When I was in middle school, this book called "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul" was making waves. I borrowed it from a classmate briefly and remembered reading the short stories of friendship, adversity, love––all things that warmed my heart as an angsty pre-teen. Now I'm in my 30's. At times, I feel like I'm thirty and thriving, but also I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders more often than I would like. Being a teacher, maintaining a side business, helping care for my nephews, and just internalizing everything going on in the world is exhausting at times.

Don't get me wrong...this isn't a pity post. I'm super blessed and lucky to have an amazing village. I've known some of my best friends for over 20 years now, and as we get older, the friendships get stronger. Aside from my husband, they are the comfort and healing to my stress and anxiety. My chicken soup if you will.

We all have different careers, live in different cities, and have different responsibilities. So it is always a treat when we are able to spend time together, even if it's not the entire group. During President's Week, the NorCal folks were able to travel down to SoCal for a four day trip. I've always disliked LA: the teams, the atmosphere, the drive to get down there. But the fact the city stole a majority of my friends from The Bay gives me a reason to visit when I can. Thea, Mamie, Henry, and I drove down Saturday morning, making some pit stops along the way, the first being lunch in Gilroy.

We hit the road again on a full stomach with Thea navigating and planning out our next stop. She decided to map to Lost Hills for our next coffee break; as her phone connected to my CarPlay, I was appalled that Google Maps was not set to orient in the direction the car was moving.

"The Earth doesn't move. It makes sense to always have North on top." Oh Thea, now I know why you get lost so often.

Ironically, we never made it to Lost Hills after discovering there was no Starbucks there. But we ran into something even better in the next town over: Buttonwillow. When we finally pulled into the parking lot of Starbucks, Thea immediately started screaming. "Oh my god, look a corgi. Wait that's MY corgi. WINSTON!!!!!" she yelled while rolling down the window.

What are the chances that we would end up in the same parking lot as her dog, her boyfriend, and his friend who were on a completely separate trip? This ended up being the last stop before we reached LA and the highlight of an otherwise long, but conversation-filled drive. When we finally got to Ashley's place, the smell of dinner was in the air and she welcomed us with hugs all around. Getting the food ready and catching up over dinner was a great way to end the day.

The squeals of "WAKE UP" from Henry had me up earlier than I intended the next morning, but at least it made me smile as opposed to my usual blaring phone alarm. Ash had prepared for our arrival so well, and we were greeted with an assortment of fruit for breakfast. Henry particularly enjoyed the strawberries that Ash had hollowed out with some fancy gadget. I don't think I can go back to cutting the tops with a knife anymore.

The day and trip truly started after breakfast. First up was The Hanger for lunch with the rest of the gang. When we were younger, our hangouts consisted of conversation, food, and tons of laughter. It's pretty much the same, except throw in some interruptions here and there, food being torn apart into smaller pieces, and added squeals from the little ones. Seeing everyone's kids interact with each other is definitely another highlight of the trip. I won't lie—it makes the uterus twitch a bit. A very teeny bit.

The kids aren't the only thing that puts a smile on my face. It brings me such happiness to see my best friend as a mother in this past year. I've known Ellen for over 20 years, and I've never seen her glow brighter than she has since motherhood. Her love for her son, Marcus, radiates. I only wish I could witness it in person more often. Damn you, LA, for stealing her away. Wow, didn't mean to make that rhyme.

Marcus inherited Ellen's range in expressions. Back in college, I had a folder of candid photos of Ellen and her various expressions ranging from happiness to anger. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree; I'm wondering if I should start an album for Marcus. I love that he is such a ham once the camera turns his way. Definitely a bonus to have an auntie that's a photographer.

After lunch, we dispersed so the kids could take their respective naps. Being around so many parents have taught me that there isn't anything that can trump nap time. Routine is very important and sticking to the schedule means a less cranky child come bed time. When we were all able to meet up again in the late afternoon, we decided to take the kids to a local park nearby Ash's place.

Audrey and Henry had a blast on the swings while Marcus pitter-pattered around, flashing his toothy grin my way whenever I pointed my camera at him. We spent a good hour at the park that night, knowing it was the last time the entire group can be together during the trip.

The next day, we hit up the beach! A lowlight of the trip: finding parking at this beach.

Mamie, Thea, and I ended up finding parking in this one-way street a couple blocks up. No problem. But five minutes later, Jackie pulls up with her emergency lights, stopping the car right behind ours and blocking the entire street. She hops out and asks us to keep an eye out while she uses the bathroom at a nearby bar. Here's the sequence of events where it gets really chaotic: 1) There is a line of cars forming to turn onto the street that Jackie's car is blocking, 2) Thea does not see that Jackie eventually comes back and gets into her car, 3) Jackie starts driving away, 4) Thea lets out this blood-curdling scream that scares the daylights out of me, Mamie, and An.

Thea: "Oh my God, I thought the car just started rolling down the hill with the baby inside."

Did I document this? No. Am I still going to mention it? Yes. It's too memorable not to. Now, back to your regularly-scheduled beach shots.

I'm not a huge get-in-the-water beach fan, but I love to just sit at the beach with good company or a good book. This was the former as we got some amazing sandwiches beforehand (Thea of course got pasta instead) and had a little picnic while Audrey and Henry played with the sand. Good food was also a theme of this trip. Mamie lived in the Tri-Cities, Washington, before moving back to California and she always said that we need to appreciate the diversity of great food and coffee. Luckily, Ash took us to all the great cafes and restaurants. The following day, Thea flew back to San Jose while we explored Manhattan Beach. Ramen for lunch and Carl's Jr. for first dinner. Keeping it classy as always.

Part of exploring Manhattan Beach was walking off all the food we had. Ash took us on this nice trail on our last full day where Henry could stop and play in the sand while the adults sipped their coffee. The kid really loves the beach; it was hard getting him to leave.

The day came for Mamie, Henry, and I to drive back up to San Jose, and I think everyone felt that the trip flew by too quickly. Henry was already missing the beach, so we played a song about it from his vehicles album. I can't remember for the life of me what the beach vehicle was, but I assure you it was quite catchy at the time. The trip up seemed a little longer without Thea, but the deep life conversations Mamie and I were having made the time past quicker. Our last stop before home was Casa de Fruta. Mamie couldn't believe I had never been, and I was so excited to get some dried mangos. Much to my dismay, I ended up purchasing the wrong ones and got stuck with a huge bag of candied mangos instead of manilla mangos. At least Henry had a good time.

Arriving back in San Jose is bittersweet. San Jose has always been and most likely always will be my home. John and I built this beautiful life together here. But before that life, my heart was always where my friends—really my family—lived. Now, it feels like my heart's a little scattered across the state and country at times. While our friendships have gotten closer than ever, physically we all have grown further apart, which is why trips like this are such a treat. The cherry on top would have been if John was able to come as well.

I couldn't think of any better way to spend my winter break than seeing the people I grew up with all these years. They will forever be my place of comfort.