What I Learned at My First Women’s Retreat

Thanks to Women at Woodstock for inviting me along and providing this nurturing experience! As always, all opinions are my own.

Women At Woodstock

I have to admit to my reservations before agreeing to attend Women at Woodstock.

When was first invited, I literally thought UGH. Is a women’s retreat for me?

It didn’t sound like my thing – at all.

Then, I dug a little deeper and became intrigued. I’m always looking to beef up my writing skills, so the writing workshops were really exciting to me, and the business stuff looked invaluable.

But, oddly enough (and I hate to admit this) it was the estrogen-infused events that prodded me to accept the invite.

Obviously, I needed some girl time, STAT.

So we pointed BAMF toward New York, took in some fall festivals and enjoyed the riotous autumn colors before David dropped me at Emerson Resort and Spa where the retreat was held.

All for ME? My glorious writing den for three nights!
All for ME? My fabulous room at Emerson Spa & Resort

I was to meet my fellow retreat-ers that night at a pre-dinner wine hour. A combination of not wanting to leave my blissful room, a pre-game bout of painful social awkwardness, and a hyperawareness that I would want to write about my experience (which, in retrospect, put me in a weird outsider/a-little-too-judge-y headspace), made me not exactly the best dinner company.

The odd, nomadic lifestyle that I live (and love) is not especially conducive to making intimate, long-term connections. Something that I miss, and am sorely out of practice in pursuing.

After dinner, I made a beeline to the workout room to blow off some steam and shake off some of my social awkwardness. While on the treadmill I sent a litany of self-indulgent “Camp Granada“-type texts to David. Hello muddah, hello faddah…

Much like the parents at the receiving end of “Camp Granada,” David encouraged me to stick it out, stop acting like a baby, and to take off my reporter’s cap so I could let myself go and experience the goings-on as I was supposed to.

So I did. I went back to my room, lit a fire and laid out my big girl panties for the next day.

Anoek van Praag speaking at Women At Woodstock

Heeding David’s advice to go all in, I started the morning with an I-would-never-normally-attend-this-kind-of-thing workshop entitled “From Trauma to Love, Past to Present” led by Anoek van Praag, a woman who defies a pigeon-holing description from a mere mortal like me.

Anoek speaks of love, life, sex, fear conquering — and the passion (and science) of it all — with such frankness, that I soon found myself blurting out a (very) personal childhood experience to a group of women I barely knew. I was horrified, where did that come from?

Victoria Zackheim at Women At Woodstock

My afternoons were spent with Victoria Zackheim in her writing intensives. The joy of writing oozes from Victoria’s pores, and she whipped up storylines faster than my brain could process them.

My mind was stretched beyond repair (in a good way!) and, on those days in the future when I find writing a drudgery, I have a new muse to call up. (How’d I do Victoria? An entire paragraph without one single overflowery, trumped up, underwhelming, unnecessary adjective! Right?)

Ivy Slater speaks at Women At Woodstock

My next horrifying blurt was emitted during Ivy Slater’s class on “Conquering Your Fear of Money.”

Her ah-ha approach to helping us explore our relationships (and hang-ups) with the almighty dollar was brilliant, teetering on the edge of psychotherapy. Well, if psychotherapy was fun.

My blurt came out something like this: YOU MEAN I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO FEELS LIKE I DON’T DESERVE SUCCESS?!?! To which the entire room basically said: WHAT?!?! NOOOOOO!

Oh, wait (finally, the epiphany): Blurting = Bonding! I’d become so rusty, I hadn’t realized what was happening. I was beginning to trust the bond that was developing between me and this group of fascinating women. Progress.

Dinner at Emerson Resort and Spa
Here’s the main course!

I found myself being a much better dinner guest that night.

Fed — both body and soul — I found myself in my room by the fire again. This time, writing my butt off.

On day two, I was feeling my oats.

I found myself volunteering to speak (and receive honest feedback) in Susanna Baddiel‘s “Personal Impact Training”…

Susanna Baddiel at Women at Woodstock

hobnobbed with the uber-talented photographer Lisa Levart

See more of Lisa’s incredible art

and the inspiring, wide-open and kind Amy Ferris, author of Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis. Amy walks into a room, and the entire place lights up with warmth, humor, and a freak-of-nature-ish sort of groovy energy.

Ann Voorhees Baker

I corralled Ann Voorhees Baker, founder of Women At Woodstock, to get her vision of these gatherings. Her answer?

“To contribute to the coalescence of the community of women over fifty, to create an environment where women help each other achieve goals they have had, but may never have pursued.”

Here is just a brief taste of the amazing connections I saw going around me:

— When Kathleen Welby-Moretti found out that she was being honored, along with singer Natalie Merchant, for her work on the short film, Shelter, she needed to craft a speech on the fly… during the retreat. Victoria Zackheim quickly jumped in to assist her. (Click this link to see Shelter, it’s free and it’s amazing).

— When the ladies who took Ann Fry’s “Business Incubator” workshop stood up at dinner to pitch their start-up ideas Shark Tank-style (toothless sharks), the outpouring of ideas, contacts and suggestions from the audience was inspiring to watch.

— When it was announced that Glad Rag Bags, a start-up that was bandied around in a prior toothless WAW Shark Tank, was now a thriving business, it was taken as a group success. (Glad Rag Bags is a limited line of designer handbags created from reclaimed items. The company practices fair trade and donates proceeds to good causes)

— When the writers among us got together, we learned of each other’s new projects. My excited-to-read list has grown to include Amy Ferris’s Dancing at the Shame Prom, and Victoria Zackheim’s Faith, and Dr. Susan R Meyer‘s Fifty Over Fifty: Wise and Wild Women Creating Wonderful Lives

Veronica reads aloud from Going Gypsy at Women at Woodstock

On the final night, a group of us sat down to listen to each other’s written work.

I decided to throw my name in the hat – the first time I would read aloud from Going Gypsy.

It was the first time I’d opened my mouth in front of a group of people without nerves – actually I looked forward to it – no, I was excited. I knew I had a soft place to land if I screwed it up.

That’s the greatest gift my new tribe has given me – and it’s huge.

My hope is that I’ve given back a fraction of this gift.

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Get your girl on and your goals in motion! Visit the Women at Woodstock website and be sure to sign up for the newsletter while you’re there for info on all future events.

Thanks to Women at Woodstock for inviting me along and providing this nurturing experience! As always, all opinions are my own.

YOUR TURN:  Have you ever been to a retreat? Did you have a similar experience? Is Women at Woodstock a type of retreat you’d consider?

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43 thoughts on “What I Learned at My First Women’s Retreat”

  1. I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. This sort of clever work and reporting! Keep up the good works.

  2. Great to hear I’m not the only one who dreads these types of retreats. Our church is having one in a couple of weeks maybe I’ll give it a go. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  3. It’s surprising to hear you talk about social awkwardness, you certainly don’t come across that way on your blog. I guess that happens to all of us when we step out of our comfort zone. What a wonderful experience WAW was for you, and it sounds like all of the women. Important to experience ME opportunities to recharge the batteries.

    1. I’m goofy that way Alison – always have to psych myself up for group situations – then am *usually* very social during the event. I’m a bit of a mess. 😉 You’re right about the batteries – we all need a jump start now and then…

  4. It sounds like you had a great experience. I’m glad that I read this because I’m very hesitant to travel with a group at all. The fact that all the participants were women would have made it even more challenging for me. Your room looked fabulous and if I have my own space, I might be able to participate in this type of retreat. I’m sure that I would earn a lot from those wonderful seminars!

    1. I completely get what you are saying Michelle, I think we women tend to think that we are going to be uncomfortable in groups of other women. We ALL have stories in our past to pull from, after all. Being part of a supportive and SAFE group of women at this retreat reinforces my already strong feelings at we need to lift each other up at every opportunity. It makes all the difference in the world.

  5. Thanks for taking us along to Women at Woodstock. I probably would have reacted the same as you did to the invitation, so thanks for helping me jump in. I had a similar experience with just an hour session on writing poetry!, which I never would have done if I hadn’t sort of had to. Here’s my poem, which I am quite proud of and which the teacher praised–I NEVER expected THAT!, http://weekendadventuresupdate.blogspot.com/2014/05/san-francisco-andrew-goldsworthy-art.html

  6. Sound like you had a wonderful experience and made new friends. I can completely understand your statement “The odd, nomadic lifestyle that I live (and love) is not especially conducive to making intimate, long-term connections.” With me it’s even worse as I’m more of an introvert at the best of time. But there are always the few people we meet and connect with instantly…

    1. I’m glad the eclectic part came through in my post Irene – that was one of the best parts! So many accomplished women with incredibly diverse backgrounds in a fully accepting atmosphere – it was incredible. -Veronica

  7. Reading your Blog brought tears to my eyes as I revisited the WAW experience. The women who came together are nothing short of spectacular! You included, I enjoyed getting to know you and especially sharing, mom stories over dinner. I am looking forward to continuing to follow you and your travels with a smile on my face, it is not just another story but a story and life told by a true friend.

  8. You are really spot on! I loved my first one myself, and hope to do more. I also love your free-spirit and what you do.

    Helen Rosen

  9. Oh Veronica, you were delightful to meet and to be with. I was happy to see new faces and reconnect with “family” that now you too are a part of! Women at Woodstock contributes to my new life at mid life in a way that I could have only hoped for. The retreat environment is exhilarating and relaxing at the same time. And I hope the energy lasts for you as long as it does me! Best of luck in the next year-look forward to following you!!

    1. So glad to have met you to Janet! And in full agreement about the exhilarating/relaxing – maybe we should come up with a new word for it… rexhilarax? Maybe not, sounds like a prescription drug. 😉

  10. Love everything you described about your experience – love that you LOVED your experience! And I know you will now walk tall whenever you enter a room – with confidence – thanks to Susanna Baddiel! Safe travels and I can’t wait to read about your adventures in Europe.

  11. oh, what an amazing, glorious time. i loved LOVED meeting you (& all the other women I had not met before). what a huge treat.
    i can’t wait to read your book.

    all my love to you!

  12. What a blast of energy you are! I loved being in the writing workshops with you. All of the women I met at Women at Woodstock are incredible and I admit to girl crushes on Victoria and Amy. All this and finding in you a delightfully funny Pinecrest School alum – wow! I’m so looking forward to your book and to next year’s Women at Woodstock.

  13. Having had the honor of a pre – publication read of your book, Going Gypsy, (review coming soon), I’m not surprised that you ultimately allowed/forced yourself to dive into this new experience and to emerge better than in one piece. Write on!

    1. Thanks so much Suzanne, I should have titled this “Fear Conquering and Attending a Women’s Retreat” – but I don’t think most people would think it would be as fear inducing as I did. 😉 YAY to me and my hang ups! Excited about your review!

  14. It was great fun to meet you – laugh, but also cry!….- and cannot wait to hear your stories from Europe, esp[ecially Amsterdam!!!

  15. So great to meet you and finally get to hear your story! I’ll continue to travel vicariously through you and look forward to hearing your European adventures!

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