Ranch Retreat

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

An earlier January blog post mentioned a self-imposed retreat I was planning, so I decided to do a follow-up about the experience. One word describes it: AWESOME! Although I could end my thought with that word, I’ll share a bit more.

On January 15 , 16 and 17, I “retreated” to my friends’ ranch about 70 miles northeast of Casper. I’ve known this couple for nearly 12 years. They live on acreage owned by the husband’s family for more than 50 years; he inherited the ranch after his parents died. Although my friends don’t do as much ranching as he did growing up and until about 10 years ago, they still maintain livestock, including horses, cattle, and llamas. They rent out pasture to others who have more cows, horses, and even some sheep. My friends bought an additional 40-acre parcel adjacent to the original family ranch and built a new house on it a few years ago. They kept the original modular home on that 40-acres, which serves as a guest house. When their children and grandchildren visit, when other family and friends visit, they stay at the guest house. That’s where I stayed, where I slept, where I ate (although I shared a meal with my friends at their home), and where I wrote.

ranch retreat home
Kaycee, WY Ranch guest house — my writing retreat in January.

And, did I write! I composed several articles, including a new story to submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul which was due the end of this month. I re-purposed some articles that had not been accepted into Chicken Soup when I submitted them a few years ago, added to, subtracted from, and edited through those and have since sent on to other publications, two of which have been accepted to Prairie Times in Colorado. A few other of those re-purposed stories will be sent to Prairie Rose Publishing, the company our friend Doris McCraw writes for and tells us about. I’ll be submitting for the company’s upcoming anthology “Pawprints on my Heart” with hopes one or two will be picked up for that publication.

turkeys and chip the llama
Some of my ranch retreat “guests”!

I learned about Prairie Times from the publisher of my book, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, who resides in Greeley, CO. She encouraged me to contact the editor because Prairie Times publishes animal stories. I did, the editor said to send a few samples, so I worked on those and submitted them — she accepted them! One is slated to be published in May and the other in June. It’s a paying market, and I plan to submit more with hopes she’ll publish them in the fall; October is National Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month and November is National Adopt-a-Senior Pet Month. I certainly have stories appropriate for such recognitions.

Additionally while at the ranch, I started a new children’s book, about my rescue therapy dog, Mary. I have opportunity to have that story serialized later this year in “My Trib,” the children’s section of the Casper Journal. Two of my children’s stories have run since September, and when I spoke with the publisher earlier this month, he indicated an interest in running more of my children’s work. I’ve wanted to write a story about Mary, her adoption, and her therapy-dog nature, so that conversation, and my ranch writing retreat, prompted me to get that going. I also wrote more of my children’s story, Jasmine’s Journey: Story of a Rescue Dog, a story I started a few years ago but left shelved on my computer. It’s time; it’s time I write on my manuscripts once again, and that’s one of the main reasons for the retreat. When I’m home, I work on other people’s work: the Vietnam veterans stories for the Casper Star Tribune, the articles for WREN magazine, the compositions for Our Town Casper. Plus, the various interruptions at home: the phone, the internet, the pets, the husband; the laundry, the dishes, the television… at the ranch there was none of that. I purposely chose to ignore the Vietnam writings, even though I had done two interviews; my WREN and Our Town articles were completed for the month; and I left the dogs and husband at home. There was no TV and no internet, even though I did watch one DVD on Friday night – a fun movie that helped me laugh and relax, both of which I needed. I slept in on Saturday until 8 am, NOT normal for me, and usually NOT an option for me at home. That added rest probably contributed to my ability to sit and type, to let the muse flow, and to feel stronger and more creative. My spiritual side also benefited, as I brought along instrumental CDs of Christian hymns and also brought my Bible and two devotion books. I reviewed my goals and prayed over each project and each plan. This retreat is exactly what my emotional, spiritual, creative, and physical sides needed.

Kaycee house_woodstove
My friends’ ranch guest house is quite cozy! Interestingly, the futon used to belong to my husband and I — our friends bought it from us when we decided to obtain a regular couch and they were looking for more furnishings for their ranch guest house.

Wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and great horned owls were among my visitors. A few stray cats, whom my friends feed, and three llamas made up the guests near the guest house. The sun shone, the wind remained calm, and the snow didn’t fly (much anyway!). Although the temperature was cold, especially in the morning, a woodstove helped heat the house and provided an extra comfy atmosphere for writing.

I hope to do this again, even if just for one night and one day, at least once more this winter (maybe twice if my friends and my husband allow!) My goal is to finish both children’s books by early spring. To do so, I’m going to need to learn to block out time at home, to ignore the distractions (well, most of them anyway). Time management – it’s something else that’s on my goal list for this year. Perhaps I can find a way to block out at least four hours in one day, and another hour or two on another day to simply spend on my manuscripts and weave the other writing assignments and school speaking engagements around those blocks of time in addition to continuing my part-time “steady job.” I hope to figure all that out and start next month (which is just a day away now!) as I’ll again be working on magazine assignments.

I highly recommend self-imposed retreats. Perhaps a day at the beach, in the desert, or even at a library. A place to be by yourself and get quiet and simply spend with your heart, your mind, and your computer (or writing notebook). I am blessed with these great friends and I am blessed to have the mountain cabin (which for me is too difficult to get to during winter – and too many distractions, like feeding the woodstove constantly and being cold!)… so I look forward to being there in spring, summer, and fall.

I’m looking forward to what lies ahead this year in terms of my creative writing! How about you?

Gayle_Cheyenne bookstore

P.S. Just as I was about to post this, I learned that a magazine article I wrote last month for WREN (Wyoming Rural Electric News) won third place in the Single Feature magazine category at the Wyoming Press Association awards. One of my stories from the same publication took a third place at WPA the year prior. I love writing for WREN and I’m so honored to be part of that publication and to have been bestowed these awards! Now I can officially say I’m an award-winning writer! If I put more time and effort into learning and polishing the craft and seeking opportunities to publish, I can grow as a writer and continue making positive impacts on readers. Spending time in reflection and on retreat can help in all those arenas – retreat ranch, I’m quoting Mr. Arnold and saying, “I’ll be back!”

turkeys at ranch
Wild turkeys headed toward the river which flows through the ranch.

Gayle M. Irwin is the author of several inspirational dog books for children and adults, including Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog; Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God, Sage’s Big Adventure, Sage Finds Friends, and Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest. She threads life lessons into her work, such as friendship, courage, and perseverance. Her blind dog, Sage, was the inspiration for many of her stories. Gayle has also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. Additionally, she’s contributed short stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul books and writes regularly for magazines and newspapers. Gayle has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. She speaks in schools, at libraries, and for various groups, weaving topics with lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.

SageBigAdventureFront-small   Cody Cabin_New Book CoverImage   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Sage Finds Friends_front cover


24 thoughts on “Ranch Retreat

  1. Brilliant update, Gayle. You are very productive and all success to you! I think you’re idea of retreating is absolutely lovely. This weekend I’m trying to have a ‘no grandkids around my feet’ 2 days. Yesterday I managed to write a post for yesterday’s Wranglers blog, clear off loads of correspondence that was way overdue, read half of a new Roman Britain textbook, and did other catch ups. Today, I’m about to only focus on new writing- apart from sending in a competition entry (and we know that they sometimes take ages). I hope you manage another successful retreat soon and stride on even further!


    1. Thank you, Nancy — I appreciate your kind words. Glad you’ve had some time for more research and for writing. I wasn’t as successful yesterday in my writing endeavors, but am hoping today will be more productive. “Best intentions…” as they say! Have a great rest of your day and continued to success to you as well. 🙂


  2. Very inspirational and overwhelming! Know I could never accomplish all that you do but am so happy you can and are so successful at all of it. So glad to hear you got so much done at the retreat too! And congratulations on all your recognition and awards! You deserve it all!


    1. Thank you, Neva, I appreciate your comments and encouragement. I’m excited for what the future holds for my writing endeavors and I continue to pray for guidance as yes, sometimes it’s overwhelming for me, too! 🙂 Blessings to your day and week and I’ll see you at Writer’s Group! 🙂


  3. I am so glad you had and have the opportunities to take advantage of retreats. I confess, probably due to my lifestyle, the various jobs,etc., that I’ve not tried a retreat. What a gift you have been given and in turn give the results of those gifts to others. Thank you for sharing your experience. Now I’ll look to give it a try. May you have many such retreats and congratulations on the awards. May you have many such joys in your life. Doris


    1. It was a wonderful and fruitful time! If you have friends who have a “tucked away place” or even if you have opportunity to go on a retreat offered by an organization, I highly recommend it. I prefer the first kind — or even my own mountain cabin (but that’s difficult to get to in the winter, at least for me!). We all need a time of refreshment and reflection. Thanks for your comments and encouragement, Doris!


  4. When I was married and a family caregiver, I often wished I could get away for a couple of days and write. Now that I’m a widow living alone, it seems silly to retreat. Last spring, I went to a group writing retreat but didn’t get much done since the facilitator had activities planned.


    1. I completely understand, Abbie. A person can actually retreat at home as long as there aren’t many distractions. That’s one reason I love our cabin — it’s close by but still offers seclusion and tranquility. A bit hard to get to in winter, though, so I’m thankful for my friends near Kaycee! 🙂

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  5. Congratulations on all the good news! I have a friend who has a cabin where I keep threatening to go for a writing retreat, but I just keep putting if off. If I can be half as productive as it sounds like you were, I really need to get out there.


  6. Great place for a retreat. Your workload seems to be prodigious. Impressive. You can pound away on the keyboard for an hour or so, get up and walk outside and enjoy nature and vistas fit for a postcard.


    1. You are so right, Mike — the landscapes in Wyoming, as well as surrounding states, are so refreshing and inspiring! One reason I love living where I do! Thank you for your kind, encouraging words — I have been blessed. It takes a lot of focus and hard work, but I am excited for what 2016 has brought, and may yet bring. May we all with Writing Wranglers find great blessings for our work this year!


  7. Congrats on the award and the numerous article publications. That’s very exciting! The retreat sounds amazing and the photos are lovely. The only distraction I have at home is my dog and she’s only a nuisance when it’s dinner time. I am my worst distraction which is the internet so if I do ever go on a writer retreat, my phone will need to be taken away from me! Thanks for the fun and inspirational post, Gayle.


    1. Dogs can be a distraction, Sarah, but mostly in a good way! 🙂 TV and internet are my biggest distractions so yes, “unplugging” is a tremendous asset to stimulate creativity (at least for me). Thanks for your comments and happy writing!


  8. Lovely post Gayle. I like the way you have not only continued to retreat (even though your own retreat is difficult to reach) but have continued to write. You are truly an inspiration to all of us. It looks like self-imposed retreats will have to be what I shoot for. Although I do have our summer place to go to, it’s impossible to reach in the winter . The winter is fleeting, though, so it won’t be that long and I’ll be able to sit on my front porch, watch and listen to the water on the lake and write to my heart’s content. Thank you for keeping us informed and good luck with all your writing this winter.


    1. Thank you, Linda, for your kind words. I look forward to getting up to our cabin, but it’s going to many more months due to all the snow that continues to fall around these parts! 🙂 I’m thankful for my friends, and I’m hoping to get back over there either later this month or early next — I may also be spending my birthday there as well, but that will likely not result in much writing — more visiting and eating instead! 🙂 Happy writing to you, Linda!


    1. I’ve been blessed, Cher’ley, that’s for certain… but sometimes it’s difficult to manage, along with my day job and my responsibilities at home. But, thus far, I haven’t gone too crazy … that’s another reason a self-imposed retreat is so good for me — keeps me from going too bonkers! 🙂


    2. I am blessed, that’s for certain, Cher’ley. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to juggle, along with the day job and home responsibilities. That’s why a self-imposed retreat is so good for me, and I hope to do it again soon.


  9. What a successful retreat! That is wonderful. I’ve had success and failure in isolated retreats. Once I spent several days in a hotel around New Years far away from LA with the idea I would write something brilliant. Nothing happened. Perhaps too much pressure. Other outings have been more productive,


    1. Sometimes it’s difficult to get things to flow, I totally understand that, Travis. Last Saturday, for example, I had high hopes to spend a snowy Saturday simply writing, going nowhere, just at home near the fire and write. I accomplished one draft of an article and then just “chilled” the rest of the day with TV, laundry, and a few other chores — the writing just wasn’t coming along. But, Sunday — boy-howdy! 🙂 I’m thankful for what I accomplished but still kind of wish I’d had TWO good writing days, not just one. Perhaps next weekend.


  10. Great post. What a beautiful place to both work and rest. Three members of my writing group retreated to a little cabin on the river to write several years ago and for all of us, words flowed. The place belongs to a friend who rents it out to weekenders. Ironically, it’s near the town where I grew up and lived until just a few years ago–and down the road from the farm that belonged to my father and my grandfather. I didn’t really start writing until I moved to the city, and now I find myself going back to the country to get words on paper. I guess sometimes you just need to be where you’re not.


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