“It was hot and it was dangerous…”

Chateau Duffy 2015 took place over Easter, but before we share our stories from that trip, Texan Wes Lane had chance to share what Chateau Duffy has meant to him when he visited London in February earlier this year. 

When did you first visit France?

I’ve been twice, in 2012 and 2013. In February 2012, I’d met Shannon in Kerville, Texas. She brought up the opportunity and said it was going to be over Easter. I said, “Absolutely! I need that. I need to go on a sabbatical.” My wife and family were very supportive because they knew I needed time away as I’d just gone through some pretty rough times. I got to Saint Denis des Murs and was transformed immediately.

Happy workers

Happy workers at Chateau Duffy (it must be champagne o’clock!). Spot Wes in a fetching blue hard hat. April 2013.

What were your first impressions?

It was the first time I’d been there. I arrived at the gites, and Chris [Duffy] and Carl [Gordon] and I drove to the house and it was in shambles. All the tiles had been taken off the roof. Our job was to clean out what was the barn, which was packed full of rotten hay and wooden burn. And it was falling down, and it was dangerous. I was like, this is great. So we built scaffolding. We proceeded to take off the old the wood rafters and beams. During the week we took all the old stuff out and put all new stuff in. Then put new plywood down and out rain proofing on top of the plywood and really started to make something take shape.

Can you talk a little more about your time there?

It was so refreshing for me. It renewed me in a way that I didn’t know I needed to be renewed. Being able to be out of an office working with my hands, cutting lumber, building scaffolding… It was hot, it was dangerous, it was a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of climbing. When I got back, I hurt every day. I ached but it was a good pain – like I’d accomplished something. Bodily I hurt but mentally I felt better than ever.

I thought it was once in a lifetime chance. But every time I am mentally renewed, physically drained, but, again, I couldn’t have a better experience.

Shifting dirt, again.

Digging the dirt. Again. And again. And again.

What did you make of those long communal meals?

It was rebuilding time. Spiritually, mentally, physically. I lost 15 pounds during the trip although I ate more than I’d ever eaten. There was fresh bread for breakfast and fresh sandwiches for lunch. Amazing dinners.

Did your family join you?

[They joined me] on the second journey. On that trip the children turned 4 and 9. Austin, who is now 10, had his birthday meal at the base of the Eiffel Tower. I said, from now on we have a very high standard to meet for birthday presents. How does it get better than that?!

Happy 4th birthday Max!

Celebrating Max’s 4th birthday at ‘Shadow Duffy’.

Max turned 4 that trip. He had this birthday at the gites. It was wonderful! He still talks about it. One of the presents from the group was a French Spider Man comic book written completely in French. He cherishes it. It sits next to his bed. He keeps trying to have it translated but I don’t read French… He talks about Shadow Duffy because he does not understand ‘chateau’. It was a great experience.

That year we had a full-time au pair that took care of the children every day. There were four or five children there and they got on amazingly well. It was British kids and American kids. Austin and Max still talk about their friends who live in London.

The crew

The crew. Spot Wes in the back row, second from the left.

Interview by Svetlana Graudt

Photos by Liz Clutterbuck

Cameron’s Chateau Duffy Experience

So, What was been happening.

A lot, is the short answer.

In this post, I am going to write about my time at Chateau Duffy.

One of the highlights, PUPPIES!

One of the highlights, PUPPIES!

Any time you are offered the opportunity to go to France, say yes, at least that’s what I do, not that the opportunity does come along that often. My journey to Chateau Duffy was a long one. I took the bus overnight to Paris and then a train to Limoges, both were surprisingly nice. I especially enjoyed getting to watch the sun rise on the ferry crossing.

Admittedly, by the time I got to the gite even my young college age body was exhausted (hey, I had been awake for almost 36 hours). But, only a fool would not take the opportunity to run around and play some Frisbee and football (proper football, not this ridiculous American thing where your feet don’t do anything). The week frankly, was an opportunity for me to run around and enjoy physical labor.

As humans, we for some reason, benefit by being active. Obviously, there are health benefits, but I think our souls are refreshed by a good days labor. Having a week of mixing concrete, assembling scaffolding, and all the other things I got to do was a wonderful reset.

I even got to see a 2CV!

I even got to see a 2CV!

Greenbelt – 2014

This last weekend, I went to a festival called Greenbelt. It was awesome.

That’s all.

Greenbelt Pano


Okay, I do have some more about it.

First, let me start with the weather. It was a peculiar mix of cold, warm, and wet. Frankly it was mostly cold and wet. Being that it is England in the summer, inevitably, it rained. The first couple days were nice and dry, but then it got cloudy, then cloudy turned to misty, then misty just never went away. Literally, it just never stopped misting. I don’t want to sound like I am just whinging about this, because I really enjoyed the rain, right up until I fell in the mud, coating my side in very clingy mud. From then on, I simply survived the cold.

The location was truly amazing. I hadn’t been to a home like this since I was a small child. Now, as a point of reference, this estate had 100 acres of landscaped lawn (pause and let that sink in), and then there is all the non-landscaped land. And most of all to this Californian, the grass was this strange color that I have heard of, but never witnessed, it was green, fields of green grass!

Greenbelt House

Now to the festival itself. I really enjoyed the mix of people. Greenbelt does a good job of bringing together people from different views or sects, but in general the common theme is that people are not interested in why they are different to each other, but instead focus on what unites them. I really enjoyed getting to see the community and conversations which were brought about.

The talks also covered an astonishing range of topics. I got to hear talks about steps for university students to talk to influence their universities, the Israel-Palastine conflict, and stain glass in old churches. Many of the talks took on a somewhat lecture-like structure (given if my professors were this throughout provoking, my grades would likely be better) and many others were panels often filled with people of differing opinions.

Since many of the people involved, and especially the vendors, seemed to be what in America would be classed as reformed-hippies the things you would buy were stellar. I loved the creativity that some of the vendors used to avoid using plastic bags (sewing their own cheap cloth bags or making them out of newspaper).

Most of all what stuck with me was the last point. Greenbelt brings together a group of people that dream, and then take the steps necessary to move towards that. The results aren’t perfect, but the focus on improving is palpable.

Beginnings of the London experience


It has been an amazing whirlwind so far. I am living in Bethnal Green, an amazing part of London. The area reminds me very much of San Francisco as it is an interesting mix of houses, row houses, and tower blocks. I am walking distance from multiple tube stations and literally a 30 second walk from the nearest bus stop. The area itself is in the middle of a transition to being extremely desirable, as a result many buildings are being renovated. As a result of the change, many of the new buildings are right next to graffitied commercial kitchen consignment shops (I have seen two in my area, not sure how that business is so good). I personally really enjoy this mix of polished and gritty environments.

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(Some of the rather stunning graffiti)

I have really appreciated that even though London is so built up, they have preserved green space very purposefully. There are at least 6 parks or grassy spaces that are within a short jog of my house, which is always wonderful to go and enjoy. I have been enjoying being outside very much, even convincing a number of Brits to play Frisbee with me.

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(The church in front of my house and the beautiful greenery around it)

It hasn’t been all games though. I have been generating marketing material for a number of different projects that Matryoshka Haus is responsible for.

One of my projects is for a course that Shannon teaches for a school in London, which is now being packaged up as a separate workshop. The course covers what successful social justice projects look like and how to get from the initial concept (where people often get stuck) to a finalized plan with actual mechanics for success.

My next marketing project is for the Transformational Index, a tool that was developed because of the realization that many organizations don’t actually know what it is they are attempting to achieve, much less how to measure it. The workshop takes both for-profits and non-profits and connects them with what they really value and then pushes them to create metrics by which they are able to tell if they are actually moving towards their goals.

Lastly, I am also working on the marketing material for two other games that, as far as I know, I am not allowed to share publicly about yet. However, as soon as I am, I will let you know.

I am also taking control (mwhahaha) of the social media of Matryoshka Haus. If everything explodes, you will know why. Hopefully though, I will gain real experience in developing an organization’s social media presence.

I have really enjoyed getting to be a part of the community of Matryoshka Haus. Every Thursday is a community meal, which I as an intern get to prepare (all part of my mission to learn every strategy on how to be a good husband). I have really loved this event because I get to meet many of the extremely different people who make up MH. The conversations that rise up have been rather enthralling. The meal is a truly unique experience since it is a recurring event. Even though the attendees change, the goal stays constant and the community grows deeper and wider as a result.




Cameron joined us from California at the beginning of July and will be interning with Matryoshka Haus over the summer. Before he begins contributing to the blog, we thought we should get to know him a bit…

Why did you decide to come & intern with MH?

My initial introduction to MH was through seeing a TI delivered. [We met Cameron and his family in California last September] I was immediately enticed by the language of transformation and intentionality. When it came time to decide what I was going to do with my summer, I thought about the normal route of getting an internship and getting great experiences to add to my resume, but felt that that would be missing an opportunity to create value with my summer.

What are you hoping to do while you’re here?

First and foremost I am excited to just be a part of all the action that happens around MH. Beyond that my goal this summer is to get to contribute in a meaningful way to the progress of MH’s projects and goals. In addition, I am looking forward to enjoying the culture, history and various other experiences that are truly unique to London.

What are you most excited about being in London?

I have two big things that I am looking forward to. First, I am excited to experience the uniquely organic and always enthralling world of the MH community. Second, is the music scene in London. London is home to many genres I love, so I am excited to attend some (hopefully free) concerts.


Cameron experiences some Matryoshka Haus community hospitality.