The Ultimate Girlfriends’ Getaway

If you want to plan the Ultimate Girlfriends’ Getaway, you may already be too late.

Sure, you can book a spa retreat, shopping weekend or hiking trip any time, but you probably missed your chance to get tickets to “Oprah!,” as the show is now taping its final season.

My sister and I were able to enjoy the experience a few months ago, but we hadn’t planned to do so. Let me explain…

Last summer, my brother – a producer for Harpo – spoke of giving our former neighbors, who are nearing 80, tickets for an “Oprah!” episode featuring the pip-squeak pop sensation Justin Bieber.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You got the B’s in to see a singer they probably never heard of, and you’ve never gotten me tickets?”

“You live in Seattle,” he said. “I don’t usually get much notice when the tickets come through.”

“You worry about the tickets,” I replied. “I’ll worry about getting to Chicago.”

As soon as the fall season started taping, my wonderful brother did procure tickets for me (and one of my sisters) – and I kept my word.  But it wasn’t easy.

The show was set for the first full week of school, when I was still helping my four kids readjust to early wakeup calls and homework. On the taping day, I had scheduled an afternoon meeting at our house, and was to host a pre-game dinner for 40 Varsity football players.  My husband had a business trip planned.

My sister teaches at an art school in Minneapolis, and I was sure it would be just as hard for her to break free.  Our first email exchange was tentative: “It’s a really tough time to go, but if you can make it, I guess I can, too.”

We made it.

In the lively email stream, my brother counseled, “Going to “Oprah!” is a lifetime highlight for many of these women.  You’ll see a lot of ladies who have traveled together, had their hair and nails done, and purchased new outfits just for the taping.”  I figured I’d look terrific after a few hours of “sleep” on the red-eye.

After landing at 4:50 am (not quite 3 am Pacific time), I drove to my brother’s house, 45 minutes away in Evanston. I arrived armed with donuts and hugs for my three nieces. After they left for school, I showered and dressed in what I envisioned as an Oprah-appropriate outfit – you know, bold, bright solid colors. I put on a little extra makeup, which for me means anything more than under-eye concealer and mascara, fruitlessly styled my hair and set out in the rain for the subway.

 At the Harpo studios, a huge crowd had already lined up in the plastic-covered walkway, even though the taping wouldn’t start for another hour. My sister met me in line; her flight had arrived a little later, so she taxied straight there.  She was dressed in her hip-artist best: a pale grey, polka-dotted zip hoodie and faded blue jeans.  We felt extremely under-dressed and out-classed, but perfectly poised for people-watching. 

The ladies in line were amazing; dressed to the nines (lots of pink, fuchsia and fire-engine red), heavily made up, high-heeled, beautifully coiffed and clearly ready for the time of their lives.

Once inside the studios, I signed a release that restricted my right to say anything about the “Oprah!” experience, but let me assure you that the gussied-up Girlfriend Getaways gals enjoyed close-up seats and two seconds of fame when the show aired.  My sister and I were seated off to the side, behind a cameraman. Nevertheless, we did get caught up in the spirit, fell in love with Ms. O and felt privileged to see Cybill Sheppard, Linda Evans and Teri Hatcher more-or-less up close.  

Afterwards, we mindlessly followed the crowd to the Oprah! store and bought souvenirs we didn’t need.  Then we enjoyed a long lunch at a funky nearby restaurant, and really took time to talk – something that rarely happens when other family members are around.

A few hours later, back in Evanston, our mom joined us for dinner with my brother and his family, and we finished off the evening with birthday cake (just a week before my big day). We talked for hours, then fell asleep whispering in our niece’s bunk beds – just like old times.

The following morning, we arose at dawn and headed back to the airport. The “Oprah!” experience had lasted only 24 hours, but we knew the trailer effect would endure much longer.  And now, every time I sip decaf from my “Oprah!”-certified mug, I think of my sister and the laughs we shared during our Girlfriends’ Getaway.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 29 Nov. 2010

36 Hours to Reconnect with Family

Thanksgiving is this week, so it’s no surprise that family is on my mind. My favorite holiday is celebrated by virtually everyone in the U.S., lending a communal feel that is unique. I love all our traditions, right down to the buckled shoes and square white collars on pilgrim figurines, football games, cranberry sauce and mouth-watering pies. It is so simple and straightforward – family, food and gratitude. While gratefulness may not be the first thought on anyone’s mind during a long drive or hectic airport crush on the way to see relatives, family faces filled with joy and laughter are.

Six weeks ago, knowing I would not see my sister during the holidays, I was pining on the phone to her how I wished we lived closer. We had been trying for months to figure out a way to travel together, but work and respective family activities (six kids between us) seemed to conspire against us getting in sync. With a cherished sibling you have the freedom of complete honesty and no one can make you laugh harder. I grew up in California and currently live in Washington State, so I don’t get back nearly as often as I would like. I was craving the abundant sunshine, the sight of ancient oaks and the spicy smell of fresh Mexican food.   So, I made a spontaneous decision – just go. This was a special trip to see my sister and niece in San Jose. In measured time it was completed in 36 hours but in mental pleasure time it has lasted much, much longer.

 Departing from Seattle on a Thursday 6 a.m. flight I had plenty of time to think about my specific travel agenda, which I announced to my sister when she picked me up from the airport. I wanted to go for a walk outside to soak in some much-needed warmth and Vitamin D. I wanted to see my niece run in her first high school cross country meet. And, I wanted to have dinner with my nephew and brother-in-law.

I happily squinted as the sunshine pierced through the windshield of the car on our way to our first destination, a one-hour hike in the hills of Saratoga. Villa Montalvo is an art center with beautiful grounds that are awash with the fragrant sweet smell of eucalyptus trees nestled in soft earth. We made our one-hour “clockwise” walk around the trail – I was already smugly satisfied.  The next stop was lunch from Andale Taqueria in Los Gatos. We enjoyed our meal on a bench at the town plaza park, did a little window shopping and then made it across town to the cross country meet.

I followed my niece along the course, intercepting her wherever I could while shamelessly yelling, loudly, “Go, Sarah!!” There were 150 runners, but only one that I really wanted to see.  Sarah had told all her friends that I came all the way from Seattle just to see her; she was right and I am glad she knew how much I cared. After the meet she jubilantly hopped in the car, eager to show me her high school campus and her newly acquired driving skills. The trip could have stopped right there and it would have been worthwhile. 

The action continued that evening. I was able to enjoy a family meal with my brother-in-law and watch Thursday night football with my nephew.  After talking late into the night with my sister, I slept soundly on the living room couch, amazed at how much had occurred.

The following morning I said good–bye to the kids as they rushed out the door for school and began to strategize with my sister about what we could do in three hours before driving to the airport. We settled on squeezing in another walk, this time at the Fremont Older Open Space Preserve. The green belt boasted a panoramic view of the Bay Area framed by golden hills; it was a fitting way to say farewell to my home state.

Flying back that afternoon, I was a little wistful thinking of my family in California and the one I was going home to in Seattle. Yet, I marveled at how even a 36-hour break can make a world of difference; it was a memorable getaway and one that I promised would happen more often. Reconnecting with family was good for my mind and heart.

Carol Lewis Gullstad  November 23, 2010

The LBR (Little Black Raincoat)

The stalwart wardrobe staple “LBD” (aka little black dress) can be found in almost every woman’s closet.

But did you know that there is a must have equivalent for every woman’s packing list? When planning a getaway every mom should have a LBR – Little Black Raincoat. You can rarely go wrong having it in your suitcase. Even if you are 100% positive that you will not need it at your destination it doubles as a blanket for the plane, car ride or train. An incredibly versatile article of clothing – you don’t even need to live in Seattle, like I do, to make use of it.

The LBR has many requirements though to properly fulfill its mission. It must be foldable without wrinkling. It must be water repellant not water-resistant. It must have a removable lining. A zip or button on hood is a plus and it must be classic yet flattering. If all these criteria are met you will get years of use out of your LBR.

This fall I set out to find a replacement for my LBR that was being sent to a favorite consignment shop, The Dollhouse in Ketchum, Idaho. Knowing the high utility my LBR would receive, it had to be a thoughtful search.  I began looking to get a feel for what was “out there” in price and style. My effort was initiated on-line and I ordered three coats to try on at home. I even, gasp, ordered a platinum grey coat to see if that would work. I discovered however that grey is for rainy skies – grey is not the new black when it comes to a LBR.  None of the coats worked for fit, weight, or style and I sent them all back.

For my next effort I enlisted the services of Michael and Calvin – Michael Kors and Calvin Klein. But, I had to hoof it to department stores and discount stores in round two.  I, once again came home with three “nominees.” One of the coats was a super cute, fashion forward, shiny patent leather slicker purchased from the Rack. It had no lining and would probably be out of style soon but I wanted it to work. I was violating the criteria list big time – proof that even a “professional” can get seduced by a beautiful piece of clothing. The patent leather coat was reluctantly returned – someone else would be enjoying the one season wonder.

I got word a few days ago that my old black raincoat had sold. It was a done deal and now I had to choose a new LBR. Finally, after modeling options for a friend, I settled on one from Nordstrom. It did not have a hood and I was disappointed by this but it fit all the other criteria exceedingly well. Mission accomplished – just in time for the rain.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, November 14, 2010

Takeoff – Part 2

Seattle is a beautiful city and a wonderful, safe place to raise kids, but I will never lose my love for Manhattan.  I spent my 20s there – I earned a graduate degree at Columbia, worked at two fabulous jobs, met great groups of friends, co-founded a book club, played (poorly) on a co-ed company softball team, hit my peak as a runner (on an elite team competing in Central Park) and met my husband.  Whenever I arrive in the city, I feel like I’m home—and young—again.

In New York, I simply breathe in the air to recharge my batteries.  I draw energy from the crowds, the lights, the shops, the bagels, the restaurants and the parks; I love it all.

Last month, Carol and I flew to NYC for a non-fiction writer’s conference. Although the workshop would consume most of Friday and Saturday, and part of Sunday, we knew we could find time for fun. 

Thanks to Facebook and email, I connected with a bunch of friends from my carefree (read: before children) New York days in advance.  Two friends agreed to lunch at a trendy Soho restaurant for Thursday, a few hours after our red-eye landed, and another bought tickets for an Irish rock band in the Village that night. A group that grew to about 15—many of whom now lived in the suburbs—made plans for dinner on Friday night.  For Sunday, we scheduled another lunch and a walk in the park.

I suspected we would find the energy to fit it all in.  I’m a lot more tolerant of fatigue—and much more energized—when traveling. 

At home, when stuck in the daily routine of early-morning writing (and Facebook-surfing) sessions; the struggle to get four children up, fed and out the door; volunteering at schools and on boards; part-time writing and editing work; grocery shopping; cooking; driving carpools; exercising—with and without the dog; and managing dinner, homework and bedtime; I’m always exhausted.

Most nights at about 10 pm, I settle on the couch to tackle laundry and “Seinfeld” reruns, and doze as the older boys finish homework and their elaborate bedtime routines. They may wake me up as they’re finally heading to bed, sometimes between 11:30 and midnight. 

On this last trip to New York, Carol and I hit the ground running after three barely countable hours of sleep (jammed into coach seats on an “overbooked” red-eye flight).  We laughed and talked our way through a three-hour lunch and later, during a nostalgic evening listening to live music in a packed club, befriended young Irish fans, drained two bottles of wine (among three people) and acted like rocker girls.

Back at the hotel, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, and slept soundly until the 7:30 wakeup call.

Then it was on to another full day.  We celebrated the strong sun and mid-70s temperatures—quite different from fall in Seattle—and walked a mile to class. We found the conference invigorating and inspirational, as we worked on the “three minute elevator pitch” for our book and listened to our classmates’ own great ideas.

That evening, we set off for dinner at a BBQ joint on the East Side.  Wonderful friends from my first publishing job (30-some years ago) showed up, as well as some gals from the book club we started in 1984 (which is still going strong). After a sizeable crowd had gathered, a dear friend entered, gave me a big hug, and made a loud joke about our long, platonic relationship. It was going to be a fun night.

Over dinner, we reminisced and caught up on our current lives (work, families, commutes, suburban life).  Then, at a hip pool/Ping-Pong parlor, we drank Mimosas (remembering how that drink led to our ejection from the Sugar Reef, decades earlier), talked smack and told stories.  Carol and I felt childless and 20-something again.

Over the weekend, I did call home a few times, and sent texts to the kids every day.  I wanted to make sure they knew I missed them and loved them.  The communication also reminded me of reality. The kids all asked me about the trip, the conference and the progress on the book.  Could they be proud of me?

On the flight home, flush with satisfaction from a fun, full weekend and success at the conference (an agent and an editor asked for our proposal), I tried to work on the book project. However, I soon found my mind drifting to more menial matters such as meal-planning, homework-help and sporting events. I was re-energized and ready to face the “real world” again.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 11-9-10

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