Article and photos by Wendy Nugent
Whatever. One word can hold different meanings. Depending on the tone that?s used, ?whatever? can be an apathetic answer from a teenager or it could mean ?you decide? when one spouse answers another after hearing, ?What do you want for dinner??
In the case of Meg Duerk?sen, ?Whatever? is the name of her blog, which she started about eight years ago when that type of creative communication was ?kinda new,? she said. This ?whatever? is colorful and carries with it writings of family, crafts, decorating, faith and trips. This ?whatever? includes descriptions and photos of what?s important and exciting to Duerksen.
During the summer, she wrote about a trip she and her husband took to Chicago, where they went to a U2 concert. She also typed about the family?s mini campout, softball, a kid?s bedroom, kitchen cleaning and crafts for kids.
?I blog about anything and everything,? said Duerksen, who is quick to smile.
This blog also was the starting point for Whatever Craft Weekend. The Hesston resident said through her blog she had a group of friends from ?all over,? including California, Oklahoma and Alabama. She invited them to her home ? the family lived in a large home in Newton at the time ? to meet, hang out and make crafts.
?They all came for the weekend, and we (had) never met,? Duerksen said. ?We all got together, and it was really wonderful.?
Afterward, she blogged about the fun weekend, and readers told her they wanted to do that, too. The first Craft Weekend as a business was in September 2011, and the craft weekend with her online friends was a few months before that.
?Craft Weekend was so good,? Duerksen wrote on her blog Sept. 12, 2011, after the first event as a business. ?So fun. So funny. So relaxed. So yummy. So special. So colorful.? Under a selfie of her driving a van packed with goodies, Duerksen wrote, ?That is a 15-passenger van! It was like driving the bus to Happy Land.?
?At first, I thought it was kinda crazy,? Duerksen said about having strangers come over, but then she realized readers knew her from reading about her, so she started having retreat weekends. The first one was wonderful, she said.
?We immediately had a huge wait list,? she added. ?We ended up moving out of (the house) to do this here.?
The family vacated that 5,000-square-foot, three-story home next to the Warkentin House on East First in Newton to live in Hesston. She and husband Craig grew up in Hillsboro, so they wanted to raise their five children in a town smaller than Newton.
?It allowed us to move our kids to smaller schools,? Duerksen said.
It also allowed them to use the Newton house for events. Duerksen and Kimberlee Jost team up, having a Craft Weekend about once a month, although they took this past summer off. They also have helpers. Jost takes care of event details and food, while Duerksen is busy with other matters.
?I do all the crafts and the house,? Duerksen said. ?I take care of the house.?
For each Craft Weekend, Jost randomly draws people on the wait list to attend. Then, they?re contacted to see if they can, indeed, go.
?They come from all over,? Duerksen said, like Canada, the Dominican Republic and mostly from the United States. They fly in on Friday and are picked up at a Wichita airport together. Sometimes, the gals drive themselves to the craft home.
?We just hang out here for the weekend and eat great meals, and we start making crafts right away,? Duerksen said.
Their first project is a colorful ruffle apron, which is a project a woman, regardless of her sewing experience, can do. They eat a great dinner and start on the apron.
?When you?re crafting together, it?s not so awkward in being with people you don?t know,? Duerksen said. ?They?re always so happy to be here. They?re happy to have a break from every day.?
On Saturday morning, the group can continue work on the aprons, and then they head to Bearly Makin? It Antiques in Marion.
?I love the store,? Duerk?sen said. In fact, the shop made the dining room tables and benches for the craft house.
The antique store has two buildings, one of which is an old mill. The group has lunch in Marion, and then Jost makes dinner back at the craft house. All evening Saturday, they work on more crafts and go home Sunday.
?(It) started out as ?we?ll see if this works? to doing 30 of them,? Duerksen said.
Each time, 12 guests are invited, and during the first weekend, attending was a lawyer from New York City who was educated at Harvard.
?She had a great time,? Duerksen said.
Duerksen loves crafts and is doing something about which she?s passionate. She gets ideas from many places, like Pinterist and other online sources, and magazines.
?I like the way it makes me feel ? like I know I?m made to create,? she said. ?If I?m sewing or painting or drawing, I just feel the most myself when I?m doing those things. Everybody has their thing, and that?s what it is for me.?
The home?s five bedrooms can accommodate 16, and there are three and a half baths. Attendees craft in the home?s large former dining area. The cost is $575 per person, which is all inclusive, except for travel. To get on the waiting list, visit Duerksen?s blog at megduerksen.com.
The entire home is decorated in a feminine way with splashes of color everywhere. A bedroom and bathroom are decked out in pink. Even stairs between the first and second floors are painted rainbow colors, which is Duerksen?s favorite color combo. Single beds are bright colors, and there are colorful craft supplies in the foyer. A collection of globes adorns light-tinted cabinet tops in the kitchen while art, pillows, antiques, painted wooden chairs, wall decorations, quilts on beds, maps and other decorations provide explosions of color against neutral backdrops.
?That?s who it?s for ? it?s for women?s groups,? Duerk?sen said.
The globe collection started with one.
?(I thought), ?Oh, it?d be fun,? and now they?re everywhere ? and the maps, too,? Duerksen said.
One map of the United States, comprised of teal, peach, black, white, green, pink and orange on a wall, has pins in it representing where some past retreat-goers are from. Most of the pins are in the Midwest, and then they branch out mostly toward the east.
Duerksen combines her love of color and her faith in a wall decoration that has on it rainbow colors and words to Philippians 4:8.
The groundwork for the business started when the family moved from the Chicago area to the Craft House (it wasn?t the Craft House then) in 2004. At the time, their oldest was 10 and the youngest a newborn.
?So all those good, good years (with the children being younger), we were here,? Duerksen said. ?It was great to have five kids in this big house.?
They redid everything ? every room, every wall, taking down wallpaper that was in each room. The current dining room was a closed-in porch, so they took that wall out, and the kitchen area doubled in size in this home built in 1903. When they lived there, that portion of the house was an open concept kitchen/family room. When Duerksen was in the kitchen, the kids played in the family room.
They also redid the floors.
?We did all the painting and wallpaper,? Duerksen said, adding they hired a contractor to do the big jobs.
?You can only do so much with limited knowledge and five little kids,? she said.
For five years, the family of seven shared one bathroom, and then they added two full baths.
They moved out in 2012, and the children are 10 years older. Now, they?re 20, 17, 15, 13 and 10.
In addition to Craft Week?end events, Duerksen started Camp Create, which is similar but longer ? it goes from Wednesday to Sunday, and there?s a speaker every day. The time also is more spiritual, and attendees learn an art skill. This year, the speaker will discuss ?gifts of creativity and God?s unique design for us,? Duerksen said.
They?ve only put on one camp. The next camp will be in September.
?I think we may do more of these,? Duerksen said.
The house also can be rented for $1,500 per weekend. In the past, they?ve rented to crafters, quilters, scrapbookers, church groups for retreats and businesses. Other than holidays, the home is about half full the rest of the year. It?s also a cozier, homier place for people attending weddings in the area to stay.
?We would love to fill the house the other weekends,? Duerksen said.