Our bellies egregiously full of grilled stickies a la mode, Steve & I piled in the car to leave Happy Valley and continue on my graduation trip through Pennsylvania. Next stop: Lewisburg, a little over an hour away from State College, to reconnect with two couples with whom we've been longtime friends but hadn't seen in forever.
First we stopped at Mike & Cara's house. You know those friends who, although it's been eons since you've been together, you can pick up your easy conversation like you just saw each other yesterday? That's the way it was with us -- so cool to hang with smart, funny, truly good people! (And their two cats, which made us miss our kitties back home.) The four of us moved on to to a restaurant where Mark & Mary Anne joined the festivities. M&M once owned the radio station where Mike, Steve & I worked in the early '90s, and we still have a business relationship with them today. After a blast over drinks and some surprisingly good fish & chips -- and glaring looks from the restaurant staff who were annoyed that we had lingered so long -- we parted ways with M&C and set out into the countryside to spend the night at M&M's home -- a 1790 farmhouse that they've lovingly restored into a real showplace.
Imagine the coziest, homiest bed-and-breakfast you can, with plush, comfy furnishings, piles of pillows, and impeccably chosen antiques all around. A log home surrounded by serene woods made greener and lusher with the recent rainfall. Paradise, right? Yes, Mark & Mary Anne live in their own Pennsylvania paradise. Oh, did I mention the tricked-out gourmet kitchen? My Food Network fantasy come to life! The four of us enjoyed some more beverages, reminisced, and engaged in some passionate but civilized political debate. Yes, Steve & I do know that conservatives exist -- we just don't run into many in San Francisco!
It was back to Steve's parents' house near Philly the next day, taking the backroads rather than the busy turnpike. There we bonded with our niece Carrie and her adorable 15-month-old daughter Maddy, who we were meeting for the first time. Gary & Cindy (Carrie's parents), who had been with us at commencement, brought pizzas and we sat out in the carport and chatted. At one point Maddy (who I had been warned was clinging to Mommy and might not warm up to anyone else) reached out from Carrie's lap and came right over to me! Just as I was turning her to face forward so Steve could get a picture, she reached back for Mommy. So despite a lack of photographic evidence, I proved that I'm capable of handling a small child for a grand total of three seconds, which for me is quite the accomplishment.
On the road again the next morning for our final stop, just what the doctor ordered to conclude our whirlwind tour. We drove to the Jersey Shore for some long-overdue beach time, thanks to Steve's sister Kathy's generous offer for us to crash at their rental house a block from the beach. It's an annual trip for Kathy, her husband Mike, and their daughters Kelly & Katie (and now their husbands, Derek & Jake respectively), and since it coincided with my graduation they invited us to join them. After a rain-shortened stay on the sand on Day One we returned to the house to eat, drink, catch up, eat some more, drink some more, drink some more... well, you get the idea. Kelly & Derek are expecting a baby in January, and because she was still so early in her pregnancy they were jokingly referring to the baby as The Sea Monkey. (We found out the following week that it's a boy Sea Monkey!) That evening was spent sitting outside the house, chowing down on some fine Jersey Italian food and watching the Phillies game on the TV that had been turned to face out the window. Considering how little actual summer weather we get in San Francisco, even the sunburn and mosquito bites felt good to me. Steve & I had only half a day left before we had to head back to Philly Airport, but we made the most of it on a gloriously sunny day at the beach. Water temperature: 68 degrees -- considerably warmer than the 50 degree Pacific waters a few blocks from where we live.
All too soon it was time to pack up for the flight back west. This trip was a shining example of quality over quantity... we didn't get to stay in any one place nearly as long as we or our hosts would've liked, but we made every moment that we had count. There are so many people who were so gracious, accommodating, generous, helpful, supportive, and just all-out amazing to me, not only during the trip but over the course of the last year-and-a-half that it took me to complete my degree. I can't thank you enough for all that you've done for me.
Now? Bring on the next milestone..