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The dinner bell!

We troop to the lakefront where, after cocktails, we're served lobster, corn on the cob, strawberry shortcake and more. We look out at Lake Sebago -- Maine's second largest -- dotted with small islands, as the sun quietly sets. It is an exquisitely beautiful, peaceful scene.

The best part: I didn't have to shop, cook or do the dishes. I'm not worrying about whether the kids are happy -- or where they are at the moment, since they're far from here. Instead, we're spending time with old friends.

Welcome to Migis Lodge (www.migis.com), a small resort about an hour from Portland -- 35 well-appointed cabins in the trees. A family place in summer, it turns into an ideal getaway spot for parents who want to steal away for a few days in the fall. There are special hikes, fishing seminars and beer and wine tastings around the fire until mid-October.

Whether you want to escape the baby overnight at a city hotel (Doubletree, www.doubletree.com, has special romance packages across the country), play golf (Bermuda, which has more golf courses per square mile than anywhere else in the world, offers a third night free www.bermudatourism.com/compliments), pamper yourself at a spa (spa getaways at the deluxe Viceroy Snowmass in Colorado, www.viceroysnowmass.com, offer rooms beginning at $125 a night and spa treatments that are 30 percent off), or hike and bike amid the glorious fall foliage (check out Travelocity's fall foliage hotel room sale, www.travelocity.com/fall, offering rooms from $53 per night), fall is an ideal time for some "me" and "us" time.

"Prices are generally less expensive than the summer months," says Travelocity.com's Genevieve Brown. "And since most families are wrapped up with school activities, you're not likely to encounter a lot of kids at your destination."

Check out deals like the one at Tranquility Bay Antigua (www.tranquilitybayantigua.com), an all-suite beach resort complete with discounts on a two-bedroom suite, private chef for one night and a spa gift certificate. Come midweek and save even more (under $1,100 total for four nights)!

"We found a great four-night cruise deal on Royal Caribbean to the Bahamas -- $600 for the two of us. Plus airfare and a grandparent taking over for the week, we're at about $1,000," writes Rae Hostetler in an e-mail.

Believe me, the kids will be the better for your getaway. Younger ones discover that they can survive -- happily -- without you for a few days. Older ones see that you have a life beyond their carpools, homework, games and crises-of-the-moment.

Check out sites like www.lastminutetravel.com and www.jetsetter.com where membership entitles you to private sales that spell big savings.

Vermont is offering special "Midweek Peek" deals (www.vermontvacation.com/midweek) during its popular foliage season. The Appalachian Mountain Club (www.outdoors.org) promises "stay 2 nights, get the 3rd free" at its New England lodges and White Mountain huts.

Wherever you go, and especially if you are leaving kids at home, choose a destination easy to reach -- just in case of an emergency.

Explore a new city (according to www.hotwire.com, midsized ones like Seattle and Denver are especially good deals now) and linger in all those museums the kids rush you through. If you're a foodie, check out Tourisme Montreal's For Foodies Package (www.tourisme-montreal.org). It offers nightly rates starting at just over $115 a night and discount coupons at check-in for complimentary treats at popular Montreal eateries and savings on culinary classes.

Head to a ski town. You'll find good hotel deals, lots going on and plenty of places to hike, mountain bike and golf from Stowe, Vt., (the Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, www.stoweflake.com) to Park City Utah (www.parkcityinfo.com), where you can get a free massage and wine with a room rate under $150 a night (www.parkcitypeaks.com).

As for us, we savored our weekend at Migis Lodge. We hiked and golfed, took a motorboat out on the lake, relaxed over leisurely dinners and on the porch of our cabin. We talked and talked -- especially about the kids.

I wouldn't have it any other way.