Windbreak House Writing Retreats 20th Anniversary: Part 2 — Evolution

windbreak-house-mailboxAs soon as I’d made the decision to turn my ranch house into a writing retreat, I started coming back to the ranch more often to help my assistant, Tamara, get ready to make the plan a reality. She provided unlimited energy and creative ideas, as well as hard labor. She recalls “mowing the huge yard (and the wonderful varied odors as I cut the different plants that had been baking in the sun), painting the rooms, putting weatherproofing stain on the deck.”

During periods without retreats, we cleaned, rearranged and renovated. One year, for example, we bought 20 new windows; Tam stained and varnished every one. She writes, “I finished the last windows while listening to NPR’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina.” That summer was hot and dry, hard on the cattle, but the weather allowed her to leave the house open to the elements while the stain and varnish dried. Unfortunately, removing the windows to replace them scattered insulation over everything in the house, making our spring house-cleaning particularly difficult.

If we were working on changes while retreat writers were in residence, sometimes they insisted on pitching in to help.

I can tell I’m home because I want chores to do. . . . Itching to haul and rake and hammer. . . . What if Linda thinks I’m criticizing? Maybe she won’t realize I know homes are never perfect and it’s our loving them that makes them precious. . . . But I’m not a stranger here anymore. Somewhere back there Linda foolishly left a gate open and now I have limestone under my fingernails, buffalo grass in my hair, thunderstorms in my veins.

Years before, I’d acquired an ancient claw-foot tub, but couldn’t find anyone willing to install it, so I parked it on the hillside and used it to water my horse. I shared the upstairs shower with retreat guests until Jerry installed the tub in the lower level during the retreat’s second year.

I’ve never visited a writing retreat, though I’ve explored some online, being astonished and briefly envious of those that provide wine, hot tubs, massage therapists, yoga instructors or chefs. Some operate almost like hotels, with maid service for rooms. Others provide individual cabins for work and sleep, but serve meals in dining halls. The establishments advertising these pricey amenities, though, are often supported by a foundation and run by a paid maintenance staff, so they have to charge enough to finance luxuries. While these places clearly fill some desires, they are not my ideal retreat.

Perhaps if I had foundation backing or a private fortune, I might have chosen differently, but I remembered longing for silence, space, and time to write when I had no money to spend on these things so necessary to a writer. I’d established writing nooks in every apartment I occupied, in a closet, a hallway, and in a corner of my bedroom. I wanted Windbreak House to welcome writers at all financial levels, but especially at the birth of their careers; low costs encourage novice writers who can’t afford chefs and massages, and who want to focus on their work without interruptions from maid service.

If knowledge is power then I am a much stronger woman now than when I entered this place.

makeshift-bed-in-burrowing-owlAnalyzing my one-family house for its suitability as a retreat, we decided that visiting writers would occupy the main floor, sharing the kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom. We named the master bedroom Eagle in honor of a Daniel Long Soldier painting. A smaller bedroom became Dragonfly after a colorful print. My study was already established in the walk-out basement, abutted by a half-bath with its walls lined with bookshelves. I created a single bed by putting a door across two antique trunks and adding a foam mattress. Tam dubbed the place Burrowing Owl after my favorite prairie owl, which lives in old prairie dog burrows.

We aimed for cozy comfort on a slim budget that forced us to make do. The house was still partly furnished after my tenants departed, but we bought new beds, pillows, and a couple of futons that doubled as couches. We piled extra pillows on the beds for reading, stocked up on plush towels, and draped woven shawls in chairs for more reading comfort. My mother had collected quilts, both antique and new, and stored them in trunks in the ranch outbuildings. Sadly, some of these works of art from our community had been damaged by mice and mildew, but the surviving ones soon graced the retreat beds. Quilters often worry about damage to the quilts, fold them, and carefully stash them in the closet during retreat; I explain how I’d saved them from oblivion, and my belief that they were made to be used.

To add extra space, we parked Jerry’s small travel trailer in the yard outside the walk-out basement, and named it Prairie Chicken. Nervous about guests who might not be familiar with using propane, we left the trailer’s tank empty so it was without heat or its stove. When we had three writers in residence, I could sleep and work in the trailer, and dash inside to use the bathroom.


I didn’t want to have to cater to differing eating habits, so each writer would bring her own food and cook for herself. Neither the kitchen stove nor the refrigerator were new. We filled the cupboards with enough plates and bowls, glassware, pots and pans, cutlery, and serving dishes for five or six people. I explained to writers who came alone that they might choose to let the dishes stack up and do them the final day. We got better acquainted while cooking and, as one writer put it, “bumping butts” in the tiny kitchen.

When I returned to my ranch-house-turned-retreat, I loved seeing the house come alive. The first day, everyone carried their notebooks and books to their rooms, until I reminded them that none of us would read another’s private writing, or move a book left open. The next day the tables, chairs and floor would be decorated with clusters of writing materials, slippers, anything else that might aid a writer to think. Writers sprawled on the couch and floor, reading to each other. After an especially vigorous discussion, we might all be unable to sleep, and gather in the kitchen at midnight to warm milk and continue our talk in the living room or on the deck.

To be continued . . .

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Author’s note: I wanted Windbreak House writers to speak for themselves in this review of twenty years, so unless they are otherwise identified, all comments in italics are from the Windbreak House journals, written by writers at the conclusion of their retreats.

2 thoughts on “Windbreak House Writing Retreats 20th Anniversary: Part 2 — Evolution

    1. Please do apply, that little voice. I’ll post the guidelines here, but if you want any variation of this, just ask. I’ll give your request careful consideration. My primary aim is to help writers, and if I feel I can help you, I surely will try.
      How to Apply, Deadline, and Selection Process

      Application Procedure for Writing Retreats

      1. Most retreats are two full days, plus the day of arrival and the day of departure. From the calendar of available retreat dates at, choose at least three dates you could come to Windbreak House to allow Linda some leeway in scheduling. List them in order of your preference. Linda is flexible– if you’d prefer a longer retreat, or a retreat that runs other than Tuesday through Friday, just ask. The sooner you select a date the better chance you’ll have that your favorite date will be open.

      2. Send up to 20 pages of poetry or nonfiction, published or unpublished, so that Linda can evaluate your writing and see how best she can help you– whether you’re a complete novice or an accomplished writer. If you want Linda to write comments on your submission if you are accepted, please say so.
      Your writing sample might be writing that best shows your abilities. Or you might choose to send all or a portion of the project you would like to work on during your writing retreat. That gives Linda a head start on reading and commenting on your work.

      Linda prefers this writing sample be sent on a flash drive or via e-mail, since that allows her to use her computer to write her comments directly into your text, a shorter and more thorough process.
      If you do not use a computer, you may send your sample as a paper document with a self-addressed stamped envelope; see below.
      Usually, a retreat involves Linda writing line-by-line comments on your writing, discussing these comments with you, and your revision of your work. You may also write new work for her review and comments during your retreat.

      3. In addition to the materials listed above, please send a paragraph describing what you want from your retreat:

      — Linda’s line-by-line comments on your work
      — an exchange of ideas with other writers
      — help on the organization and/or editing of your work
      — advice on publishing
      — solitary time to write
      — other?

      Please list these in order of your preference. Linda uses this paragraph to help her plan the retreat and to match like-minded applicants if possible. If you would prefer a solo retreat, with no other writers in attendance, please say so.

      4. Please describe any physical condition requiring special equipment or care. Windbreak House is not wheelchair-accessible because of steps to all three entrances, but the house is all on one level. If you can get here, we’ll get you inside and work to make each writer comfortable and safe.

      5. Include your address, telephone number and e-mail address so that we may contact you with questions.

      6. If you don’t have an e-mail address, enclose with your application a business-size envelope, addressed to you and bearing first class postage, so Linda can notify you of her decision. We’d also like your telephone number in case we have questions.

      No Deadline

      Applications are considered year around; however, those who apply far in advance are most likely to attend on their preferred dates.

      Each applicant is notified of Linda’s decision as soon as possible, but please allow 4 to 6 weeks.


      In choosing writers who will work with her at Windbreak House, Linda considers an applicant’s writing samples, goals, and retreat plans. Her decisions are final.

      If possible, Linda matches the needs, abilities, and plans of two or three women who wish to attend a retreat on the same dates, so that they may usefully exchange writing if they choose to do so. If you prefer a solitary retreat, please tell us.

      You May Come Again

      A writer who has attended one retreat at Windbreak House may apply for a return visit, at a discount. cost.

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