Archive for June, 2004

Working for the (wo)man

June 27th, 2004 No comments

I started work a few weeks ago now, and should have written about it a couple weeks ago. But nonetheless, I’m writing about it now.

The entire first week was basically orientation and training type stuff. Moreso orientation than training. I’d say there are over 50 new hires this month, and it seems like there are equally as many coming in the next couple months. I guess that’s a good thing, as it shows lots of growth.

After my first week of orientation related things, I started what they call “server tech camp,” which is basically classes that teach you how to use the basis of Epic’s software. I had two full weeks of that, including “labs” (yes, labs like homework/exercises) between classes. It was a lot to learn, and something I’ll get better at as I get into doing real work.

I’ve been very impressed by how everything has gone. The orientation classes have been very organized and mostly useful. The training is also organized and it takes place in an environment different than school – that’s a good thing. It’s nice to know that I’ll eventually be paid for what I’m doing and that there’s not some huge amount of competition to learn this stuff. You learn it for yourself because you have to, not because you’re trying to earn the best grade in the class and beat out the others.

I get my own little cube, located in the UW Research Park across the street from Epic’s main building. The cube walls are essentially drywall, so it makes for an interesting echo effect. My office area seems pretty quiet; I haven’t even heard anyone really talk on the phone yet. When I’ve used the phone I try to keep my voice really quiet, but somehow I don’t think that works too well. I’m not really in my cube much because training takes place everywhere other than my cube. That’s not bad because I get to interact with other newbies and not really have to do any work yet.

This upcoming week is the first week I’ll actually spend a majority of my time at my cube, working on programming exercises and studying for my certification tests. I get paid Wednesday, and I’m really looking forward to getting some money again. I haven’t had a paycheck since March when I finished up at the JS.

I guess to compare Epic to the other places I work, I feel like there’s more intelligence, more comaraderie, less competition, and more money at epic. Those are all positives for Epic. Who would think that I have yet to find anything wrong with the place I work? If I do find something, I’ll double think posting them here.

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Auntie Em!

June 23rd, 2004 No comments

Last Wednesday around 8:15 I heard the tornado sirens go off. I looked out the window and saw blue skies to the south and was kind of confused on why the sirens were blaring then. After the events that ensued during the next hour or so after that, I realized why.

Ross wanted to go storm chasing, so I grabbed my camera and hopped in my car to pick him up. On the walk to my parking lot I looked towards the lake and saw an eerie dark yellow color in the storm’s direction. After I picked him up and drove along University Avenue, the approaching storm clearly intensified.

As we were driving westward, a wall cloud formed directly in front of us and began to swirl. It was hard to tell it was a circular motion at first, but as it got bigger and we got closer you could see the tornado itself start to form.

I pulled into a parking lot to snap some pics of the tornado as it moved over a subdivision. You couldn’t see a clear connection between the tornado’s root in the sky and its tail on the ground as I had expected. I couldn’t actually tell if the tornado had formed enough to even touch the ground. After driving a bit more and parking to take more pics, I finally saw the damage it had done and confirmed it touched the ground.

Trees were down all over Segoe Blvd. and the surrounding area. I had to turn around on two separate streets to make any progress towards where I wanted to go. I saw sparks flying from at least one power line, and realized when it was too late that I had just gone underneath another power line to turn around.

The UW Research Park area (where my office is and also where Ross works) was hit pretty hard. The Ultratec property was probably hit the worst. Numerous old pine trees were snapped in half and strewn all over and even post office drop boxes were flipped over despite being weighted down. Science Drive, which goes through that area, was completely blocked by massive trees from the Ultratec area.

As I realized the extent of the damage, my money making senses kicked in. I called information and got the phone number of the Wisconsin State Journal and called their photo editor. I talked to him and asked if there was anything he needed help with as far as coverage because I was right there. He told me there were two other photogs in the area already (I knew both of them) and he mistakenly called me AJ when he clicked back from call-waiting (AJ’s the Cardinal photo editor) so I knew there was some competition for good shots.

I drove around a while more and tried to get some striking shots, but wasn’t really successful due to firemen kicking me out of one area and darkness encroaching and road blocks in others. I fired off two shots to him and sent in a link to the gallery of all of my shots but never heard anything back. Not a call, not an email, not a thank you. Oh well, I was just trying to make a buck anyway.

As soon as the tornado hit, it passed. There was blue sky behind it and it was relatively calm before and after the tornado. All the storm’s energy was focused on making that wind blow apparently.

That was the first time I’ve actually seen a tornado in person. It was similar to what you see on tv, but was actually pretty tame compared to what I expected. That could be attributed to it only being classified as an F-0 tornado, however. I expected to see swirling on the ground and debris in the air, but I didn’t notice any. What was really fascinating was when the tornado was forming. As I drove I picked out a spot that I thought looked like a tornado could come from, and that spot eventually swirled itself into the tornado that I eventually saw. It was an awesome sight, and probably not the safest thing I’ve done, but defintely an experience to remember.

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What you touch is what you get

June 19th, 2004 No comments

I saw an article on the Reuters wire the other day about a McDonald’s in St. Charles Illinois. The location they mention is one of the first to use an automated ordering system which essentially takes the cashier out of the process.

I was planning to go to IKEA with Ross to purchase some things for my upcoming apartment, and stopped in St. Charles to check things out first-hand.

Instead of having a regular line of cash registers when you walk in, this McDonald’s has a somewhat horsehoe shaped register area. Five or six terminals span around the horseshoe and an attendant monitors customers in the middle area.

Each terminal has a touchscreen LCD display, a debit/credit/atm card reader much like those found in retail stores, as well as a cash receptacle for those without plastic (which I’d assume a lot of McD’s customer are). You start an order by telling the machine which language you want, and then begin to enter your order by selecting your food items from a number of different categorical menus. If you want to add something to your burger, you can, but the better part is that you can take specific items off the sandwich as well. Say you don’t like McDonald’s nasty, gross, disgusting dehydrated onions they put on their burgers, well, you can easily take those off via a menu. When you’re done entering your order, you pay and the attendant has your food ready (supposedly) within a minute from when your order was entered.

I didn’t actually make an order to test the process (there’s tons of other glood places in Chicagoland to eat, this time we picked Cheesecake Factory), but other customers using it seemed to have no problem with it. I guess I like the idea that you can specifically see what you are ordering and know that the person taking your order didn’t mess it up.

I apologize for the poor picture quality, but I wasn’t sure if McDonald’s wanted me taking pics of their new idea or not. Nothing was posted saying I couldn’t, but I still didn’t want to creep people out so I was more surreptitious in my snappings.

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Movin’ on up (to the WEST side)

June 15th, 2004 No comments

I signed a lease for a new apartment recently. The lease at my current apartment ends August 15th, and I’m moving up in the world when my new lease starts August 1st.

The place I’m in now, as you’ve seen, is really really tiny and oldish. The place I’m moving into is really really big, and newish. Black and white. Night and day. Old and new.

It’s located at the intersection of Junction and Watts Roads on the west side of Madison. The complex is called “Cortland Pond” and each building has an apple-themed name. My unit is a one-bedroom on the first floor, with a window facing Madison’s municipal broadcast tower. It’s 830 square feet, and I also got an underground parking spot. It also has a washer/dryer in the unit, and air conditiong, of course (yeah, it’s a box unit Cam, not central air).

The people at Cortland Pond had showed me 4 different units in total, and the one I’m leasing is the first one they showed me. I was impressed with how open and large the layout made the space seem, and everything is new and clean. The maintenance people paint the walls and shampoo the carpets between tenants, which is definitely good (and expected).

I had looked at 2 other apartment places as well, and wasn’t really impressed with either. High Point Woods had an older looking unit to show, but the stove, air conditioner, and other appliances appeared to be ancient and needed replacing. In addition, the place seemed to cost to much for what you get. The other apartment I looked at was Junction Ridge. That was better than High Point, but not that great compared to Cortland Pond. The appliances were newer, but not new, and the carpet seemed to be worn.

I was told there’s a chance I get to move into my new apartment early if the current tenant heads out early. I’m really looking forward to living in a nice big clean place once again, and the earlier I can do that, the better.

All this apartment stuff means I’m in the market for some furniture and the like. Currently I figure I need a bed, couch and some lamps to cover the basics. I think I’ll head to Verlo for the bed, as I like the Verlo beds we have in Franklin. For the rest of the stuff, who knows where I’ll go. Dave and I are going to head to Steinhafels so he can hawk his goods to me, and hopefully I can get a bookcase, nightstand, and some other things there. Buying all this stuff means I’ll actually have to spend money, and I’m not a huge fan of that. At least with this stuff it’s a one time purchase, and I won’t have to spend like crazy every paycheck. That’s the plan at least.

The floorplan pic I included was photoshopped from a picture I took of the floorplan sheet they gave me. I changed it to black and white, flipped it horizontally so it matches my actual layout, and reversed the labels as well. It’s already been pointed out that it appears there is a slope going into the bathroom (Dave), and no, there’s not. Let me know what you think.

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Madison Local 0612 (Unionfest)

June 12th, 2004 No comments
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Senior Trip: Colllege Edition

June 2nd, 2004 No comments

After posting about graduation two weeks after it happened, this is a little less bad. The entry I do here will hopefully be nothing in comparison to the trip report (with pictures!) I plan on writing in the near future. Writing that is something akin to a detox after a trip to Disney World, so I plan on sticking to doing it.

I’ll post a link to my pictures here, so you can see what I’m talking about in relation to whatever I write below. I was told by numerous people (in person and on some Disney newsgroup I participate in once in a while – do a search for “ryan seal” and see what I’ve posted). By the way, all the images included in this article link back to the original images that I cropped them from. You can click the “up” arrow on the page they link to to see where those pics fit in in relation to the rest.

I went to bed after graduation day around 1 AM, knowing full well I had to be up at 4 AM to catch the plane. If that sounds like only a little sleep, it was. The radio turned on at 4 AM to wake me up, and I was out of bed in less than 10 seconds. That’s some sort of record for me, but knowing I’d be in Florida in 6 hours is motivation to move.

Cam’s dad was driving us to the airport and I was minimally surprised when they showed up 10 minutes late. Cam had apparently slept until 5:00 and rushed to get out the door.

We gave our checked bags to a skycap who resembled Richard Pryor, crossed our fingers he knew what he was doing, and headed to security. We ended up reviewing the video we had taken getting to and in the airport while waiting for our departure. What else do you do while waiting for a plane at 6:30 AM?

The flight went well and Florida was as warm as expected, but slightly cooler than I’m used to when I’m there. It still beat Milwaukee weather by 20 degrees or so, and that’s wroth the trip by itself.

We had decided to use Mears as our transportation between the airport and our hotel (Disney’s Pop Century Resort). we had struggled to decide if we should do that or hire a town car to take us, which was slightly more expensive but more convenient. I had decided on Mears so I could have the experience of using them and have something to complain about.

Check in was quick and easy, as it usually is at Disney. We were assigned room 1460, on the fourth floor of the 50’s building, which is pretty much adjacent to the main building which houses the food court. The room was slightly smaller than an All Star Resort room, but more than adequate for what we needed it for: sleeping (which we did very little of).

We had decided the rest of our day would be spent doing free things at the Disney Marketplace/Downtown Disney/Pleasure Island area. We looked around, realized we had a lot of stuff we wanted to buy when we returned to actually purchase things on the last day of the trip, and then decided to head back to our room for a nap before our big meal. Yes, a NAP at Disney World. It was much needed, and actually very helpful for making up for the lack of sleep we both had.
I had made a priority seating (reservation in Disney Speak) for the California Grill for our first night there. The place is known for some of the best food in central Florida and wines to match it. It was a great way to start the trip, for a foody like myself. I tried convincing Cam to order a wine, but after tasting a couple (of really good ones no less) he fell back on his regular Coke.

Our waiter was quite the treat, as he treated us like we were two high schoolers who stumbled into a good restaurant without knowing it was expensive or costly. I think he thought neither of us knew what we were in for or had any ability to appreciate the food served there. He made references to Cam as “man” and “chief” and constaly compared the restaurant to Emeril’s at Universal’s City Walk. The food was excellent by both accounts, but the service definitely lacked. I plan on writing a letter complaining about this in the near future.

Luckily, the restaurants view from the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort provided an excellent vantage for the Wishes fireworks show, which we watched before dessert. Some couple behind us got engaged during this, yet neither of the engaged seemed particularly excited by their event.

We hit the sheets pretty quickly after getting back that night, as we were getting up at 7 AM for our day at Epcot. Not Epcot Center, not EPCOT, but Epcot. Get it right.

We paid our $6 for eggs, bacon, sausage and some potatoes and headed to the bus. The first time you see a Disney park once you get there you’re kind of taken aback at where you are, and seeing Spaceship Earth (not Planet Earth as some idiotic chaperon had written on a field trip itinerary we found) certainly did that to me.

We headed to Mission Space right away, as neither of us had rode it yet. The experience was quite a letdown. Worse than the service at the California Grill even. You basically are put into some weird stationary roller-coaster style row of seats, and a screen is brought inches from your face. The screen is like an arcade screen with a mirror (this one was concave) reflecting the actuall video which is coming from below. I mention this because it added to the dizzy, vomit-inducing experience the ride gives you.
Apparently the contraption you’re in spins to give the effect of varying levels of gravity. This, coupled with a screen inches from your face, makes you feel naseous. I tried finding a location to anchor my eyes on to protect me from getting too sick, and I position my head in the right spot to get wind from the fan they have blowing on your face (they must realize how sick their ride is if they have to blow air on the riders faces to keep them from puking). Also, I kid you not, there are vomit bags strategically placed in front of the riders in case worse comes to worse. Cameras are also fixed on the riders’ faces so ride monitors can stop everything if someone vomits. Doesn’t it sound fun?
The rest of the day was spent hitting up the classic attractions like Journey Into Your Imagination (Figment!), Honey I shrunk the Audience, and Test Track. We ate at the Teppenyaki Dining Room, and Cam had his first conversation with old people on the trip. This became a common theme as Cam has an affinity for being overly friendly with strangers – strangely only with small children and old ladies, not anyone our age.

Next, we boated over to Disney/MGM Studios to try out the Extra Magic Hour idea Disney is testing. Resort guests can stay 3 hours later than regular park closing hours on designated nights. We rode Rock’n Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror and the Great Movie Ride while Fantasmic was going on and lines were shorter (well, nonexistant really). After Fantasmic let out, lines were in the half hour or longer area, so we headed to the room.

The next day was Magic Kindgom day, and we were up just as early as the day before. We got our $6 breakfast, which really wasn’t horribly overpriced I guess, and headed to the park. Space Mountain was down when we got there, so we got Fastpasses which were valid for when it was back up, then headed over to the newest ride at the Magic Kingdom: Mickey’s Philharmagic.
I can say Philharmagic is probably the best 3D movie Disney has in their parks at this time. The screen is huge, the animation is completely computer generated and the music selections are great: Be Our Guest, Whole New World, You Can Fly, Part Of Your World etc. There’s some “4D” effects as well. We ended up seeing it three times total during our trip.

The rest of the day was spent hitting up the big rides in the park, including the ones we learned the lryics to while listening to the Disney World Soundtrack CD for the past couple years. Yeah, we sang along to a song at Country Bear Jamboree and the first couple minutes of the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management.

After trying to ride Space Mountain for a second time, we were turned away as it was down a second time. We road the Tomorrowland Transit Authority on a whim, and were very surprised when we got to the Space Mountain part of the ride. Because SM was down, we were able to see it with its worklights on! I yelled at Cam to get the video camera ready, while I prepped my still camera for what we were about to see. The audio on the video from this part is probably pretty funny. I’ll post it eventually. Anyway, the structure of the coaster is nothing like I expected it to be. The tracks weave together a lot, but spend a decent amount of the ride pretty far apart. Take a look at the 6 page of pics to see what I mean.

Cam videotaped Wishes from the ground this time, and then we headed to the big rides again at night for the Magic Kingdom’s Extra Magic Hours that night.

We slept until 8am on Thursday for our day at Disney/MGM Studios because we had already done most of the rides there. We got there and literally walked onto Muppetvision 3D and a few other rides. After finishing most of the good stuff that afternoon, we took the walking path to the Boardwalk area and got my traditional chocolate chip cookie from Seashore Sweets. You really can’t beat it.

Then we hit up Epcot again for another ride on JIYI (see above) and Test Track. On the way around the World Showcase after that, I got what I hope to be a new tradition of mine, a margarita. Yeah, I’d tried my parents’ on previous tirps but this $8 margarita was mine. And good. It’s easily to feel mildly buzzed after a day in the heat and partial dehyrdation.

We ate dinner back at MGM at the 50’s Primetime Cafe. The theme is supposed to be a lot like Ed Debevic’s where the waitstaff harrasses you, but we got comparable treatment to what we had at the California Grill. We were mostly left alone by our waiter, who spent more of his effort at other tables with more people. The food was good, I had meatloaf of all things, and Cam barely ate his chicken. This meal also provided him the opportunity to flirt with a toddler at a table near ours. He played peek-a-boo with her while we waited for our check. Imagine being 3 years old and some 22 year old is trying to scare you from another table. Freaky, eh?

After eating we had perfect timing to claim seats in the center section for Fantasmic, and waited about an hour for the show to begin. While waiting, Cam again talked to an old lady next to us, while I surreptitiously videotaped the encounter.

The next day was the busiest yet – we hit all four parks in one day. We started at Animal Kingdom, and got on the two requisite rides (Kilimanjaro Safari and Tough To Be A Bug – Dinosaur was down for refurbishment) before grabbing lunch and heading out.

Next, we hit MGM for its Star Wars weekend. We wanted just to say we experienced it and grab a few pics if anything exciting happened. Let’s just say the experience made me say “Oh my god” multiple times in reaction to the costumed Star Wars characters parading around and the people interacting with them. You’d have to see the video.

We took the same path we had taken previously back to the Boardwalk and then Epcot, to make the third park of the day. We stopped at the pastry shop at the France area of the World Showcase and picked up some of the best sugary stuff you can find at Disney World.

Then we grabbed the monorail to the Magic Kingdom and rode a few of the park’s “mountains” for our last bit there. The rides had noticeably longer lines as the weekend was nearing, so we headed to the train station to make some calls. This day was Cam’s bday, and he had some catching up to do as far as “Happy Birthday” wishes go.

We watched Wishes from nearly the same spot as previously and made our way out of the park with the rest of the tired citizens of the Magic Kingdom. That was our last park of the trip, and it was duly noted.
Saturday was spent shopping for the things we had seen previously at the Disney Marketplace, and we both used up our Disney Visa Card reward dollars that we had built up prior to our trip. It was great to be able to buy souvenirs without really spending much of my own money (I had $73 in Disney rewards to spend).
Our Mears bus was ready on time back at the resort, and it took us back to the airport for our flight out. I guess now’s a good time to mention I was mildly sick for a lot of the trip. A lack of sleep didn’t help much either. I had a sore throat and eventually a runny nose that was a real nuisance most of the time. By the time we got on the plane, my sore throat had peaked the day before and my drippy nose was starting to go into full effect.

The flight back was calm until the rainy landing, but memorable due to a group of fishermen and their wives behind me. They thought they were the in-flight entertainment and talked loud enough for most of the plane to hear throughout the flight. The flight attendants were kind enough to serve them two rounds of beer in-flight too. That only stoked the fire.

The trip was a much needed reward for four “hard” years of work at UW. It was great going there as a second senior trip as Cam and I had talked about our first trip many many times before going on this one. The buildup to going is always a great part of the trip, and we can say that we had four years of buildup to this one.

How long until I go back?

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BBA bah black sheep

June 2nd, 2004 No comments

It’s a few weeks after it actually happened, but I can still post about it, right? I graduated from UW Madison with a Bachelors of Business Administration degree, majoring in Information Systems Analysis and Design, and Management. Most of you have no clue what that actually means, and after 4 years at school I only have the slightest clue. Just kidding…kinda.

Graduation day was a whirlwind of family, pictures, and general frenzy. My parents showed up earlier than expected, leaving me to finish packing for my Florida trip while they were there. They brought along 3 grandparents also, adding to the frenzy.

After checking to make sure I actually had everything I needed and that I didn’t overlook something due to the chaos, we headed into the van and got our parking spot.

Next, the whole group hit up Grainger for some sort of pre-ceremony reception. Being 11:00 and it had just started, not many people were there. Someone was wandering around with a digital camera and some sort of off-camera flash, which made him look “official” so we posed for him, having no clue where the picture would end up. I have a feeling my family will end up in some sort of B-school brochure for the upcoming semester. Because no one was really there yet we headed up Bascom Hill, minus a hiking-up-big-hills-are-not-my-thing grandma, for some pictures.

I stood in front of Abe Lincoln (nope, didn’t sit on his lap – it was umm, too tall to climb or something) and got a picture with everyone there. Then others showed up and I had to clear out, so we hiked back down Bascom.

We had nowhere else to go so we headed back to Grainger, hoping some people had actually arrived at that point. Cam called me around then and checked in and let me know he was at Grainger. I found him once we were there and took some pics together. Including a couple of us in our usual seats in 1100 Grainger. Funny thing was, because we didn’t have class that day, he actually stayed awake while sitting there!

Next, we headed over to the Kohl Center for the ceremony itself. I sat in the regular seating area for a while because I was way too early to sit in the graduates area. After some other students showed up down there, including Cam, I made my way there also.

We sat about 4 rows from the stage, which made for a decent view of the ceremony. It also made it hard to tell exactly how many people were behind us and had yet to cross the stage.

Chancellor Wiley (nope, he didn’t smoke a single cigarette during the ceremony) presided over things, and made the perfunctory “go into the world and make it better” comments. It’s funny he’d say something like that to a bunch of business grads as most of us weren’t taught to make the world a better place, but moreso to make our world a richer place. That’s OK, the L&S students have to have some goal in mind I guess.

Bradley Whitford, of NBC’s West Wing fame, was our celebrity guest speaker (background info: he was raised in Madison, and married Milwaukeean Jane Kaczmarek of Malcom In The Middle fame). The senior class is given rules that say the guest speaker is not to be paid a speaking fee, so they decided he would be a good choice as he’d speak for free. I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, as he’s an actor. Actors go to school and all, but it’s not necessarily and academic pursuit.

I’ll admit his speech was better than I expected. Sure it wasn’t like getting someone such as Bill Clinton or someone of his stature, but the speech he gave was humble and mildly humorous. Whitford realized his position as an actor was incongruent with the crowd he was speaking to, but used it to his advantage in creating some humor, and managed to strike a few parallels between himself and the crowd. You can’t help to clap when he pointed out HE wrote his own speech and there’s no way in hell GW Bush wrote his own speech for the Concordia ceremony a few days earlier.

I was amazed at the efficiency of the graduation walk itself. I’d say there were 1000+ students who need to cross the stage, and it went mostly flawlessly. You filled out a card with your name on it, and they handed it to a speaker, in order, who read your name as you were presented with your diploma. In an effort at being expeditious, they frequently read names too fast, and caused the line of graduates to feel rushed crossing the stage. For the 10 seconds you’re up there, you shouldn’t feel like you’re being forced to run to the other end of the stage. The culmination of your (hopefully) four years of school should not be 10 seconds of confusion.

I thought it was a little odd that the chancellor stood back as the diplomas were presented. It was Bradley Whitford who actually shook your hand and presented your diploma (well, diploma holder as the actual diploma comes in 12 weeks). Why wouldn’t the head of the university hand you it, instead of taking a secondary role. He didn’t even give handshakes. Oh well, I have pics of him smoking outside Bascom Hall.

As you were presented with the diploma, they snapped a pic and as you walked off the stage they snapped another pic. These were just as rushed as the actual procession on stage, so I’m interested in seeing how any of the shots they got turned out. I have a feeling people won’t be happy with what they got.

The whole ceremony was over in exactly an hour and a half. Not a minute more, nor a minute less. That’s what they predicted it would last, and exactly how long it did. Not bad, I guess.

No one was really sure what to do after the ceremony had ended because the people presiding it just left the stage, without any sort of “You’re done!” indication. No hats in the air, barely any clapping, but lots of confusion. All 1000+ students filtered out the back entrance and onto the Kohl Center lawn where more pics were taken. This time with red diploma holders in hand.

My whole gang wandered back to the van and sped away to the Thunder Bay Grill for dinner. While waiting for a table I got some gifts from the family, and t then we were seated.

After dinner it was pack, pack, pack for Florida. The whole day went so quickly it seemed like it happened a week ago when I woke up the next day.

So now I’m a college graduate (it’s true too, I checked my grades). I kept telling Cam this was the last school thing ever each time we did a “last” something and he kept (painfully) reminding me that there’s grad school ahead. I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, I’m done.

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