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'Girls' camping trip becomes annual respite

I've just finished another article about the mental health benefits of women taking an "all-girls" weekend from the stress and responsibilities of their families and careers. I'm thinking, "been there, done that," with a great big grin on my face.

A few years ago, one of my registered nurse co-workers, an avid Allegany State Park camper, suggested that the eight of us rent a couple of cabins there for a fall weekend. Thus, the idea for the first "4-South All Girl Camp-out 2000" was hatched. It has since become a highly anticipated September tradition.

We decided to make the event an annual one, just the eight of us, until we were too old to carry on the tradition. But then old is just a state of mind, right? Of course, we would eventually trade our sleeping bags in for more comfortable accommodations such as a lakeside cottage, New York City or a Bahamas cruise. But those first five years, we packed up our sleeping bags and headed down to the Southern Tier.

We separated the early risers from the late owls, assigned cabins, shopping lists and chores. By taking turns preparing meals, we could relax and enjoy ourselves while waiting for the dinner bell to ring. No grilled hamburgers and beans for us. We enjoy creative gourmet meals, beautiful table settings and luscious wines and desserts. Each year our weekend tends to build around a certain theme. It might be New Year's Eve, Mardi Gras, a "well-heeled" cocktail party or a Japanese theme complete with paper lanterns and sake.

It is our time to be a little silly and let our hair down. It is a weekend dedicated to us. It is time to put everything else aside and just spend time enjoying each other's company. Over the years we've done just that while hiking, swimming, playing indoor and outdoor games, and gathering wood for our nightly bonfires. We've marveled at nature, wondrous star- and moon-lit skies, sunrises and sunsets.

But most of all, our bond has become stronger with each passing year as we share our hopes and dreams for ourselves, and the men and children in our lives. Then we hash over what's really happening in our lives, our families and careers. We discuss politics and world events, the latest best-selling novel and women's issues. We have been free to share our good, bad and ugly thoughts and feelings, our laughter and tears, all the while letting our guard down, knowing that what we choose to share will stay among friends. We are free to bend the rules, cheat on our diets and in general say the heck with social decorum.

We have, over time, pored over old wedding albums and celebrated one member's and several of our children's weddings, a divorce, milestone birthdays and grandchildren's births. We welcomed a son home from the war and, alas, mourned two spousal deaths.

The weekend always ends too quickly. Before we know it, we are packing up again. But our steps are a little lighter, our eyes a little brighter and our smiles are definitely bigger. We are ready to go home and hug our families again.

This year, a group of 11 other women stopped at our beach campfire asking if we would take their group's annual photo in exchange for taking ours, and offered to share their container of Jell-O shots. We laughed and shared our camping weekend stories. And we all shared that same "what happens at the camp-out weekend, stays at the camp" mischievous grin!

As they say, girls just wanna have fun!

Patty Blonski, a registered nurse who lives in Hamburg, looks forward to her girls-only weekend each September.

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