The Importance of Girlfriend Getaways

Reunion brunch with high school girlfriends.

By Jen Ashenfelter

When I jumped off the career merry-go-round to stay at home with Nick (and Chris a few years later), I had no idea the level of isolation that would follow. My social calendar—once filled with lunch dates or happy hours and weekend outings—was replaced with keeping baby fed, dry and happy 24/7, grabbing a quick shower whenever possible and catching up on household chores over the weekend…wash, rinse, repeat!

Of course there were play dates and an occasional gathering of friends and family, but always with toddlers, toys and training toilets in tow. Uninterrupted conversations among adults were rare and usually focused on kid stuff. But I really couldn’t complain; I was lucky to be a stay-at-home mom with a completely supportive husband. However, something was missing.

Beach weekend with my sister and two childhood best friends–ready for dinner in Atlantic City.

Where was ME?

Enter Oprah. (Besides watching endless episodes of Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine, that daytime diva was 60-minutes of being connected to another adult female.) I can’t remember the details, but what I took away from one particular show was the importance of taking care of myself and the benefits of having girlfriends.

Research shows the health benefits women reap by having a network of friends: lower levels of stress and depression, improved mood, lower rates of heart disease and diabetes, delayed memory loss, longer life expectancy.

Equal Opportunity Friend Time: Just for the record, I think it’s important for women and men to have strong friendships and spend time with those people outside of work and family responsibilities.

Organizing free time with good friends is necessary. The health benefits are a plus—use those in your favor when telling the significant other you are headed out for the evening or a weekend away—but, for me, the biggest plus is simply the chance to reclaim me. I become Jen again…not “honey,” “mommy” or “ma’am.”

Newsflash: It’s not selfish to take the time to be you. Recharging is necessary to be a good mother, wife and friend. 

Since that ah-ha moment, in between working from home, managing the household, and driving around town to and from soccer and karate, I love to gather with girlfriends. For me, it started with organizing an afternoon with a close circle of girlfriends at a pottery workshop then dinner together afterwards.

My core group of friends has religiously gathered on the first Thursday evening of every other month at the same gal’s house for the past several years. I spend at least one weekend a year with my sister and two close childhood friends. I’ve reconnected with a group of work colleagues who were good friends before kids and new jobs; organized a reunion brunch with girlfriends from high school; and have gathered friends to enjoy special dinner events at a local teahouse.

Tips & Creative Ideas for Spending Time with Girlfriends:

A fun evening with the gals I used to work with.

  • Start with organizing a simple event with just a few friends—lunch and a special museum exhibit, coffee or cocktails at your house, or hosting an in-home-demonstration show.
  • Organize a gathering around different groups of friends–childhood friends, former coworkers, neighborhood moms or friends with a specific interest such as reading, dancing or photography.
  • If you organize it, they will come—go ahead and pick a date, time and activity and then invite friends. Trying to organize a fun time based on coordinating schedules and interests might prove challenging. It’s ok to be in charge of your gathering and coordinate the overall plans before requesting suggestions for the finer details.
  • Be flexible when organizing regular activities like a book club or game night—not everyone will make it all of the time, that’s ok.
  • When you’re ready to plan a weekend away, keep it simple, small and local like visiting the beach or getting pampered at a hotel spa in town. Organizing a weekend trip takes time, research and patience. Discover new places and activities in your own backyard for starters. Use social media, the internet or hotel concierge for sightseeing ideas/tours and dinner reservations.
  • Whether it’s an afternoon, night or weekend away, minimize cost and travel until you know everyone’s comfort level.
  • Don’t call or text home except maybe once a day. My husband and boys create their own Boys’ Night/Weekend when I’m out with girlfriends. Everyone enjoys their special time…and there’s truth to the saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A special evening at a local wine and tea dinner event.

Do you get together with girlfriends regularly or plan yearly getaways? Tell us about a favorite trip you took recently or share your creative ideas for gathering the girls together.

Up for Family Adventure? Try Biking on a Rail Trail

By Karen Hendricks

The idea of converting unused railroad lines into recreational trails has sparked a huge network of “rails-to-trails” across the country. Given today’s hot topics such as re-use and recycling, it’s easy to see why the rails-to-trails movement is right “on track” with being green and environmentally-friendly.  And best of all, rail trails provide lots of fun and exercise for families!

My family discovered the Heritage Rail Trail in York County, PA several summers ago.  We’ve returned several times to explore this beautiful 21 mile-long trail by bike.  There are numerous points of access from which to choose; on our latest trek we started at the historic Hanover Junction.  This station has been restored to its 1863 character and is where President Abraham Lincoln disembarked and changed trains on his way to Gettysburg to deliver the Gettysburg Address.  (Yes there is even history along the trail!)

The gently-graded Heritage Rail Trail traverses a corridor stretching from the city of York southward to the Maryland line.  The vistas along the way are varied:  lush, green cornfields and farmland; picturesque York County towns and villages; rugged, rock-lined pathways; flowing streams; and the always-present, graceful bend of rail line aside you.

My gang!

After a number of fun outings on the Heritage Rail Trail, we also tried the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail, also in central PA.  This trail borders tranquil stretches of rolling farmland, corn fields and dairy farms set against the blue-green Appalachian Mountains in the distance.  Recently, interpretive wayside signs were added to the trail, so we enjoyed taking a few breaks to read about what we were seeing along the trail:  Pennsylvania’s rich tradition of agriculture, Pennsylvania’s role in the Civil War and the history of railroads.

Cumberland Valley Rail Trail

Owning a bike rack and/or large vehicle is the key to enjoying rail trails, unless you’re lucky enough to live close by one.  Bike racks are great investments!

My family of five is always up for adventure, and our trips have ranged between a quick 8-mile ride to a day-long 22-mile excursion.  We always pack plenty of water and granola bars for quick snacks along the trail.  Another family rule:  always wear helmets.  And one of the best safety features of a rail trail:  no vehicle traffic.  Unlike neighborhood streets, there are few worries about traffic, although there are certainly other bikers, walkers and runners on rail trails, and it’s best to stay right.  Also, there are numerous places where trails cross active roadways so it’s best to disembark, look both ways, and walk your bike safely across to the other side.  Although there can be slight grades, rail trails are fairly flat due to their previous usage as railroad lines, which makes them extremely user-friendly for families.

Our family is excited to keep exploring rail trails.  The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national non-profit, is a wonderful resource.  You can search their website and pinpoint trails in your own “backyard.”  They are also working on a mobile app. PA actually leads the nation in the number of rail trails—162 total.  However in terms of mileage, PA currently ranks 4th in the nation with 1,521 miles of developed trails.  (Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are the top three.)

Here are a few trails on my family’s “wish list:”

The Capital Crescent Trail, connecting Silver Spring, MD with Washington, D.C. and historic Georgetown – along the Potomac River.

The Greenbrier River Trail, spanning 77 miles through wild West Virginia, and including numerous bridges and tunnels along the way.  This trail is considered one of the premier trails in the country.

The D & L Trail – Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail, located in the Pocono Mountains of PA, this trail features a series of waterfalls and rock features, yet still maintains a fairly even grade.

The Great Allegheny Passage, the longest rail trail east of the Mississippi!  Boasting 150 miles of trails through western PA and MD, this trail features gorgeous mountain vistas, numerous tunnels and crosses the Eastern Continental Divide.

Fun Sculptures along the Heritage Rail Trail

Have you discovered a fun way for your family to stay fit?  Can you recommend a great rail trail in your area?  Let us know by leaving a comment below – thanks!

(Portions of this blog were originally published by the PA State Tourism blog, August 2010.)

There’s even an ice cream shop trackside, Heritage Rail Trail


By Karen Hendricks

Welcome and congrats for “jumping off the merry-go-round.” Enjoy this blog as a source of community and inspiration for all moms who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of more enriching family time.

Our Mission: To provide a place of community & inspiration for moms who have left corporate or full-time careers in order to spend more time with their children and families. Re-prioritizing, we are seeking more meaningful, enriched family lives.

We look forward to sharing tips, ideas and conversations about:

  • Daily family life, staying organized
  • Family fun, activities, games
  • Parenting – the agony and the joy
  • Recipes, healthy tips from the kitchen
  • Balancing work with family life
  • Penny-pinching tips
  • Family photography, scrapbooking
  • Travel, day trips, vacations
  • Arts & crafts projects

We are open to your suggestions and topic ideas!  Email us at:  OffTheMGR (at)