I am not an outdoors person.

When I was a kid, sleeping outside in a tent in the backyard was about as rustic as I could stand, and even then, after a couple of hours on the hard ground, I preferred my own bed in the warm house.

I’ve never been in a canoe or a kayak. I might take off my shoes and socks and stick my feet in the water but that’s about as far as I’ll go. And bugs love me. They REALLY love me. 

So why is it, when I think about places that I love, and places where I feel most at home as a writer, Tofte Lake Center is at the top of the list? 

It’s hard to know where to begin, but I’ll try, and it’s no exaggeration for me to say that Oranges, my debut collection of short stories that was published last fall, would never have come about had I not been here. 

Let’s start with the setting. It was once a resort, the kind of resort we used to go to when I was growing up in Minnesota, and to me it still is, because I get that same feeling the minute I step out the car, that feeling of entering a new world, away from the pressures of the old. I have more pictures of Tofte Lake on my phone and on my computer than I will ever be able to count, because even just looking at them, when I’m trying to write something and I’ve completely run out of words, I can regain that same feeling of possibility. 

Then there’s the cabin. Despite my decided lack of outdoor skills, it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to have my own cabin on a lake for a place to write. While that probably isn’t going to happen, for the week that I’m at TLC I get to live that dream. You open the door, drop your Zup’s groceries, and you realize it’s yours. Before I even unpack or plug in the computer, I need to walk around the space, take it in, get reacquainted with it, say Hello. It’s going to be a great week. And it always is. 

And finally, there’s the community. That can be a tricky thing at an artist’s retreat, but at TLC you can have as much or as little as you want. When I’m stuck and nothing is going right with my work, there’s nothing better than running into a friendly face, especially if it’s Liz, or another resident perhaps in the same spot, to compare notes, and really, just to know you’re not alone. And in those lucky moments where things are going well and I don’t dare stop, I don’t have to. I can work through dinner, or work all night long in my cabin until dawn if that seems like the right thing to do, and to not have to see a living soul until I’m ready to come up for air. 

And who holds it all together, and who makes everything possible at TLC, is Liz, ably assisted by her right hand canine Jai. To simply say that what she has created and nurtured is special seems woefully inadequate, but she knows what artists need, and you don’t even have to ask for it. It’s magically there the minute you turn off Fernberg Road, it envelops you for the seven days or however long you are lucky enough to be there, and the best part: it remains a part of you long after you have to pack up your stuff, go back out to Fernberg Road, and rejoin civilization. 

I’m so grateful that I’m part of the TLC family and for all that it has given me. And while I wouldn’t necessarily count on it, maybe I’ll try out the kayak the next time I’m lucky enough to be there.