deb. Beautifully evoked – speeding downhill gulping the wind – Yes! And your photos are fantastic. Keep writing.

  2. This post is so inspiring, Deb. You told the story in your way, with your own voice and you captivated me. To me, that means you’re a writer. My mind is turning over and over, and I am already choosing the spot where I will sit to write…just write…for a few minutes each day. Thank you, Deb.

  3. Keep on writing! Great post and great blog 🙂

  4. Beautifully and lyrically done. Thank you for sharing and inspiring others to loose ourselves in the beauty of words.

  5. Debra,
    You ARE a writer. See what you just wrote! It is beautiful as Kim stated. You’re welcome and Thank You! I enjoyed reading it and it brought joy and peace to my life tonight exactly when I needed it. It was refreshing and inspirational. Go forth and write whether anyone reads it, likes it, pays for it, or whatever. Do it because it pleases you, makes you proud and gives you a chance to put your precious soul on paper to breathe and allow, even for just 10 minutes a day. Julia Cameron would be proud of you. You are blessed. Believe in you. Keep the faith and have the courage to continue learning, writing, eating, experiencing and tasting all that life has to offer. Love the pics of Lu (Shauna & Danny’s beautiful girl).

  6. Debra, I can’t believe that you of all people, you who writes so fluently and beautifully had anxiety over this retreat. Thank you for sharing. i love your blog, and your writing and as always you amazing photography!

  7. Wow, Debra! I am so thrilled that you had such a great experience at the writing retreat. I’ve been thinking about trying one myself, so now I’m really inspired. I had to laugh a bit at your butterflies about being a “real writer” though, given that you ARE writing a popular food blog…anyway, I’m excited to see where this all takes you!

  8. Kim Foster

    This makes me so happy. And you and your words are beautiful. Just beautiful. So happy and grateful to be a part of your life, Deb. You inspire me.

    xoxo Kim

    • you are a godsend Kim, i’m sure you don’t realize how much you have influenced me but you really have; am so very grateful for your friendship! (((hugs)))

  9. Deb, I’ve read and re-read this piece at least four times this morning, inspired and grateful for your experience. You are such a talented woman and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next, sweet friend.

    Taking the time to put pen to paper each day is one of my favorite things. I need to set aside the time each day to make it happen rather than waiting for the free time to appear. We all know time doesn’t just happen that way.

    P.S. The photograph of the Professor is one of my very favorites of him. It captures the twinkle in his eye perfectly.

    • lump in my throat Robyn, thank you. and yes, setting aside the time rather than waiting for those 10 minutes to appear is a must – it really does help the creativity flow! i LOVE that pic of The Professor – my very favorite of him!

  10. Wonderful Deb! Something we could probably all use, at least I know I could. Taking time to take time is not happening here these days. The days flow — or rather rush — from one into the other like a blur. Thanks for the retreat tip and the reminder to stop and focus even if for only 10 minutes.

    • Amy ~ i just can’t tell you how having that 10 minutes to get your thoughts on paper helps to anchor your day; i know you have a beautiful special chair in your house set aside – get a small journal and place it on that chair as a reminder! xo

  11. I can’t think of a better place than Santa Fe for inspiration to write.
    And, I can’t think of a better group to have convened! Glad you and the Professor had a great time, Deb.

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