For fifteen years now, four of us women go on a winter adventure to Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, over the four days of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Sandie, Martha, Dee and I drive up Friday leaving at noon. We always pick Oglebay because of the safe, clear, two-hour highway trip in case of potentially bad winter weather—and the resort cabins have cleared paths to them as well. Given the wintry roads and the mountainous conditions of Seven Springs or Hidden Valley, Oglebay is the resort of choice—one that minimizes the anxiety of winter travel.
Sandie, Martha, Dee and I all met as Carlow University faculty where Sandie and Dee remain in the Masters in Professional Leadership Program. Martha is a retired professor in the Professional Leadership Program. I am a retired director and professor in the Early Childhood Education Program. We began our MLK holiday adventure to go hiking over a long weekend—but only hiked the first year! And we decided to invite Dee. (Dee thought we were inviting her to warn her about some dangerous politicking at Carlow. We were inviting her because we thought she’d be fun!—and to warn her of some dangerous politicking at Carlow!)
At 66 years old, Sandie is a tall woman with short red hair, who is slim, durable and hearty. She brings the cookies for the ride down and chocolates for the visit. She also grinds the fresh coffee beans and makes coffee each morning. And, when we’ve sufficiently awake, she makes oatmeal for breakfast. Sandie has added bringing homemade zucchini soup for our lunch menu. Also, one year, she brought a book of essays about strong women of Seattle—her home town—and read a passage for us. She also brings in the firewood from time to time as we need it.
At 75 years old, Martha, with spiked brown hair and an impish face, pushes herself to meet challenges—some necessary and some not so necessary. She is retired but has the stress of some serious illnesses, for she was diagnosed with Sjorgrens Disease, an autoimmune disorder. She also has severe back problems. Three times now, we have taken her from the hospital bed to our retreat. She is a trooper and a good sport, and we are good for her—medicine for her spirit. Martha keeps the fire going all weekend with the firewood from Sandie and does a fine job. Martha brings herself, and we are honored with her presence.
Dee is 59 years old, has brown hair with red highlights and is always friendly with a welcoming smile and greeting. Upbeat, cheerful and positive, she brings an array of foods from homemade beef and noodle soup to the ingredients for a luncheon spinach salad to a bag of oranges. She also carries her tea bags for her daily cups of tea, sharing her tea bags with anyone at will. One year, she did hand massages. And, she brings her wonderful sense of humor to the weekend.
I am 65 years old and the only one with white hair, who is retired and with the stress of health care and living on a fixed income in my life which is a trade off for when I worked since I was always anxious then too. I make the lunches—often of sandwiches but, one time, of cheeses, breads and fruit. One year, I brought a sketch pad and a set of fine point magic markers for each person. Another year, I brought a coloring book and a box of 96 crayons for each. I like to cultivate the artistic! We are a wonderful, loyal, caring and compassionate foursome.
So, Friday at noon we meet, and either Sandie or Dee drives. This year, Dee drove. Our first stop is the Subway at the Cannonsburg exit on I 79 where we get a half of a sub or salad and begin to wind down. We then proceed to Wheeling, and, on the way, someone writes a list of groceries to buy at the Kroger’s. This year, Sandie wrote it on the back of a deposit slip. We make a new list every year because it depends on what everyone brings from home.
We have the trip through Kroger’s down to an art. In 15 minutes, we can find all of the food as well as fire starters and a lighter. In 10 more minutes, we are checked out and on the road climbing up the hill to Wilson Lodge to check in at Oglebay. We always stay in cabins, for they have a rustic charm about them. This year, we upgraded and stayed at Ash Cabin which has four bedrooms and two baths.
Opening the door to a large main room, you will find us lounging on four cushioned chairs, eating cookies and chocolates or sliced apples around the coffee table while talking and enjoying the fire. Against one wall in this main room—covering nearly the whole wall, there is a large stone fireplace with a continuous fire that Martha and I jointly tend. Outside is a sufficient stock of wood with more to be easily obtained by a phone call. Against another wall is a picnic table where you will find us conversing over our oatmeal at breakfast or our zucchini soup with sandwich or salad at lunch.
Around the perimeter of the main room is an assortment of couches, chairs and end tables with lights for additional congregating or moving to the sidelines to read, write or nap while still remaining with the group. At different years, the amount of this sideline activity has changed according to our needs—we are flexible and responsive. Martha and Sandie read; I do journaling; and Dee begins reading but soon ends up napping. And, on occasion, we each go off to our respective rooms to read and nap. This year, we needed much less private time. Some living rooms have wall paintings, but our cabin has living paintings. As a backdrop to the living room, half a wall of windows look out over the woods in wonderful winter scenes—snow falling and deer running through the trees.
Off of the main room are the four bedrooms going back and two bathrooms in the front. After Sandie’s invitation to pick a bedroom, we each select one. Martha and I pick the front two rooms and Sandie and Dee select the back two rooms. We put our clothes away in the wooden chest of drawers and our night clothes on one of the two double-beds in the room. There is a medium window and a rod with a few hangers for a coat and such. It’s a simple but functional bedroom. We get situated in a flutter of conversation about how we finally made it to Oglebay—finally!
Off the main room also is a fully equipped kitchen. However, we only use it for coffee and tea, oatmeal in the morning, to make sandwiches for lunch and to keep fruit, chocolates, cookies, cheese and wine for snacks. We go out to dinner every night. Through the years, we’ve established three places we really like and usually frequent. Friday night, we go to a great hamburger joint, the Alpha, where we continue to unwind for the weekend. Saturday night, we go to a very nice, varied-cuisine restaurant in town, the Nail Factory. Sunday night, we go to an outstanding Italian eatery, Undo’s.
Our cabin is a respite where we can be with each other in friendship and caring. We, one and all, look forward to this adventure every year with eager anticipation. About seven years ago, we added a summer retreat in June to Hocking Hills, Ohio—a rural area about six hours west of Pittsburgh. We like being together. We anticipate the next retreat as soon as we conclude the previous one, but when we are immersed in the experience, there is only being with each of our friends in the moment.
On Saturday and Sunday, between breakfast and dinner, we spend a lot of time just talking and laughing with each other. There is an ebb and flow that fits our life rhythms of the year—some years we are tired and some we are energized. Our meals extend for hours over conversation. Occasionally, we break open a bottle of wine and talk some more though each of us is a one-or-two-glass drinker. We’re all on medicine! We talk about Carlow, our lives, romances, life and death, leadership, pets, children and grandchildren—anything is fuel for discussion. We strive to see the humor in everything that we can.
We have a tradition that we began three years into our visits to Oglebay. We keep a journal for each of us—actually Dee does the recording and keeping of them. Our mantra is “Write it down: make it happen” from the title of a book by the same name. We each take a turn listening to last year’s goals and commentary and giving our own feedback on the progress in each area. Each year, we update our new goals and commentary. This has been an interesting and a wonderful documentation of our individual growth. We are also cheerleaders in hearing each other’s progress.
Two years ago, in 2010, though, things were different. We drove up in snow to an unpredicted snow storm. Although the roads were fine, we had a challenging weekend ahead without knowing it. However, Sandie did make preparations in case we would not go to the Alpha on Friday for dinner. She brought pesto pasta, which was delicious. We appreciated not having to go outside. I was also having trouble staying awake and stumbling—which I would later find out was a side effect of a new medicine. Sandie, Martha and Dee were very patient and supportive with me.
Saturday, the electricity went out during the day. We were given food including warm soup for dinner if we would walk to the Inn to get it. Sandie and Dee trudged through the deep snow to go pick up the food. On the way back, Sandie slipped on some ice, fell and hurt herself. However, being somewhat hearty women, we ate and settled in for the night, but the wood was so green that we could not enjoy what should have been the ongoing heat and fire in the fireplace.
The Inn offered us lodging for the night because they had electricity, but we initially refused. We wanted to have our own space. However, after several cold hours and several calls from the Inn, we agreed and packed up for the night. In the Inn, I fell backward and hit my head on the floor of the main stairwell to our rooms. I roomed with Dee, and Sandie and Martha roomed together. The next morning, over breakfast in the Inn restaurant, we noted how we had all gone immediately to sleep in psychic exhaustion.
By this time, we were ready to go home a day and a half early—the Inn was not for us. The clerk informed us that the electricity was back on in the cabin, but it was too late. We proceeded with the idea to go home. We had had enough.
We drove home and still had to dig out of 2 ½ feet of snow. We started out with the pasta to cope with the weather, but the weather got too overwhelming. We would all return home to a comfortable environment. We did not even make our usual reservation for the following year. Nevertheless, as we talked during this year, we decided we’d give Oglebay a try again but with a newer cabin and a warning about the green wood. Life was like this with a combination of comfort and challenges. We dealt with both.
Winter 2012 was a wonderful visit to Oglebay. We had great fires all day long to keep us warm and set the scene. Martha and I jointly tended the fire even though each of us had back problems. The wood was perfect for burning.
We ate healthy food. At the Alpha, we all forewent our burgers and had broiled fish dinners. For breakfasts, we had oatmeal. For lunch, we had spinach salads with carrots, chick peas, green beans and organic cranberries. Instead of the Nail Factory, we decided to try a new crepes place, Later Alligator, which was a fun change. For all our dinners out, we showed restraint. We snacked on oranges and apples although we did allow ourselves the luxury of chocolates, cookies and brownies.
The group invited me to bring my lifestory writings and read them aloud. They were very enthusiastic about my works. I read two or three each day to wonderful, supportive comments and encouragement. The verbal photographs I wrote of Sandie, Martha and Dee were kept in our “write it down; make it happen” journal. I was to send them an email with their individual copies of their stories. I felt thrilled by all of this.
With the support and empathy of good friends, we talked about different family matters that were on our minds. We are very good at being listeners and sounding boards who are also responsive. However, we do not react any differently toward these family members after hearing the stories. We were inclusive as we welcomed Sandie’s family to celebrate her granddaughter’s birthday with us Saturday afternoon.
Sunday night the fire went out to conclude the weekend, and Monday morning, breakfast at Perkins Pancake House provided the transition back to the work-a-day world. The weekend was a restorative interlude. We felt revived and well loved—nourished and nurtured. We knew the camaraderie of strong friendships. We were ready for the upcoming challenges ahead of us—and eagerly await our next retreat in June!