Archive | September, 2011

The Realities of Girlfriend Getaways

22 Sep

As with many great ideas, it started in a bar.

During an impromptu gathering of college friends, the conversation turned to a familiar topic: We should see more of each other.

It had been ten years since we’d graduated from Syracuse University together. Remarkably, we’d stayed in touch and liked each other even more than in the days of dorm food and keggers.

We also were enjoying the self assuredness that comes with being 30 years old, and the bonus of having a little financial security to boot.

There was only one logical thing to do–plan a weekend getaway. Little did we know that our first trip would turn into an annual tradition.

It’s been six years now, and over that time I’ve discovered these realities of girlfriend getaways:

1. Planning is half the fun. 

Our trip always falls on MLK Day weekend, but discussions about locales, flights, hotels, what to pack, and what to see last all year long. E-mails with links to indulgent spas, highly recommended restaurants, and top-rated attractions bounce back and forth. So what if there are days we barely make it past the hotel bar.

2. There will be tears.

At any given moment, it is not uncommon for one or more of the five of us to break down. Whether it is over entrees in Arizona or walking down Sixth Street in Austin, there’s something about being around girlfriends who validate your feelings and love you unconditionally that spurs an emotional release. Bring tissues.

3. You’ll miss home.

Most of the time during our girls’ weekends I’m giddy with the joys of leaving it all behind. Pets, kids, laundry–not today! But then I’ll get a little twinge, wonder what’s going on back home, and need to check in. It’s OK, just try to avoid calling at 4 a.m. from a dance club. Husbands don’t love that.

4. Be flexible.

Plans will be made, and plans will be broken. It will rain. Planes will be delayed. That don’t-miss thing you must see, forget about it. Crankiness is inevitable (and usually caused by hunger, by the way). In the end, it helps to remember that girls’ weekends are about being together, no matter if it is waiting in line for an epic brunch at the Bellagio or dealing with the inevitable delays caused by five girls and one bathroom.

5. It will end too soon.

Before I know it, bloated from too much food and drink, wallet empty and laughing to myself over some silly happening, I’m on a plane heading home and wondering where the time went. Inevitably, I will open the inflight magazine, flip to the map of the U.S., and start thinking about next year.

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Why I Brought My Three-year-old to Ground Zero

10 Sep

On September 13, 2001, I stood among the thousands gathered on the Rhode Island State House lawn for a vigil in honor of the 9/11 dead and missing. My 20-month old was on my back in a carrier, flags stuck in its straps.

Standing beside me, my three-year-old son, Samuel, was tugging at my shirt with his free hand (his other hand was clasped around a thin, white candle).

“Look,” he said, pointing skyward. I looked up to see a plane passing overhead, a foreign sight in the days immediately after the attacks.

“Is that plane going to crash into a building, too?” Sam asked.

“No,” I told him, my heart breaking. “That’s never going to happen again.” Of course, it was a promise I couldn’t keep, but I made it nonetheless.

In the hours after the planes hit the Twin Towers, Samuel watched the video of the crash over and over again.

The collapse, the devastation, the people crying and holding missing persons flyers—his bright, quick little three-year-old mind took it all in.

We should have turned it off, but we were scared, confused, and hungry for news and information. In the end, my husband and I knew he saw too much.

It’s strange, then, that I wanted him to see more.

St. Paul's Church near Ground Zero.

Three months later, I visited Ground Zero for work. I stood on the viewing platform next to a grieving widow who had lost her husband, a firefighter, in the towers’ collapse.  I returned home convinced that my husband, Scott, needed to go, and we decided Sam would join us.

At the site of the towers, we saw the striking sculptural wreckage . We went to St. Paul’s church, which had become a makeshift memorial to the victims. Baseball caps, photos, favorite sneakers, letters, poems, and flowers covered the iron gates around the church.

Sam asked questions. We answered them, warmly and honestly. To this day I don’t know if bringing him was the right thing to do.

Samuel is 13 years old now. Mostly, he doesn’t remember the trip except for one small detail: “Remember when I asked the cabbie if he wanted my candy?”

I do remember. We were in a taxi headed back to midtown when Sam pushed his paper bag of gummies through the open hole in the divider. “Do you want to share,” he’d said, “They’re really good.”

Maybe this is why I needed him there. Even in the face of a generation-defining tragedy, it’s the small acts of kindness that help us to believe in humanity.

Five Things Not to Miss in Syracuse, NY

6 Sep

I work at a small university in Rhode Island where students are back to school this week. At this time of year, I can’t help but be reminded of my own first days on campus at Syracuse University.

Central New York is probably not on the bucket lists of many travelers, but over the six years I logged in Syracuse, NY–first as a student, then working at my first job, and later as a new mom–I discovered some gems.

Here are a few of my favorites:

M Street (Marshall Street) 

Introducing the next generation to The Varsity.

This is the college hotspot, where students go to buy something orange, grab some food, and, especially, drink. Order pizza and Labatt’s at The Varsity–an M Street institution for slices and pies. Pop into Faegan’s for a pint or stop by Chuck’s (Hungry Charlie’s) for a pitcher. Tearfully walk by the spot where 44’s once stood. And don’t forget to get yourself a “Go Orange!” foam finger at Manny’s before heading up the hill to campus.

The Carrier Dome 

The “Dome” is one of the largest and coolest college sports stadiums in the country. Try to score a ticket to an Orange football, basketball, or lacrosse game. If you can’t, stop by when the box office is open and you can usually talk your way inside for a look around. You may even be able to sneak onto the field to try out your end-zone dance. On the outside of the dome, jump in between the columns to hear an echo that sounds like it came straight from the Star Wars editing room. (Yes, you’ll look silly, but you won’t be the only one.)

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Oh yeah, that's right.This serious rib joint, with a string of Harleys in front and a line out the door, is what I miss most about Syracuse. Yes, you can buy their hot sauce at many markets around the U.S. And yes, you could visit the Dino outpost in New York City. But there’s something about this downtown Syracuse spot, with its cluttered dining room and dinged up wooden bar, that just feels genuine. The ribs, the brisket, the mac salad, the bbq chicken, and the cornbread–it’s all incomparable, with an atmosphere to match.

Armory Square

After pigging out at Dinosaur, or if the wait time is too patience-testing, walk past the art deco Niagara Mohawk building down to Armory Square. The Museum of Science and Technology (my first paid gig out of college) is housed in an old armory that anchors three blocks of shops, dining, and nightlife. The Blue Tusk has an eclectic beer list and is always packed. Empire Brewing Company and Syracuse Suds Factory are also great places to drink. Lemon Grass and Pastabilities (known to locals as Pasta’s) have maintained a solid foodie following over the years. And Provisions Bakery has huge delectable brownies. The shopping is great too, with Eureka Crafts as my favorite.

A bit of culture at the Everson Museum and Syracuse Stage

The Everson, designed by I.M. Pei.

The Everson museum is a sculptural work of art in itself. You’ll find changing exhibits inside, but the Everson is best known for its vast collection of pottery and ceramic arts. If you are in Syracuse during the holidays, visit the museum for the annual Festival of Trees–a popular event that features uniquely decorated trees donated by local organizations and businesses. If you prefer the theater to art museums, Syracuse Stage, the professional theater-in-residence at SU, produces six shows every year. I saw Angels in America here, among other plays, and was always impressed by the acting and the production.

Whether you are just passing through, or in town for some college hoops, give Syracuse a good look. After you shovel out your car, I promise you’ll find something you like.