Saturday, July 13, 2019

five days at moss rock retreat

Stephen and I don't give each other presents as a rule. We used to get together and, in a joint venture, buy some movies on DVD, but in recent years we haven't even done that. But this year, I turned fifty, and he gave me something special. A five-day writing retreat in a tiny house, all by myself, just me and my book, at Moss Rock Retreat.

Oh my gosh, what luxury. I've written through a couple drafts of the novel, have done a lot of workshopping, which tends to make you see your book in bite-sized pieces. So I printed the entire thing and took it with me. For the first three days, I read and made notes. Tried not to stop the forward momentum by doing too much editing, just jotted down what needed to be done, and then after I'd read through, I started back at the beginning and edited according to those notes, on computer.

I loved the experience and the place so much that I wanted to share some pictures and some details. Writers in and around Portland, Moss Rock Retreat is right here in Portland, within walking distance of the lovely Leach Botanical Gardens as well as a wetlands trail that I took on the second day while taking a break from my work. It's a tiny house in the middle of a gorgeous garden, and it has all the amenities so you can just hang out and work.

The reason for the name. Here's what owner Virginia Bellis Brandabur says about it:

We're calling the tiny house "Moss Rock Retreat" after the big boulder that can be seen from the porch. It's one of the boulders created 1.6 million years ago from the Mt. Scott shield volcano eruption. Half a century ago, the city dug up the boulder from under the street when they put waterlines into this neighborhood. Now it's one of my favorite things in the yard.

The tiny house! It has this sweet little porch. Sometimes I brought my work out onto the porch and sometimes after a day of working or editing I'd come out onto the porch and just relax.

At the end of the tiny house, inside, is a little writing desk where I set up my computer when I first arrived (although I moved it around a lot). There's wifi access, which was great because I was working through some logistics in my novel and was happy to be able to have access to information.

On the other end is a little kitchen with refrigerator and freezer (good sized), sink, oven, stove and dishwasher. There was everything I needed to cook and eat on, pots and pans, utensils, cups and glasses. There was olive oil and salt and pepper. They left me some eggs in the fridge from their chickens! And if you look to the left in the above picture: yes, that's a washing machine. I was amazed at what they fit in this place.

They left me flowers!

Appropriate coffee cup.

Oh, there was coffee and tea and things to brew them in. And amazing knives. Towels, pillows, extra blankets, all the things.

A tiny library with both good things to read and good reference books for writers.

Here's some tiny house ingenuity: storage drawers built into the stairs leading up to the sleeping loft. One thing to note: I was the first visitor to Moss Rock Retreat, as they were still in the process of getting things up and running. As you can see, the steps currently don't have a railing. Owners Virginia and Matthew are in communications with a woodworker to create the best type of railing for the space and aesthetic of the house. They're continuing to improve the space as writers provide them with feedback on their experience.

I have to say, I holed up in the tiny house for much of the retreat, sunk deep in my book. But I did take a walk along the wetlands trail one day and I did spend some time out in the garden that surrounds the tiny house. It's quite a large garden you can maze your way through, with a bunny hutch, a vegetable garden, lots of beautiful flowers and trees, and a very friendly cat.

And chickens!

I found this sweet little out-of-the-way spot to set up and work for a while.

The view from there: sky with butterfly.

I was joined by this guy. His name is Comb-over.

The owners of Moss Rock Retreat, Virginia Bellis Brandabur and Matthew Brandabur (and their two great kids!) were lovely and accommodating. They made me a sweet hand-made map to the wetlands trail. Alone in the tiny house, it felt good to have the family nearby and accessible should I need anything (I was also car-less for the week) but they gave me my privacy and would text when they were going out for the day in case I felt shy of wandering the grounds when anyone might be around. One night there was a huge storm and the power went out in the neighborhood for a couple hours. They brought me tea candles and an electric lantern and I relaxed with one of the books from their library.

In the end, not only had I done a whole lot of work on my book, but I'd had a lovely experience in a special place. I highly recommend it for writers wanting to get away and really commune with your work. If you want more information, you can email them at Or visit their Facebook page at

By the way, Virginia Bellis Brandabur is also one of the hosts of the Lilla Lit literary series that happens at Leach Botanical Gardens. If you're lit-minded in or near Portland, it's definitely something to check out. I loved their spring event, and will be reading, actually, at their summer event, on August 18th. More info on the series is here.

Home. Time to unpack.

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