Working girls.

Dear friends,

warhol

Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Six hundred miles and 36 hours later, I’m home from the third annual Ozarks Rendezvous.

The gathering of five former colleagues — who at one time all toiled under the same roof in Tulsa, Oklahoma — was more fun than I imagined. Filled with award-winning food, fun, art, wine, laughter and a night in an incredibly hipster hotel, the weekend was a tonic for my favorite crew of working girls.

The central activity of the gathering was a visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR (the town that Wal-Mart built). Before I tell you what I think about the museum, which opened not quite two years ago, I will offer a disclaimer that our band of five professional, solidly middle-class women understood that our free museum admission was only marginally “compliments of Wal-Mart” (as the greeter informed me). I was acutely aware that it is the legions of uninsured, low-wage workers subject to Wal-Mart’s ignoble labor practices that generated the vast fortune represented by Crystal Bridges.

With that sober acknowledgement (and my longstanding disdain for Wal-Mart) as preface, I can’t help but tell you that the museum is a stunning achievement in architecture, art collecting, and the art and science of making art accessible. Practically every important name in the pantheon of American art is represented at Crystal Bridges, from Norman Rockwell to Mark Rothko, from Frederick Remington to Andy Warhol, from Thomas Moran to Jackson Pollock, from Winslow Homer to Joseph Albers. I alternated between marveling at the art right in front of my nose and marveling at how Alice Walton managed to collect it all and make a tiny town in Northwest Arkansas an art destination. If you ever have an opportunity to drop by Crystal Bridges (or, heck, to travel far out of your way), you should add the museum to your must-visit list.

By the way, don’t let the museum’s odd name discourage you from taking it seriously. After I mused — perhaps a little too loudly — that it sounded like a new-age retreat center, and my friend remarked that it reminded her of a cheesy Country and Western singer, a museum docent quietly and kindly informed us that the museum is built over a body of water known as Crystal Springs.  I felt a little guilty, then, for disparaging the museum’s name, but we still joked that it surely must be a marketing impediment to all those who would lump it in the same class of tourist attractions represented by the Precious Moments Park and Chapel just down the road in Carthage, MO.

After a long and satisfying afternoon at the museum, we spent an even longer and more satiating evening at The Hive, our hipster hotel’s even hipper restaurant. Over cocktails and three courses, we discussed everything from politics, to the state of our respective careers, to religion, to family and children, to feminism, to easy gossip about personalities of mutual interest.  During a particularly amusing conversational diversion regarding technology in the workplace, we laughed so hard I lost my breath and nearly popped my trouser button. It was the perfect ending to a splendid day with friends far and farther, who’ve worked hard to nurture the bonds of friendship stretched by geography but reinforced by abiding affection.

With gratitude {for the restorative power of time spent with girlfriends},

Joan, who met the first of her former colleagues in 1988 when both had Working Girl hair, wardrobes, and career challenges, but nothing close to Harrison-Ford romantic prospects

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The Js.

Dear friends,

Three sweet daughters in their matching outfits before they got old enough to just say no.

Every summer for a very long time, I’ve gone on a trip that I look forward to more than most anything else in my life.

Girls’ Weekend!!! (The exclamation points indicate a squeal.)

I know plenty of women who kick up their heels together on a girls’ trip. Heck, I think they made a movie about it — a little picture called “Bridesmaids.”

But my particular girls’ trip is more awesome (awesomely better?) than anybody else’s because I go with my childhood friends. And my childhood friends happen to have daughters who are childhood friends — and we bring our daughters on our annual trip. So we’re a group of BFF mothers with a group of BFF daughters, all having the time of our lives together every single summer.

The women in my life most dear to me are known as the Js. I don’t why the stars aligned in this way, but at age 10 when my mother moved us to our hometown, I became fast friends with Jamie, Johnna, Julie and Janet. We are the 5Js and we’ve remained close friends to this day. Until a year ago when I moved away, four of the five of us lived in our hometown.

In the early years, only three of us (and our daughters) traveled. Along the way, another one of the Js was able to join our summer trips. Our first trip was in 1993, only a few months after Kate was born. She just turned 19, so you get the idea how long the Js and our daughters have been doing this.

In the early years, we went to a lot of amusement parks and water parks in every major city within a day’s drive of our hometown. Our exotic destinations included spots like Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Branson, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Tulsa, and San Antonio. In recent years, we’ve spent most our time shopping and eating in those same cities — and always staying up late and laughing ourselves silly in our hotel rooms. We laugh at old stories we love to tell every single year (our daughters — two of whom are now in college — never seem to tire of hearing about the J’s high school adventures), and we tell a few new stories in our lives by way of catch up.

In the early years, we bought our daughters matching outfits and dressed them alike for our outings. I don’t remember at what age they declared “no more,” but I can’t help that I miss the sweet young faces of our daughters in their matching outfits gracing our trip photos. These days, we tend to buy matching t-shirts at one place or another.

This year, the girls are coming to my house because they haven’t yet visited me in my new place. We plan to hit a nearby outlet mall and take a float trip on the river. I’m going to cook something really yummy for them and show them the sights in our scenic new home, and I’m sure the seven of us will camp out in my den until the wee hours laughing and being girls.

In keeping with the new age we live in, I planned this year’s trip by text. And without fail, after the date was agreed upon yesterday, I got texts from all my girls saying things like I can’t wait! I miss you!!! Love you!

I love my girls and their daughters and I can’t wait to see them, too.

With gratitude {for friends who know the name of the first boy I kissed, who shopped for prom dresses with me, who propped me up when a boy broke my heart in college, who stood by my side as I married Mr. Mom, who diapered my babies, who cried with me when my mother died, and who would turn heaven and earth upside down for me if I needed them to},

Joan, who can’t imagine what life would be like if her name didn’t start with J