Ocean, Mountains, or Desert? DIY Retreats (and Baked Oatmeal for Breakfast)

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: April 30, 2011
Comments: 3 Comments

Come. Grab your calendar and something to drink. We’re talking Viva Scriva retreats.

Our group started with the monthly critique evenings that are at the core of our existence. As our respect, trust, and liking for each other as writers and people grew, we were ready for something more. We gathered therefore one evening in Liz’s artsy attic to discuss Process.

This was a potent meeting. We opened up about personal obstacles to writing. We imagined, then shared, what our theoretical business advisers might say about our writing careers (thanks for the exercise, Addie!). It connected us deeper, and left us wanting more. More time together to talk, discuss process, and especially, to write. So, like Queen Esther’s banquet, this gathering led to another: our first writing retreat!

We decided to do everything ourselves in order to save money and have exactly the kind of time we wanted. You can learn what we consider essential, and “taste” a Viva Scriva retreat, by reading all the way down.

That late February, the Scrivas hunkered down to write at a relative’s house in the Oregon desert. We fell in love with the location, and that place and time became our official “annual retreat.”

The benefit of a writing retreat is solid blocks of hours to work on projects. Oftentimes, new works are started and long-suffered works are completed. (I myself began my main work-in-progress at our second annual retreat. I love seeing the date and location underneath the title on the first draft: “2/20/2010, ——, Oregon”.) Working together spurs us on. It’s inspiring to look up and see other Scrivas furiously typing, marking up manuscript pages, or staring off into space gathering story threads. Then after our satisfying labors, we reconnect as people and fellow writers.

In 2010, to our February retreat we added one in May, then another in October. We learned that three writing retreats a year are wonderful, but not everyone will be able to make them. That makes us sad, since we like all being together.

This January, several Scrivas jaunting off to job interviews abroad or East Coast writing conferences, we couldn’t take additional time away for our beloved February retreat. It was a mistake. Scrivas became cranky. We needed and wanted together time to write, talk, and process. We’ve planned a make-up retreat, which took a lot of juggling around. (OK, this is where everyone pulls out her calendar…and hair.)

As we’re entering our third retreat year, we’ve come to see that planning retreat dates by ear doesn’t cut it. Each of us has too many things going on: school, family, religious, holiday, and work commitments, besides writing conferences. We hate missing retreats, or having a dear Scriva not attend because of previous plans. The Scrivas therefore decided on weekends “set in…paper,” when we will retreat henceforth. Early November and late February work best for us, with possibly a third retreat in early June for all who can make it. Now we can guard those dates from the other good things that invariably will beckon. On those weekends, we’re booked. It’s time for our books.



-A FREE OR LOW-COST PLACE TO STAY. So far, family and friends have opened their houses to us while they were away. Soon we will go on a retreat at the Oregon coast, Addie having found a rental that’s reasonable when split eight ways.

-AS FEW CARS AS POSSIBLE. One year, when only seven of us went, we all packed light and squeezed into one van. Except for missing Mary, it was wonderful. The best advantage of carpooling is continuing the mix of book, craft, and personal talk that is the never-have-enough-time-for Viva Scriva conversation.

-SIGN-UPS FOR YUMMY MEALS. Wouldn’t you like:

Sabina’s baked oatmeal, by popular acclaim become the official Saturday breakfast (leftovers to be enjoyed the whole retreat long)?

Nicole’s tea sandwiches and scones for lunch?

Vegetable lasagna, chili, or Liz’s soup (drop in hominy and your choice of goodies in chicken broth), for dinner?

On top of that, everyone brings whatever snacks she wishes to help us survive from one great meal to the next.


Self-serve breakfast for each person to partake of as she wakes, then moseys to a chosen spot to write.

A whole morning to write!

Lunch together and conversation. But we don’t linger.

More quiet writing time in the afternoon (with Scrivas perhaps shifting around so others can relish favored spots, like the loveseat overlooking a desert vista, or the couch in front of the fireplace).

(Scrivas go on walks or runs as they wish, in the morning or afternoon.)

In the evening, it’s time for cocktails and letting down hair as Amber pours. Margaritas? Lemon drops? Chrysanthemums?

After dinner, a joint activity. One time, we discussed the creativity classic Art and Fear. Another time, each Scriva crafted a strand of powerfully symbolic Writing Beads and shared their significance. (One of us will blog about Writing Beads in the future.)

Before leaving, everyone pitches in to clean the house (unless it’s a rental where the cleaning fee takes care of it).

-THANK YOU CARD AND/OR SMALL PRESENT (copies of Scriva books?) for the absent hosts, who have meanwhile been added to the Viva Scriva “Patrons of Art” Roll.

There it is, the Viva Scriva retreat. No patent is pending, so jump right in, be inspired by us to craft your own based on your needs and resources. And, because every person who has ever savored the Black Rock Baked Oatmeal invariably asks for the recipe, you may as well have it now. Now your cup—and bowl—can run over.

BAKED OATMEAL (adapted from recipe from Black Rock Retreat Center in Pennsylvania)

For eight people, and because we love the leftovers, I triple the recipe below. One third (a regular recipe) is made without milk for those who don’t do dairy, and goes in its own 9×9” pan. The doubled recipe gets a bigger 9×13” pan. Everything can be prepped the night before and popped in the oven by the first person to wake. Enjoy!

1 / 2 c. oil

1 / 2 c. white sugar

1 / 2 c. brown sugar

2 beaten eggs

1 c. milk

3 c. oatmeal (quick or regular)

1 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

2 t. cinnamon


Mix oatmeal with baking powder and cinnamon, then add raisins and milk. Combine this with the egg mixture. Spread into a greased (optional) 9×9” pan and bake 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees. You may add chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried or fresh fruits or whatever to this recipe. Serve with milk as a cereal, or, warm or cool, as a coffee cake.

–Sabina I. Rascol


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3 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. ScrivaAmber says:

    Your post made me so excited about our upcoming retreat – and nostalgic about past retreats!

  2. OH man! Just reading that oatmeal recipe is giving me a case of Sabina oatmeal WITHDRAWL!! I don’t think I can make it until June. I might just have to give in and try out the recipe myself. 🙂

  3. this post is quoted by A Tale of Three Retreats « Viva Scriva says:

    […] about these expeditions of extreme productivity and bonding, please check out earlier blogs such as DIY retreats, Insider View of a Scriva Retreat, and Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads, and posts about the […]

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