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Heart Connected

Making Time for Connection + Creativity

This is something I have been meaning to share for a long time. I couldn't bring myself to share it though, and I now think it is because what I want to share is sacred. It is a story about me bearing witness to a dream unfolding into reality before my very eyes.

It all happened in a little cottage on an unspoiled beach on the shore of Lake Michigan.

I asked my mom, Kathleen, to describe this place. She said, "Imagine yourself being plucked out of your everyday life and immersed in a vintage cottage setting with nature - water, sand, trees, and lake breezes blowing against your skin. It is enchanting, and it allows one to be heart connected with self and nature."

Heaven on Earth

It was a dream come true to gather with a group of soulful women in this magical place, a place that is very dear to me and a place that somehow seems to capture the hearts of all who visit. For years and years I had dreamed of holding retreats for women, and one day I decided to go for it - to have a retreat in my family's cottage on the beach.

My mom went on to say, "We just don't give ourselves enough opportunities to step out of what we know into something new - to be nurtured in a safe environment where all our needs are met and we have the freedom to be creative and express ourselves." 

Stepping out of what I know...

The women who gathered with me last September will always hold a special place in my heart. This was my very first retreat in my family's cottage in Kewadin, Michigan. It is a great honor and privilege to be entrusted with another woman's time. Time is such a huge, incredible gift in this day and age. Time is precious. I did not want to take that gift of another's time for granted.

My intention was to make the most of that time - to take away the daily worries that can bog us down, like what to eat and how to prepare it. I wanted each woman to enjoy the freedom of owning her time - to spend it in the ways that work for her, rather than to spend it in ways that revolve around what works best for others. And also to hold space for thoughtful, deliberate experiences centered around art and opening our hearts to each other, our surroundings, and most importantly - to ourselves.

Beauties on the Beach

I asked my long time friend Andi, our personal chef for our time together, to create meals that she would eat if she was taking the absolute best care of herself. She walked in with the most colorful, nutritious, local, and organic fruits and vegetables I have ever seen. Her meals were feasts for our eyes and our stomachs. We were very well fed. And, the best part was, none of us even had to think about it!

Andi's delectable offerings

I asked my dear friend and yogini, Heather to lead us through some heart opening stretching and breathing exercises. Her first class, looking out on the Lake, was one of my favorite yoga classes ever.

Namaste

As I prepare for my next retreat in May, I wonder what it is that makes a retreat so appealing? For me, the retreat experience is about returning to what we, as women, were made to do - to connect and to create in community. This - connecting and creating - is something that comes so naturally to us, and yet very few of us are in the practice of  allowing ourselves to do it. Instead, we spend much of our time helping others to connect and create.

I believe we think we are doing what is best for ourselves, our families, and the people with whom we work. I believe we trust that our time to connect and create will come later. The truth is, with so much being asked of us, we are worn out. We are exhausted and depleted. We can't go on like this. We need to recharge, restore, and renew. We need to fill the well that provides so many in our lives with running water. When we allow ourselves this time for renewal, we come back FULL and we are way more effective at whatever it is we set out to do.

Group selfie!

Making art together

Whenever I find myself in the midst of women creating together, I look around me, and it is almost as if I can see our mothers, our grandmothers, and all the women who came before us, gathered around a fire making meals together or circled around a quilt sewing together. Together, women empower each other. We reflect each other's lights right back to each other. We lift and hold and support each other.

Because we are all connected, we gain so much from connecting with each other. And, feeling safe in the community of one another, with all our needs met and surrounded by the beauty of nature, we can connect to ourselves - to our own hearts and souls and all the wisdom and power that resides within.

Something powerful has occurred in each of my retreat experiences. I have made lifelong friends from complete strangers. I have created beautiful things and eaten delicious foods. I leave feeling blissful and inspired. In reflecting upon these life changing moments, what I appreciate most is that time I carved out for myself. It wasn't easy to do. It always requires a lot of coordinating. It can be a bit of a logistical nightmare.

I never regret it though. Attending a retreat is like opening the front door to my own heart and inviting myself in. Retreats provide time and space to reconnect to myself. That connection - between the me you see scrambling around town and who I am on the inside - that is what it means to be heart connected. Being heart connected means coming home to yourself and living from that sacred space.

The story I came here to tell continues… I'm not done making dreams come true for myself, or helping other women to make their dreams come true. It has become a habit. We all deserve the gift of time and a beautiful place in which to spend it.

I have a few spots left in my upcoming retreat May 1-4...

Your Heart Connected Guides, Kathleen, Andi, Heather, and Anna

And I would love nothing more than for you to join us! Come on, get heart connected!

For more information, click here.
To register for May's retreat, click here.

xoxoxo

A Letter from Santa


Dear Sweet Sister, Mama, Wife, Daughter, Grandma, Auntie, Woman, Friend,

It was never true that I only watch the children.

I see you.

I see you working so hard.

I know you are staying up late to squeeze in as much as possible when the house finally falls silent after a long day.

I know you wake at night wondering how you will possibly accomplish all that the next day holds for you. I see you shaking your head at the tasks that got away. I see you wishing you could get back to sleep. I see you checking the time at 3:00 a.m. And again at 4:00 a.m. Then, I see you drift off to sleep in just enough time to wake again at the sound of your alarm.

I see your exasperation.

I see you use every last bit of your energy to get your children off to school, to walk the dog, feed the cats, and then pull from the reserves of I don't know where to get yourself out the door. I don't know how you do it.

I see you grocery shopping, gift shopping, meal planning, meal making, cookie baking, and house keeping. I see you pushing start on the dryer for the third time on the same load of clothes.

I see you volunteering your time to help others. I see you scrape a handful of change from the bottom of your purse so you won't arrive at the Salvation Army collection tin empty handed.

I see you wrapping gifts and sending cards. I see you wishing you had the resources to do these things when you cannot. I know you are working harder than ever before, trying to get everything done. I know you are making lists. I know you check them more than twice.

Homework with your children, homework for yourself, activities, dinner, and baths... I know bedtime is trying at your house. It all seems so impossible, and yet you do it.

I know you aren't sure what gifts to give your children's teachers this year. You wonder every year. I see you worrying, wondering how to make everyone else happy, and hoping you got it all right.

I see you planning... for work, school, church, village, town, city, state, and planet. From meals to parties. Trying not to exclude anyone. Trying to make sure everyone else's needs are met. Wondering what to wear. Hoping it will fit. Wondering how to squeeze in a trip to the mall in case it doesn't. Wondering if you can even afford that trip...

I see you rocking your baby to sleep in the middle of the night. Your eyes barely open. Wondering when you will sleep again... and yet, at the very same time, trying so hard to cherish this precious quiet you share with the tiny bundle in your arms. You know it will all be over in the blink of an eye.

I see you stumble to your child's bedside when she wakes and calls out for you. She is frightened, cold, thirsty... simply wanting to be near you. You want to hold her and make all her troubles disappear, and you want to go back to bed. You want your own space. All at once.

I see you do all of it - day after day.

I see you grieving the loss of a loved one. I know you are wondering what it will be like without him, or her. You know it won't be the same. It will never be the same.

I see you grieving the loss of a loved one's beloved. Her precious child. Her husband. I see your tears. Your heart feels her pain. I know your fears. I know you wonder what the future holds.

I see you putting off your next physical. And making trips to visit a loved one at the hospital. I see you receiving bad news on the phone, by e-mail, text, and on Facebook. I know you wonder whether it will ever end. I know your heart breaks a little with each blow.

I know that sometimes you feel so alone.

I see you caring for your sick child. And your aging parents. And your own beloved. I know you are "staying strong" and "holding it altogether" all the while feeling like you are falling apart. Bit by bit.

I know that sometimes you feel trapped.

I know that you aren't exchanging gifts with your partner this year... so you can give more to your children. Or your parents. Your siblings. Nieces and nephews. Friends. The community. Your favorite charity. You have everything you could possibly need. Right?

I see you struggling. I don't remember the last time you splurged on yourself. Without guilt.

I know you worry about the cost of everything. I know that sometimes you must make choices. Do you pay this bill or that one? What will that leave for groceries? I see you making it all work even when the odds are not in your favor.

I wonder how you do it all and I wonder how you keep going? You never cease to amaze me with your tireless effort. On top of it all, you are simply radiant. You keep smiling. I know you are grateful for all of it - all that depletes you.

I see you Dear One.

And, I wonder what you really want? In your wildest dreams. Do you know? Have you thought about it? Do you have the space or time to listen to the whispers of your heart and soul?

Dear Sweet Body of Love, I know that no matter how hard you are working, you will never accomplish all that you've set out to do if you keep trying to run on empty.

Sweet Woman, you. Must. Fill. Yourself. Up.

You can be your own Santa Claus. Gift yourself. Make your own magic. Just for you.

Please.

Please make sure to include yourself on your list this year. You'll be amazed at what you can do when you take care of yourself. First.

Love,
Santa

p.s. if you think a Springtime art and heart retreat on the shores of Lake Michigan might fill you up, consider the Heart Connected Retreat: In Honor of the Journey May 1-4, 2014. Anna and her co-conspirators take pure delight in making magic for you. After all, we all need a little help sometimes.


Tradition with a Twist


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It involves all of my favorite things in the world: Autumn, my family, friends, and food. For a while now, my husband Dan and I have hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our house. We invite all of his family, all of mine, and my sister's in-laws. Everyone is welcome.

When I faced my first Thanksgiving after my dad passed away - that would have been in 2011, I wanted to boycott Thanksgiving. I didn't want to host it. I didn't want to acknowledge it. I didn't want even a whiff of turkey.

While I was given a lot of grace in that first year after my dad's death, nobody would let me off the hook for Thanksgiving. I decided that instead of wallowing in my dread of the impending holiday, I would embrace the opportunity to give thanks.

On November 1 I used my Facebook status to share my gratitude for that day, and did the same for every day in November. I called it 30 Days of Gratitude. I'm not sure why I had to do it publicly, but I'm thinking maybe I needed some accountability. Once I committed to a public declaration of my gratitude for every day in November it was much harder to stew in the muck and much harder to disappear.

Several of my friends reminded me about 30 Days of Gratitude the following year and so it became a tradition for many of us to share our gratitude through the month of November.

This year, I'm trying something a little different. I've been keeping a gratitude journal for several months now, and it is something I've come to love - the actual journal itself and the practice of setting aside a few minutes each day to give thanks for the things that moved me that day.

The cover of my first journal (I'm on my second)

The journal itself is an old book I altered and made into an art journal. It was inspired by Jeanne Oliver in her class The Journey of Letting Go (Creating Beauty from Ashes). It's one of my favorite things I've ever made. In fact, at my fall retreat I incorporated an altered book workshop so my guests could make one of their own.

Art journaling is a really special way to combine words and art. Art journals aren't necessarily meant to be shared so it can be liberating to create just for the sake of creating. I love flipping through the pages of my art journals. There is so much going on in there!

I love the way watercolors look over the old book pages

It can be super simple or very elaborate. I've seen photos of some really beautiful art journal pages. I keep mine pretty simple because I want to get them done fast. It's more about the process than the outcome for me.

a Zentangle page

Sooooo, this year instead of sharing a few words of gratitude on my personal Facebook page I'm going to share last night's entry from my gratitude journal on my Heart Connected Facebook page. I will most likely share the post on my personal page too. I think it's going to be fun, and maybe even inspiring?!

AND, here's where you come in... When you "like" the Heart Connected gratitude post on Facebook, you will be entered into a drawing. At the end of the month, I will draw a name from the "like" pile and make an altered book journal for the winner! YAY! How fun is that?! I may even include a little art journaling kit when I send it.

I hope you enjoy my posts! xoxo




You're likely to see a lot of hearts in my journal. This page is with acrylics.



OH, one more thing! You must "LIKE" or have already liked Heart Connected on Facebook to win.









Why Retreat?

As I dream about and make preparations for my upcoming Heart Connected retreat, In Honor of the Journey, I am thinking a lot about what it means to "retreat." 

For absolute certainty, I googled the definition. Merriam-Webster.com says the following:

re·treat
 noun \ri-ˈtrēt\

1
(1) : an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable(2) : the process of receding from a position or state attained <the retreat of a glacier>
(1) : the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or from an advanced position (2) : a signal forretreating
(1) : a signal given by bugle at the beginning of a military flag-lowering ceremony (2) : a military flag-lowering ceremony
2
: a place of privacy or safety : refuge
3
: a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director


Mmm... how lovely - a place of privacy or safety, a refuge, and a period of group withdrawal... those words make way for the most peaceful images in my mind. I can picture myself on the shore of Lake Michigan at my magical little cottage nestled in the woods. I am with a group of soulful women and we are sharing stories, enjoying delicious food that none of us had to plan for, shop for or cook, making art, and, well, retreating.






Since I announced that I would be hosting this retreat, I am noticing some people aren't real sure what to make of a retreat. No matter how appealing the concept of going on  a retreat may sound, a lot of us dismiss the possibility of actually doing it. We think things like: "I could never do that...it's too expensive...I won't know anybody...I won't fit in...I need to be home for my family...My colleagues would be lost without me...I'm not sure what else will be happening at that time...How could I ever leave BY MYSELF for a few days?" Things like that.


I'm sure we can all think of a dozen or so reasons why it's not the right time to take a retreat. We might decide to wait for the stars to be in perfect alignment...

I get that. The truth is though, the stars may never perfectly align. Some things require us to decide that we are going for it. I think because there are so many obvious reasons NOT to leave our families, our work, and our lives for a few days, it is easier to never go for it. 

Of course, I would love for any lovely soul who reads this post to join me in September (sorry boys, this one is for girls only), and I also know that my retreat isn't going to work for everyone. For those of you who are looking for a reason to take a retreat, mine or another one, I came up with a few for you. These are the reasons I have come to appreciate the opportunity to go on retreats, and to carve out the time, space, money, and energy to make it happen when I hear the call.

ALL THE TEDIOUS DECISIONS THAT BOG ME DOWN EACH DAY ARE MADE FOR ME


I live in a house with my husband, our three children, and our family dog. I am mostly responsible for meal planning, grocery shopping, making meals, and cleaning up afterward. Sure, I have help, but for the most part it's on me. I actually enjoy doing all of these things, and it also makes me crazy. 


At a retreat someone else is responsible for planning my meals and buying the ingredients to cook them. Someone else cooks. Someone else cleans up afterward. Words cannot express my gratitude for these people. It is a GIFT to take a break from the decision making process and all that follows when I go on a retreat. When our retreat chef Andi asked what kind of menu I wanted, I said "I want you to prepare the kind of food you would eat if you were taking the absolute best care of yourself." Most retreat planners insist on the most wholesome, delicious, and nutritious food for their guests - made from the freshest ingredients that are organic and local whenever possible. It is worth every penny and logistical nightmare I face when planning to leave my family for a few days to enjoy a meal prepared with love by someone whose charge is to take the best possible care of me.

RETREATS ARE JUST PLAIN OLD FUN!



I'm going out on a limb here and making a huge generalization: American adults don't allow enough time in their lives to play. We work long hours, and sometimes in multiple jobs. We volunteer in the community and in our children's schools. We are constantly plugged in. We carry smart phones and check the Internet. We are non-stop. If we have children, we are likely to be running them around all night to various events and activities. We are tired. We are depleted. We are stressed out. We are often depressed.

We need time to play. It is really that simple. Nobody is going to grant you that time to play because most everyone in your life is in the same boat. Most everyone in your life will ask you for more because they are giving all they can and they need your help.

I learned not long ago that the only way I will ever get time for myself, to do the things I want to do, is to make that time. Sometimes I treat it like an appointment and schedule it in my calendar. Retreats provide endless opportunities to play. I need that. We all need that.

BEAUTY ABOUNDS



I think these pictures speak for themselves. Retreats occur in the most beautiful places around the world. Taking a retreat means getting away from it all.  Sometimes all you can hear are the waves crossing against the shore and the seagulls flying overhead. The hustle and bustle of our every day lives is far behind. We can move slowly if we want to, and speed things up when we're ready. It is quiet. I can hear myself think. I can actually stop thinking and be present in the beauty that surrounds me. It is heaven on earth.

SISTERS



I am one of those lucky women who has a real, live sister. She is one of my favorite people on this planet. We fought when we were kids so we didn't always adore each other, but I absolutely adore her now. One of the neatest things about having a sister is not having to explain myself to her. She knows me. She loves me exactly as I am. We have differences, and we can talk about them most of the time, and so far we have left each conversation still loving each other.

At the retreats I have attended, I sit in awe of the women gathered around me. There are these amazing little retreat fairies and angels who oversee the gathering process. They make sure that every woman who is meant to be present at any particular retreat is there. So when we arrive, even if we are complete strangers, we know each other. We love each other exactly as we are.

You might think that people who are alike are drawn together, and I am sure in many cases that is true. Retreats, however, often draw people together who might appear to have nothing in common. At the retreats I've attended, when we first meet we don't know a lot about each other. We don't know who voted for who in the last election. We don't know what kind of sexual partners everybody else prefers. We don't know who has been abused. We don't know each other's salaries. These qualifiers, the stats we use to judge people from time to time, we don't know any of them. In the absence of qualifiers, there is nothing but love. We may have nothing in common but the love in our hearts, and magically, mysteriously, and actually quite logically - that love in our hearts is enough. It is enough to carry us through our time together and to etch a new place in our hearts where we will hold each other forever and ever and ever.

I love, love, LOVE meeting new sisters.

GOING HOME



With all that in mind, you must know the truth. My favorite thing about attending a retreat is going home. The four people pictured above are my everything. They are my world, my heart, and my soul. I will do anything I can to be a better person for them - a better wife, and a better mom. I am moody and absent-minded, and I leave my shoes all over the house. I am often running late and if I am early it is usually because I forgot something. I yell and I am sarcastic. When I come back from a retreat, I am fresh. Being fresh and new - rejuvenated, replenished, and relaxed - is the greatest gift I could ever give my husband and my children.

That's where I think a lot of women make a huge mistake. I used to think that taking time for myself made me a bad mom. I felt guilty about it. I made stories up about myself and other women who made time in their lives for things they enjoyed. What I have found to be truer than true is that it is actually a very good thing for me to go away, for me to do things I enjoy, for me to connect with other women, and to miss my husband and children. It is okay. They are fine without me. They have fun and they don't trip over my shoes. Sometimes they don't eat very well, but hey, that's the "Dad Way" in our house. When I come back they get the very best of me. I can't wait to see them, to hug them and kiss their cheeks, and to hear all about the things they did while I was gone. I love coming home, and being able to fully appreciate the sweet beings I have to which to return.

If a retreat calls to you, definitely entertain the voices in your head that follow. And when they are finished and it is quiet again, know this: you are worth the cost of the retreat and the time away from your job and your family. Everyone and everything you leave behind will be just fine without you. Make a commitment to figure out a way to to attend the retreat of your choice. Upon your arrival, all your needs will be met and you won't even have to think about it. You will have fun and you will make new friends. Then, at the end of it all, you get to go home. It is one of the very best gifts you can give to yourself and to the people you care about most in this world.

We don't expect our cars to run without gas so how can we expect ourselves to run without it? We need fuel - good food, rest, and practices to feed our souls. We need to fill ourselves up with all of this delicious goodness because when we get back, we've got work to do Sisters! Give yourself the gift of a retreat. You won't regret it.

If you are interested in learning more about MY retreat, please click here. I would LOVE to welcome you to my magical little slice of heaven on earth.

Take care Sweet One. xo


Signs



There are a few things that are begging me to be shared. I know, it's not like I have a gazillion readers, but I feel like I need to share these things because someone out there needs to hear them. Maybe I will have a gazillion readers someday and that someone will find exactly what she needed to hear in the Heart Connected archives? You just never know. So, I must follow these urges.

It is really that simple. What I need to share in a nutshell is simply that you must follow your urges
YOU MUST (in my most convincing Mom voice with pursed lips and squinty eyes).

Some people call them heart whispers. Some people call it your gut. They come in many forms with many names but in their simplest form, these urges, or callings even, are little (or big) signs directing you on your path.

The tricky thing is that sometimes when you see these signs, you might think "Hmmm...was that for real? Or, did I just make that up?" In the course of a fully developed practice of not following those urges, all the signs begin to look like this one:





What felt so right that it made you light up inside when you first thought of it begins to look a little risky. And the warning sign goes up: CAUTION! STEEP SLOPE - DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT.

There are lots of reasons for warning signs. Sometimes they are even warranted, and we can be thankful for them, but much of the time the warning signs are a scare tactic. Real signs, the ones that feel right they come from Source - the Universe, God, Goddess, our CREATOR, your divine self...They are the signs that whisper in your ear while you're minding your own business in an art class and say things like, "Anna, you could do this. You could help people to heal and grow with art..."

Then the ego mind starts with its scare tactics and says, "NO WAY! Who do you think you are? DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT."

It scares me to share this because for many years I was all ears when the CAUTION signs went up. Rarely did I go beyond this point. So even in writing this a little caution sign is rearing its ugly head, telling me that I am on a steep slope and there could be a landslide at any time. 

Thank you caution sign. Thank you for protecting me for all these years. 
I am grateful for your service. 
The thing is, someone needs to know that it is okay to follow 
the urge she had to day - the urge she had to quit her soul sucking job,
or to pursue a dream,
or to reach out to a friend,
 or something. 
I'll keep writing...

The honest truth is that when you do decide to listen to what your very own heart is telling you to do, the signs often look like this:



CURVY ROAD AHEAD

You will need to know that the curves are coming. You might not know how to handle them. It's okay, the important thing is to keep going.

When I first began my Heart Connected journey it was mostly because it felt right. It had very little to do with feeling prepared or equipped or qualified. It just felt like something I had to do. So I did it. I jumped in. I made business cards, a website, a blog, and a whole lot of other things. There have been several moments of sheer doubt where I have decided to just stop with the whole putting myself out there thing already. I don't know what the future holds. The only thing I know for sure is that there will be curves in the road. Things don't always go the way I hoped they would go. There are curves. I am learning to embrace them. And sometimes, the curves aren't so bad. In fact, sometimes what is around the bend in the road is downright DELIGHTFUL!

What I'm learning is that as I keep my commitment to show up, the road rises up to meet me. There are all kinds of new signs popping up in my life. Signs I've never seen before that tell me I am on the right path. And again, in all honesty, when I see these signs I'm not always sure I am worthy - I still think "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!!" It feels like magic, really. The more I put myself out there, the more I show up, the more I open to receiving these magical signs, the more they appear as affirmations that I am on the right path.

I was recently invited to participate in a bazaar at my favorite yoga center. As I was getting ready for the event I posted a picture on Facebook of some of the creations I planned to bring to the bazaar. That night I received a message asking me to participate in an incredibly inspiring yoga event on Sunday - YogaLove Detroit. WITH MY ART. YogaLove Detroit is an all-day offering of yoga intended to raise money for Gleaner's Food Bank. This is a dream come true for me - to be involved with helping my community doing something that I love to do! I am so grateful for this opportunity. I am SO grateful that I kept putting myself out there. So, so, SO grateful.

Moral of the story: follow the signs that light you up inside. 

Open to the possibilities that await you. Thank the caution signs - they got you this far, but you don't need to rely on the stories they tell you anymore. Listen closely to your truest, most deeply held stories - the stories in your heart. You've already got your wings baby - it is time to fly!



 xoxo