Marla K. Ruhana, Psychotherapist

Women's Renewal Retreats

Women’s Weekends
Retreats stress connection and comfort

By Maryanne Kocis MacLeod
Macmb Daily Staff Writer

When women’s lives get busy, friendship is often the first thing to go. Yet, a landmark UCLA study found that relationships with other females is one of the things women need most.

To that end, a handful of trendsetters are doing what they can to help women strengthen and prioritize their bond with each other via weekend getaways that cater to the heart, soul — and appetite

Women’s Renewal Retreats in Lexington, facilitated by Marla Ruhana, a St. Clair Shores psychotherapist, unfold in a luxury cabin on the shores of Lake Huron, north of Port Huron. During these passionately touted adventures, women get a chance to relax, be pampered, do yoga, dine on gourmet food, get in touch with their priorities and purpose, and, oh yes, just hang out.

“My goal is to assist women in increasing their self-awareness, finding their true potential and establishing connections with other women,” Ruhana said.

Another inspired option for the crop-minded retreat-goer is Scrap Palace in Romeo, which offers weekend getaways in a sumptuously remodeled period home in the heart of historic, downtown Romeo. The focus here is on scrap-booking in a spacious, away-from-it-all environment, complete with fabulous gourmet meals.

“When people arrive on Friday evening, they’re greeted with punch in a fluted wine glass, homemade lasagna and fresh salad with balsamic dressing,” said co-owner and operator Pierina Serra of Macomb Township. “We try to serve food women don’t normally get at home. Nobody lifts a finger the whole weekend and we work hard to make each guest feels like a queen. They love it here —and it shows.”

With introductions out of the way, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what these female-focused weekends offer specifically.

At Ruhana’s Lake Huron getaways, women of all ages get together on specified weekends to unwind, make art, participate in motivational workshops facilitated by noted experts — then let it all gel during evening beach gatherings around the campfire.

Delicious, gourmet meals are prepared by Catherine Urbaniak, head chef at the Jefferson Yacht Club.

Music therapy, lead by gifted music therapist and drummer Megan Gunnell, is among the highlights.

“When my mom and I came back from our weekend, we were absolutely glowing,” said Natalie Williamson, 32, of St. Clair Shores, who attended a mother-daughter retreat in April. “The weather was beautiful. We learned about feng shui, art, music therapy — but best of all, we felt closer together. My mom told me she realized I was her best friend.”

Originally, Williamson had planned to go solo. After hearing the itinerary, however, her mother, Linda Williamson-Turner, made a special trip north from Florida to participate.

“Marla really knows what she’s doing,” Williamson said. “She’s not about making money. She truly wants to benefit women in this community.”

While Williamson did connect with other retreat goers, it was the new bond she forged with her mother that made the event so rewarding

“I’d been missing her so much,” Williamson said. “It was wonderful to spend that time together and really talk.”

Williamson also found a burning ritual on the morning of the last day — in which guests wrote down things in their life they wished to eliminate — both powerful and “cleansing.”

“For years, Marla and I wanted to do something supportive of women,” said Gunnell, a Royal Oak resident, psychotherapist with the Center for Creative Living in Royal Oak and a certified music therapist with the University of Michigan. “Women are starving for a creative outlet and an opportunity to connect. The retreats have become so popular, we’re scheduling more and more all the time.”

Finally, instead of returning to the rat race guideless and without support, a thoughtfully prepared “rejuvenation” kit provided Williamson with the tools, including a candle, to help her recreate feelings of inner peace, connection and balance long after the retreat was over.

Ruhana got the idea for her retreats when a patient, a single female professional who’d recently relocated from New York City, came to her sobbing.

“Where do women come together here?” she asked. “How do you establish connections? Where is the center of your city? I work in a firm with four men, I have no children. How will I make friends?”

After participating in Renewal Retreats, some women establish long-term connections.

“A school teacher and a software consultant who found they led hectic, isolated lives, began playing tennis and socializing together after one of my retreats and recently called to tell me they are traveling to Hawaii together in the spring of ’08,” Ruhana said.

Another connection developed when a younger woman with little family support connected with an older woman — who announced at the retreat she was “adopting” the younger.

“Everyone has their own story and their own reasons for attending,” Ruhana said. “My goal is to encourage all women to give themselves the gift of time.”

For more information visit or call 586-801-4701.

At the Scrap Palace in Romeo, women eat, sleep and work on their scrapbooks — “if they want to,” said attendee Diane Buckerfield of Macomb Township.

“The location is ideal because you don’t have to drive a long distance to get there — but you’re still removed from the hustle-bustle of life, family, kids and jobs,” said Buckerfield, who attended the getaway with her daughter, Jen Dera of Harrison Township, and fondly looks forward to her return.

“I’ve been on other scrapbook retreats,” Buckerfield said, “but this one is pure luxury. And with it being so close, you don’t have to burn up scrapbook time driving.”

Guests enjoy sumptuous desserts, hot appetizers, fine linen, a mint on their pillow and complete turn-back service.

“Every meal is like dining in a first-class restaurant,” Buckerfield said. “I attempted to return a glass to the kitchen and they stopped me. You don’t do anything all weekend except eat, sleep and scrapbook — if you want to.”

Serra said guests have included breast-feeding mothers, soccer moms who leave to attend games and career women who sneak out to check in at the office for a few hours.

Co-owner Amy Palazzola, whose family is in the restaurant business, does the catering. Menu items range from lemon chicken to honey mustard, ham and cheese sandwiches, hot artichoke dip, and French toast with raspberry and vanilla sauce.

In the crop room, each guest receives their own 6-foot long table for scrap-booking, access to die-cut machines, cutting supplies, punches, wireless computer service and a photo printer. A nearby scrapbook store is just down the road. “By the time everybody leaves, we know who drinks coffee, what they take in it and, best of all, we have 12 new friends,” Serra said.

For more information, visit or call (586) 344-1787.

Natalie Williamson and her mother Linda Williamson-Turner get away from it all at a luxury cabin retreat on the shores of Lake Huron in Lexington. Facilitated by St. Clair Shores therapist Marla Ruhana, Women’s Renewal Retreats emphasize relaxation and connection with other women.

Crop-minded retreat-goers will love spending a weekend in this luxuriously updated period home in historic, downtown Romeo. In addition to gourmet meals and turn-back services, each guest receives a 6-foot-long table to use all weekend in the Scrap Palace’s spacious crop room.

Megan Gunnell, a Royal Oak psychotherapist and certified music therapist, supports Women’s Renewal Retreats in Lexington with fun and purpose-driven art projects as well as music therapy.