Things begin again

I'm back into the blogosphere, which I'm sure has missed me greatly since my last post of almost a fortnight ago. The trip to Lancaster was fantastic (more on that in a minute), and now I've begun a new semester and my second (!) year as a graduate student. Each of my classes has met once, so I feel that I have an idea of how my semester will be, and I'm prepared for it to be grueling in a very academically satisfying way. Despite the pleasant butterflies at the start of each term, I also get a sinking feeling every once in a while when I consider all the work that lies ahead of me, but then I remember all the papers I've written before and hours I've spent in the library (not to mention the hundreds of dollars I've spent on photocopies), and it's all okay again. I plug on through. I keep reading. I try my best to expand my mind and my sense of intellectual curiosity, which is alive and well in my head but not always made manifest in the work I hand in or the research I pursue on my own. That is the deficiency I intend to work the hardest on this year. I have to define my masters thesis by the start of next semester, when I'll be taking only one class and devoting the rest of my time to the thesis. At this point, I have a very vague idea about 19th-century Russian music (Glinka? Rimsky-Korsakov? Balakirev?). Vague indeed.

The Lancaster trip was a whirlwind visit with a very high percentage of the people I love, and I can't imagine having spent the week much better than I did. My gorgeous, kind, and brilliantly talented friend Katherine, who drove way too much this past week, picked me up at BWI on Saturday morning, and we went to her boyfriend's family's house for HayFest, an annual gathering of his friends from high school. I adore her boyfriend, and his family is a ton of fun (his younger sister is aptly named Erica as well), but I have to say that I wasn't too pleased with some of his friends. Several of them seem a bit dysfunctional (there were a few exceptions, of course). For this reason, Erica, Katherine, and I stayed inside for a good bit of the day watching the Olympics, including one of my new favorite events, synchronized diving. We picked up Nicole, Tucker, and Becca from BWI that night, then we went back to HayFest for a little while, and then after suitable fun had been had, Katherine drove me home to Lancaster. I got home at 2 a.m., so I had to wait until the next morning to visit with my family. My mom's parents, who live in Charleston, WV, came Saturday through Tuesday, and my first cousin once-removed (my great-grandmother's step-grandson, or my grandmother's step-nephew), his wife, and their sister-in-law (confused yet??) came to stay in Lancaster during the same time period to visit with my grandparents and us. I hadn't seen them in ten years, so it was really nice. We had a yummy dinner on Sunday (including a visit from my step-sister Morgan and her fab boyfriend Brian). We putzed around Lancaster County a bit on Monday, and then my aforementioned friends from home, plus Lauren who lives in State College and her fun boyfriend Steve, came to Lancaster for a cook-out (the cooking took place on the grill outside, but the back "yard" is in a state of flux right now so an outdoor party was unfeasible). The next day was devoted to Hershey, though Mom and I failed to meet up with the out-of-town relatives. They had wanted to tour Chocolate World, and since I had never been to the park, Mom and I decided it would be the perfect thing for the two of us to do that day, and so we tried to meet them for the tour before hitting the roller coasters. It didn't work. We got a late start partly because of our trek across Pennsylvania to find a AAA with discount tickets, and the park was so packed with crazy tourists that we never found them. They managed to find many other fun things to occupy themselves, though, and we had a blast at the park. One ride in particular made me happy: Storm Runner. Instead of getting the power to go through the twists, hills, and turns from an initial hill and drop, like most roller coasters do, this one starts from zero and accelerates to something like 72 mph in a matter of a couple of seconds. It's interesting to watch from the ground, and it took my breath away both times I rode it. What fun. Mom and I are big fans of cheap thrills like roller coasters, the weather was nice, and the day turned out to be quite pleasant indeed. Despite having missed Kathy, Dave, and Vera in Hershey, we saw them again on Wednesday morning before they left town. Soon after they left, our other guests arrived. I said later that it was like trading one part of the family for another. Katherine the Fair drove me to BWI to pick up Jack on Wednesday afternoon, and we went back to her place for a bit so Jack could meet Katherine's kitten, who's only a few weeks younger than Celia. We came back to Lancaster that afternoon, just in time to receive Jack's mom and my other grandmother (my dad's mom), who had driven up that day. My grandmother has felt tied to home for various reasons lately, so I was thrilled that (1) she was able to come to Lancaster to see me and my parents since I didn't think I'd get to see her until Christmas, and (2) that Jack's dad, sweetheart that he is, actually drove down from Virginia to Winston-Salem to pick her up and then took her to Charlottesville to meet up with Jack's mom. While Jack's mom and my grandmother were there, we went to Intercourse, PA (finally!!), the Quilt Museum in Lancaster, and various other Amish and not-so-Amish sites. I enjoyed the fellowship most of all, though. Jack and I left from Baltimore on Saturday evening, following lunch with Jack's sister and her husband, a visit to Morgan's apartment (she moved there in July), and a quick sprint with Morgan through the Ikea store to look at sofas. We had perused their website and looked at their tiny pictures, but it's hard to sit on sofas online, and the nearest store to here is in Houston, some four hours away. We found one that could work, depending on what upholstery is available, but we won't be deciding until we have money to buy a sofa. [You guessed it. Months away.]

I am grateful to have spent time with as many people as I saw last week. Thanks to all those who made it possible. You know who you are.

We got home late Saturday night, much to the pleasure of our cats (one of whom kept us up all night with her incessant mews and needy behavior), and we were so tired from traveling and Celia's night-time antics that we were church slackers. I slept in, and then I got my notebooks together and prepared myself for the start of the semester. Woohoo! I think that's enough for one post.

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I second that "thanks to all who made it possible". It was so much fun to have all of us together, and have the place, thanks to your mom and Bill, to do it!! IT's so wonderful when things just work out like that. Let's hope we're able to do it again sooner, rather than later. =) Glad you made it home safe & sound!
Grandma Vi and I had a great time too. Special thanks to Debbie and Bill. And you did a great job of cooking Erica. Mom Ann
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