The GGA Project -- Day #79 "@monkeygal2"

For a long time now, I've been saying that Twitter was my line in the sand.  The end of the rope.  The last straw. The thing that would rob from me the last of my sanity.  That's probably why I found this Twitterific take on the melodramatic trailer for The Social Network so hilarious:

But the road I'm a'traveling along for this project is a long one, and I'm sure it will lead me onto mini-paths I never would have considered ambling down before.  Nothing dangerous or ill-advised of course (though I'm sure Twitter qualifies as "ill-advised" for a good many people), but I am surely destined to participate in scores of activities I never would have considered before.  In fact, that's THE WHOLE POINT of the project!

So on that note, I will make no apologies for this fiasco, for

Today's New Activity: Tweeting My First Tweets

Early adopters have long garnered mad props.  They are the first on the scene, the in crowd, the trailblazers.  They sniff out the cool and lead you to it like the scouting ants to the sticky spoils.  On the other end of the spectrum, I recently read an article in Details about the merits of being a "first dropper," the person to abandon a fad while some are just barely catching on.

That's all good--both of those trend-setters have their place in the grand scheme.  But I've decided to carve out my niche as a Dorky Late-Adopter Who Never Drops, If Ever (*notable exception: Farmville).  Yes.  That's my scene.

Which brings me to Twitter.  I don't know how people who have resisted Facebook handle the constant mentions of it in every corner.  They must feel like the rest of the world has gone insane and they are just barely keeping it all together for the rest of us.  I think Twitter is far less ever-present than Facebook, and still I've been similarly annoyed/curious/annoyed by all the buzz about "tweets," a word I think is just beyond stupid.  Celebrities especially just can't seem to shut up about how they're tweeting all the time.  Ugh.  It's even worse as a verb!

But whatever you wanna call it, I don't really think the Twitter phenomenon is going away any time soon.  And I think that today, finally, I got a little bit of "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" flowing through me.

I chose the super original @monkeygal2 as my handle, or username, or whatever you call it, and set about to find some people to follow.  The thing is, Twitter doesn't make that part real easy.  It allows you to access your email contacts, but who really has the most up-to-date contact information there?  How many people even use email that much anymore?  Why can't Twitter access Facebook contacts?  Maybe because there is NO NEED for *both* Facebook and Twitter, but no matter.  I harvested the few contacts available through e-mail and went from there.

So this post had to happen a little later than usual, just so I'd have some time to actually use the app before being able to comment.  

I didn't have enough time/attention even available to keep up with my friend Nessa, a master Tweeter.  I remember her rapid-fire tweeting during lunch when we worked together like 2 years ago.  And at this moment, she's authored 11,058 tweets.  Good lord!  Her musings, combined with those of my friend Liz managed to keep me busy reading off and on all day.

But beyond that--so far--there isn't a whole lot to say.  I still don't have any burning desire to share all day long in 140 characters or fewer.  But it is more fun than I expected to have this running buzz in my ear all day long--the buzz of people commenting on everything and the whatnot.  It's potentially very annoying as well, and probably bad for me in some unforeseeable way (at the very least, it's just one more distraction at the gym, now that I'm using my iPhone for music while I'm there).

One thing that I've heard people say in defense of Twitter has turned out to be true for me, though.  It does plug you into your friends' lives in a different kind of way.  I get to know details I never would have been privy to before, especially now that I've moved a little ways from them and no longer work with any of them.  Some people find the thought of knowing such details nauseating, but then I'd just say Twitter isn't for them.  I can filter the junk out and enjoy what's left.  Based on today's tweets alone (still hating the word...it hasn't gotten any better through repetition), I had ideas for several more GGA playdates, just because I got to know things about what my friends were into/thinking about that I didn't know about previously.  I think that's pretty cool.

Now I must excuse myself because I have some tweeting to do.  Hahaha.  And as I end this, I see that Nessa is now, quite seriously, up to 11,060.  Here's hoping they've found a cure for carpel tunnel syndrome by the time she hits 30  :P


The GGA Project -- Day #78 "Seven Shades"

There is one truly brilliant way (in addition to regular brushing, cleaning, and flossing) to keep your teeth white, if you're into that sort of thing.  That would be to avoid teeth-yellowing activities such as drinking coffee and red wine.  Thankfully--for those among us who would rather have a daily enema than give up our coffee-drinkin' ways--there is another option.

Conveniently, that option is now available at the mall.  Who knew?

Today's New Activity: Blast-of-Light Teeth Whitening

I thought seeking legal advice while stopping for a cup of coffee qualified as a pretty out-there impulse buy.  Stopping for a teeth whitening while browsing at the mall may just rival it though.

There I was, walking along with no particular objective in mind (it's so nice to be working at a job which allows me to enjoy Sundays as they were meant to be enjoyed), when I came upon this floating-in-the-middle-of-nowhere mall mini-shop.  

I just have to pause for a moment here to share what's written in fine print under the words "spaWHITE"  It says "The science of light.  The art of beauty," which is lame on so many levels I'll allow you to explore them in your own mind and on your own time, in lieu of expounding on them here.

Anyway, I normally--like everybody--welcome conversation with the salesfolk standing outside those floating mall kiosks like I welcome the idea of giving Donald Rumsfeld a private lap dance, but the thing is that I've actually been in the *market* for a teeth whitening.  How incredibly convenient to get it done while chillin' at the mall!

The selling point was that the original price she quoted me was exactly $50 cheaper than it would have cost at my dentist (like I said, I've been in the market), and then, when I hesitated, she mentioned that there was a 20% discount for people who don't live in San Jose (which I don't anymore).  Sold!

The main catch is that you have to sit in the middle of the mall looking like this for 25 minutes

a factor definitely worthy of serious consideration.  To play it cool, I sat there playing Angry Birds on my phone, pretending like I was getting light-blasted in the mouth in the comfort of my own home, like I'm liable to do on any other Sunday afternoon.  Anyway I'd say it's worth it.  Annnnddddd, I'd say, DAMN my nose looks big in that picture!

As of now it's a nice white...a marked improvement from before, but without having that freaky, so-white-they're-almost-blue newscaster look.  The whitening girl did mention, however, that they will get a little whiter in the next couple of days, so I'm gonna have to monitor the situation before I give a real confident recommendation.  For now though, and I'm suspecting it will be my final answer...I thought the convenience and the finished result were well worth the cost.


The GGA Project -- Day #77 "You Start with a Stick of Butter"

That could only refer to one thing of course, and that would be any single recipe from the kitchen of everyone's favorite heart-attack inducing Southern Belle: Paula Deen.

Whenever I want to make a comfort food recipe, basically anything involving potatoes or cheese, or better yet potatoes and cheese, I will almost always go with her recipe.  I'm just thrilled there is still somebody in this world willing to put all-fat recipes out there for everybody to access, and without a hint of apology.  If you've ever seen Paula Deen's show, you know that the giant bites she takes of the finished recipe outcomes each episode convey pure joy in the act of eating--unbridled appreciation for the richer and sweeter things in life.

No way I could eat like Paula Deen everyday, nor should I, or anyone really.  But once in a while I just like to go a little crazy.

Today I had something to celebrate.  I invited my dear friend Jesse over for dinner as a way of congratulating him on landing a well-paid, right-up-his-alley internship with good full-time offer potential.  I'm so happy for him.  He has been working hard for years, and it's wonderful to see this great opportunity come from it.  Plus, he's just about the easiest person in the world to be happy for, so deserving is he of good things.

It's been cold lately, like *actual* winter, and perfect weather for homemade, carby, goodness.

Today's New Activity: Making Homemade Macaroni & Cheese

I've already mentioned my love of mac n cheese several times on this blog, but as much as I love it, I've never attempted to make it other than from a box (helpful hint: Kraft's Thick and Creamy version is the only one left out there worth eating).  Today was the day.  Mrs. Deen's recipe was easy enough to follow, and since it was a slow cooker variation on the theme, I was able to get it going hours in advance and then pretty much forget about it.

In the end, it came out looking like this:

and tasting like something that should *definitely* be reserved for special occasions.  I think I probably don't have to eat tomorrow.  Or maybe the next day either.

The only change I made was to add a good amount of garlic powder to the spices called for and to pretty much double the pepper quantity.  And I can confidently recommend it.

That is all, since I'm super sleepy tonight.

Just one more thing.  A second minor first for the day was to watch about 1 1/2 episodes of Jersey Shore.  I'm sure there is nothing I can say about that show or those people that hasn't already been thoroughly covered.  But I will say that, unlike the reel-you-in train wreck that is so many reality shows, I actually found JS to be pretty boring.  It seemed to me that the poor, overworked editors of that show dug really, really hard through a week's worth of footage to find enough even remotely air-worthy footage.  And in these days of throw whatever out there reality t.v., that's saying a lot.


The GGA Project -- Day #76 "Hold Everything, Hold This Baby"

When I came home from work today, I found the monkey at home with my Mom, droopy-eyed and sad looking, as he had been the day before as well.  He hadn't eaten a solid thing all day and could scarcely be coaxed into doing anything other than to sit in the laps of his caretakers and make a tiny, miserable grunting sound.

As I mentioned a few times this week, the baby is getting (it seems) ALL the rest of his teeth at the same time.  He's been hanging in there with his 8 front teeth for a number of months now, but all of a sudden there are four molars breaking through, as well as the beginning hints of incisors.  It's a shudder-inducing thing to look in a baby's mouth and see the four point edges of a molar broken through the gums, knowing that the bulk, the entire surface of the tooth still has to bust its way through.  What torture!  Common with teething, Monkey also had a fever, and he was just all the way around out-of-sorts.

Normally, like clockwork, I put the baby to bed at 8.  Once he's had dinner, taken a bath on bath nights, put on jammas and read books and said goodnight to everybody, I carry him into our room, where I turn on the lava lamp.  This is his cue to reach down and press play on the CD player, starting his instrumental nigh nigh music.  At that point he practically dives into his crib, and I generally don't hear a peep out of him...he just zonks himself out.

While I appreciate how easy it is to get my baby to sleep--as I know it can sometimes be a challenge with kids his age--I sometimes miss the days when he would let me hold and snuggle him for a while, singing "Goodnight Sweetheart" before putting him to bed, or even more cuddly...the days when he would fall to sleep while I nursed him.

Well anyway, tonight was nothing like normal nights on account of all that teething madness.  Tonight the baby wanted me nearby well past his bedtime, so when I laid down on my bed, he put himself into a froggy squat position on top of me, laying his head down on my chest and letting out his quiet sounds of suffering...about a half an hour passed this way before he fell asleep.

Today's New Activity: Bedtime Wake-up Call

Every parent out there with kids at least 5-years old will tell you the same thing: that the time spent raising kids goes by in the blink of an eye.  So far, I hadn't felt that sentiment.  While it's true that I look back on monkey's baby pictures and can hardly remember him having been so small, it doesn't exactly feel like the time since then has flown.  What's more, the fact that an entire separation and half a divorce has transpired since then can sometimes make his infant days seem like a lifetime ago.  And given that I've had the privilege of working mostly part-time since he was born, I feel I've had the chance to truly live and appreciate ALL the stages of his young life that have come and gone.

But then tonight happened.

I'd really really wanted to go to the gym tonight.  I just got back on track after 2 weeks away, and I was eager to experience the near-empty Friday night gym haunt after the baby went to sleep.  In tonight's bedtime moment though, monkey sleeping on my chest, finally and totally at peace, and completely dependent on me, it finally hit me.  It finally hit me that these moments will only get fewer and farther between.  It will only become less likely that my boy would rather be snuggling in my arms than running, playing, or doing anything else in the world that makes him feel like a big boy and not a little baby.  I will very soon be longing for these moments, wondering where they'd gone, and questioning whether or not I'd honored and appreciated them as completely as I could have when I had the chance.

I decided to stay with the baby and breathe and live and feel that moment as deeply and fully as I could.  I forgot about the gym, about all my plans to read and catch up on Glee.  I left my computer and my phone in the other room, and I just lay there with him for two hours, listening to his breath and rubbing his back when he got restless and moved around.

I tried to imagine our life five years from now, narrating softly in his sleeping ear the hopes and dreams I have for us, for our joy and fullness in a life so unlike the one we originally set out living together.

I tried to imagine how his face will change as he grows and loses more of his baby fat, how tall he'll be by the time he starts school, what his voice will sound like when he starts reading beginner books to me at bedtime.  I sang him Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" and put myself in the shoes of a mother at all those stages in his life: the 5-year-old catching bugs, the 12-year-old on ice skates, the 16-year-old behind the driver's seat, the young man setting out on his own.

Mostly, though, I just was.  Just there.  All his for those two hours in the quiet, in the lamp's pink glow.  All his, for as long as he'll have me.


The GGA Project -- Day #75 "Busted"

Every month, the good folks in the neighborhood where I live receive an exciting newsletter filled with all the juicy tidbits such as what's going on at the community clubhouse, what was discussed at the last neighborhood counsel meeting, and which of the strict policies about landscaping upkeep and trash bin concealment have suffered continual, deliberate disregard by lazy, complacent homeowners.

When the newsletter arrives on our doorstep every month, I ask my parents to avoid reading it until we can all be seated together at the dinner table, where my Mom will read it out loud to us.  This way, we can ensure that all issues covered are properly dissected, made fun of and belittled, guaranteeing at least 15 minutes of good, solid entertainment.  Big cheers for cheap thrills!  (What do you guys do for fun at your dinner table?)

Three things that are sure, SURE to be mentioned in every single newsletter are....drumrolll....1) Recent home break-ins and how to prevent them (*hint* if a young man comes to your doorstep and offers to vacuum your carpet for college credit, chances are something is amiss.  And yes, someone tried that mind-blowing, case-the-joint approach at this very house!) 2) Dog poop and the blatant and repeated non-scooping violations (this actually IS a hot-button issue for my Dad, fyi.  At my parents' last house in Colorado, he was known to loom tall and menacing on their back porch balcony--which overlooked the neighborhood park--just daring, daring the dog walkers to leave a turd behind.) 3)  The Speedy McSpeedsters that riproar through the neighborhood (whose main street is one part of the connecting ways between the 580, inland areas and the nearby CSU East Bay).  Every single month, the newsletter mentions that cops are on the beat, ready and willing to issue tickets to any criminal who thinks he is above the law and can just *pause* at one of the 8 stop signs that line the neighborhood's main street instead of coming to a complete stop!  Or, ahem, she.

Today's New Activity: (Hardly)-Moving Violation

I should never have mentioned a few weeks back about how lucky I was to have had so little contact with police.  I feel like I issued a silent taunt to the area law enforcement officials, a challenge to see who would be the first to bust me well and truly.

I just wish my first-ever ticket (in 16 1/2 years of driving!  I'm not braggin' but hot damn that's a good streak!) could have been for something sexier and more dangerous than a mf'n California Rolling Stop.  Something like "Clinging to Vehicle" or "Speed Contest" would have been nice, for instance.

When the officer stopped me and informed me that I hadn't made a complete stop at the sign ("what? really?"), I mentioned that I was running late for work, but that I knew it was no excuse.  I wish I could play it cool but I've got too guilty a conscience for that.  The lame thing was that I wasn't actually running late for work.  I was running late for Starbucks...I was running late for work if I wanted to get coffee on my way there.  And there is one surefire way to guarantee you won't have time to stop for coffee when you just *might* have otherwise squeezed it in.  And that, of course, is to fail to show the proper respect to a stop sign, right in front of a man whose JOB it is to cite and fine you in just such an event.

This afternoon, when I told my Mom about the ticket, she mentioned there'd been e-mails a flying in recent days on the neighborhood listserv about how wonderful it was to hear the sound of that officer's siren in the morning and what a hero he is.  I am going to get myself on that listserv and send my own e-mail, imploring those people to get a LIFE!!!

Still, it was a good warning to me to better heed ALL traffic laws, now that I have a record and all.


The GGA Project -- Day #74 "Dessert Consolation"

My job is just about as boring as jobs come.  Ok, toll booth operator may be a smidge bit more boring--it's almost better because at least the steady stream of traffic would keep a person more alert than the trickle of customers where I work keeps me, but ultimately my job wins simply because at least I have time to actually talk to customers, and my coworkers also manage to make it interesting now and then.

Geisell is by far the most likely person to brighten my day and keep me entertained.  When she's working I really don't care at all what else happens.  There will always be something to talk about and laugh about, and she is never moody or withdrawn.  It's especially great that her work station happens to be right next to mine, and on the days when she's off and I'm working, her absence is strongly felt.  I about went crazy when she was on maternity leave and that bright spot of sunshine was so thoroughly removed.

Since Geisell is from Nicaragua, I thought she could offer some great GGA cooking opportunities, and the other day I told her about the project, asking if I could come over to her house and learn a thing or two about traditional Nicaraguan recipes.

This was her response:  "I would love to except that I don't know how to make any."  This was surprising since she's always talking about cooking for her kids, but I guess she doesn't make them any dishes from back home.  As an afterthought makeup offer, however, she busted out with this: "I could give you the recipe for Mexican flan though."

Your reaction to that sentence (although I'm sure a lot is lost given that you can't hear her cute accent as she said it) will tell you a lot about how similar or dissimilar our respective writer/reader senses of humor are.  Because that offer made me laugh so hard I had to sit down.  She was laughing too, and when we get going together it's kinda like a moving freight train...difficult to slow.

This struck me as funny on two levels.  First, the idea that she doesn't have any traditional recipes from her own country but has one from another is kinda goofy.  But even better is the fact that the recipe is for flan (of all things) which, to me, has got to be one of the least tasty and even boring recipes Mexico has to offer.

But I decided to take her up on the offer, even though I don't really care for flan, pretty much because I'm positive the monkey will love it.

Today's New Activity: Making the World's Second-Jiggliest Dessert

I hesitate to share the recipe here, since the flan is still chillin' in the fridge until tomorrow and I'm not sure how it'll turn out (there was some confusion on my part as to whether the "spoons" Geisell described for ingredient measurements were teaspoons or tablespoons, so it's best I do a taste test before I potentially kill anybody with vanilla extract poisoning).

The recipe was pretty simple and easy enough to execute.  I had some doubt about her description on how to make the sweet topping you always get on a serving of flan.  Apparently all you do to make it is heat straight sugar in a pan until it melts.  It melts!  Did you know that?  Cuz I didn't until today.

Anyway, I was lacking some finesse in the step that followed, which Geisell had warned me to be careful about.  It gets tricky when the cool flan mixture meets the very warm melted topping on the bottom of the pan used to house the whole operation during the cooling process.  I failed and it bubbled strangely.  I'll have to see how it tastes tomorrow and then ask her again how to do it right.

This is how it looks for now.


The GGA Project -- Day #73 "Doomer Dodged"

There's a word we use in my family for things that are kind of lame.  Well, it used to be that the word applied exclusively to lame jokes.  The word is "doomer," as in "it was a rough date...all my jokes doomed."  But it can also be used to describe people who are always making lame jokes, i.e. "he's kind of a doomer," events that didn't live up to expectations: "uhh, the garlic festival was a total doomer!," and now, as of today, entire towns.

Today's New Activity: Visiting Downtown Doomerville, er, Danville

Since my folks only moved here a year and a half ago, there are tons of places they still want to explore, and Danville was on my Mom's list to check out.  I was totally down for this, since I'd driven through the downtown once and had seen what looked like potentially cute shops.

Like this kids consignment shop:

Or this store full of beautiful antique girlie stuff at surprisingly good prices

And then the Mother of All Candy Shops, The Sweet Street.

Gummy Stuff

And hard candy

And Jelly Bellies

And taffy

And M & M's

And this amazing St, Patrick's Day candy display

Monkey got his first kazoo out of the deal, which wasn't annoying at all, of course :P

The Sweet Street alone would make a repeat visit worth it.  But why am I being so harsh to Danville?  Here's the thing: I really don't like homogeneity.  And to me, Danville and its neighboring towns of Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin are the epitome of boring sameness.  I think it's even a selling point for their residents.  All four of these towns remind me of that fake world from the movie The Truman Show.  It seems to me that the most identifiable traits of these cities is the complete absence of any genuine brown folks and ubiquitous presence of fake tans.  And both are pretty strange to find in the Bay Area of Northern California.  It makes me feel really uncomfortable actually.

But anyway, there was one really cool thing that came from our visit to Doomerville (aside from the simple joy of spending the day with my Ma, and aside from the candy haul).  We stopped into one shop where I saw for sale prints by an artist--Kelly Rae Roberts--whose work I really love.  Most all her paintings feature female figures depicted in her trademark style, along with encouraging phrases about living your dreams and believing in yourself, and all those wonderful messages.  I bought this one today:

The words read:

My wish for you
is that you
always know

That it be the answer
to your deepest

That you dare to dream big
and take risks

That you leap and dance
and reach for the best parts
of yourself...always

That you find your way
with kindness and faith

Pretty much all my wishes for myself these days, too.  It's nice to have reminders from like-minded others.  My gal Nicole first told me about this artist and gave me some of the background to her story.  If there is anybody qualified to dare others to dream, it is her.  She had always been interested in art, but she'd decided to go the practical route and become a social worker.  Eventually, she took the ballsy step of making a go at creating art for a living.  And now her stuff is everywhere!  Just imagine waking up and doing exactly what your soul's desire tells you to do every single day.  And then getting paid for it!  Here are her own words:
"To me, art has been the unexpected & life-changing discovery of finding my passion. It was a dream I neglected until I was 30 years old, a whisper in my life yearning to be heard. When I finally began to put paint onto paper, my heart and life exploded with a joy I hadn’t known before."
THAT is what dreaming is for...for the realizing of the dream, and for hearing your heart's song sung from the rooftops when that moment arrives.  I feel like this reminder alone was the best possible takeaway Danville could offer today.  Nothing to sneeze at. 


The GGA Project -- Day #72 "Bog Saunter"

When I got out of work midday today, I was awestruck by how gorgeous the weather was, and I remembered my friend Kenneth had told me he and his girlfriend Jessica were going hiking with a group of others today.  I quick texted to see if they'd gone, and when he said they weren't out the door yet, I hurried home to collect the monkey and tag along for

Today's New Activity: Hiking (with Baby!) at Baylands Park

To call this outing a hike is something of an exaggeration.  It was pretty much a flat dirt trail around the edge of the bay in Palto Alto (which I'm calling a bog, just because all the growth at the edge of the water gave it a very bog-ey feel).  But it was beautiful...kind of eerie beautiful.

Here is Monkey during one of the brief periods when he was down to walk.  At first I think he was just confused by the totally new kind of surroundings.  Then, once he was okay to be set down, he was distracted by the little planes that kept taking off from a nearby airport and flying overhead.

I'm pretty sure this was the first time he's actually taken notice of an airplane, and it was fun to see his initial enthrallment.  He was waving and saying "bye bye" to each of them as they flew away in the beginning.  Then I think he realized they were just going to keep coming and he was over the need to communicate with every last one.

After a little while, and after his initial shyness wore off, he felt comfortable holding Jess's hand and walking with her.

And soon after that they were like new best friends, sharing sunglasses and everything!

I'm awed by people who are just naturally comfortable with kids.  I've always liked kids, but I wasn't one to reach out for and hold babies unless I'd already known them for some time.  I always liked interacting with older kids, like 3rd grade and up.  At that point you can talk to them just like normal, and you don't really have to deal with all their anxieties about separation and strangers, and you certainly don't have to deal with their poop.

Jessica was a natural, though, and it was clear the baby was comfortable with her.  I love when that happens.  While of course I don't want him to be comfortable with everybody he encounters (scary!), it does make me proud and relieved when he will happily go into the arms of a friend of mine.  It's nice to know he feels safe and secure enough to get some distance from me and experience another person's care.  Other people will always show him something I wouldn't think to show him, or make him laugh in a new way.  Jessica was down to carry him a full third of the time we were out.  I consider that a bona fide blessing.  :)  And he practically fell asleep on her shoulder by the end of the outing.

As we strolled along, there were some odd objects to take in and brainstorm on the possible purposes of

but other than that it was a pretty mellow and unassuming trail, which freed up the baby's attention to give to the squirrels or badgers or whatever they were running around, the little songbirds, and the seagulls headed to the nearby dump (odd place for a dump, if you ask me).  I'd say monkey did pretty well his first time hiking; I'm looking forward to finding more new hiking spots I can introduce to both of us.

And I just have to mention again how lucky I feel to be living in an area where there is so much natural beauty to behold, and so many months of good, outdoors-friendly weather in which to enjoy it.  May I never, ever take it for granted!


The GGA Project -- Day #71 "British for Indulge"

In recent weeks I've mentioned my friend Colleen a few times.  Both posts had to do with yummy cookie recipes she shared with me--as she's the Queen of All Things Cookie--and which I decided to try my hand at.  She has a true taste for the best of what yummy has to offer, so it is not surprise it should be her to introduce us both to

Today's New Activity: Afternoon Tea at the Crown & Crumpet

It's pretty unlikely that either of us should have found ourselves here, as *neither* of us consider ourselves the kind of ultra-fem gals who would dig on something as pink and prettified as all this, but it would seem that the spirit of trying new things is in the air, and we actually both admitted to having experienced a shift toward the girlie girl lately. In Colleen's case, I might credit all the recent wedding planning she's been doing. In my case, well I've got nothing to account for it.

The Crown & Crumpet is in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, which a great, great place to hang out, if you can manage to make it all the way to the end of the Embarcadero on a Sunday, and if, after surviving that 45 minutes of madness, you can manage to find a parking spot.  Thankfully, we did both and ended up finding parking almost as close as you could possibly get to the little shop (shoppe?).  The only downside was that the meters maxed out at 1 hour, so we had to watch the clock and refill when the meter got hungry.

During the drive, we had the chance to catch up on things.  Colleen is another former coworker with whom I've been out of touch for some time.  In fact, I never really spent any time hanging out with her outside of work, except for during the great parties she used to so hospitably throw, inviting all her coworkers.  Those were really the best days I've had at any workplace, ever.  I've never worked--before or since--in such a fun-filled environment where people got along well with very little gossip or negativity, and they liked each other so much they were happy to party together even after seeing each other at work 40 hours a week.

Anyway, though I've always thought her very cool, this was actually the first time I'd spent with Colleen one-on-one, and I'm so happy I did.  Not only is she a great conversationalist, very open and easy to find common ground with, she is one of the most good-natured and friendly, warm, joy-loving people I've ever met.  Just driving into the city and passing under the Bay Bridge (another beautiful day in The City, I might add), she expressed such unbridled joy and wonder at the (truly wonder-filled) sight, I thought she may just weep with sheer delight.  I LOVE to be around people like that.  I love full-bodied expressions of awe, of pleasure, of curiosity and engagement.

Colleen was one of the very first people to respond to my e-mail seeking GGA participants, and she's the one who had the great idea to check out a tea room together.  It's one of those (almost guilty) pleasures that's perfect for a Sunday afternoon when you've managed to put all your obligations behind you and are free to just soak in the aroma of really, really, really good tea.  

Though you can order individual lunch meals, we opted for the Tea for Two menu option, in which we chose two from the dizzying selection of loose-leaf teas (this is just one of two full-page spreads of tea options alone):

which came served with this beautiful and tasty selection of petite sandwiches, scones, and sweets:

Ever wondered what a crumpet was?  That's one on the right.  It tastes like the best English muffin you've ever eaten, especially when topped with one of the below (super rich strawberry jam, a light butter, and lemon curd).

Talk about dainty!

And this sort of thing is truly meant to be an event rather than just a meal or a run-of-the-mill little treat.  The reservations get you the table for 2 hours, a good amount of time to relax and give the flavors their due.  All the sweets were served in tiny portions, but that was fine because they were so rich, to eat more than what was served was to risk some kind of bodily harm...I'm sure of it.

It was a real treat to spend half a day with this wonderful woman.  We talked about all the things you'd expect two women to talk about over afternoon tea.  The coming hunting party, problems with the help, how dreadful the crumpets at all the *other* tea spots are.  Hehe.  Nah.  We talked about family, and relationships, and Colleen's coming nuptials, and my pending divorce, coworkers, friends, the S-E-X word...you know, just all of everything worth discussing.  Girltalk is so much more fun over good food and drink.

And though it feels incredibly decadent and indulgent, I'm fairly certain we *both* could, and probably should, make a habit of this.

Thank you Colleen, for a great idea and a splendid (read it in a British accent for full effect) day!


The GGA Project -- Day #70 "Fish on Ice"

This is a week for cancelled plans.  This afternoon I was supposed to be hanging out with my gal Kelsi, but things came up on her end, as things are always bound to.  One thing that's been a great change for me as a mom is that I now understand more completely how easily and often things come up, and going with the flow is easier than ever.  In fact I myself was supposed to be in Cotati visiting a friend of the family today, but again, things came up (my son was teething something awful the night before, and I didn't want to subject anyone else in the house to the madness, should a similar, wakeful evening make a repeat performance).

Anyway, a late-in-the-day text from my friend and near-neighbor Brian made for some good alternate plans and led to

Today's New Activity: Watching a Sharks Game

What?!  Say WHAT?!  Never watched a Sharks game?!  I know, huh.  I have lived in or near San Jose for over a decade now, at times living and/or working mere blocks from the Shark Tank, and I've never even taken in a single game on t.v.  This is silly, because I actually really like watching hockey.  It's just not one of those things I ever made room or time for in my life.  Also, I really haven't followed hockey at all since I was in middle school and my brother watched the L.A. Kings religiously.  There are apparently at least 6 new or newish teams I'd never even heard of, all of which came into being after I lost track of all things NHL.

I mentioned to Brian that the Sharks themselves weren't even a team yet when I stopped following hockey, and he said, "oh yeah, I think they just celebrated their 20th Anniversary," which made me feel really, really old.  Yikes!

I love supporting local teams though (become a late-in-life A's fan, since it would almost surely kill me to support the Giants), and the Sharks are a legitimate team to get behind.  And it was nice to be able to take in this first Sharks game with one of the team's Super Fans.  I really never even need to watch any of their games, as Brian's numerous Facebook updates during the course of all televised games are enough to let me know what's going on.  But it's so much more fun to take in the action firsthand --including the sounds of the clashing sticks and the sights of blood flying out of recently-punched mouths.  Golly...why so violent?

Since it's been years, and since I was never quite able to grasp the concept before anyway (sorry bro, it's not you or your explanations, it's me), I asked for an explanation of the Offsides penalty, which is called multiple times in any game.  I think...*think* I got my head around it this time, unless I wait another 20 years to take in another game, in which case I'd likely need another refresher.

Luckily, the rest of the rules of hockey are pretty basic and easy to grasp.  It's not like sitting down with somebody who has never seen a single baseball game and trying to explain everything from a basic count to the infield fly rule.  Believe me, I've done that twice and was tired of hearing myself talk by the middle of the third inning.  For the most part, the idea in hockey is to pass the puck to the guy who has the best chance of getting it into the net. Or, just getting the puck into the net yourself (unless you're on defense, in which case you should really really try to keep it out).  With strategy like that, maybe *I* should be a pro hockey player!!

We saw some good getting of pucks into nets.  In fact, the Shark's Setoguchi made three of the Sharks' four goals (in a 4-0 shutout against the Colorado Avalanche), for his first career Hat Trick.  That was a cool thing to see, since it doesn't happen all that often.  The fans threw dozens of hats on the ice to celebrate the feat.  That it all happened on the Sharks home turf made it, I'm sure, a super awesome night for the young trickster and his fans alike.

It was a fun time all around  :)

And for another little baby first.  I bought the monkey his first pair of slippers today:


The GGA Project -- Day #69 "Getting Dirty"

I have a terrible Mom confession to make.  I am the world's least fun mother when it comes to making messes.  The thought of the clean-up involved keeps me from introducing my boy to a whole bunch of things I'm sure he would really, really enjoy.

When I see kids with finger paints, it makes me cringe.  I would rather eat play dough than let a child play with in.  And glitter?  Just shoot me, okay?

I feel really awful about this.  My friends Nicole and Kelsi are awesome moms in this department.  They truly take to heart the value of creative expression for their little tots, and they don't seem to mind at all cleaning up after the hurricane-like messes left in the wake of children's art activities.  I could not be more opposite to them in this way.

It's not that I don't value creative expression. In theory, I think it's a wonderful thing.  But theory gets the mother of all cold shoulders when I imagine scraping paste out of my son's hair or explaining to my own Mom how streaks of blue marker came to adorn her newly-painted walls, light-colored carpet, hardwood floors, granite counter tops, or very handsome couches.  Gah!

I've been wanting to work on this, though.  I don't want to deprive my child of creative or developmental possibilities, and I most especially don't want to deprive him of fun, just because I can be a stick in the mud.

Gotta start *somewhere*

Today's New Activity: Playing with the Monkey, Playing with Markers

I know how totally unremarkable this probably sounds to other moms out there, but I'm telling you it's a big step for me.  The other day, we were over at Nicole's and Chupi simply could not keep his hands off the hundreds of markers, crayons, pencils and pens to be found in various places around her living room (Nicole is an artist and former art teacher).  While I liked the idea of his wanting to color, I just could not relax to let this happen.

Ok, this has a smidge bit to do with the fact that every now and then he still tries to eat the colors.  And when I see that I want to dive on him as if he were on fire and put an end to it.  Eating markers = not good for you.  But to be honest, I'm more concerned with the potential marks on his mouth than any toxic shock possibilities.  Sureya, on the other hand, had various colors all over her mouth when we got there and Nicole didn't even think twice of it.  Rightly so, she just sees it as par for the toddler course, relaxes, and lets her little cutie enjoy as all munchkins should.  I'm trying to take a page out of her playbook.

But sigh.  I couldn't even let him go at it without first putting a bib on him.  Is this practical or crazy?  I mean, is it just too much that I'm afraid he'll ruin his clothes with marker stains?  Because I really don't want to be one of those anal retentive freak moms who leaves her kid with a complex, fearing to even let a little popper of a fart loose.  Pleeeaaasseee don't let me be one of those moms.

After putting the bib on him, I sat him on my lap so I could keep a close watch on any stray marks that might mar the counter tops, and also so I could pick up the markers that kept rolling off the counter before Juju the dog could swipe them and take them to her little humper's lair (which she still managed to pull off once).

Monkey had a lot of fun sampling all the color choices, and even more fun, I think, playing with pulling off and putting back on the marker tops.  Look, look, I let him get his hands all marked up at least.  I think that should count for something as a starting point.

I'm not sure I'll ever manage to be the cool art project mom that Nicole and Kelsi are.  It would take a lot of core changing for me to pull off even a shade of that kind of letting go.  But I want to try and keep in mind how much fun the monkey has when he is allowed to create.  He did NOT want to get down from the stool or even let those markers out of his sight tonight when it was time for dinner.  I know there's a happy medium place I can find wherein the baby's allowed to enjoy and express himself through arty stuff, but not allowed to just go nuts and ruin things.  It doesn't have to be one or the other.

I'm getting there.  Just please nobody give him anything involving glitter or sand art just yet.  You know...baby steps...  


The GGA Project -- Day #68 "Mechalechahighmechaheinyho"

We had a pretty nice GGA playdate planned for tonight, me and the Pops.  He had tickets through work to a Cal vs. USC basketball game, and we were both pretty excited about going.  Though it's practically begging to be disowned from my family (my Dad and Bro, anyway), I was fully planning to root against the Trojans and support a team of my *chosen* hometown...or home area I should say.  Alas, a late escape from work, the realization that the game started 1/2 hour earlier than we thought, the trouble parking for Cal events, and the wet raininess making for even worse commute time traffic than usual all combined to make us decide to sit this game out.

The thing that made me mostly okay with the change of plans was that my baby had spent the night at his Dad's house last night, so I was missing him.  Instead of taking off for the game before his bedtime, I got to spend his remaining wakeful hours (after my workday) with him, catching up.

Sometimes, especially when I know we'll be spending time apart or when we've just been reunited, I like to take the baby into our room and chill out with him there, just the two of us.  It feels like special Mama/Son time.  During these moments, one thing he loves to do is play with my phone (of course!).  As much as I would love to just veg out and "talk" ("decaltacot, bikdamectabo..haha"  The little laugh is really in there.  It sounds like he's making jokes to himself), he's more into grabbing at stuff and scurrying around than vegging and gabbing.  To keep him from accidentally calling people (which he's done a number of times), I'll find a video on Youtube to watch on the phone so he'll relax from the incessant button pushing.

Some of the favorites include anything from Noggin,  (this song is the best!)

This cute one that my Ma found

and then, for Mama's sanity, any grownup music with a good beat that he'll like dancing and drumming to.  La Roux's "Bulletproof" is my current favorite

Trying to find overlap between the realms of what the kiddos like and what the parents like is no small task.  I don't like to let the monkey watch too much t.v., but during the moments when his Nana or I HAVE to get something done or just need a bit of down time, we will let him play in his playpen with Nick Jr. on.  A lot of the time it's background, but there are a few shows that are guaranteed to grab his attention.  One of them, Yo Gabba Gabba, is basically a 30-minute long acid trip/life lessons exercise set to repetitive and incredibly awkwardly phrased music.  The lessons are really good though, and there are always current young bands making guest appearances, so this one sits well with a lot of parents my age.

Sesame Street never disappoints me, but it has failed to capture the baby's imagination just yet.  Unfortunately, his favorite Sesame Street character is Elmo, a.k.a. Captain Obnoxious, so I pretty much avoid one of my own childhood favorites for the time being.

Yesterday, as I was sitting on my bed trying to think of what video to show him, I was hit with one of my most brilliant ideas to date.

Today's New Activity: Exposing Chupi to the Wonders of Pee Wee's Playhouse!

Yes, the word "exposing" is in acknowledgment of the early 90's scandal that rocked the worlds of Pee Wee's fans.  But that snafu aside, Paul Reubens has got to be one of the most genius performers ever to undertake the daunting task of entertaining children.  I don't know what special mojo is it that allows any adult to plug into a childlike frame-of-mind well enough to know what will thrill and crack the kiddies up (I mean really, what adult comes up with something like the Teletubbies?!), but Pee Wee had it in spades.

I think Pee Wee's Playhouse was the best show I ever saw as a kid (aside from the Dukes of Hazzard maybe).  I was super bummed that the show came on during my CCD class at church, as I rarely ever got to catch any current episodes.  And of course I wanted to live in Pee Wee's Playhouse, or at least his neighborhood.  How did they come up with all those fun elements that made kids loooovvve that show like no other?!  From Globey and Chairy to Today's Word and all the neighborhood characters, the upholstered, jagged-edged front door and the half-door everyone visited at, then the genie thing in the box!  So cool.

Check out Cowntess giving Cowboy Curtis dating advice

And this fun times sample

Man, where were all those memories buried, the ones this brings to mind?  I'm so grateful in this moment for Youtube and all the golden oldies it's brought back to the light of day.  Oh, and that has to be the longest beginning to any show in the history of shows.

I'm happy to report that monkey loved it.  I think he could have watched these clips all evening if I'd let him.  It did make me think of buying the series boxed set, which was put out a couple of years ago.  I'm sure he'll appreciate it one day, and me along with him.

Oh, and one last thought: I love how Pee Wee's then-odd, ultra-tailored suit is totally in style now.


The GGA Project -- Day #67 "Latte and Some Help Writing my Last Will and Testament, Please"

My last year in college was probably the busiest year ever in my life.  I took 6 & 7 classes in the fall and spring semesters, respectively, worked all week as a tutor in the school's writing center, (wo)manned the desk in the Philosophy Department on Friday mornings, and then worked all weekend at Starbucks.  On top of those obligatory dibs on my time, I also had homework to do (tons of reading as an English major, of course), food to find and consume, and then the more fun task of carving time out to relax or take in a poetry reading here and there.  I write that now and think I must have been on coke!  Or Red Bull at least.  But honestly, it was just naturally exhilarating to have that much going on.  I can say it was one of the fullest and best years I've experienced.

Still, why in the world, in the midst of all that, would I elect to also join the Ethics Bowl, a debate team of sorts that met weekly to prepare for a regional and national tournament, in which we would debate opposing positions on current, highly controversial topics, using philosophical arguments?  Why would I do that?

Basically, I would do that because Ramon Jimenez (now Esquire) persuaded me to, and he's a persuasive individual--which is why he's likely to make an excellent lawyer.  Technically he already is a lawyer, but he hasn't yet spent much time in front of a judge, or any time at all in front of a jury.  And maybe he won't ever.  Not all lawyers get their "You can't handle the truth!" on (just think how many thousands of them are out there carefully crafting the licensing agreements you'll scroll over and agree to without so much as skimming).  For now, he's working part time doing the unglamorous work of collecting debts on behalf of a lumber company, and moonlighting as San Francisco's own in(coffee)-house counsel.

Today's New Activity: An Evening at the Offices of Cafe Lawyer

I reconnected with Ramon a few months back and caught up on what's gone on since we got our asses handed to us at the tournament in North Carolina, since one of our fellow team members (Jeff) happened to marry my best friend Kelsi, and since another of them went to law school and then promptly went back to his MMA, cage fighting ways (as The Hungarian Nightmare).

Turns out Ramon got his law degree from Santa Clara University, passed the Bar Exam last year, and has for the past few months been setting up shop in San Francisco area coffee shops, offering legal advice at the bargain price of $1 per minute.  $1 per minute!

I wish my own lawyer were so generous.

Ramon admits the Cafe Lawyer gig is gimicky.  He knows some people probably think he's a lunatic.  But the idea of offering legal services to the population at large--in a casual setting, and at an unbelievably good rate--was borne in a practical hour.  He has student loan debt after all, and attorneys find their clients almost purely through word of mouth (unless they are paying for spots advertising the chasing of ambulances during episodes of Judge Judy and Cheaters...not exactly appealing).  He hopes to do some good work for people, get repeat and referral business, and ideally be offered full-time employment as in-house counsel for a start up or other small business.  I'd say that in these days of rampant unemployment (especially high among recent law school graduates), it's a pretty sound business plan.

As I type this, I'm overhearing Ramon speak with a client who arranged to meet with him after coming across his website.  I'd feel bad about eavesdropping as these seemingly confidential concerns about photograph copyright are expressed, but hey, it's a freakin' coffee shop!  Obviously this client is okay with the idea of his business being out there in the public air, mixed in with the sounds of milk foaming, the Nas album playing overhead, and the click click clicking of the laptop keys of every single patron in this largish space.

Ramon tells me the couple who he was working with when I arrived this evening were discussing a very personal, highly sensitive matter, right there in the middle of the coffee shop.  I thought this very strange until he reminded me that people talk about such things with friends in the middle of coffee shops all the time.  In fact, I'm sure this approach is very appealing to people who are intimidated by the idea of retaining a lawyer and then having to spend time staring at the bad art on the walls of their offices (or maybe that's just my lawyer...I don't blame her...the senior attorney there picks it out).  And perhaps there's a bit of the idea that near-beggars can't be choosers at work there as well.

I think Ramon's idea is genius.  And I think San Francisco is the best possible place to pull it off.  The approach has a certain community-minded feel to it, as so much of what goes on in The City does.  Really, a LOT of people find themselves in need of legal advice, and my word is it expensive!  This way, he can keep his overheads ridiculously low (needing do no more than purchase a cup of coffee during any given session), learns about all different kinds of legal issues (since obviously he has to take what comes and research the issues in order to really help people), and meets interesting people along the way.  I'd personally much rather work in a coffee shop than pretty much anywhere else I can think of.

On my drive up to San Francisco tonight, I was talking on the phone to Kelsi, who just got her license as a Marriage and Family Therapist.  She asked if Ramon had ever heard of a Cafe Therapist.  We agree there is a market for this service as well.  Just as I've had *quick* legal question I thought could be answered without all the pomp and circumstance of hiring a permanent lawyer, I've also had a concern about my personal life that I'd love to run by a stranger in the interest of gaining new perspective.  I know there are professionals (likely long-established ones) in either of these fields who would be insulted by this approach, thinking it trivializes their work, but I think there's room, as well as a viable market, for all the approaches, and probably plenty of others, too.

Nothing says we have to keep doing things in the same (budget-braking) way, just because that's the way they've always been done.  And I love that so much of the business that comes Ramon's way comes via traffic on his website and Twitter feeds, Foursquare and Facebook check-ins.  These new social media means are helping with the important work of launching revolutions and toppling authoritarian regimes, but they're also helping a hard-working young man get a bite to eat.  I say kudos all the way around.

Hey, here's the Cafe Lawyer now!

If you see him at a coffee shop near you and decide to employ him, be sure to tell him the Cafe Blogger sent you.  Who knows?  You may even get a discount ;)


The GGA Project -- Day #66 "The Discovery"

Since I thought it was supposed to rain all week, it seemed like the perfect time to take The Monkey to a place I've been hearing about the wonders of for years now.  I called up Nicole, and she was game to bring Maya and Sureya Girlfriend along for

Today's New Activity:  The Children's Discovery Museum

What a wonderful, wonderful place.  As a long-time resident of downtown San Jose, I passed the outside of this building thousands of times.  I even used to live about a block and a half away and would go walking around its grounds for exercise.  But not being a parent or a teacher, I'd never actually ventured inside until today.

Everyone told me it was a great place for toddler-aged kids to fully explore, but I just couldn't picture it.  I am constantly trying to keep my boy OUT of things.  I couldn't imagine a place (a museum no less) in which it was appropriate and even encouraged for him to get his hands all up in the mix.

Nicole even mentioned upon entering that she was going to leave her stroller behind and I thought she'd gone insane.  I thought, you mean you're just going to let her run free?!  In a museum?!

Turned out she was totally right to do so.  They have really done the work to make this place tiny-kid-friendly.  All the exhibits are safe, fascinating, fun, and easy to use.  And since they are ALL like that, you don't have to worry about pulling the kid away from one really cool, say, oh, for example, air vent that floats plastic balls in the air, after he's been playing with it for 15 minutes, in the event another kid might want a turn (I'm just talking hypothetically, of course).  You don't have to worry about him being sad when you take him away from that cool exhibit because the next one is guaranteed to be equally cool.

And the next one, too!

By far the most fun part we got to see was the water world, where little canals full of water and more plastic balls and squirting things and vacuum magic could have easily kept these munchkins entertained for the greater part of a day.

Alas, although the museum provides genius little water aprons, all the chiclets managed to get thoroughly soaked, and too long in squishy shoes took its toll.  I wasn't prepared with an extra set of clothes, so our museum visit was cut short, but I have already decided to buy a yearlong pass so we can go back again and again.  It feels like a magic blessing to have a place just tailor-made for kids their size so nearby.

We were gonna enjoy the sun a while and see if the clothes would dry out, but that was a lost cause, so we headed back to Nicole's, which was probably for the best because it got pretty cold.

If you're a parent in the area and haven't already done so, be sure to take your little ones here at least once.  You'll be glad you did.  In the middle of the building they have a decently priced cafeteria that actually sells good food.  Imagine that.  Plus, the giant sprawl of grass on the land surrounding the museum makes for great picnicking and just plain run-around space for any squirrely moments you may encounter.  Parking is $5 and admission is $10 for kiddos and adults alike.

We can't wait to go back, and man is he sleeping like a log tonight!


The GGA Project -- Day #65 "For the Love of Love"

There was a time in my single days when I was one of those girls who totally poo-pooed Valentine's Day.  I had a whole spiel about how it put too much pressure on guys to "perform" and impress and prove themselves worthy, and that it would only matter a lot to me if there were something severely lacking in the rest of my relationship.  Well, that last part I sort of still agree with.  But that part aside, of course it's really easy to blow off a holiday that is irrelevant to you anyway.  Easy to tell yourself that those suckers with their balloons and their flowers and their chocolates and their teddy bears are just wasting their time and money.  Oh...for the record, the men giving their grownup women teddy bears *are* wasting their money.

Through the course of my marriage, I don't remember thinking too much about Valentine's Day.  This was probably mostly because it fell right in between our two anniversaries (a result of the two weddings in different countries), so to celebrate it seemed a bit much in the way of relationship celebration in the course of three months.  Also, I know I told myself I didn't care about it because to care about it would open myself up to disappointment if my husband didn't choose to do anything to observe the holiday.  It had about as much impact on our lives as Arbor Day (if that reference rings a Naked Gun bell for you, you are my hero :)

I wasn't really sure how I would feel about Valentine's Day this year.  Being smack in the middle of a divorce, I certainly wouldn't have been surprised if I'd awoken this morning with the desire to dress in head-to-toe black and walk around with a bottle of whiskey under my arm, humming a dirge.

In the days leading up to today, however, I found the thought of the impending V Day to have quite the opposite effect.  I was getting excited for it for the first time since, I don't know, middle school maybe?  Even though I didn't have a valentine, with the exception of my son (who is, after all, the best valentine I could hope for, and I'm sure he doesn't mind having me for a valentine for the time being anyway), I was happy at the thought of an entire holiday devoted to LOVE!  As you may remember, I even baked cookies for the occasion a few days back  :)

Today's New Activity: Feeling the Valentine's Day Love

I really don't know if this technically counts as a new activity as it's more an observation of a change in me than an action taken, but I'm going to focus on it anyway because it was very significant to me.

This morning I woke up with a feeling of fullness and hope and joy.  The truth is that I used to wake up like that almost every single morning.  I don't know if everyone has this, but when I was bored and in a doodling mood, there was a single word I used to doodle over and over again, over the course of many years!  For me, that word was "joyful."  It should have been the most glaring sign to me that in recent years I had no desire to write that word down.  I can even remember thinking to do it on a few occasions, purely out of habit I guess, but when I brought pen to paper I just couldn't see the action through.  Isn't that odd?  Perhaps that should be my own personal litmus test for how things are going in my life.

Anyway, in the past week I've been "joyfully" doodling again.  And when I woke up this morning, my outlook was triumphant, my spirit was singing.

About midway through my shift at work, my friend Liz sent me a sweet Happy Valentine's Day message, and writing back to her during my break, I had the chance to identify just what it was that was making me feel this kind of love for a day that used to just irritate me.

Far from being jaded this Valentine's Day, I am full of renewed belief in love.  I don't even know that I've let that idea apply to romantic love just yet.  The beauty of the feeling is that knowing any kind of pure, respect-filled, mutual, and enduring love exists out there is enough.  I feel like, perhaps for the first time in my life, I appreciate fully what a gift it is to be loved at all.  And the parental love I feel from my parents (especially in this past year, when I've leaned on them so heavily for support), coupled with the Mama's love I feel for my baby, feel like more than enough to sustain me for some time.  The warm and caring love I've felt from my friends this past year has been a sweet, rich icing on the cake.  That is not to lessen that Platonic love at all...just to say that I recognize I've had more than enough love all along.

I consider it a true blessing to find myself liberated this year from the obligation to observe (or not) Valentine's Day with a man who I can now admit never loved me--at least not in any consistent way that I could recognize as love, not in any way that I always thought being loved and being married to a man I loved would feel like.  It doesn't make me sad to say that now.  It makes me feel, well, like I said: liberated.  It makes me feel free to open myself up to true love, the kind I know exists because my parents model it every day, after 35 years of marriage.  I wrote about that once, some 9 years ago, and it remains truer than ever today.  And even if that love is not out there for me anytime soon, or ever, it is enough to recognize and appreciate the pure love that already surrounds me.

I was excited all day today just knowing my baby would be home waiting for me when I got home from work, knowing my Mom was planning a special Valentine's Day dinner for all of us, and picturing the happiness my son and I would both feel when I gave him his little gifts.

The spirit of Valentine's Day may be about romantic love (and to anybody who wants to called it a "fake" or "made up" holiday, I say who cares?  Aren't ALL holidays invented at some point in time?  Even to those who talk about the dark or creepy origins of the day, I say who cares? all over again....I'm just interested in celebrating the version of it that is recognized today....sometimes it really is nice to just relax and go with the flow rather than dissecting too much or bothering with technicalities), but from this point on I pledge to make it about celebrating all the kinds of love in my life.

Happy Valentine's Day to my baby boy, Happy Valentine's Day to my wonderful parents.  Happy Valentine's Day to my amazing friends, to my awesome brother, to my aunties and uncles and cousins, to my dog Juju, to my coworkers past and present, to the baristas at Starbucks, to the cast of Glee, to my favorite pair of jeans, to my ex-inlaws, to funny viral videos, to what remains in my bank account, to David Sedaris, to macaroni and cheese, to my laptop, to Target, to the new pink blossoms on the trees in my neighborhood, to Facebook, to clean laundry, to...