Some years you're invited to lots of parties and events. You think this fun will go on forever. Other years, not so much.

This year has been the former, both professional and personal, and I'm enjoying it until I withdraw to get sustained work done.

Funny thing, though. After years of non-stop  work + bringing up two children, with not enough time allowed for fun, I'm finding that this so-called fun is the real work. The sustaining stuff of life you'd miss if you were concentrating on something else, to paraphrase John Lennon.

For a couple of days last week I was at a house party on the top of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. This photo is the view from the front porch of the Big House, built by the host's grandfather a hundred years ago.

We -- 12 women -- were staying in one of the smaller houses of the family compound. Each of us had withdrawn from our ordinary lives and come to the top of the mountain to support our host. One of the most generous, funny and kind women we know and one of my oldest and best friends, she was at a tough time in her life. She's always right there when any of us need her. Now it was our turn to show up and do the same.

Not that there was anything sad about our 48 hours together. Somebody said it was like being in a college dorm again. We had assigned roommates, shared two bathrooms. (My roomie and I laughed when we discovered we both had hairbands, ear plugs and bedtime reading books arranged on our shared bedside table.)

Each of us had signed up to make a meal or bring side dishes, a competitive challenge that produced delicious results. Local chicken baked with the last peaches of the summer. Homemade granola with berries and irresistible pound cake for breakfast. Shrimp. Frittatas. Good coffee. Lots of wine.

All of us knew the house party drill: set the table; clear the table; load the dishwasher; unload the dishwasher; wash the pots and pans; dry the pots and pans; find flowers -- beautifully pale late hydrangeas -- for the center of the table. Put on earrings for dinner.

We swam in the grotto-like spring-fed pool. Hiked. Made a field trip to a wildlife preservation center where we learned a lot about bald eagles, black bears, all kinds of hawks -- the creatures that live parallel lives all around us in Virginia.

Some of us made a point of finding one-on-one time with our host. Others knew she only wanted so much of that and was happy when she saw us happy.

Though I'd briefly met a few of the women guests before, I didn't really know any of them. The New Group Dynamic was like my trip to Maine in July (see previous post #1 and #2 ): it just got better and better the more we all settled down, talked, shared, laughed, trusted. Groups like this can totally not work, but this one did.

Each woman had a particular professional expertise, such as deep sea photography, oil painting, historic preservation, sustainable farming, community service, retail entrepreneurship, biography (me). Several of them knew more about gardening than I ever will. All of them were grown-up women who get things done.

Our host was the glue and the inspiration. At dinner the second and last night she gave a tearful thank-you to all of us for coming. We -- who by now knew that all of us sitting around the table had worries of our own --  thanked her first for letting us share the rare privilege of her family's mountain top retreat. And next for giving us the much bigger privilege of sharing her life, the best and the worst, with all of us.

Instant Gratification: "For the love of Peet's"

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