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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.


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.


9/11, Depression, and the Meaning of Life

Many people are remembering 9/11 today. It's hard not to remember. So many of us can recall exactly what we were doing when we first heard the devastating news - for me it was that a plane crashed into a building in New York City. I remember a group of students gathered around a TV screen in one of the Social Work buildings. It was one of our first day of classes. I wasn't sure what they were watching, but I cruised right by already late to class.

We moved our desks into a circle. There were a few people frantically pushing numbers on their cell phones. The instructor had the affect of someone trying to maintain calm. It turned out that several of my classmates' families were in New York and my classmates were trying to reach them. As the beginnings of the story of 9/11 unfolded, we exchanged looks of shock. Our professor asked that we stay for the full 2.5 hours of class. We thought she was crazy.

I remember going home and watching the news all day long. I remember going to bed terrified. I couldn't snuggle in close enough to my husband and I finally fell asleep wondering what kind of world I was bringing my firstborn into as I thought about him sprouting from a little seed inside my belly. Earlier in the day I had wondered if our new insurance plan would cover my pregnancy - we had just moved to Michigan from Arlington, Virginia. That seemed like a non-issue at bedtime. I couldn't stop thinking about how I had driven past the Pentagon every day on my way to work when we lived in Arlington. I couldn't begin to make sense of what had happened in our country - the land of the free and home of the brave - that day. Nobody could.

It is National Suicide Prevention Week. I saw a post on Facebook yesterday about a group call To Write Love On Her Arms. According to their mission statement, this is a  "movement is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide..."

Yesterday's call was to write the word "LOVE" on your arm to help raise awareness. So I did that, knowing that finding hope and help for these issues specifically is a cause that I hold close to my heart.

When I woke this morning to stories of 9/11 and LOVE on my arm, I began to think about graduate school and how I had diagnosed myself with almost every mood disorder I learned about in class. It was actually quite liberating to learn that there was an entire vocabulary for the feelings I had struggled with my entire life.

In a different Facebook post yesterday, someone I know shared a picture of LOVE on her arm. She included a note to her dad - I gathered he had committed suicide. I thought about my dad's sudden death about 3.5 years ago. He didn't commit suicide, but before we knew the cause of his death, the possibility that he did commit suicide wasn't out of the question. With drugs and alcohol, he certainly found other less severe ways to escape the pain he felt in his life.

After his death, I pretty much fell apart. With three little people to care for and my husband back at work, I knew I needed help. I decided to take anti-anxiety medication. While my grief intensified my anxiety and symptoms of depression, it is true that living with anxiety was something I had been doing my whole life. I didn't have words for the constant feeling that something could go wrong at any second until I learned more about anxiety and depression in graduate school. I thought I was "too sensitive" while the truth was I felt things really deeply. Maybe more deeply than other people. When the pain was too much bear, I looked for ways to hide it or dull it. 

When I finally decided to take medication for my anxiety it was in part because I remembered a friend saying to me "Anna, you don't have to live this way" referring to my constant state of anxiety. I never wanted to take medication, but at that point - after my dad died - I didn't think I had time for therapy and I knew from my studies that it would help me. It was a very small dose, just enough to take the edge off and not enough to keep me from crying my way through a year's worth of contacts in way less than a year's time.

The thing about living with anxiety and depression that is so hard, and can be debilitating even, is that you feel so alone. So hopeless. So isolated. And on top of all that, you can feel ashamed of feeling that way. You think the only way out of the pain is to stop it. People try stopping the pain in all kinds of ways.

I would never, ever tell anyone that the key to happiness is to take medication. That is a choice you have to make for yourself based on your own history and your own present situation. What I would do is to say what my friend said to me - "You don't have to live like this." You have options.

See, I have come to realize that while there is immense pain and suffering in this world - and while I am not immune to any of it - we are not here on Earth to suffer. We are here to enjoy our lives and to live them peacefully. I don't know what that means for everyone, but I know that it is true. I don't have any proof, you'll just have to trust me.

Sometimes I wish my medication would numb me to the pain I feel, and that's when I know that it is time to take it up a notch in other areas of my life. When I want to escape what I'm feeling, I have found that writing helps me to feel more grounded. Yoga reminds me to breathe and helps me to stay present. Meditation helps me to quiet my "monkey mind" - the what-ifs that can spin out of control if I don't stop them. Being outside soothes my soul. Taking walks and running (or trying to run...) helps me to clear my mind. Spending time with people I love helps me remember who I am - not a condition, but a soul doing its best to enjoy this human experience. When I can return to myself and what is most important to me, I can better handle whatever life throws my way. 

For me, art is a cure-all. Creating connects me to my core, the Creator, and all things created. I try to create something every single day. Sometimes it's just dinner (usually it's not dinner...). I have been keeping a Blessings journal for a while now and I love it because I can do just a little bit of creating very easily every day AND reflect on the things and people for which I am grateful. 

Yoga, art, and meditation are some of the tools I use to get to break away from the every day and get back to what matters most to me. 

We all have those tools - those things that can help us to slow down and re-focus on what matters. For a lot of people prayer will do the trick. No matter how much pain you are in, you must remember that life is not about the pain. Life is about JOY and you have the right to live in peace.

So, how do we get back there? What will it take to get you back to the peace? Here are a few steps you can try to take...
  1. Breathe
  2. Think of one thing that brings you peace
  3. Take one step, make one stroke, write one word, recall one memory, or reach out to one friend at a time - whatever it is that will take you to peace
  4. Keep breathing
  5. Keep going
  6. Get there

The only way through anything is to go through it. Seriously. Sit in it for as long as you need to. Feel what comes up for you. Yell, scream, cry, stomp your feet. Get as angry or as sad as you need to be. 

And then remember that you don't have to live there. You don't have to stay in the darkness. Let it - whatever it is - flow through you, then you too can go with the flow. You can move through whatever it is. It might take hours or days or even years. Choose one thing that brings you joy or peace and take one little step in that direction whenever you can. You will make your way out of it. And, know you're not alone. If you need help, reach out for it. It's okay to ask for help.

This world - one where true heroes sacrifice their lives to save others, where slowly we are raising our voices around issues like depression and suicide, where communities come together in times of despair to help one another, and where we recognize that we are all connected - this is the world I brought my now eleven year-old son into. It is a world filled with war and hate and hunger and pain and suffering, and it is a world filled with beauty and peace and joy. We have to learn to live with the good and the bad. It's not an either/or proposition. 

When you are suffering, you don't have to stay there. You don't have to live like that. You have options. My hope is that we all choose PEACE and JOY and do whatever it takes to get there.

With all kinds of love and big Anna hugs... xoxoxo


This morning I tackled a collection of piles I've been keeping in my bedroom. Every little piece of laundry put away and everything else relocated. I'm so proud of myself, I don't know what to do next! The day is flying by now and I'm feeling a little lost in the wind.

My eyes keep wandering back a little project I just finished, so I decided to tell you about it.

I have been practicing yoga on and off for years at a wonderful yoga studio in my town. The studio is run by one of the loveliest women in the world. When I first shared some of my art with her, not long ago, she graciously invited me to try selling a few things in the yoga center's boutique! I was completely blown away by the idea. Then, before we had even placed everything on the shelves, someone bought this sweet little piece...

I was so amazed that someone would buy something I created. I am still amazed. It is the most incredible feeling to know that something I made touched another person. I am trying to think of a good word to describe that feeling. I keep coming back to, surprise surprise... CONNECTED.

So, I didn't realize it at the time, but that same lovely someone contacted me the other day and asked me to do two custom pieces for her. Again, I was amazed. Then, scared. To. Death. As she told me what she wanted, I nodded and visions danced around in my head and slowly, I became so afraid of screwing it all up. I didn't want to disappoint her. I wanted her to love it. She seemed so confident in me though, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe she was right, and maybe, just maybe, I could pull it off. Then, she said she wanted me to incorporate the symbol for OM.


I didn't think I could do that.

But, guess what? I did.

 I started with a red background...

Then I used a stamp to embellish the background.

Eventually, I painted that OM sign! Painted. P-a-i-n-t-e-d. 

I know, right? I can't believe it either. I practiced quite a few times before I actually tried to paint it. I still can't believe I did it. Crazy.

And, now, it's all finished! Custom made art for a woman named Anna (great name, huh?)

I added some extra angel love, just for her. I hope she likes it!

Art is such a great metaphor for life. Art provides endless opportunities to try new things. To practice when you don't get it right the first time. To start over. To trust that IT, whatever IT is, is not about the outcome, but the process. Life is art, really. I do believe that. It's part of what I need to believe in order to support my belief that we are all artists. 

A year ago, I was still drawing the same stick people I began drawing when I was in kindergarten. No joke. Now, I'm painting angels. I'm excited thinking about how my angels might evolve, wondering what they might look like in another year, hoping they will reach out and touch even more people with their messages of love and hope and glitter, and all the while... I am trusting in the process.