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Julie Anne Russell stepped into the open foyer of her rural forest home and warmly explained how her cozy home has shaped her second career.
After rearing her four children and guiding thousands of students as a public school teacher, Russell, 54, who retired in 2009, wasn't ready to stop all those years of caring, teaching and nurturing.
She looked around at her 3,200-square-foot empty nest and thought she should share it with others, because, she says simply, “That is what I love to do.”
“I read this book, 'Make Your Creative Dreams Real,' by SARK, and little by little I realized opening a retreat for other women was something I should do,” explained Russell in her large living room, which opens into the dining room and large kitchen.
Russell and her daughter-in-law, Christina Counsellor, a licensed massage therapist, dreamed up what has become The Fall River Women's Retreat Center.
What was once an empty nest has become so much more.
“It's the perfect place for this retreat, outside of Sunriver and along the Deschutes National Forest,” explained Counsellor, who also works as a co-facilitator at the various retreats held at the home. “Guests love it here.”
If you build it ...
Russell's passion to help other women realize their own dreams and potential by sharing her home as a retreat has grown in popularity over the years, solely by word of mouth.
With a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house and a separate apartment on the property, Russell felt her home could be a place “where women can come to remember who they are,” she explained.
She says this house was built with love, as her brother Jeff Hunt helped her and her husband design and eventually build the passive solar home in 1999.
“I have always wanted a solar home since I read about one when I was 12 years old, and my brother promised me and my sister he would build us a home one day, and he did. He built us both a home,” said Russell. “This part of the house is south-facing, so we get the sun to warm the house in the winter. We also have slab floors, which help to retain the heat in the winter, and it keeps it cool in the summer. This house stays between 68 and 72 degrees year-round.”
Russell says in the winter, if it gets below freezing, they put wood in the living room's woodstove, and that can easily warm the entire house. She has another enamel woodstove in the kitchen that does double duty as a source of heat and a place where she can actually cook and bake.
“It's a reproduction, but it looks just like the one my grandmother had,” said Russell, opening the enamel oven door. Next to the ivory-colored enamel woodstove is another twin stove that is fueled by propane and is easier to cook on.
With 12 passive solar panels, Russell says she often goes off the grid and sometimes will sell energy back to it.
When the Russells moved to Central Oregon from Corvallis in 1997, building a women's retreat wasn't on the radar, but they did know they wanted plenty of open space.
Russell explained that in order to maximize open space, she and her husband looked for property that was surrounded by forestland. Though they actually own only one acre, from their backyard, it looks like they own land as far as the eye can see.
“Land was still expensive back then, so we saw this property backing up against the Deschutes National Forest and we bought it that day,” recalled Russell. “From our backyard, you can take a trail and walk about a mile and half in this forest right up to Fall River Falls.”
Standing on the backyard deck, Russell pointed the way to the trail.
About 20 yards from the main house is a standalone apartment with a small kitchen and its own full bathroom. Russell says they use the apartment for retreats, but she also rents it out to writers and artists who need a quiet place.
Next to the small apartment, decorated in antiques, is a raised garden bed where, in the summer, Russell grows many of the vegetables and herbs that she uses for the organic meals at her retreats.
Counsellor perked up and sang the praises of her mother-in-law's cooking at these retreats.
“She's a great cook. The meals here are the best,” says Counsellor. “Everyone who comes here loves her Mexican quiche.”
Walking around to the side of the house, Russell pointed out the meditation teepee and the walking-meditation labyrinth.
Near the outdoor meditation space is a gazebo with a hot tub, a solar-powered pond and outdoor dining areas that they use in the summer.
A frigid wind blew through the front yard, and Russell suggested we head inside the cozy home.
After the outdoor winter chill, retreating into the home where candles were lit and soft music played in the background was indeed welcome.
Russell took us into the bedrooms, each of which has a special name that best reflects the character of the room, like the antique room.
Three of bedrooms and the library are upstairs. The home is designed around an open hallway right below the foyer. Russell explained that the design allows the warm air to rise and reach the upper-level rooms.
Russell showed us the art studio, where retreat visitors are encouraged to create everything from masks to paintings. Next to the art studio is the library/office, where books on women's issues and growth permeate the shelves. In the middle of the library is a round table where guests can unwind while reading and writing.
On the library wall is a print that reads: “Go Confidently in the Direction of Your Dreams.”
Counsellor, who also provides massages to retreat guests, says the idea of having a library and an art space is because women are constantly doing for others, and they can lose sight of themselves.
“We help women realize their full potential and their positive aspects and good traits they hold inside, because they can lose sight of that. I know sometimes, I need a break from just being a mommy all the time,” explained Counsellor. “When they do art in the studio, they light up; they had forgotten they really love to do art. We try to allow them to move forward, and have the rest and relaxation they may need here.”
The inner artist
Besides her teaching degree, Russell has a master's degree in integration of arts in education.
She also supports local artists.
Russell pointed to her favorite acrylic painting in the dining room, done by her friend Marty Stewart.
“I think when people create, they are artists and they embody their creative energy,” explained Russell.
As the new year begins, Russell will be inviting new guests in for a rejuvenation retreat where the participants will be making their own intention posters.
“We'll play music, eat good food, and we'll focus on what a person wants to do this coming year. They can draw or write or clip magazines, or do any combination,” says Russell. “You lay out your intentions, let it go, and see where it goes this year.”
Russell smiled, almost amazed that her intention poster years ago in an empty nest has resulted in a happy and once again full house where women come together as guests, but leave as family.