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When you hit your 50s, girls just wanna have...

KATY LEMAY/The Globe and Mail

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My friend Linda, who works in the medical field, recently told me the best thing a man can do for his health is to be married to a woman, while the best thing a woman can do for her health is to nurture relationships with girlfriends.

Apparently, quality "girlfriend time" actually helps women create more serotonin, which combats depression and brings on a general feeling of well-being.

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I wasn't surprised. My girlfriends and I regularly spend quality time together. In fact, just this fall we had a memorable girls getaway.

But now that I am in my 50s, I have to admit it's not as easy as it once was.

I have fond memories of the first girls getaway I took with three friends back in 1983. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. We were young, single and lucky enough to find a "housekeeping motel unit" in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at a special off-season rate. It was close to the beach and discos, and we couldn't wait to get a head start on our tan.

Packing for the trip was easy. Everything fit into one small suitcase. We each brought three bikinis, a couple of T-shirts, some tiny sundresses, some strappy sandals, a bag of makeup and a carton of Canadian cigarettes. At the duty-free, we bought four bottles of rye whisky and an extra carton of cigarettes, most of which we smoked on the flight.

After arriving, we took a taxi to the grocery store for our week's supplies: white bread, peanut butter, cheese, chips and dip, a jar of instant coffee, some limes, six big bottles of full-sugar Pepsi, 24 cans of beer and a couple of bags of ice. We grabbed a burger on the beach at the end of each day.

It was a week of pure bliss. We spent every evening dancing to Billie Jean and drinking tequila sunrises until, well, sunrise. Then we crawled to bed and fell into a deep sleep. Rising at noon, we swallowed a couple of Aspirins and dragged ourselves poolside. We reclined in our bikinis, hair drenched with Sun-In, bodies slathered with dark tanning oil (SPF 2), smoking and listening to Cyndi Lauper sing Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

What a difference 30 years can make!

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Last fall, a friend invited nine of us – a terrific bunch of ladies aged 44 to 58 – to her cottage in Muskoka for the weekend. We started planning four weeks in advance, choosing appetizers and organizing sleeping arrangements. A karaoke machine was purchased.

There were two washrooms, but we worried that might not be enough for 10 overactive bladders. Then we realized a whole weekend was more time than we could spare, so we reduced the visit to a "one-nighter."

As the day drew near, I started having second thoughts. In the midst of menopause, I often have a hard time sleeping. I decided to bring my own queen-size blow-up bed. It inflates in 60 seconds and has exceptional lumbar support. I threw in my favourite pillow and a light blanket and cotton sheets since I usually overheat at night. But the weather forecast was looking bad so I also brought fleece pyjamas.

Then I wondered if I would have a hangover the morning after. So I packed some Pepto-Bismol, a diet ginger ale and a dozen soda crackers. At the last minute I added extra Tylenol and Benadryl in case my allergies started acting up.

After lunch on Friday, I picked up my friend Denise. She was toting two duffel bags, a cooler, a large plastic carrier containing a chocolate cake and a big rectangular cushion. She had picked up a jumbo box of nasal strips, since at our age we tend to snore.

After a stop to pick up a bottle of Coke Zero and a loaf of pumpkin pistachio bread at Whole Foods Market, we were on our way to Muskoka.

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Most of the girls were there by the time we arrived. A tagine was bubbling on the stove. A platter of pâtés, cheeses and crackers and a fruit-and-vegetable tray were already set out. The counter was overflowing with bottles of wine. I set up a drip coffeemaker because our host is a tea drinker and I can't function in the morning without coffee.

The party got going once we figured out how to work the karaoke machine, but it took several glasses of wine before the singing started. By midnight we couldn't tell if it was Val or Beyoncé belting out hits. We bragged about how lucky our kids were to have such hip moms, though we only knew these songs from Jazzercise class.

Denise and I headed outside to enjoy the stars and start a campfire. We found kindling but no lighter. There wasn't a single smoker in our group. I finally found matches in the bottom of my purse, but there was no newspaper – our host uses an e-reader.

Oh well, it was getting late anyhow. Shortly after midnight we passed around Benadryl, melatonin and nasal strips and went to bed.

By 7 a.m., we were awake and lined up for the washrooms. Coffee was brewed and scones put out for breakfast. By 10 a.m., the cottage was clean and everyone had left with a hug and a pledge to make this an annual event.

In our 20s, getting away with girlfriends was an easy escape – and a good way to meet men. Now it's a rare guilty pleasure – and a chance to get away from men. We may not be as wild and crazy as we once were, but our time together still gives us a boost. And the food is much better.

Laurie O'Halloran lives in Oakville, Ont.

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