Tag Archives: feature

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.


Making it on My Own in London

17 Aug

When the customs agent at Gatwick Airport asked me how long I planned to stay in London, I could hardly believe my answer. “Four months,” I said.

At the time it seemed like an eternity to be away from home, away from my college buddies, and away from the boyfriend who would later become my husband.

I was a year ahead of my closest friends at Syracuse University, so when I decided to study abroad, I was doing it solo.

Though there were 100 other students in the program, my loner status was marked by the choice to travel to London on my own (cheaper flight) and live with a family in a bed-sit (again, to save money).

Portabello Road, a block from my bed-sit

Getting lost on the Tube one day, I ended up who-knows-where. With friends, it would have been cause for laughter. By myself, I cried.

During those first few days abroad, my loneliness consumed me. In a city of millions, would I need to find my way through London life without the camaraderie of others?

But then, suddenly, I stopped thinking about being alone.

Not because–I assure you–of some great internal pep talk or any pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps inner fortitude. It’s because London, itself, became my greatest companion.

I shopped on Portabello Road, weaving through the antique dealers, fruit and veg vendors, and bootleg music hawkers.

View from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, London

I climbed the steep, narrow staircase to the top of St. Paul’s, never seeing another person on my ascent.

I lingered over the Van Goghs and Rodins at the National Gallery, at my own pace without interruption or any hurrying up.

Of course, I eventually met some great friends, and we went on unforgettable adventures through the city and to places like Edinburgh and Brighton.

But when it came time to choose a Spring Break trip, when friends encouraged me to join them in Ireland or Italy, I decided to travel to Spain by myself. A trip that was truly unforgettable, not in spite of it being a solo quest but because I did it on my own.

One of the biggest gifts I took away from my time in London is learning the joys of solitary exploration. My guess is that I’m not alone.


The Accidental Bird Watcher

25 May

It’s amazing the things that we become interested in because of our kids. I know the Pokemon theme song by heart and even have a favorite character (Caterpie). I’ve bought Webkins, Crocs, and Sillybandz–for myself. We have the entire Star Wars epic on dvd and have worn out two of the discs.

Though I may have been a Star Wars fan well before my boys became obsessed with Darth Maul and General Grevous, the point is that many of their passions have become my passions. When your children fall in love with something–a sports team, a computer game, a book series–it’s hard not to fall in love right along with them.

One of the interests that I have picked up from my oldest son, Samuel, is a love of birds.

It’s possible that Sam’s affection for birds started when a parrot bit his brother in a pet store. Maybe Sam thought he and the bird kingdom had a common annoyance.

No matter how it began, Sam’s enthusiasm for bird spotting became infectious. Soon we had a membership to the Audubon Society and bought a Sibley Field Guide. We outfitted the backyard with all types of feeders and a bird bath. My husband and I would delight in every new bird Sam helped us to identify.

A chance encounter with a Stellar's Jay along the Pacific Coast Highway.

And then came California.

Minutes after our arrival in San Diego, I knew our family vacation would be for the birds. Hummingbirds were everywhere. Sam was enthralled, and so was I. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t attract these tiny quick-winged creatures to our home back in Rhode Island. But in California, they were zipping overhead en mass.

At the San Diego Zoo, we saw birds of amazing variety in a collection of exhibits that, admittedly, I would have skipped over in the past. A not-to-miss birds of prey section featured the once nearly extinct California Condor and a Harpy Eagle with a massive 7-foot wing span that she kindly displayed for us.

Our trip took us up the coast along US 101 where we saw more exciting bird species. At the Andree Clark Bird refuge in Santa Barbara, we saw huge pelicans swooping down into the water, all types of egrets, wood ducks, and more hummingbirds. A stop at the Point Lobos State Reserve afforded me the chance to get a great picture of a silly looking Stellar’s Jay. We ended our trip in San Francisco, where out in a row-boat at Golden Gate Park, we attracted the attention of coots and cormorants with a bag of popcorn.

Our trip was a few years ago now. Like YuGiOh cards and Jibbitz, Sam’s affection for bird watching has waned. I have to nag him to fill the backyard feeders, and our Audubon membership lapsed.

But birds are part of our family story now; they are a big slice of the collective memories we share about an unforgettable trip to California.

For that, I am eternally grateful to a little boy who taught me to look at the skies in a new way. Now if I could only feel the same way about his soda can collection.