Five women and a Magical Pool: The Power of Retreat

I love a good retreat. No, I mean I REALLY LOVE retreats.

As a teenager, I was introduced to the concept of retreats when I participated in a   leadership program. And these were intense retreats led by corporate alumni like lawyers and business leaders whose  mission it was to foster leadership in urban teens. Retreat topics included male/female relationships, self-awareness, etc. They were brutal and beautiful at the same time, and I’m so grateful for those experiences now. These retreats were transformative experiences and helped shape my character.

And I’ve gone on other retreats since then. Retreats are a way for me to do important self work and allow me the luxury of focusing on my own self-development without distractions.

I’ve always wanted to lead  personal development retreats. And two years ago,  I facilitated my very first one. I rented a private villa on an all inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic and took 3 of my clients down with me for a week to heal, share, rest, relax and have some fun.

Enroute to retreat

There were many memorable moments. But I want to share one moment with you that I think was especially powerful and reminds me of the power of retreat.

On the day before everyone arrived, I did my best to prepare everything. I spoke with the resort staff the previous day and that morning to make sure the check in process was to go as smoothly as possible. On the day everyone was supposed to come, I reiterated my requests and was assured that everything would be fine.

The next day, my first two ladies checked in with no problems.

However, my third lady experienced a very difficult check in process in which everything that could go wrong did.

There was a language barrier with the staff of the resort. We were waiting outside the reception building, sure that we would see her as soon as the bus arrived. I wanted our faces to be the first she saw.

But somehow we missed her and she was waiting for us inside the office. Meanwhile, management was calling our villa in front of her to tell us of her arrival. And we of course, were not there to receive the calls. By the time we met up, she was quite upset and understandably so.  She had just gotten off a long international flight in a country she had never been to, and had experienced nothing but frustration.

retreat villa

While we apologized profusely for the confusion around her arrival, she was inconsolable and I felt horrible and looked for ways to try to make it up to her.

By the time we got back to the villa, she was still upset and not quite in the mood to chat or meet with the other ladies. Again, totally understandable.

We all kind of settled into our own rooms and prepared for the welcome dinner in a few hours.

retreat villa balcony

How Retreat Transform Us

After the welcome dinner, we all returned to the villa. I had wanted everyone to have plenty of time to settle in and informally get to know each other, so I did not have any formal activities scheduled until early the next morning.

I  changed into my bathing suit, took my Ipad and speakers out to the pool in the back yard and blasted some soul music.

One by one, the ladies came out to join me in the pool. And it was so much fun. We laughed and got to know each other all night. There were discussions about music, food, love, adventure. We shared our hopes with each other and named our fears. It was really magical.

The overall retreat was a success. I saw each woman bloom in her own way and it was honestly an honor to watch. Each woman had a breakthrough in her own right and left feeling better and more focused than she had when she arrived.

And it all started in that pool.

It was in the pool where we all let the stress of the day leave us and opened ourselves up to the promise of connection and self-growth. This event set the tone of the retreat.

This is the power of retreat. Allowing ourselves to withdraw from the day to day and tap into what’s important. Retreats allow us to slow down and be mindful of our thoughts and take control of our experiences.

I hope to see you at my next retreat.

In the meantime, be sure to check out available individual programs.

Why don’t you get a hobby!

Though we all have different levels of obligations, we each have some degree of free time to manage. Sometimes we let our free time slip through our fingers without really noticing. We spend too many hours watching TV or on social media. We hang out with uninteresting people out of sheer boredom. We engage in unhealthy activity just to fill up the time.

But if we are bit more purposeful and intentional with our time, we can get much more out of it.  In a lot of ways, time is like money. We spend so much of our limited resources on obligations and frivolous things, but we should also remember to save and invest a little for ourselves.

I personally think people greatly undervalue hobbies. A hobby is any activity or pursued interest that brings you pleasure and enjoyment for its own sake. Hobbies can strengthen our intellectual, social, and physical abilities. Hobbies also give us the opportunity to connect with others, learn new skills and give us a way to focus on something besides our problems.  In these ways, hobbies  help us improve our overall quality of life and self-development. If you find yourself frequently bored with your everyday routine or just plain restless, a hobby may be especially helpful for you.

In the event that you don’t already have a hobby or two, I thought I’d share some of my hobbies to help you brainstorm some things you can do with your own leisure time.

1. Reading

My reading nook. I can spend a whole day here just reading.

My first love is reading. This is a hobby passed along to me by my parents. Growing up, my house was filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves because both of my parents were avid readers. Over the years I’ve developed an extensive library myself. My book collection ranges from novels, biographies, architecture, and spirituality, to name but a few. I can get lost in a good book for hours without even realizing it. That’s one of the best feelings in the world to me!

2. Stained Glass

Office window

Most of you have seen this beautiful stained glass window at my office. It’s one of the details that made me decide to choose the space for my office in the first place.

I have always loved and appreciated the beauty of stained glass even when I was a kid. Maybe it’s from all those years of Catholic school!  So I decided to try my hand at making it myself and found a class.

So excited when I cut my very first piece of glass!
Various stages of the glass cutting process and tools



Original pattern and glass panes


The finished product in my home office. So PROUD!!













I ended up really enjoying the process and now I have a new hobby. As most creative people and artists will tell you, there is something really gratifying about making something interesting out of nothing. It really was thrilling taking separate pieces of glass and creating something new and beautiful with them. Can’t wait to get started on my next piece.

3. Nature enthusiasm

The lemon tree in my living room
I am always awed by the beauty and serenity of Lake Michigan






The beautiful trees at the Morton Arboretum Winter Illumination

There are tons of ways to be a nature enthusiast and it’s super cheap. Being among trees, sun, water, etc. always calms my spirit. I really feel most alive when I am in natural spaces. In the summer time, I am frequently at the lakefront of Lake Michigan. I find every excuse to be there. Each autumn I look forward to going out to the countryside to pick apples. In early summer, I pick berries and fruits. All year round, I enjoy gardening and tending to my plants in the comfort of my own house. When I’m having a hard day, I get my hands dirty in soil and leaves. It works like a charm.

4. Traveling

Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand beach









Travel is awesome! Its a wonderful way to gain some perspective on the way you live your life. Travel promotes introspection because you encounter new ways of living, and new people. It gets you out of a rut too. I dare you to try to think about the same old small stuff you sweat when you have jaw-dropping sights in the background. Go ahead, I dare you!

My personal goal is to visit 6 out of the 7 continents (I don’t have any desire to visit Antarctica), and each of the 50 states. I’ve already visited 4 continents; I only have South America and Australia to go! And I’ve been to 27 states already, so I only have 23 left.

But travel doesn’t have to be extravagant or take you to far off lands. Road trips are great too and something that can be done in one weekend very inexpensively. And if that’s too much, travel can consist of a bus ride to the other side of town, or a neighborhood that you’ve never visited. It’s all about that sense of adventure and exploring new things.

5. Urban Exploration

Urban ruins in a vacant lot
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Anybody know what used to be located at 1005 E. 63rd St.??

So I happen to live in a city that has tons of rich history. The southside of Chicago has gone through a ton of changes in the past 50 years. Some neighborhoods that once thrived have since been depopulated and have seen better days. But that history is fascinating to me. And I frequently happen upon reminders of this rich past. These pictures come from a block of vacant lots on 63rd St. I’ve read that this street used to be a bustling shopping center. Unfortunately, I’ve only known it be one of vacant lots. Its super cool and interesting to see the remnants of this past that I’d previously only saw in books. I have tons of photos like this.

Ok. So those a few of my hobbies. I also have plans to take up more hobbies in the future as my interests continue to change and I outgrow some.

Maybe your hobby is photography, or baking, or weight lifting, or intramural sports, or bowling, or skating. Perhaps my hobbies/interests bore you to tears, or maybe you even share some of them.

Whatever the case, I’m eager to hear about your hobbies in the comments below. Or if you don’t have any just yet, I’d like to hear what hobby you plan on pursuing with your leisure time.

Our Nests

Living Room
My Home

I think that everyone should have at least one nest. A nest is a place in which you can retreat from the world, nurture yourself, and replenish your soul. For me, that nest is definitely my home. I LOVE MY HOME! I really do. I love decorating it, I love tending to it, and I love to entertain in it. But most importantly, I love the way I feel when I’m there. When I am in my home, I feel like all is right with the world. It is truly my sanctuary.

I maintain the essence of my sanctuary by editing it and guarding it. In a world full of excess, I make conscious decisions about what belongs in my home and what doesn’t.  I only invite close friends to spend time in my home. I decorate my space with things that I love to look at and that make me smile. I surround myself with things that remind me of  beautiful experiences that I’ve had and that  prompt me to recognize and be appreciative of my abundance.

I got this colorful pot from a thrift store years ago and I still love looking at it!
I got this colorful pot from a thrift store years ago and I still love looking at it!
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I love taking care of plants, so there are always many around.


Tending to my home is a priority of mine because I know that when I feel safe in my home and surrounded by sentimental things that remind me to be grateful, my mental and emotional states are nurtured and maintained. In other words, I am a better Jennifer when my home is in order and reflects the me I aspire to be.

But your nest doesn’t necessarily have to be your home. It can be a room in your home or even outside of your home. When I was growing up, I lived in a crowded apartment in New York City and didn’t really have a space to call my own, so I sought such places out. And among the spaces I thought of as my nests were the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park, a window seat on the the M7 bus, and the Countee Cullen branch of the New York City Public Library.

I can't count the number of Saturdays I spent here with a stack of books.
I can’t count the number of Saturdays I spent here with a stack of books.
I would ride this from the last stop in Harlem to the first stop in Union Square and back. Very calming
I would ride this bus from the first stop in Harlem to the last stop in Union Square and back, people watching, journaling and thinking the whole way.
I still consider the Central Park Conservatory Gardens in Harlem is still one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on Earth.
I still consider the Central Park Conservatory Gardens in Harlem to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on Earth.

I spent time in these places regularly and always looked forward to those times. A nest can be any place that makes you feel alive, and authentically yourself.  Any place where you don’t have to be anybody but yourself, and you feel replenished after you leave.

So what is your nest?