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Members at the 2006 OWA Retreat at Westerbeke Ranch

OWA 2006 Annual Retreat

The OWA annual retreat was held from September 15-17, 2006 at the Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma County. It was a huge success and fun was had by all. A few photos from the event are shown below. Thanks to everyone who came for making it such a great event. If you didn't come, there's always next year!!

Musings on our 2006 OWA Retreat

– Marda Quon Stothers

I don't attend the OWA Retreat every year but when I attend I am always satisfied, and professionally and spiritually fed. If you haven't been before, plan to come next year when we will discuss "Sustainable Career" on 14-16 September 2007. Darlene Jang, Lisa Kramer, Christie Coffin, and Margaret Goglia agreed to coordinate the program. We have new seeds such as OWA co-housing, future trips to exotic places, financial independence and what to do with money, and career transition plans to name a few.

Several things prompted me this year to attend the annual retreat at Westerbeke. To name a few: the topic of "Sustainable Pulse, a long look at Sustainable Principles, Approaches, and Results", paper making which I had seen but not personally done, extended my "retreating" and cut an hour off the drive from Gasquet where I had been for nine days following my father's funeral, and several dear friends committed to going this year. Friday evening introductions were wonderful. I've now read all the bios sheets and see the OWA retreaters as a very powerful group of committed women who are moving off the grid and towards a zero carbon footprint.

I was out having a massage when the group was doing the wrap-up, during which I got volunteered to write this article for the newsletter. I get credit for starting this retreat back in 1988. This year is our 19th annual retreat. Like all OWA things I had help, from Yung-Ling Chen, Christie Coffin, Barbara Dittrich, and Linda Zabel, as well as from our first program facilitator Mary Breuer of AE Resources now Breuer Consulting Group. The retreat has taken on a life of its own for which I am proud and grateful.

Judith Corbett, Exec Director of the Local Government Commission ( showed us slides of Village Green in Davis, a project she developed twenty five years ago and a model of good land use development. The Corbetts created and built this 220 home and 40 apartment project. Some of us wondered why others haven't copied the concept. Even the Corbetts were thwarted in their attempts to build other similar communities. Like automotive hybrids perhaps sustainable land use has not penetrated the public conscience. Judith, an ecologist, has done her part by continuing to be a leader in the governance side of things, learning by the difficulties of their project how important it is for elected policy makers, public officials and the public to be on board in the process of good design. Are we teaching and influencing the planners, civil engineers, and developers?

The input and careers of many of us attending is a testament to the visionary cutting edge that women professionals have when it comes to these issues. Several of us in the group have had long commitments to environmental sustainability and huge accomplishments. We seasoned professionals, sometimes at the "bleeding edge", have finally seen the "tipping point". Many clients and many colleagues are clamoring to know more about green building or high performance building concepts. The websites, and are good places to start.

This is an incomplete report because I missed the wrap-up with Judith Corbett because I got completely absorbed in paper making, having made an overachieving two dozen sheets. I also missed the wrap-up on Sunday, and in addition to my need to write this article, I also missed a lot of discussion and commitments. I did see and hear all of Judith's formal presentation. I did stay up dancing and learned the salsa step and a few belly dancing moves. I did walk up to the labyrinth and walked the labyrinth under the star studded Milky Way for Nan and Sigrid. I mused how strange this place will become all rung around with teak benches for our departed colleagues. I stayed up talking both nights like slumber party kids in "jammies". We were visually delighted with pictures from Linda Corbett's trip to Mongolia. Food was great as usual.

In conclusion, the retreat again confirmed my belief that women are wonderful, we integrate differently, and that the organism that has grown from a seed planted 19 years ago has blossomed into a beautiful living thing.

Reflections Upon 2006 Women's Retreat

– Suzan Swabacker

"I must have traveled down a thousand roads. Seen so many places, seen so many faces...But it doesn't matter where I go...every road just seems to lead me back to you."
 –Kealihi Reichel

I hope this song might so aptly describe a long weekend over 18 summers that have been shared by a number of women in the design profession. We represent interior design, architecture, landscape architecture, construction, a former Glide Memorial church health services assistant who got caught up in a building makeover, a graduate from San Luis Obispo who drove all the way up by herself; and last but not least a well-known structural engineer who comes up from Los Angeles every year, often with 2 or more architect cohorts.

This year, we installed 2 beautiful benches as a tribute to "two of our own" who died in the past two years and reminded us of our mortality. Equally, every member who attended this Retreat was reminded of the love, honor and respect that we share for one another. I'd bet every member of this group secretly hopes that a tribute of some sort will be installed at the Retreat to honor them, and to remind others of our importance in our small world quadrant known as design. I vote we do this!

In my case, a number of the women have known me since I started my career nearly 30 years ago; more years than the age of the younger attendees this year! More years than I have been married. Over the weekend we speak passionately about all things design. But behind the scenes we have rejoiced over marriages, celebrated our children's births, sought one another's advice about aging parents, staunchly supported the women through painful divorces, partnership breakups, health issues, and financial losses. We share a sense of the continuum of life and we support one another heart-to-heart. Most of us currently despair about the effects of Global Warming, the lack of affordable housing, and the desperately low salaries of most designers. As my fabulous colleague said: 'I want the women to keep working because they love their work, not because they can't afford to retire.'

Forever curious and open to new ideas, we remain eternally steadfast in our efforts to 'right the wrongs' we see in society. What I offer to the younger members entering the profession now is my belief that the OWA has formed an enormously strong rootball, with an equally strong trunk. From that trunk there are so many branches that each of you can climb upon, knowing that there are others to guide you; knowing that the rootball forms the convivial community from which we all believe humankind will thrive. I believe that our trunk is now strong enough to support the battles that will rage along its limbs. There is a profound relief that we belong to this community of designers, and that we do each of us matter a lot. May we each breathe in this supporting energy and exhale the determination.

I was profoundly moved 30 years ago by a letter to the OWA. It was from an architect in Walnut Creek who had just lost her 7-year old son. With abject apologies for my awkward recollection, the gist read: 'As I ran giddy and flushed from the sacred halls of design I was simply going to save the design profession....' And she goes on to recount the immense disappointment with the whole stodgy profession, and the ultimate tragedy of losing a young son, a son who gave her life joy and contentment. This letter poignantly presented the cruel facts of the design profession to me at an early age. I was not going to be changing anything; indeed, would anyone notice that I had participated in it? We, of the OWA do know we matter to design at every level, to ourselves, and to one another. Every road leads me back to you.

May our pencils never break, our visions never die, and our efforts to enhance our built environments grow ever stronger..

My First Time...

– Suzanne Stewart

Driving up to Sonoma from Berkeley mid-afternoon on Friday with the sunroof open, hair blowing, radio blasting, wearing my Berkeley uniform (tie-dyed sun dress) I was filled with anticipation and excitement looking forward to the OWA Retreat. Being very new to the organization I was not entirely sure what to expect. How incredibly lucky we are to live in this great bay area. The journey was quick and easy even with some pesky roadwork in Sonoma. I pulled into the driveway with a big smile on my face. I just knew this was going to be good.

Luck was with me from the parking lot on. I pulled into a space and met Jackie Morgan who would be one of my roommates. An experienced retreat goer she kindly gave me a tour of the ranch and briefed me on meal protocol. We signed up for a spot in the yellow cabin and joined the first arrivees on the patio beneath the shade of an umbrella. I was grooving now. Phoebe and Judith and Julia were talking and entertaining us with stories of projects and people in their lives. Soon the patio was filled with women architects and other design professionals. Old friends delighted to see one another after a long absence. New members, new friends meeting and finding a common link. Finally I forced myself away from this live chat room and took my bags to the cabin. Around 6pm the dinner bell rang and after the first meal I discovered why no one meanders to meal call: the food was delicious, fresh, and satiating. I loved it so much I bought the cookbook! My retreat souvenir.

After dinner we adjourned to the meeting room to participate in the round-the-room introductions. Some stories were sad; some were short, some long, all personal, and all poignant. It was a great bonding experience that made me feel very much a part of this special group. By the end of the evening I was whooped and gladly retired to bed. When I got back to my room I met my other roommate, Judith Rodden. We three talked for a bit and said our good-nights.

Saturday morning I was raring to go and made a beeline for the dinning room at the bell's ringing. Another good meal then off to the Main Presentation and from there to yoga class. I hadn't taken a yoga class for a few years, clearly others in the class were serious practitioners, including the cat. Our instructor, Beth, was terrific, handling experienced and inexperienced students with grace. I'm hooked now. I want to do yoga everyday!

Lunch was served al fresco with pitchers of lemonade & iced tea on the tables. Our art project was lead by a professional paper maker who cleverly did the prep work so we could do the fun stuff. I made four lumpy yellow and burgundy sheets with pieces of grass incorporated through out. I was a bit disappointed in the results-what was I going to do with these sheets of paper? Certainly I couldn't write on them and they weren't good enough to frame. When I got home I had an 'ah ha' moment: I remolded them into bowls. They now look and feel wafers, and are functional! I love them.

The Saturday night entertainment was a hoot. The girl group, Belly Bop, performed Salsa and belly dancing music on percussion and keyboard along with a dancer who skillfully taught us the steps. And we looked great! Many of us dared to shake our booties, other played drums, some cheered us on from the sidelines. Quite a contrast to our sedate yoga sessions. Afterward I joined the labyrinth walk in memory of Nan Croley. It was a warm and starry night and a heartfelt tribute to our loss. Another incredible experience

Exhausted again I flopped into bed and was the last to wake up the next morning but one of the first in line for breakfast-how did that happen? After another two-helping meal, we had an enthusiastic wrap-up session that delayed our yoga start time, nevertheless our wonderful instructor gave us a full hour. Many thanks.

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo

OWA retreat photo
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