The GGA Project -- Day #110 "Minor Setback, Major Shift"

Today I was haunted by an unsettling feeling that I couldn't seem to shake for most of the day.  It was late in the evening when I identified its source, which is this: I now know this blog is being read by a few people whom I'd rather had never known or cared about it.  And knowing that, I found myself enclosed in a vague feeling of discomfort.  I found myself wanting to return to a pattern I'd developed in recent years, which was to repress the parts of me that would have caused conflict in my relationship.  Namely, this meant repressing the desire to do the things I enjoyed and be the person I was at heart because doing so was risking harsh judgement, criticism, or belittlement.

Now, with all these days of new activities out there on the internet (of all places!), it's in the wide, wide open--what it is that I like to do for fun.  It's out there--the kind of people I like to spend time with.  It's out there--my sense of humor.  It's out there--my sense of reality and morality and normalcy.  It's out there--the person I am when nobody is there to demand that I change.

That naked feeling was pressing down on me and threatening to bring out a real, no-joke censor, a censor for my whole life.


Today's New Activity: Testing My Progress and Resolution

It occurs to me that today is the first measure of whether or not I have grown in the ways I've aimed to, in the ways I *thought* I had over the past few months.  I have to say it was a harder test than I expected, requiring constant vigilance, and checking and rechecking my work for errors in logic and the premises upon which it rested.  It even required lifelines, check-ins, reassurances.

I don't even care about the fact that I'm showing my vulnerability in saying this.  I don't mind that I have to admit it's hard to retrain my mind after so thorough a mental smack-down.

But at the end of today, the answer I reach is this: I can't hide any longer.  I can't pretend I'm anyone other than exactly whom I am.  And in my moments of most profound clarity, I find that it truly doesn't matter what anybody thinks about that, privately or publicly, thoughtfully or flippantly.  Nobody else has a say in that anymore.  The real truth is that nobody else ever did.

I don't mind that I may have to keep reminding myself of this, on paper or in thought.  At my core I know it's true.

And I will make this promise here: that I will ignore every censoring impulse I have, every thought I have about hiding my heart's desires and joys.  I will not let this part of my journey take a detour like the one I took when I stopped writing six years ago.  My every action will come from love instead of fear.  And every day, I will remember that my son is watching for his cue on what it is to be a citizen of this world.  I promise that, in me, he will see the fullest, most vibrant, and most unapologetic version of his mother that this lifetime could have produced.  And in doing so, he will have permission to be exactly whom it was he was meant to be.  And that version of him will be loved, as this version of me is as well.

Not sure I get an A on this test, but I know I passed, and that is enough for me, today.

Then, as post script, I offer this piece of beauty, just because I loved it once, and love it again.


The GGA Project -- Day #109 "Censored!"


It seems some (never named) people ('s lawyers) didn't like what was said about them (?) on this (anonymous) blog.

No matter.  I don't have any more need or desire to talk about those who were never named.

I just want to say one thing about the word libel...which is that it generally applies when defamatory, untrue things are printed.  And if I've written a single untrue thing in this arena (anonymously), it would only be because I myself was deceived.

That is all.

Except that I hope some people now feel free to find better things to do with their time.

Today's New Activity: Just Ugh.


The GGA Project -- Day #108 "Big, Dangling Carrots"

The Mamas out there can attest that sometimes we really have to psych ourselves up for a trip to the park.  At least I *hope* I'm not the only mom out there who feels this way.  The thing is that when the kids are my son's age, the park is more work/stress than it is fun because everything still seems like a big falling danger and there isn't a single thing the tot can play on or with that doesn't require major parental assistance.  Still, I know the park is good for Monkey and that he enjoys himself whenever we go.  And I have super Mom Guilt over the constant question of whether or not I take him to the park enough, just because worrying about whether I feed him well enough, whether his development is on track, whether I've got the right discipline approach, whether I can support him financially well enough, etc, etc, isn't enough to make me feel guilty.  I needed--like all of us mamas do--just one more thing to fret over.

So.  Today we planned to spend shopping with my own Mama, starting right after her morning dentist appointment.  We dropped her off and went across the street to Target, where the Easter Bunny and I met and did some collaboration.  After that, I wanted nothing more than to just relax and have some coffee until my Mom's appointment was over.  But it just so happened I'd spotted a giant park right across the street from Target that I'd somehow never noticed before (I can kind of get tunnel vision when it comes to Target (real Happiest Place on Earth)).  And guilt about the fact that poor Monkey would be shopping all day was enough to get me out of lazy mode and off for

Today's New Activity: Super Fun New Park, Super Disappointed Monkey

When we got to the park, the first thing I noticed was the sound of a rooster crowing, though I didn't see any livestock around.  Then we saw a train track, though we didn't see any train.

The toys were a good distance from where we parked the car, and somehow during the whole approach I'd also missed an entire carousel, which I didn't take notice of until I heard the music start to play, kids running toward it from all corners of the playground.  It was then that I also saw a ticket kiosk and, in the distance, all the makings of a petting zoo.  How had I seen/heard nothing of this awesome park until today?!

For a while, Monkey was content to play on a tire swing (which I actually never see in parks anymore and had completely forgotten even existed until today)

After a little while he sort of plugged into the carousel noise and decided to go investigate.  This was one of the saddest scenes I've ever been witness to involving my son:

Such longing!  Such wistfulness!  Unfortunately, since all this potential fun was a total surprise to me, I'd left my wallet in the car, so we couldn't buy tickets for the ride.  At one point (since the entrance was out of sight), he actually attempted to just bust right in

More Mama Guilt!!  And it's not like I spoil him and give him whatever he wants, but this would have been a nice, rare treat :(  I could have just gone back to the car for money, but I knew my Mom wouldn't be long at that point, so I resolved to come back another time soon and make a whole day of it.  There was a ton of wide open, grassy space to let the kids run around, too.

Monkey was a little reluctant to go, but I let him carry the Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino he was nursing, so he came along with me, eventually, and at his own pace.

And we even got to see the train on a practice run on our way back to the car.  I have a feeling this spot will become a favorite in no time!

And in just a bit of random news...I found out I won't be able to transfer closer to home rather than be transfered to the further away location my bank is sending me to, so that means I'm more resolved than ever to get a new job.  The resolution, in fact, is to apply for a least one job every day (sounds easy, but since I'm only applying to jobs I really really want, it takes a bit more effort than I'm accustomed to).

Also, a quick follow up to my "Never Hurts to Ask" post: I didn't hear anything about a sponsorship, but in true never-hurts-to-ask mentality, today I asked a clerk at DSW to honor a six-weeks expired, $10 off coupon I had and his manager went for it!  Hey, it never hurts.  And I wouldn't have even asked before, but that was an easy way to save ten bucks.

So also in the spirit of how it never hurts to ask, I've decided today that I will ask Mark Zuckerberg for a meeting.  Somehow.  I have ideas, man!  Well, I have idea anyway.  And I want to share it.  And he does live/work 30 minutes away from here.  I mean really, why not?



The GGA Project -- Day #107 "Carlos"

It's been brutal trying to get to the gym lately.  When it's raining outside (8 days in a row or so, until yesterday) and I get home and get dry and get warm and get cozy, the idea of heading back out into the storm is less-than-appealing.  And plus I just go through phases where there are other things I'd rather be doing.  Plus I'm just lazy sometimes.  And so on.

Still, I swore to myself I was gonna go today.  I got home plenty early, had an early dinner, got The Monkey to bed on time, and even got *dressed* for the gym.  Alas, I got all caught up in blogging (catching up on yesterday), putzing around online, and then eventually just lost the momentum.  I did want to get some kind of workout in, though.

Today's New Activity: Hiring a Personal Trainer

Is it any wonder I should chose Carlos for the job?  Just check out that bod!

Plus (eat your hearts out, ladies)...he can dance.

Okay well technically he's boxing in this screen shot, but he CAN dance...salsa, merengue, cumbia....hot damn!

This is a game on my parents' Wii, of course.  And Carlos hardly qualifies as my personal trainer, though he did bill himself as such.  But he and his buddies did manage to get me moving and even working up a sweat.  It was actually pretty fun to do all the mini-workouts, and it was much easier to follow than most real life workout videos, maybe because a helpful preview of the next move pops up in the corner about 8 counts before the switch happens.

The best part was getting the chance to do raging bull-dodging, one of my personal favorite gym activities, in the comfort of my own home.  Finally!

The red ones go extra fast.  Obviously.  She looks exactly like me, by the way.  And I totally dressed like that when I went to the Running of the Bulls.

I never really got the hang of this little workout, not least because I never understood what I was doing there in Pamplona in the first place--given that every single other workout was either a dance or a kickbox, but oh well.  I'll give it another try at some point.

It's just good to know there's another decent home-based alternative for the periods of inertia that will no doubt keep me from leaving the house to work out at night on future occasions.  I'll just have to warn the folks to come check on me if they hear something that sounds like ripping flesh, followed by a bull's triumphant snorting.  No fear of death, no gain, right?


The GGA Project -- Day #106 "New Holes"

Back in 1997 my friend Nicole and I went to visit our other friend Renee, who was studying abroad in England.  A few days into our visit, we decided to head to Scotland for a couple or days, hopping on a bus for Edinburgh. Nothing can create a stunned silence as profound as finding oneself seated across the aisle from a backward facing seat in which this woman, Elaine Davidson, was seated

That's a recent picture.  Back then she looked more like this

It's nothing compared to her 4,500+ piercings today, but back then she was still the world record holder with somewhere between 400-500.  Rather than pass an uncomfortable bus ride trying not to stare, we kicked up a conversation with Ms. Davidson, who was of course very happy to talk about her piercings for more than half the ride (nobody who is averse to attention sets about to set the world record for piercings).  She was a pleasant woman with a good sense of humor, and we were left a little starstruck when she disembarked in Glasgow.

I don't even know where she was getting those crazy face piercings done that long ago...I didn't see that sort of thing mainstream for some time after that.  Needless to say, she left an impression, if only just for the oddity factor.  And while I can't say I'm in love with that number of piercings, I've always liked the look of one or two tasteful, carefully chosen ones.

So I was pretty excited when, a couple of weeks ago, I heard an ad on the radio for a Body Art Expo taking place this weekend in San Francisco.  I thought my friend Brian was probably the best possible person to invite to come with me, and I was happy he was free and down to go.  I've been looking forward to today since then.  Yes, I'd considered getting a tattoo, but I figured out a few days ago that I wasn't going to think of anything I could commit to for life on that short of notice.  But I did know it would be a great place to scope out other piercing possibilities (until now I only had my nose pierced).

Today's New Activity: Embedded Perma-Sparkle

What I really wanted was to get a dermal piercing on my face, near my temple (I didn't know it was called that, I just knew I'd seen one before and I liked it).  The very first booth Brian and I stopped at was manned by a young guy with exactly the piercing I wanted, so we got all the low down from him, but I wasn't ready to commit yet.  Haha, and it turned out nearly EVERY SINGLE TATTOO ARTIST THERE had exactly the piercing I wanted.  Apparently it's a popular thing in the industry.  But I was pretty much talked out of it by the last woman I spoke to about it, since she mentioned that everyone worries about their job when they think of getting that specific piercing done...I remembered that I work in a bank and that I should probably put myself into that category as well.

Still, I love how the dermal piercings look, and she had a bunch of them all over her arm and midriff, which were pretty cool.  I decided to get one on my wrist for the time being, just as a little bit of permanent jewelry-type sparkle.

It really didn't hurt much until she had a hard time getting it to sit right (which she blamed on me since I'd wanted it off-center and she was only accustomed to placing it centered).  The worst part was looking at the face of one of the onlookers, whose contorted expression was so freaked out and disgusted I thought he was gonna puke (and Brian was a sport to take pictures because apparently he is similarly put-off by this sort of thing).  I didn't worry in earnest though until she called in one of her colleagues for help.  At that point the piercing was sticking up in this odd, creepy looking way, and I worried it would end up like that.  But the guy who jumped it set it straight.  Leaving me with a tiny bit of bling that looks like this:

The Monkey likes it.  He's already made a little ritual of pushing on it, which gets him all giggly because I make a "boop" sound every time he does it.  He must just think I grew some kind of soundmaker button overnight.

Really there is no point to it, obviously...it might as well just be something to entertain my son, but I like the way it looks so that's really all there is to it.  When I think about it, that's all any piercing, even the most benign ear piercing, is anyway, so just why not?

Brian's goal for the day was to get a plug in one ear...not anything crazy (meaning he doesn't plan to stretch it in the future).  He went for the 2 gauge right away, and once he's able to remove the silicon starter and replace it with one of the super pretty stones he bought for it, he'll be all set.  

I have to give him props for bravery.  He lay down to be in the right position should he happen to faint, but it turned out to be totally unnecessary.  

He was all pierced up and back on his feet in no time without so much as a swoon, leaving us both feeling successful, all set with new holes :P

We spent the rest of our time there taking in the sights and chatting up the tattoo artists, most of whom where totally down-to-earth and friendly.  It's kind of nice that tattoos and piercings are so mainstream now.  The Expo was full of very normal people who just happen to like to use their bodies as canvases.  There were a surprising number of children there, too.  It was a fascinating family environment.

One of the more interesting things we saw was a traditional Polynesian tattoo technique, which was done using a thickish blade on the end of a dowel, which was pounded repeatedly against the skin using a second dowel.  I don't know if the pain sends people squirming or if it just takes a lot to ensure the lines are made straight, but there were three grown men holding down the leg of the guy who was getting tattooed.

The end result looks pretty cool.  Just thinking of it makes me hurt, though, remembering the process.

The whole experience was a lot of fun.  It was kind of overwhelming, with the constant buzzing of the tattoo needles and the unbelievable number of portfolios to sort through.  I can see now why they were actually selling three-day passes to the event -- it would have taken at least that long to see everything there was to see.  But one day was a good start.  And I even managed to chose a tattoo artist for a possible future GGA activity.  Shhhhhh...   :)

And big thanks to Brian for being great company...it was a great day all the way around.


The GGA Project -- Day #105 "(Not Quite a) Dream Team"

Ok, as I've mentioned before, 365 Days of New is--on occasion--taking me to places I never imagined I'd go.  Today is one of those occasions.

I have been making fun of fantasy sports (in my mind at least) since I first heard of them, a decade ago or so.  I just did not get it.  What is the point of making a totally implausible team up and then spending the entire season doing the math to figure out how this made up team is theoretically performing?  Highly evolved computer programs have rendered unnecessary the math part, so it doesn't take as much time to play fantasy sports as it used to, but I admit I still don't really get it.

I'm hoping that what follows

Today's New Activity: Drafting a Fantasy Baseball Team

will show me what all the rage is about.  Or at least keep me on top of baseball this season in a way I haven't been in years.  Now that will be fun, no matter what.  John, my friend Nessa's boyfriend, set the league up, calling it the "Friendship Ending League," which I think is the best name ever.

The draft itself was much easier to do than I thought it would be (thank you, Yahoo Fantasy Sports!) and only took about 1 1/2 hours, start to finish.  I would recommend going this route to anybody who wants to play fantasy sports for the first time.  They allow you to set your priority draft list ahead of time, and you don't even have to be there for the draft.  The system will automatically draft the best players available for you if you're not able to sit there watching and making decisions/changes to your plan (since the chances of actually drafting the entire team, or even half the team you want are slim and get slimmer as every round passes.  At some point you just resolve to trying to get a guy in every position who's still worth his weight in sunflower seeds).

I got my first choice of pitchers, but not much in the way of first choices beyond that, though I did manage to snag Andre Ethier, not that I think I had to fight too hard in this area to get a Dodgers player on my team.  And while it's not exactly a dream team I've set up, I'm hoping to educate myself on fantasy team management enough to keep any mercy rule from being employed on my behalf.


The GGA Project -- Day #104 "There's a Party in My Tummy, So Yummy, So Yummy'"

It was another long, rainy day at work...the kind during which the only sensible thing to do is get happy and cozy with some consumable treats.

Today's New Activity: Dessert from What Has to be the County's Most Feebly Named Establishment

I'm not sure what single event launched the cupcake movement of recent years.  Something has to happen on a grand scale when all of a sudden people are willing to pay up to $3.50 for a single cupcake when they know it would buy them a dozen cupcakes from the grocery store.  Admittedly I don't really get the cupcake thing.  I certainly wouldn't refuse one, but it's a rare day when I'd go out of my day to get one.

I guess today was a rare one, because it found me at "Let's Cupcake," a little bakery I'd noticed when I was out on my lunch hour a few months ago.  And today I felt like bringing a treat home for the family and Monkey and I to enjoy to mark what felt like a long but very satisfying week.

I chose one each of these flavors: red velvet, apple caramel, rocky road, and s'mores.  And while they were definitely tasty, I have to put out there something my friend Jesse and I agreed upon just this afternoon: cupcakes, especially expensive, "gourmet" cupcakes, are usually a disappointment.  

I'm not sure what accounts for this phenomenon.  I think it has to do with the fact that the cupcakes have to be expensive if the owner of the cupcake bakery has a prayer of meeting overheads, but paying a (relative) lot for something automatically builds up the expectation.  And seriously, how good can a cupcake possibly get?  I personally think the best ever cupcake is a yellow cake one made at home, out of a box, and topped with simple chocolate frosting.  But nobody would dream of paying more than a bake sale 50 cents for that kind of cupcake.

Anyway, they were still pretty good.

The other thing I tried for the first time today was the new instant coffee from Starbucks (Via--Tribute blend).  

Last week one of the baristas there told me it won in a taste test among their employees when up against the regular Tribute coffee, which of course I didn't believe.  And by the way I love the Tribute blend.  Just putting that out there.  And I still don't believe the bit about the taste test, but I've still been wanting to try out some of that instant stuff.  I figured if it were palatable, it would be a nice thing to have in my purse for the days when I'm running late and not able to make it to Starbucks before work (a nice alternative to getting a ticket trying to make it anyway).  Verdict: it was pretty good.  Instant coffee has come a long way.

But the real party in my tummy happened this evening, when I went with the folks for the first time to Pyzano's Pizzeria, near our house, which served the best veggie pizza I've ever eaten.

Yes, it was a whole day of new activities all about eating and drinking.  And yes, I just made yet another Yo, Gabba Gabba reference.  You know you have a toddler when...


The GGA Project -- Day #103 "Serenade"

Today we here in NorCal received the continuation of revenge winter, which has been anticipated since January, the entirety of which was spent sipping a collective Mai Tai at the beach.  It was day 5 or 6 of what's supposed to be a 10-day rainy streak, and today seemed the most violently wet day yet (although a giant tree in my neighborhood was uprooted last Sunday, blocking the entire exit road--the sight of it, so many years of growth just dead in an instant like that almost made me cry).

It was no surprise that nobody but the insane or extremely bored or overdue on a credit card payment would have ventured out to the bank today, and it made for a very long, very sleepirific shift.  The slow passing of time, coupled with my lack of sleep after catching a late movie last night, combined to leave me yearning for a nap by lunchtime.  While I new falling asleep (after just having finished drinking a latte) was out of the question, it did seem like the perfect circumstances for

Today's New Activity: Lunchtime Rain Lullaby

Of course I don't have to tell you that few things rival the sound and/or smell of falling rain in terms of sensory experience.  One of my favorite memories of my entire life was napping with the window open to the sound of falling rain, during monsoon season when I lived in Arizona.  I thought today would be a good day to escape the breakroom fluorescent lighting I've mentioned and enjoy the rain from inside my car.

I got under a blanket that I keep in there for Monkey, all warm and cozy-like, and just closed my eyes and listened.

After a while spent in this way it was pretty much torture to tear myself away and head back to work, but at least I felt refreshed.  Now if only the sound and smell of rain could come without all the pesky wetness...


The GGA Project -- Day #102 "This Magic Moment"

I'll start by admitting this will surely be one of the dorkiest GGA write-ups of all.  I can already declare that confidently.  See, because I meant to participate in this activity and report about it in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way.  But ultimately I got caught up in the hustle and bustle and whirlwind joy of

Today's New Activity: Attending the Opening of the New Neighborhood Safeway

Oh my God.  Just look at it there on paper, threatening to strip me of any semblance of cool I'd manage to feign all this time.  It wasn't the attending that made me a super dork.  I could have just happened to be out and about and in need of some bananas at just the right moment.  But my being there didn't happen like that at all.  No.  My Mom and I planned to be there today.  And even at that I thought I'd just be going along for the ride, for something to do on this rainy day.

Turns out I got all excited when I got there and was just in awe of the clean, well-stocked spectacle.  There must have been 150 employees on hand to manage the onslaught of excited neighbors.  And every aisle was full of people proclaiming, out loud, their joy at the opening of this sparkling new location (badly needed since the other two nearby Safeways are always overcrowded).  Also, I'm sure it was just something to talk about apart from the neighborhood speeders.

And in even greater dork splendor, I took pictures, specifically for the purposes of sharing the experience with you.  Here goes:

What I was marveling at in taking all these pictures was not only the volume and waxed-up shininess of the produce, but the incredible stocking job they did.  I just didn't understand (because I've worked retail store openings before and know how these things generally go) how it was they managed to have every last item slot stocked...and not just stocked, but SUPER stocked, with everything full and perfectly aligned.  It would be the shock of the century if it stayed that way.  I'm telling you though, it was something to behold and stand in awe of for the moment :)

Monkey got in the joyful spirit too, waving over and over again at his image on the screen meant to deter sticky fingered-bandits in the alcohol aisle.

All this dorky hubbub reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?.  In the scene, the entire population of the movie's po-dunk town is attending the opening of the "cutting edge" Burger Barn, a tiny hut of a restaurant that arrived on the back of a truck.  The best part, if you listen, is the town's high school band, playing "This Magic Moment."  I couldn't find a Youtube clip, but it's worth seeking out of your own if you haven't seen it, if only so you can feel a tiny fraction of the thrill I felt today.  :P


The GGA Project -- Day #101 "The Romina Experience"

Today was a big, full day that started to get good in the early afternoon, when Monkey and I went to get my taxes done.  Turns out I was able to file as head of household, since I lived apart from my spouse for more than half the year, resulting in a decent refund that was totally unexpected.  It's very refreshing because now I can afford to finish getting divorced :P

In the evening I headed to SF for week #2 of the Sad Sack Club, officially taking place at the location where the instructor, and nobody else, went last week.  It was held at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, a beautiful and interesting building and veritable labyrinth of classrooms and activity areas.

Looks like somebody has been hard at work Square Foot Gardening in the the courtyard there (an interesting concept--check out the link--that my Aunt Janet has mastered and swears by and which Kelsi was just talking about trying out last Sunday)

Anyway I managed to find parking and make it to the meeting on time, and while it wasn't mindblowingly educational or even really focused on co-parenting this session, it was nice to again be among people going through the exact same process I'm currently navigating.  There is an instant, rare camaraderie there.

The nice thing about this new location is that it's in North Beach (sometimes thought of as the Little Italy of San Francisco), which is just bustling with cute restaurants, coffee shops, and attractions (probably the largest concentration of XXX theaters left in the country).  When we got to the meeting, somebody asked the facilitator to recommend a good place for pizza, and for the next two hours--while yes, I was listening and participating in the class--one part of my mind remained firmly rooted in the singular goal of hunting down a yummy slice when the whole thing was over.

Rain couldn't stop me.  Or darkness.  Or lack of a solid tip on where to venture.  The GGA Project was made for such moments.  I walked a couple of blocks and wandered into the first promising, welcoming place I saw, which happened to be Cinecitta Ristorante & Bar.

Today's New Activity: Wonderful Restaurant, Wonderful Pizza, AMAZING Hostess

I decided to sit at the bar; it just seemed less lonely than facing the other solo diner at a two-top table across from him.  Plus, the Lakers v. Suns game was on the t.v. behind the bar (which ended up going into triple overtime and ending with a Lakers win.  Nice.)

Cinecitta's menu offered so many vegetarian pizza options I was a little overwhelmed at first.  It was a very nice change from the typical Margherita, pesto, or artichoke hearts supreme choices.  I went with the "Bianca," which contained Brie, Gorgonzola, and Mozzarella cheeses, along with pecans.

Oof.  It was sooo tasty.  I'm not normally a big fan of very thin crusts, but this was just perfect.  I don't know how to describe what was different about it, but it was just the right ratio of sauce-to-crust.  And the pecans were an awesome surprise.  Even the leftovers were better than most pizza is the first time around.  I was so happy with what seemed to be the perfect ending to a pretty great day.

But it turned out the best was yet-to-come.  The best came in the form of Romina, one of Cinecitta's two owner/partners, a bona fide Italian woman from Rome (leading me to suspect "Romina" was actually a nickname, as in, "woman from Rome"), complete with a super charming accent and exaggerated hand gestures.  She was the warmest, funniest, full-of-good stories hostess I've ever met.  It's not often that I would refer to the simple meeting of somebody as an "experience," but tonight's meeting definitely qualified.  There was another man sitting at the bar--a regular customer from the neighborhood and good friend of Romina's--and the three of us were there swapping stories and laughing until way longer than I'd planned to stay in the city.  It was such a nice surprise, especially for a spur-of-the-moment Tuesday night meal that was really just meant to satisfy a craving and nothing more.

When I left the restaurant I was full of happiness, with this question on my mind: Have I mentioned here how much I love, love, LOVE this project?!  If not, I'm doing so now.

I love, love, LOVE this project.

It's all about nights like tonight...the unexpected, the random connection, the excellent new restaurant discovery to be tucked away in my back pocket for when this year is over and I start revisiting all these new places.  Sometimes, I feel like this year is going by way too fast.  Good thing a formal project isn't a necessary factor when it comes to the habit of trying new things...


The GGA Project -- Day #100 "Semi-Celebratory Date"

Today was pretty much the looming-largest day for which I've ever had the discomfort of trying to mentally prepare.  Can we say awkward sentence?

A couple of months ago my soon-to-be-ex and I went to court-ordered mediator to try and work out a custody agreement.  This is standard for any parents who don't come to the agreement on their own, and if there are unable to reach agreement in mediation, the mediator makes recommendations to a judge, who usually just puts those recommendations into a formal order.

This is tricky ground.  While I didn't want to agree to anything with my ex that would give him a greater share of custody than I felt comfortable with, I also took a gamble in leaving it to a mediator to decide.

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And when I got home from that mediation meeting, I wanted nothing more than to take my son out for a little Mama/Baby date to celebrate (though that seems like a strange word to use, I'm having a hard time coming up with a better one right now)...something on his level.

Today's New Activity: Introduction to Jamba Joy

I've mentioned lately that Monkey's been teething, and as every mom knows, that can lead to entire days during which a kid will be happy to consume little more than a few cheerios and a cup of juice.  As a parent, this is troubling.  While you know they will survive just fine, you long for a return to the days of smeared peanut butter-and-jelly hair, knowing it was evidence that some kind of eating had taken place.  I wanted to take the baby out for a treat I was reasonably certain he'd like and which would provide more nutrition than the scoop of ice cream he'd certainly have gone for.

So it was that Monkey had his first Jamba Juice, Peach Pleasure flavor.  Well, about 4 ounces of it anyway.  Progress!

After that we went to the nearby library and then the park, where I pushed him on the swing and watched his eyes, so full of joy and innocence and wonder...and I felt immense relief.

To the mediation meeting, I'd brought the happiest picture I could find of my son.  I took it out just before we entered the mediation room and told myself that I would do everything I could to ensure he always retained that joy...that inasmuch as I could help it by providing him with a peaceful, loving environment, he would remain the happy child he has grown to be.  Holding him in my heart, I told the truth and am mostly at peace with where that will take things.


The GGA Project -- Day #99 "Mane-tenance"

Today was all full of plans that had nothing to do with anything new.  I had the rare chance to get together with BOTH my best girlfriends, Kelsi & Nicole, at the same time, and with only the smallest of the 5 kids we have between us there to absorb any Mama attention.  His needs split between the three of us, little 3 1/2-month-old Max had it pretty good today.

The gals and I completed a collage project we'd started a couple of months ago, but mostly we caught up on all of the everything.  Nicole let us go to town with her art supplies again, which is just amazing fun.  I wouldn't have a clue where to begin if I wanted to start collecting art supplies.  There is just so much out there from which to chose.  Nicole has loads of conventional media--watercolors, acrylic paints, paper in all colors and patterns, inks, charcoals, etc, etc.  And she also has a whole bunch of unconventional items to employ in the collage process, like the leftover cardboard from some kids' Pokemon punch out prize, to be used as a stencil.  It was so nice to have her teaching and demonstrating techniques, especially since she's taken the time to do all the trial and error, as well as put together the mind-boggling collection of supplies.  Here are pictures of what my collage looked like where we left off the first time:

and what the finished collage looked like after today

Today we mostly worked on techniques to blend and smooth all the hodgepodge elements that went into the creation.  It seems the most crucial thing is knowing when to stop, in order to keep the whole thing from getting too busy.  It's a difficult line to walk, and I need some time away from it before I can say whether or not I think I succeeded at that part.

Doing the collaging was a great exercise.  For a long time I would have looked at something like this and maybe thought, 'well, cool...but what's the point?'  The beauty of it is that there doesn't have to be one; the act of creating something is a worthy end in itself, worthy of anybody's time and effort.  It was wonderful just to carve out some time to devote solely to making something pleasing to my own eye, regardless of whether or not there is any plan for it beyond that.  Being able to do so while chatting it up with my best gals made it 20 times better, too.

Also at Kelsi's, I had the chance to briefly say goodbye to Sowmya, whom I only met recently through Kelsi, but whose absolute, shining presence had a big effect on me.  I wish her luck on her journey to India and in her new position working in peace studies.  She told me about a great resource website for anybody interested in the topic.  www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org lists, among other things, employment opportunities for those looking to make making the world a more peaceful place their lives' work.  Best wishes, Sowmya...and congratulations to those who will be the lucky recipients of your radiant light.

Between having Monkey up and ready for his dad to pick him up, the 1-hour drive to Kelsi's, the catching up and the art, the drive back north and baby pick-up, anddinner and working on the unpleasant task of preparing for round two of custody mediation tomorrow, today was pretty much spoken for.  There was, however, time enough for

Today's New Activity: New, *Salon Quality* Shampoo

Hey!  I never promised every day would be groundbreaking.  This project was originated with the choice of gnocchi over fettuccine alfredo, after all :P

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I can be a bit of a cheapster.  You might think I would make the exception for things like shampoo, given that I have three tons of long hair, and it seems it would take something special to keep it in good health.  But I am, officially, the world's laziest person when it comes to hair care.  Yes, I wash it everyday.  I even manage to blow dry it these days.  But I do so very reluctantly, and pretty much only because it just isn't what it used to be in terms of health, and to infuse any hint of body into it is a Herculean effort--one I'm willing to undertake if only to stop myself from getting angry enough at it to shave my head completely (hmm, that would be an interesting new activity!).

I buy cheap shampoo because I've yet to be convinced that spending more money actually yields better results.  Lately I've been going with Herbal Essences because I like the way it smells.  Nice criterion, right?  Today I found Nexxus shampoo and conditioner on sale at Target and decided to give it a go.  I seriously doubt that any measurable improvement will come from making the switch (what I really need is to get about 3 inches lopped off), but I figured it's worth a try.


The GGA Project -- Day #98 "Never Hurts to Ask"

Eight or nine years ago I was working at Barnes and Noble when I recognized the customer I was ringing up as a columnist from the local newspaper (a rendered drawing of his portrait always accompanied the byline--not a bad rendition, either, if I could recognize him in person).  To be sure, I asked him near the end of the transaction:  "Are you Joe Rodriguez?"

"Yes," he said.

"I love your column," I said, "you're always right."

Wow.  I think I didn't even realize at the time what a big compliment that is to a writer.  Not only was he recognized, he was told that he was always right.

At the time I was already interested in writing, and I'd begun to think about pursuing some kind of writing as a career.  When I was visiting my parents a few weeks later, I mentioned having run into this columnist, and my parents suggested I contact him and ask him to mentor me.

'What?!' I thought.  'Who does that?!  Who would just do that...just randomly contact a stranger--a busy, columnist stranger at that--and just ask him for his time?'

They convinced me though.  And I did.  I e-mailed him and asked if he remembered an employee at Barnes and Noble telling him he was always right.  Hmm, turns out people don't really forget that kind of thing.  He agreed to meet me at the offices of the San Jose Mercury News and he asked me to send him some of my writing in advance of our meeting (I was already blogging back then, so I sent him a sampling of those posts).

When I got there that afternoon, he gave me a tour, introduced me to a bunch of the paper's employees, then discussed my writing with me over lunch at a nearby taqueria.

I wish I'd known then how valuable that opportunity was.  I wish I'd appreciated his time in the way I should have and been conscientious enough to keep in touch with him and embark on a bona fide mentoring.  But although I kind of squandered that opportunity, I did learn something important from the experience, which was that it never hurts to ask.  It doesn't hurt a bit to ask for something, even something you don't think you have a chance of receiving.  Seriously, what a waste of time this life would be if we didn't set out to snag every single opportunity out there!  And you just never know when somebody will be able and willing to help you, or in what way.

I forgot that truth until recently.

Today's New Activity: Asking for Corporate Sponsorship

There's a project I've recently become interested in.  And the project would go a whole lot smoother if I had some help--some financial help--in executing it.  Today I logged onto the website of a major corporation, one that I thought just might take an interest in the project, and just asked them for their money.  Just like that.  I said, "You have a lot of money.  You should share some of it with me."  Except I said it slightly more eloquently than that.

I have no idea what my chances are in getting this donation/sponsorship.  There was actually a specific section on the company's website just for donation solicitations, so I imagine they must receive a great many such requests.  But anyway I asked.

And I think I should keep asking for all the things I want in my life.

And I think you should, too.

Thank you in advance, for all the good things yet to come...


The GGA Project -- Day #97 "The Splurge"

In terms of stores I potentially shop at, Nordstrom is about as visible to me as LensCrafters (I don't wear glasses), The Vitamin Shoppe (I don't take vitamins and wouldn't shop there even if I did--on protest grounds, having to do with "shoppe" as their chosen spelling), or the Giants Team Store (Dodgers fan!!).  I used to walk through Nordstrom all the time when I lived in San Jose and it was the nearest mall entrance from easy-to-find parking, but it would never occur to me to shop there.

By nature and upbringing I am a thrifty person.  My entries on thrift store shopping probably made that obvious. This tendency in me was exacerbated, however, during the course of my marriage because my ex was (is, I suppose) probably the most economically minded person I've ever known.  In a certain sense, I learned a good life lesson about saving money during my marriage to him.  However, I can see now that the lesson was definitely taken to an extreme.

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Anyway, all of that is just part of the lesson I learned coming out of my relationship, to be filed in the Never Again category!  But in the wake of it there is some unlearning, or relearning to be done.

I have definitely spent more money on leisure or entertainment in the nine months of my separation than I did during the entire course of my marriage.  I'm not talking about crazy, spendthrift behavior...just going to dinner, going to the movies, buying my iPhone (big one there!), that kind of thing.  While it is nice to be free to spend money on enjoyable activities, it's been difficult for me to shake a constant feeling of guilt about it.  It's as though I'm still waiting for somebody to check me and to take away my privileges.

My Mom has been instrumental in helping break me of this habit.  A few years ago we were out visiting my parents when they still lived in Colorado.  I remember going to an after-Christmas sale at Banana Republic with her and trying on only things that were on eXtreme clearance (!).  She kept trying to tell me how cute some of the stuff was and that I should buy it for myself, but I felt like I knew better.  I ended up choosing a few of the lower ticket items and then deciding to tell my husband that it would be my Christmas present (to me, from him).  It couldn't have been more than $120 I spent, but I felt like I was taking a huge risk in doing it.

Since I've been separated, my Mom has tried to encourage me to spend money on myself, to enjoy some of the money I've worked to earn.  As my mother, she had a hard time watching while I counted myself unworthy of this kind of treat.  I can understand that; I would feel the same way if Monkey ended up behaving in the way I had been, thinking himself somehow undeserving of his own money.

Today I did the unthinkable.  I've been thinking a lot lately about shoes.  High-heeled shoes, to be exact. I love high heels.  I think they are sexy and beautiful, and that a good many outfits look much better if heels are a part of them.  I have always been reluctant to wear heels, however, because I'm already 5'10" tall.  To wear even a low, 2-inch heel was to be at an Amazonian 6'0," and while I know many women claim they would kill for that kind of height, I propose they would feel different about it if they had the experience of towering over 80% of the men they encountered.  Still, I've finally come to terms with my Amazonianness and have decided that life is too short to abstain from high heels, especially since I like them so much.

Sooooo, the unthinkable thing I did was this:

Today's New Activity: Shoe Shopping at Nordstrom (!)

Let me just say one thing by way of disclaimer here.  I do not believe that buying expensive things is some kind of birthright.  Not in the way that peace-of-mind is, that personal freedom is, that love and friendship are.  I believe it is nice to be able to treat oneself, but I don't think anybody *deserves* expensive things...that thought just seems strangely entitled to me, like something that Snooki would believe.

That said, the treating of oneself is nothing to dismiss.  I think it is important to take a moment here and there to just let yourself indulge in something you really enjoy.  I believe that wholeheartedly now.

So today I walked straight into Nordstrom with the absolute intention of leaving with some cute shoes.

It seems old habits die hard, as I made a b-line for the clearance rack, but it was a big baby step for me to even have stepped foot in that store.  And it just so happens that some super cute shoes I would have loved anyway just happened to be 1/2 off.  I think there is no crime in retaining some sense of thriftiness, even when treating oneself.  The only problem was that I couldn't decide which of two colors to get.

Simple solution.  Half off shoes....buy them BOTH.  Stop the press!

Now that's a true splurge.  Side by side they look like ketchup and mustard.

I love them and they are super comfortable.  Summer dresses, bring thine selves ON...I can't wait to accessorize with these and let my inner Amazon out to play  :)


The GGA Project -- Day #96 "Mini- R and R"

Break periods at my place of work are 10 minutes long.  Brutal!  While it can be a tiny bit of pause in the action to look forward to, it usually feels as though I've just sat down and it's time to go to work again.  It's a tease, a dangling carrot, a wetting of the lips in the midst of a vast desert.

Still, it's a break.

By the time the afternoon break rolls around I am feeling pretty tired of standing on my feet all day and ready to munch down whatever sweet snack I've squirreled away for the occasion.  The sweet snack is never very satisfying though.  It does the opposite of what I need done at the moment, which would be to have some kind of break that leaves me feeling simultaneously relaxed, refreshed, and energized.

Bring on

Today's New Activity: Unguided Meditation Break

Today I avoided the torture-fest that is the break room t.v., which usually streams wannabe judge shows all day long.  I wanted to get away from noise of any kind.  Since my branch got robbed three times in the fourth quarter of last year, they've put up super-thick bulletproof barriers that make it very difficult for customers to hear us talking.  As a result, I end up practically shouting all the time.  It can be pretty tiring on my voice and on my own ears.  I just wanted peeaaaace!

I stole away into a little room we call the "peep room."  I have no idea why we call it that...the name makes it sound a lot more tantalizing than it actually is.  All we keep in there are boxes of old files.  So I set the timer on my phone for ten minutes, turned the lights down in there, sat down and put my feet up, and set about to relax.  My only goal was to keep my eyes closed and breathe deeply.  Simple enough, right?

It can be kind of hard to relax when you're being timed at it, but still I was able to gather some good mojo in that brief period.  I didn't bother trying to clear my mind of everything.  That is not only pretty impossible, I don't really feel the need to.  I *like* the stuff in there.  So I did just the opposite in fact.  I took the opportunity to let my mind wander to all the places I'd love the let it loose in if I weren't promised to spending the day thinking about banking transactions.

Ten minutes isn't enough time to inadvertently get too caught up, or to fall asleep.  It was just enough time to--for the first time ever on this job I think--actually get rejuvenated during break time.  I have to say it was disappointing and sad when my timer went off and ruined my fun, but I think I've discovered the best possible way to pass the afternoon respite.  Finally!


The GGA Project -- Day #95 "Can't Read My, Can't Read My..."

If there's one thing I'm definitely not, it's a gambling woman.  The few times I've ventured to casino destinations (three weekends total in my life, spent in Reno/Tahoe--I still haven't been to Vegas as an adult....Oooh!  That sounds like a fun GGA outing!), I allowed myself to spend a total of $100 on gambling.  Most of that I spent on $3 Black Jack tables or quarter slots.  I never planned to strike it rich gambling, obviously; I just enjoyed the sport of it, and it was more fun if it could be spread out over a weekend without losing too much money in the process.

As part of the GGA, however, I wanted to learn how to play poker.  I have a coworker who plays pretty regularly, but I was leery about going to his normal haunts with him because he's a *serious* gambler and I don't really like the idea of being in the environment of *serious* gamblers.  He got transfered away anyway.

So I was super excited to accept when my friend, Wee Irish Nessa, invited me to join in the weekly poker night she attends at the home of former coworkers Mitch and Michelle.

Today's New Activity: Learning When to Hold 'Em, Fold 'Em

Not only did this poker night sound fun because a number of people I rarely see or haven't seen in a while also participate, I knew they would be a friendly group who would help me learn without stealing all my money.  With a $5 buy-in I didn't stand to lose much, but still I'd rather take it slowly and actually learn in the process.

I decided to sit next to my friend Thomas, since he is generally nice (at least a good part of the time) and I know he's a good trainer; he helped train me when I was rehired at Barnes & Noble a few years back.  We played Texas Hold 'Em, and I'm not really sure how this stacks up in terms of difficultly level when compared to other styles, but I found it to be relatively easy to follow.

The most difficult thing to do was to follow the warp-speed progress of the fold/check/raise decision-making from all the players.  We started with 10 people, so nobody was wasting any time in the beginning.  Play slowed every time it came to me and Thomas had to help me decide what to do, explaining why in the process.  Thankfully, nobody seemed to mind (it gave them plenty of time to catch up on nerd trivia "Hey Mitch, question for you: In Star Wars III...")  We played that way for about 6 hands or so before Thomas set me free to make my own decisions.

I think I had a bit of beginner's luck on my side.  That coupled with extreme caution allowed me to hang in there for a while.  The nice thing was that each chip was worth only 10 cents, so it was pretty easy to get A LOT of play time out of 5 bucks, provided I wasn't looking to feign high-roller status (and clearly I wasn't).  Lookit these spoils!

That's like a good $7 right there.  HELL to the yes!

What was interesting to me about the night (beyond learning to play the game and trying my hand at bluffing (super suck at that, no surprise)) was how mentally alert I had to remain just to follow half the conversations going on.  First of all, there were 3 or 4 people there in addition to those who were playing, so it was a lot to keep track of.  But some people, like Nessa, seemed to be able to follow all of it, all at once!  It was happening so fast--numerous conversations there in the room along with simultaneous Twitter feed commentaries and responses, Words with Friends moves played on iPhones, and constant take-no-mercy harassing going on.  Nessa was sweet enough to let me in on the inside jokes, though she didn't need to go to the trouble.  It was enough fun for me to just be in the presence of people who liked each other and had a lot of history between them from which to draw.  I joked that hanging out with this group would keep my mind young.  Being able to play the game well and keep track of all the whatnot will be a REAL test of mental agility, and I welcome the challenge for when next time rolls around.

Big thanks to all those present for the instructions and the good time!

If there were a downside to having spent the evening with such a rousing fun group, it was that it made the return home to my Monkey-less bedroom that much more difficult to reconcile.  He spent the night with his dad, as he has every Wednesday since the first overnight visit about a month ago, and the contrast between the happy din of Mitch and Michelle's and the quiet, absent-baby-energy solitude of my room was a rude awakening.  I actually had to grab Monkey's giant stuffed elephant (Elly) to sleep with, just to keep myself company and to feel like some part of him was nearby.  I imagine that at some point being without my baby at night might become a little easier to bear, but for now it's something of a shock every time I get home from whatever I've chosen to do that night to distract me.

Spending the time with friends has been more than a distraction.  I've enjoyed fully all the moments I've spent in the company of others while the baby is away, but I can't help but notice that--at the end of the evening--when all is still in my room and quiet in my mind, there is an absence whose strength is impossible to measure.  Nothing feels right until he is back under the same roof with me.  And I don't want to detract from the importance of the time he spends with his father...I'm just sharing honestly the feeling I have without him nearby.

It's always good to get grounded...to be reminded of what I hold closest to my heart and to appreciate it fully.  But it's also good to reconnect with the people who bring me so much laughter during all the moments until the baby who stole my heart can return with it  :)

In tribute to tonight's new activity and for fitting mood music, I offer the Glee version of this appropriate Lady Gaga number:


The GGA Project -- Day #94 "Sad Sack Club'"

When I separated from my husband I learned of an organization called Kids' Turn, which facilitates classes for parents who have separated or are divorcing, helping teach them how to co-parent in a positive and cooperative way.  I think it's pretty standard for court-appointed mediators (whom it's required for every divorcing couple with children to see, unless they've managed to somehow come up with a custody agreement on their own) to suggest co-parenting classes; ours didn't recommend it formally but mentioned that it may be a good idea.  And it is.  In theory, it is great to think that we could be assisted in the putting aside of our differences for our baby's sake.

For sure, the success of any co-parenting class depends greatly on how invested each parent is in cooperating in the first place, but I'm sure the skills learned in classes can be helpful even for couples who haven't been able to reach that point just yet.  So far I've had a difficult time talking with my ex about parenting issues because when I do, he thinks I'm "trying to tell him how to parent."  In five married years I still never figured out how to communicate any kind of concern with my ex without bruising his ego in the process.  I've stopped trying, as I can scarcely imagine a more futile exercise--but the recognizing of that doesn't exactly leave me with a good solution when it comes to the necessary discussion of parenting issues.

Enter Kids' Turn.  We've both signed up for the classes, though we enrolled in different sessions.  It says right on the organization's web site that it's best if both parents can attend (I imagine they mean to attend the same session), but it seems the other parents enrolled may have the same issues we do, as not a single (ex) couple showed up to tonight's first class of a six-week course.  It was a bunch of single parents like me, battling the rain and the SF parking to get to the waiting area of an office where the receptionist had no idea we were expected and who began making frantic calls to the people at Kids' Turn to find out what was going on.

We all waited in that office until the poor employees of whatever that office Kids' Turn had rented was had to go home for the day.  Then we moved the operation down to the office lobby, where a few phone calls revealed that the facilitator of the class had gone to another of their rented locations across the city, while the rest of us had been told to go to this one.  By the time we got to the bottom of that, some of the parents had already left.

This was, of course, frustrating.  I'd left 1 1/2 hours early from the East Bay and two others had come from San Jose...it was pretty annoying to think of having made that trip for nothing.  When it was clear our facilitator would not be coming up with a magic solution to the night's snafu, the seven of us who remained waiting decided to go to a nearby diner, since we'd all driven the distances, paid the bridge tolls, and gone to the trouble of arranging babysitters.

Today's New Activity: Dinner with Divorcing Strangers

After my separation, I started seeing a wonderful counselor at Kaiser who helped me in sorting out some of the most rotten of my immediate-aftermath  feelings.  She let me know there was also a divorce support group that I could attend if I thought it would be helpful to be among others in my same situation.  I went to one session and decided that, for then anyway, it wasn't helpful at all.  Maybe it was the fact that most of the attendees were a good bit older than me, with older children, and seemed to have more than their fair shares of bitter between them--maybe those were the turn-off factors--but for whatever reasons I didn't go back.

Now, many months later, I'm in a very different place and eager to be among people who are also navigating the winding and seemingly endless trail that ends at Destination Divorced.  The nice thing about Kids' Turn is that they divide groups by the age group of the children involved in the separation.  So in talking to the other group attendees, I found out that most of them were about my age, involved in marriages of about the length of my own (5 years or fewer), and all of them had a child or children under 4 years old.  Already we all had a lot in common.

I've decided there is no faster way to get a group of strangers to break the ice with each other than to make sure they're all in the middle of divorce proceedings.  You sure have heard the tales being relayed, about calls to the police, about lawyers, about custody matters (the whopper), about promises made and broken, false reports to various agencies, and about how much everybody was eager for the entire process to be over.  It sounds like a terrible way to get to know people.  I can say, though, that tonight was just what I needed.

Just among the women seated right next to me, two had husbands with cultures very similar to my ex's, so we had a lot to discuss on that subject alone.  A man nearby was also headed back with his ex for round two of mediation soon, as my ex and I will be this coming week.  Another man (the only one among us who was already successfully divorced) was revisiting custody matters 3 years later...it was good to hear from him just to know what can be expected further down the line.

Aside from having this instant thing in common with people, it was just nice to be among people who so clearly needed to talk; they seemed uniquely poised to understand how badly others may need to talk as well.  They were a very friendly, open, concerned and helpful group--eager to share what they knew and readily seeking the best possible solutions for their children involved.

The title of this post is, of course, tongue in cheek.  I do have to say that when we left the diner and were walking down the street I mentioned this was the weirdest group I've ever been part of....not that the people themselves were weird, but it was a strange and unpleasant reason to have been put into a group together.  But hey, at least we can sort through the strange and unpleasant together.

I'm actually happy things happened the way they did.  If the class had begun as planned, I sincerely doubt we would have had the chance to get to know each other the way we did.  The rain, the absent instructor, and the almost desperate need among us to connect with others on this path all combined for one of the best on-the-fly hangout decisions I've ever made.

I'm looking forward to walking more of this journey with my newfound, single parent pals.