The rest of break was pretty low-key. I did some clothes shopping with Mom, went to the Bookmine (twice), did a lot of early-morning runs, took my parents to Three Layers Cafe, and swam three practices with my old masters' swim team. The first one hurt (both my body and my ego!), but the second and third ones weren't bad. I also checked out the new downtown library, and, yeah -- there are pretty much no words for how amazing it is. Five stories tall, with everything you could possibly dream of and more: a teen room, a genealogy research center, a theater, a Grand Reading Room on the top floor, a forest-themed children's area, a map room, a cafe, and so on. I would have lived there as a kid.
I got to see some of my old friends, too -- met an old middle-school friend for coffee, an old swim team friend for brunch, and a high school friend for dinner (complete with peanut butter pie as big as my head!). I also got to spend a whole day with my best friend from high school, who is an RN, married and living in Orlando. I sat beside her on the first day of Spanish II class, in ninth grade, when we were both 14; she had braces and long reddish-purple hair (which is now back to brown, and as short as my own). Anyway, I drove down to O-town for the day, and we hit up IKEA, the mall, the outlets, and an amazing restaurant called The Elephant Bar (which unfortunately does not exist in my part of the country, so we may have to make that a regular destination when I visit home!). Our mouths never stopped moving all the while. I am so grateful that she and I have been able to stay friends for all these years -- I've known her for literally half my life, and every time I see her, we manage to pick up right where we left off. It's just so 'easy' to be with her, which is such a rare gift.
The next day, I drove down to Gainesville to watch my cousins (18 and 15) swim at their sectional meet. I'm particularly close to my 18-year-old cousin M; she just got a full college scholarship to a top-five swimming school, and is also competing at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai at the end of this month, so this was my last chance to see her swim before she hits the big time. I am so freakin' proud of her, both as an athlete and as the young adult she's becoming, and it was great to spend some quality time with her, sitting in the bleachers chatting about life in between her events.
Let's see, what else? Well, my dad scrubbed three years' worth mold off my car (he's amazing), fixed my folding bike (see? amazing), and sweet-talked the salesgirl at the Apple Store into replacing my drowned iPod for free (told you he's amazing). And I guess I did a little bit of work myself, too -- reviewed some PACKRAT (end-of-year exam) questions, worked on my speech for the scholarship lunch (more on that in a minute), and wrote a blog entry for the 'Day in the Life' series of essays that are posted on the PA website (link to come). Oh, and I busted out my medical 'toys' to look at my sister's infected ear (she managed to perforate her eardrum less than 4 hours before I got to FL), which evolved into an impromptu medical clinic in the dining room, with everybody looking at everybody else's ears, eyes, and throats. Catie's perforated TM was the star of the show, but it turns out my dad and brother-in-law have great (read: easily visualizable) optic discs, and my mom has perfect 'textbook' pearly gray eardrums. I freaked out for a second upon seeing a black splotch in my dad's right eye, and tried to ask him casually whether he'd ever had any other eye issues apart from his nearsightedness; he replied, "No, but whenever I get those pictures taken of the back of my eye, they tell me I have a 'freckle' back there in the shape of a T-bone steak. It never changes; it's just there." Cue the sigh of relief that it was a normal finding... but I also felt like a stud for seeing it! :)
Oh, and, of course, we drove down to the Canaveral National Seashore to watch the final space shuttle launch. That was a big part of why I'd wanted to go home for this break. Although we were several miles away from Kennedy, it was still an awesome sight, and an unforgettable experience. Waking up at six o'clock to a seventy percent chance that the launch would be scrubbed, but still taking the risk and driving down. Walking a mile down the beach, hanging on the radio announcer's every word for weather updates, anxiously watching the skies begin to clear. Standing on the sand in the middle of a stock-still crowd, everyone facing the same direction, silently waiting. Listening to the countdown via portable TVs and radios, holding our collective breath as it stopped at T-minus 31 seconds for a quick double-check of a retraction arm, exhaling in relief as it started back up. Watching the famous old digital countdown clock tick down to zero for the final time, then exploding in cheers and applause when the bright streak of light lit up the horizon for the last time, arcing its way upward ever faster. Just fantastic. Hard to believe that such a huge part of my childhood is over, though. I went to Space Camp at age 12 and loved every minute of it. A newscaster that I've been watching for my whole life got so choked up over the end of the shuttle program the night before the launch that he almost couldn't finish his piece. His point was that those of us who grew up in Florida feel a sense of ownership of the space program; it means something different to us than those in the rest of the country. We were the kids who stood on our driveways and rooftops on launch days and pointed to the faraway streaks of light, watched the solid rocket boosters fall, listened for the sonic booms from the reentries, heard the stories of the Challenger told and retold. An era has ended, but beautifully so. I hope that whatever comes next can compare.
Anyway... then yesterday was the aforementioned scholarship lunch; the organization that sponsored my elementary school's safety patrol brigade gave me an award last year that they were kind enough to renew for 2011. I had let slip that I was going to be in town, so I ended up being invited to attend one of their weekly meetings, and was asked to give a brief speech on what I'd been up to over the past year and what was on tap for me for next year. I was nervous about it, but I think it went well; I saw lots of smiles and nodding heads throughout, and got a couple of big laughs -- even some spontaneous applause when I talked about St. Baldrick's. I talked briefly about what a PA is ("We're not 'Personal Assistants'; we're not 'Public Attorneys'; we're not the state of Pennsylvania..."), what I'd been up to over the past year ("You may notice that I'm sporting a pretty short haircut..."), what was coming up for next year, and how lucky I felt to be at Duke ("I'm learning something new every hour of every day, I'm surrounded by the most brilliant, caring, amazing people I've ever been privileged to meet, and I feel so humbled that someone, somewhere thought that I deserved to be among them. And I have people like you to thank for that, because it's organizations like this one, and people like all of you, that allow me to get up in the morning and do what I love every day."). I felt pretty good afterwards; one of the things I've been working on this year is trying to become a better public speaker, and this was one of the rare occasions when I've been asked to speak, not about a random school assignment, but about something I'm passionate about and truly know backwards and forwards. Anyway, I was pleased with how it went, and I drove back to Durham last night with a check in my purse, so my Duke bursar account is going to be pleased, as well. :)
Today, so far, has been amazing. I got caught up on bills and various other tasks, then went for a massage at 11am. I haven't had a massage since I was 21 and living with a girl who was in massage school, but I still haven't fully recovered from that finger-breaking tumble I took a few weeks ago -- I pretty much wrenched the entire left side of my body from neck to thigh, and a certain muscle in my left hip/glute area, in particular, is still pretty stiff, especially after long periods of sitting. I thought a massage might help, so I'd been watching GroupOn and LivingSocial for deals, and finally snagged one. I swear I could feel my muscles crunching as the knots were worked out! It wasn't exactly pleasant, but my body felt a lot better afterwards (and, knock on wood, my hip doesn't hurt anymore, either!). My shoulders were actually sore afterward from all the work she did on them (after yesterday's seven-hour drive, I'm not surprised they were so tense), but it was the good kind of sore. I'm glad I did it. It's not something I can afford to do on a regular basis for full price, but I'll definitely keep watching for deals.
After the massage, I went to lunch with my friend R, her baby girl, and her sister M; she had scored yet another LivingSocial deal (it was just that kind of day). We caught up over a delicious shrimp and artichoke risotto, and then I went a few blocks down Main Street to get my hair cut by the amazing C (whom I discovered during the St. Baldrick's event a few months back and to whom I was an immediate convert!). We agreed that I had reached 'critical mass' in terms of hair and that it drastically needed thinning out, as well as some shortening. It's amazing how fast it grows; C was telling the other stylists behind the counter that she couldn't believe how fast it had come back; it's been less than three months since I shaved it! Oh, and she and her hair posse officially challenged the DPAP crew to a cornhole tournament next week... this should be interesting... :)
Anyway, I just called and left a message for my very first preceptor, which was only slightly nerve-wracking; I assume he's in clinic all afternoon, so I doubt he'll call back until after 5. I'm headed to my BodyTone class now (the second-to-last one I'll get to do for a while... *sniff*), then back home to clean up, then a couple of errands, then to Tutti Frutti with some DPAPers, and then... drumroll... the very last Harry Potter midnight show of all time! (Yes, I will be wearing my graduation gown -- I'm just that big of a dork! :))
Three and a half more days of freedom... and it's been an awesome break... but I gotta say, I'm actually feeling a lot more confident than I was before the vacation. I've wrapped my head around the transition and my changing role, for the most part, and I'm ready to jump back in.
Just don't tell my classmates I said that. :)