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Shopping Paris with Ann Hartley

Written by Ann Hartley | Shopping in Paris logo and Illustrations by Laura Granberry

Ann Hartley tells it like it is. She does not mince words. She is a breath of fresh air. The story you are about to read is heartfelt, authentic and will inspire you to be 'real'.

I’ve been working on myself since 1958–the year I was born. Certain times were harder than others. I am a survivor − of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s; of small town beginnings; of Dallas in the 80’s; of cancer; of a wonderful marriage that hasn’t been so wonderful at times; of three beautiful children who have sometimes pushed me to the limit; of my parents’ aging; of my parents’ dying; and more, lots more. Yes, YES, YES! I am a survivor!

And I am a doer. I am a type-A personality, a crazy, off-the-wall, talks-too-much, goes 90-to-nothing kind of person. Ask anyone who knows me. They will tell you. I like me. And as I approach 50, I am learning to love me. I am learning about the process of really loving me—ALL of me. And believe me; I haven’t always been very loveable!

This is the story of how I am becoming mindful and aware, of how I am reacting and changing the evolution of myself.

The short version is that I grew up in Panama City, Florida. I traveled as a child throughout the U.S., Europe, and Africa in the late 60’s. After college, I could not wait to bolt from Panama City and I left for Dallas to attend graduate school. I loved it there, with its bright lights, fancy cars, gorgeous men, and BIG city stuff. I stayed in Dallas for 20 years.

The fashion business, MBA, Xerox, marrying a wonderful man who would forever be by my side, opening a clothing store in 1984, Junior League, etc. That was my fairytale life. I opened a store called Ann Hartley. It would be my identity for years to come, my sense of worth. And we traveled. George (my husband) and I traveled as much as we could, overseas as often as possible. The business grew while we had three children. I opened Ann Hartley for Kids. We were very busy, and life was hectic but fun. Another business evolved—WaHaLa: Art to Wear—a wholesale clothing line that I manufactured in Indonesia and sold all over the world. It was 1992. I was 33 years old.

I began realizing that one cannot have it all—a career, a wonderful marriage, perfect children.

I began realizing that one cannot have it all—a career, a wonderful marriage, perfect children. There was only so much of me to go around. My perfect life’s glue began to peel away. I was feeling the pressure, the pull, the guilt, and the shame. I focused on what I needed to, when I needed to; this was how I kept my balance. Only, I wasn’t balanced at all. My life was running me. I got very sick with chronic fatigue syndrome. It was the time in my life when I first realized the importance of taking care of me–all of me. The chronic fatigue syndrome was a precursor to cancer and should have been a wake-up call. I needed to change my lifestyle, my eating and exercise habits, stress level, work schedule, etc. And I did, for a while. Actually, as I write this I can see the gifts that problems can bring to our lives at times.

Photo by Lisa Hinds

 I have to say that GOD knew exactly what He was doing when he put George Hartley in my path, or me in his; although George didn’t call me back for a year after what I thought was a fun blind date. He has been my rock. George has picked up the pieces of me when I’ve been broken, the person who put the puzzle pieces together when I could not. He loves me − the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have been blessed with the gift of a true soul mate for 25 years (well, okay, not all 25 have been blissful!).

Anxiousness filled our lives daily. We longed for a break from the insanity of our Dallas life, from our children coming home and asking why we didn’t have a new Lexus, a break from the merry-go-round on which we were living. Ours was the life we had dreamed of, worked for, the life that we had created for ourselves. We longed to, one day, move to Walton County’s 30A. We bought our first property on Little Redfish Lake in 1991, in hopes of having a second home there when we “grew up” and could live that simpler life.

We moved to Florida and chose to live our dream now rather than when we “grew up.”

In 1996, George’s father died, and my father died later that year. It was a hard, sad year and we grew up quickly. We needed to settle down, to chill, to relax, and to find the joy again. We moved to Florida and chose to live our dream now rather than when we “grew up.” We only made this decision after we’d been sitting on Grayton Beach (with a few margaritas, of course) with my father’s best friend telling us we needed to live our dreams now. He said he was 69 years old, had just lost his best friend (my father), and had no where to go and no one to go with. He told us to live our dream, to do it NOW, that tomorrow is too uncertain. We returned to Dallas, rented our home and were back living here, on 30A, within three weeks. Everyone thought we’d lost our minds. We sort of had... in a good way. And so, another chapter began, a chapter of moving three children (ages 5, 7, and 9) away from their home, from their security, and from all they had ever known. All that we had known.

The year was 1997, and 30A was very different then, very rural, and very refreshing. It was also very scary at times − and freeing, healing, lonely, and wonderful. It was all of that and more. 30A would quickly become “home.” George bought the Seagrove Village Market and became the “mayor” of Seagrove, and I signed up for everything. I hadn’t had much time for volunteer work in Dallas and so I gave my time and energy to the schools my children attended and to other kid stuff. I felt wonderful, as though what I was doing mattered to others. I felt the reward that giving is really receiving. It was the gift of compassion.

We felt the need to show our children as much of the world as possible. It was our duty as their parents.

We traveled with our children wherever and whenever we could. We wanted them to realize the importance of seeing and thinking globally. We actually took them out of school for a semester (6th, 7th, and 10th grades) and traveled all around Europe and Africa − an unbelievable trip! We felt the need to show our children as much of the world as possible. It was our duty as their parents. Traveling brought an incredible gift of learning for all of us!

There is a saying that if you walk out into the water as far as you can and stand and see the scenery, it will always look the same. If you dare to venture into deeper water and go under, a magical world awaits you. We had always wanted to live in that magical world and we wanted that for our children too. Always driven by the magical world sums me up, and it has been a great journey. I believe God gave me the gift to show others, to light their way, to spread the fun of adventure, to share my good times and my bad times.

Cancer is a very humbling experience and I now share the blessing of the experience with others.

Cancer came. It came to me. Thyroid cancer. I know it actually happened, but I don’t remember much. It was a surreal time in my life. I put up a cheerful front during that time. I tried to make it okay for me and for others around me, but it wasn’t. And it couldn’t be. Cancer is a very humbling experience and I now share the blessing of the experience with others. God knew that the outcome would allow me to share my story and I do, as often as possible. It will be okay. I am 44 years old.

Like many of our dear friends, we invested all of our pennies into real estate on 30A, with the hopes we might be able to retire in our 50’s and live happily ever after. However, retirement and happily ever after haven’t happened yet, and that is okay. In fact, it’s really okay. Oftentimes, life isn’t what we plan and we need to accept that. We need to go with life’s flow. What is “happily ever after” anyway? I’m learning that it’s living in the present, living the journey, and sharing your gifts.

I blinked and now my children are grown up. They are wonderful young adults and I am wondering where the time has gone. I am sad I didn’t play with them more, listen to them more, be with them more, and love them more.

I will never forget that month, nor will she. We walked the streets everyday, took the subway everywhere, exercised in French aerobic classes, and settled into French living. We loved it!

I’ve been to Paris many times, but this time would be different. This time, my precious baby daughter (age 16) and I would spend one month in Paris, just being, doing whatever our hearts desired, and absorbing it all. We rented an apartment and lived like Parisians. I will never forget that month, nor will she. We walked the streets everyday, took the subway everywhere, exercised in French aerobic classes, and settled into French living. We loved it! Every minute of it!

I prayed that God would lead me toward what I need to do now. My restlessness increased. I so missed my fashion days and I knew I had needed to take a break from the insanity of that life. And I had for eight years. But now, I needed to feel that passion again. So it just came to me while I was walking the streets of Paris, feeling that incredible passion in the midst of wonderfully talented designers. I felt the energy and creative talent of the designers’ desires and dreams as I browse the Paris boutiques – my idea of “Shopping Paris with Ann Hartley” was born. And from that point on, everyday my daughter, Lannie, and I walked my new walk, editing Paris’ best boutiques, planning shopping excursions for shoppers like me, checking out hotels, restaurants, and subway routes. I knew this would feed my soul and answer my prayers.

I am trying to be the best I can be − to be me. The real, the new, the improved − the evolving me.

As I am figuring it all out, I am doing the work, trying to better myself and the world around me. I know that I am here to share my story − to share my gifts, my struggles, my energy, and my blessings with others. I have gone with my gut. I have lived “outside of the box.” And I have loved almost all of my life! I am trying to be the best I can be − to be me. The real, the new, the improved − the evolving me. To live with new eyes is so important.

My clients are girlfriend groups, mothers/daughters, and single women wanting to get outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes I work with birthday groups or anniversary gifts − just girls who want something or need something in their lives. Whether a girlie trip, an empowering trip, an “I can travel by myself” trip, a healing trip, a trip to discover French designers, we are all here for each other. I love what I do. And I love shopping and sharing Paris!

— V —

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