The GGA Project -- Day #201 "Nueva Estacion"

I remember a while back my friend Kelsi mentioned that her taste in music had opened up to include a whole array of things she might have poo-poo'd before.  At the time I couldn't relate to her; I felt the opposite was true of me at the time, but now I'm beginning to understand where she was coming from.  I think I'm coming from there too these days.

Not only am I listening to and even enjoying and definitely sometimes dancing in my seat while I drive to the likes of Katy Perry and Taio Cruz, I now have room in my groove for KBAY and KOIT.  wtf?  I have made fun on my Mama since I was a teenager for listening to soft rock stations, and now I totally get it.  When your child is in the car, there is something so relaxing about knowing that nothing even remotely offensive could possibly come on, and it's also fun to know the chances are good you can sing to most songs.  The only downside is the heavy presence of artists like Taylor Swift, but when the unbearable songs come on, I can always switch the station.  Which brings me to

Today's New Activity: Grooving en Espanol

The station I came across was called La Kalle, which is a urbanized version of La Calle, which means "the street."  This is the Spanish language version of a station like Wild 94.9.  It plays the latest hip-hop and pop, but also mixes in occasional merengues and salsas and just basically anything you can dance to.

I used to listen to a lot of contemporary music in Spanish.  This was back when Shakira singing in Spanish was contemporary (and for the record, I think her music was much better back then, though her (belly) dancing has been consistently crazy good).  In fact listening to, transcribing, and translating Spanish language music of all genres was how I learned a lot of the Spanish I can speak.  I'd run my translations by native-speaker friends and ask them to fill in gaps and translate slang words and phrases.  It was far more fun than trying to learn from books and practice alone.

Anyway, on the ride home from work today I was in the mood for something completely different.  I started scrolling through stations with the idea of finding the country stations, but 1) I couldn't seem to find and and 2) it's probably for the best since I can hardly stomach country.  I was sort of looking to see if my newly wider-opened musical acceptance also included country, but I somehow doubt that is the case.

Instead I landed on La Kalle and thoroughly enjoyed everything I heard, including some of the stuff I used to listen to 15 years ago now!  Gosh I feel kinda old.

The best thing was when one DJ signed off for the evening with a little pep-talk about thinking positively, because changing your thoughts can change your life.  I can hardly argue with that, and it was great to hear somebody say in out loud on the radio, for all to hear.  It was a nice thought for the traffic battle home :)


The GGA Project -- Day #200 "For Another Time"


Today's New Activity: Is One Big Ball of Things I Can't Write About

Not because they (I took multiple steps in new directions) are secret or too intimate or incriminating, haha.  Just because the time is not right to share about them just yet.  I share a lot--and pretty freely--on this blog.  So if I'm saying that, it must be the case.

On a side note: I'd hoped to do something very cool for the big Day #200 of this project, but I pretty much spent the day cleaning and then driving back from Nicole's parents' cabin (thank you Chris and Tom!!!) and getting the Monkey to his dad's.  It was the tail end to a wonderful 3 days away from civilization--well, away from Internet access anyway, hence the missing/late blog posts.  I made sure to make it to town to have access enough for quick placeholder posts, but for the most part it was absolutely wonderful to have a phone in my possession that could do nothing more than stop doors.  Kind of a relief to take a break from all of the everything.

So I abandoned a late-in-the-game desire to go dancing somewhere tonight to let out all the balled up energy I had and capitalize on the super groove I was feeling and spent the rest of the evening sort of blogging, sort of chatting, sort of just hanging out in a chair at Starbucks, thinking about the week's and day's events.

Not a bad way to wind down.


The GGA Project -- Day #196 "Jammin'"

Wouldn't it be awesome if there were some kind of legal outlet for women to act out the aggressive parts of their natures, through which they could explore competitiveness, maybe let out some of their frustrations, and hey! get some exercise in the process?  Yes, that *would* be awesome.

But lo!  There is such an outlet.

It's called roller derby.

A few months ago my friends Laura and Scott mentioned they liked to go see derby matches now and then.  I had no idea this even HAPPENED in the area, so I immediately set about going to see it myself.

First planned was a big fat fail, since the friend I was going to go with got sick.  But it's just as well because I learned you can't actually just show up at the door for these events and expect to get it.  Turns out watching women skate around wearing booty shorts and fishnet tights, slamming into each other and tumbling all over the ground is pretty popular.

Go figure.

So my friend Liz and I made a flawless, master plan about two months out for

Today's New Activity: Cheering on the Harbor Hellcats!

Who, unfortunately, lost miserably.  But dang it was fun watching this sport!

First, they called up all the women currently associated with the Santa Cruz Derby Girls, which is A LOT of women!  In addition to the team members who currently participate in their bouts, the SCDG includes dozens of women who form a farm team of sorts, practicing their skating skills until they may be good enough to have a shot at competition.  There is also a junior league for young girls (awesome!), and the organization also does a ton of volunteer work.  In fact, it seems volunteer work is the main thing they do, as bouts only happen about once a month.  And how great that when they do happen, those bouts happen in front of sold-out crowds!

Next, they introduced the refs, who seemed like a good-natured enough bunch.  I found all their whistling confusing to say the least, but the skaters seemed to be able to follow things well enough.  I'm not sure what they were doing in this little circle, but it was a rare chance to catch people not in motion.

Next they introduced both teams, starting with the visiting San Diego Hard Corps.

They were a tough looking bunch...not that I expect you to be able to glean that from this photo.

The Hellcats were nothing to be trifled with either...and they came out really strong at the outset.  Unfortunately it seems they just sort of lost some steam at some point.

I fully planned to break down all the rules of roller derby in this post, but I've decided against it...first, because I'm feeling lazy.  Second, because I think if I withhold some pertinent information, you may just be tempted to go see it yourself and get the low down.  And I highly encourage you to!!

Intermission entertainment was provided by a group of light-up hula hoopers (so very Santa Cruz) called the Hoopalights.  They mostly did simple maneuvers around one very skilled and acrobatic hoopster, but it was definitely entertaining.  What Liz and I found *most* entertaining was their come-one-come-all invitation to the crowd, letting us know that if we too want to Hoopalight, we can meet them at their practice, which takes place every Sunday at the lighthouse at (get this) sundown.  Soooooo Santa Cruz.  It was a cute treat.

But back to derby...It was a great, action-packed sport.  And the women really surprised me with their speed, agility, and endurance.  And of course, as I suspected it might, seeing these women doing their thing totally made me want to join a league.  I can hardly think of a more fun or interesting way to get exercise.

It was also great to see women totally comfortable with their bodies, no matter what size they were.  Although there is certainly a sexualized aspect to the sport, given the shortness of the shorts the girls wear, none of the women there looked like they had the least interest in making this the focus of the event.  They were all serious competitors, and they were badass.  I loved every moment of it and can't wait to get to another bout!

It was also really nice to have the drive down to Santa Cruz and back to spend talking with Liz.  I haven't known her long, but I felt an instant connection and camaraderie with her when I met her, and it's just such a treat to spend time with a woman who cracks me up.  She's the whole intelligent, beautiful, funny package, and talking with her is easy.  I just wish she didn't live on the other side of the Bay Area universe.

The SCDG have another team called the Boardwalk Bombshells, so there's no shortage of action to take in, as long as you plan ahead.  I don't often use this blog as a vehicle by which to proclaim the importance to checking out something I've just checked out, but this is a rare exception.  Go get your derby on!  And when you have and you know the rules, give me a call so we can practice together :)


The GGA Project -- Day #195 "Cherish the Love, Cherish the Life"

I went back to work when Monkey was just shy of 6-months old.  At the time, it was difficult--namely because I'd hoped to be a stay-at-home mom and I wasn't really mentally prepared for the change of being away from him.  However, as humans do, I adjusted to this change.

I was hired to work 20 hours/per week, but have now and then had to work a more full-time schedule to cover shortages, etc.  This has never been as much a problem as it became in the past 6 weeks, since I now spend more time commuting and, hence, more time than I ever have away from my son.  Even when I was working 20 hours/week, it was spread over 4 or 5 days, so I still spent a lot of time getting ready for work or driving to and from.  It's been nothing short of painful to hear all the stories from my Mom and Dad about what I missed while I was away.  It has finally become so clear to me why parents of grown children are always advising young parents to enjoy the time; it goes so quickly.

Twice I was close to just up and quitting, hoping I could find a part-time gig closer to home.  But the thing is, there are certain things I really like about my job.  The benefits are great, and I absolutely love having evenings and Sundays off.  If I could just manage to do it only three days a week, things would be perfect.  I'd have to cut corners and stay creative with money, but that would be well worth it for the chance to have so much time with Monkey.  I've spent my whole life working full time and at various times working two jobs.  And this time with him will be over before I know it.  I have to do everything I can to guard it closely.

Today: a breakthrough.

The reason we were short staffed for so long is that a woman went on family medical leave and, with two weeks left before her return, somebody mysteriously disappeared one day.  The woman on leave was asked to come back early to cover the shortage, but that still left us down one person.  It's taken a month to get that position filled, but it finally happened today, and my heart leaped for joy when I saw the new schedule, which has me working--finally--21 hours/week, all squished into 3 days.  Ahhhhhhhh.

Today's New Activity: Good News, Renewed Appreciation

What I loved about the feeling I had in response to today's news was that I know I would have never known how precious my time with Monkey is had it not been temporarily snatched from me.  I feel like, having had that gaping hole there for a couple of months (or really what feel like the better part of the past year, off and on), I have a more profound appreciation for the fleeting nature of this period in a mother/child relationship.  I'm hoping that having learned this lesson, I will live every day with more gratitude for the blessing I have in my son, and for the living situation I have with my parents, which allows me to work part time and spend as much time with him as possible.

I spent the day dreaming of all the places I can take him to now and all the things I won't have to hear about second hand.

And tonight, with all these thoughts swirling in my head, I had the hardest time saying goodnight to him.  We did our nighttime reading and snuggling things, and at the point where I would normally put him into his crib for the night, I found myself gazing at him and thinking that the magnitude of joy he brings me will never be measurable and could never be overstated.  And when I was finally ready to put him down for the night, and I picked him up and he leaned his head on my shoulder and patted my back, I allowed myself to imagine he knew what I knew in that moment--that these days are to be treated with the deepest regard.

I held him tight against my chest and gave thanks.

And then, cheesiest of cheese: the Kool and the Gang song "Cherish" popped into my head.  That song about two lovers, but with a little bit of lyrical reimagining, I was able to appreciate it in a new light.  The message is an important one:  Cherish the love we have, for as long as we both shall live.  Cherish the love, cherish the life, cherish the love.  It's sweet, really.

I'm gonna take that advice.


The GGA Project -- Day #194 "Up and at 'Em"

For going on four months now, I have been saying to myself (actually, not to myself alone...I've said it out loud at least 15 times) that I needed to get back to the gym.  I'd been on such a good roll there...putting the Monkey to bed and sneaking off for exercise at least 3 days a week.  I was feeling very comfortable in my own skin and ready to take on the cute, arm-baring summer dresses just ahead.

And then I got into a slump.  It was more than a slump.  It was the culmination of factors that--put together--left me feeling far too squishy.  First, I stopped going to the gym.  This is the number one thing.  I'd started working nearly full time and, between work and driving farther to get there and trying to still make a little time for this project, I didn't make time for the gym.

Second, I stopped preparing lunches to take to work and started buying my lunch too often.  Bad news.

Third, I weaned my son off breastfeeding.  Mothers-to-be...if you needed yet another reason to breastfeed, I've got it for you here: it does wonders for your metabolism.  I've heard this isn't always the case.  Unfortunately, some women's bodies actually have a harder time processing calories during nursing--I suppose it's the luck of the draw--but I lucked out in this category.  About 6 months after my son was born I found my metabolism seemed to kick into high gear, and though I was working out regularly, keeping off unwanted weight seemed ridiculously easy.  I knew it'd be a rude awakening when I cut the baby off, but I didn't know it'd be this rude.

Watching my parents step up the fitness routine recently has inspired me to finally find the time for the gym, and though it's less than ideal, early early morning seems to be it.  The nice thing about weaning my son is that he has finally begun to sleep all the way through the night.  Who knew a child (a person in general) could sleep so much?  So I figured I'd be able to get there, do my thing, and be back before he even realized I was gone.

Today's New Activity: Early Morning, Sporty Start to the Day

Turns out that plan worked out pretty well.

First, the bad news.  To get a grip on reality, I had to first weigh myself (because the gym scale always seems more brutally honest than the one I have at home).  To my surprise, what felt like a 15-pound gain was actually only 7.  But the difference should also be considered in terms of muscle loss versus fat gain, so that relatively small number is still very obvious in terms of tone loss and squish gain.

What finally got me back to the gym was this thought, which seems to be a recurring theme this week: I am the only person who can make improvements to my life.  Every single thing I feel is a response to the situation I've created through my own choices.  And the absolute beauty in this is that I can choose to start making any single thing in my life that I'm unhappy about different every single day!

I've made a lot of positive changes over the past year.  But I also recognize that I continue to relive some of the same patterns of behavior that I know will ultimately make me unhappy.  This--this return to fitness--is just one very tangible way I can start making the choices that bring me happiness.  There are many ways to improve the body's serotonin production; this seems one of the best options available to me at the moment :)

So.  The first day back was not as brutal as I feared.  Two things have changed since I was there last.  First, I had to add a year of age on when entering my program for the elliptical.  Second, they moved the giant fan in the cardio room to a place that makes a lot more sense, making for a much more pleasant experience there.  Nice!

As I'm mentioned before, I usually like to listen to the pop/hip-hop when working out.  I find the beats great for keeping the energy levels up.  And today I heard a Lil Wayne song I really liked--found I could identify with some of the lyrics.  I love all the good music I get to hear listening to Pandora.

But aside from the good feeling I had all day after having worked out, there was another bonus to being up so early.  I got to revisit the morning, which I love.  I hadn't been out of the house before 9 in weeks, so it felt good to be out experiencing more of the day.  On the drive there I saw these two, super tiny birds take off in flight and the beauty of the scene nearly made me cry.  The early morning is by far my favorite time of day.  I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with it while getting my ass back in shape.  :)


The GGA Project -- Day #193 "Down in Front!"

If you've been reading this blog over the past few weeks, you'd think I watch movies all the time.  I'm actually the least movie-watching person I know though.  I fall asleep watching movies at home--when I even make the attempt--about 85% of the time.  Going to the theater is typically a very rare thing for me.  It just happens that for some reason I'm more interested in seeing movies lately.

Even, apparently, movies I've seen about 687 times.

Today's New Activity: Outdoor Viewing of The Princess Bride

Oh, The Princess Bride.  Where to begin in extolling its virtues?  This movie was probably the single most-often viewed movie of my childhood, and I think I could be down for watching it 687 times more.  In fact, as it progressed I kept thinking, 'I wonder how old Monkey will have to be before he'll get that joke,' and the thought made me very excited for the one-day prospect of showing it to him.

My friends Nicole and Jesse came too.  One thing we learned (this was the first time attending a movie in downtown San Jose's Starlight Cinema series for all of us) is that chairs would be a very very good idea.  This movie is mercifully short, if you happen to be sitting on a blanket on the asphalt, but still I was squirming and shifting the entire second half.

People start gathering in chairs and on blankets at about 7, and that leaves about 2 hours to kill before the movie starts at dusk (9pm in this case).

They do a bit of trivia before the movie begins, but mostly you are left to entertain yourself in this waiting time.  Good thing there are a bunch of restaurants on the block from which to order take out.  We even noticed that the people seated on the patio at one of the nearby restaurants had made it a dinner/cinema by taking in the show over food and drinks.  Brilliant!

When the movie got underway with the familiar sound of the Fred Savage character's baseball video game, I was instantly transported to my 9-year-old self, remembering what magic that movie held.

And I can't believe that in 20 years I don't remember having watched it with Nicole.  We sat and giggled like the little girls we were when we met during the Battle of Wits scene (Vizzini's faces are priceless).

It feels so good to be outside at night on a summer day.  And though it got cool and I'm pretty sure I have about 25 mosquito bites in the aftermath, it was well worth it.  Oh.  That's another thing.  It was free.  Can't really beat that.

I can't wait to see The Big Lebowski in a few weeks ;)


The GGA Project -- Day #192 "Cahs"

Oh I had so many brilliant plans for tonight.  I was gonna leave work, feed my son, but him to bed, quick turnaround and take off for San Jose for an open mic I've been wanting to check out.

But it finally occurred to me this morning (after having held this plan in mind for about 3 weeks now) that I didn't want to feed and put to bed my son and quick turnaround.  Not after being away all day.  And also, the open mic ends at 10, so no matter what it wouldn't have been worth it.

Plan B:

Today's New Activity: Family Movie Night, Monkeys Included!

On the rare nights when I watch a movie with my parents (and usually fall asleep), I do so after my son is already in bed.  The only movies he's ever watched with me were Aladdin months back when the whole family was vomit-crazy sick and I needed him to just chill out for a while in his high chair while I napped, and Rio, which I wrote about taking him to see in the theater a few weeks back.

This was the first time we've all sat down to watch a movie together at home, and it was really nice.  We watched Cars, since my Dad and I want to take Monkey to see Cars 2 sometime next week and I'd never seen the first one.

The munchkin squirmed a bit here and there and definitely wanted to switch around laps throughout the movie, but he mostly focused and paid attention, thought he's too young to get any of the jokes.  He does love cars (or, ahem, "Cahs") though, so the movie had that going for it.

And I have to say that being a Mom now, I really really love family movies.  I love the sweet messages and the happy endings and the feelgoodness of them.  Not like I didn't like family movies before but I definitely didn't go out of my way to see them.  And how can you go wrong with Pixar, really?

It was a really nice end to a very long day at work.  And now that Monkey is tucked away into bed and I've got the quiet of the family room to myself, I can finally relax completely and melt into the night.  Ahhhhhhh


The GGA Project -- Day #191 "Not Your Mama's Ranch"

Well this is about as exciting as a stick.

Today's New Activity: Ginger Sesame Salad Dressing

So yesterday I went grocery shopping and bought the fixings for salad to make for lunches this week.  When I went to pick out salad dressing, I decided to opt for something I would never normally pick, which was Ginger Sesame.

Thing is, I love sesame, and I like ginger *flavor* but I can't stand actual ginger.  So this was a big gamble.

And tonight I made a salad and tried it.  And yum!  Sooo flavorful!

And that is all.  I'm super tired because poor Monkey was up until after 3am with a tummy ache (first time for that), and so of course I was too.  I'm really really really looking forward to dreamland tonight!


The GGA Project -- Day #190 "Sweet & Salty"

Some time last week one of my coworkers mentioned a recipe, and the moment he mentioned it I knew I'd be making it for my Dad for Father's Day.  And so was borne

Today's New Activity: Making Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Bacon Cupcakes with Maple Glaze Icing (and there's coffee in 'em too!)

I know you want the recipe.  I know you do.

Unfortunately--being vegetarian--I didn't get the chance to actually taste the recipe in its full glory.  But I did pour a tray's worth of cupcakes aside for Monkey and I before I stirred the bacon in, and those turned out to be pretty damned good!

The only issue I had was that the directions for the frosting didn't work at all.  What was supposed to be frosting turned out much closer to a glaze.  I'm fine with very little frosting, but I'm sure a lot of people out there would like something more substantial in the way of frosting.

Still, my Dad and Mom both liked the cupcakes a lot, so I considered it a successful new addition to the repertoire.  I'm a big fan of salty and sweet in combination, so I certainly understand how it could be good in theory.  Maybe I'll just have to start exploring bacon alternatives :)


The GGA Project -- Day #189 "Do-over: Part 1"

A little over a year ago, I took a stroll--Monkey and I--around Lake Elizabeth Park in Fremont.  Lake Elizabeth Park is beautiful.  It's a lake!  It's a park!  There are playgrounds and paddle boats and picnic benches and baseball fields and a giant water park.  But I didn't notice any of that during that visit.

That visit was more of a consolation prize, a place I forced myself to go just so I'd go someplace.  Had it been the days before Monkey was born I almost surely would have spent the day crying at home.  But Monkey had come along and changed everything.  There was no way I could spend the day indoors and in despair when this child was watching my every move for clues on how the world operates.

The day had started off normal enough.  We'd just moved in with my parents, but they were out of town for the weekend.  We spent all morning getting ready for two separate outings--a kite festival in the afternoon and a wedding at night.  We wouldn't be home in between so there was a lot to take along.  Then, shortly before we were about to leave, something I asked of my then-husband made him irate.  He ended up calling off the whole day's worth of plans and leaving for who knows where.  Unfortunately, by that point, this was still part of the "day started off normal enough" part I mentioned earlier.  But by then, with Monkey about 7 months old, I knew something had to change.  And I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be my ex.

Crying and defeated, I took everything we'd packed inside and fully planned to spend the day ruminating in the house.  But then I looked at my son and something clicked inside me.  It was such a big click I think it must have been audible.  I immediately loaded the car seat back into the car and headed for....



Anywhere turned out to be Lake Elizabeth Park.  I put Monkey into his stroller and almost immediately took out my phone and found myself dialing my Aunt.  Why did I do this?  In the four years I'd been married I'd never thought to call my Aunt and share any of my troubles.  There were exactly three people I'd shared any part of it with, and for two of them (friends of mine) I censored the worst parts.  The only person I'd ever been completely honest with was my husband's sister, because I knew she wouldn't judge him, and I knew she'd tell me to "just ignore him...men are like that" and tell me that everything would be okay.  I guess that's all I needed at the time.

This time, I knew what I needed was a slap in the face.  I don't know why I thought I'd get it from my Aunt, especially since she didn't have the faintest idea about the history of our marriage, but I guess I needed to strike a little closer to home, too.  I wasn't ready to talk to my parents--probably because I knew somewhere inside me that having them bear witness to the abuse that was my reality, I would never be able to go on living it.  I know that probably sounds like an easy choice to want to make, but I wasn't ready then.

I was crying before my Aunt even answered the phone.  And I'll never forget what I said to her.  "I'm calling because I just need you to tell me something.  I know you also married your husband when he was about 40-years-old.  I just need you to tell me that ________ will never change."  I'm sure she was confused by this out-of-nowhere plea, but she did her best to listen and be supportive, and that's all I really needed in that moment.

The other thing that remains in my memory from that conversation--it was a rare moment of insight in the midst of a thick fog: I'd told her that I recognized I was almost afraid of my potential when I met my ex (still newly graduated with lots of interests and a full social calendar and big, big dreams), and that somewhere inside I felt I needed somebody to reign me in.  I got that with an exclamation point.  And I told her that at that point, I felt that if I shrunk even the tiniest bit more (by changing who I was, not speaking my mind, feeling guilty and sad and rejected and always always as if I were doing something wrong) I would disappear.

Admitting all that out loud was something I never thought I would do.  But once it was out (and this is what kept me from doing it in the first place), I knew I could never take it back.  Even though I knew my Aunt wouldn't tell anybody unless I'd given her more details, and even though I wasn't yet ready to do anything about it, I knew that I myself was now accountable.  Saying it out loud made that difference.  My son was even witness to it, though he was just an infant and was asleep.  Still, he was there, and I knew I couldn't go on pretending.

Less than two months passed before my ex and I were separated.  I began slowly, and then like a broken levy, to share with friends and family the true stories of our togetherness.  I think because I had been living with these stories for years by then, I didn't consider the weight of the impact it would have on them.  They were all at once trying to reconcile their images of my ex with the reality while mitigating feelings of sadness for me, guilt at not having recognized little warning signs or asked more questions, and confusion about how best to support me (when I was still holding out vague hopes that somehow things could change and I wouldn't end up a divorced, single mother).

It was a complicated time for all of us.

Now, a few days shy of a year since separating, it seems like that was another lifetime.  We've gone through all the custody business, the divorce is almost finalized, and all of us, I think--me, my ex, Monkey and I--have settled into the new versions of our lives.  They are not what we expected or planned for, but they seem to be working out pretty well.

I felt it was about time for

Today's New Activity: Lake Elizabeth Park Through a New Lens

After work and before heading across the bay to pick up my son, I decided I'd revisit the park where I'd first opened my eyes and my voice and see how it looked to me now.

For starters, it was a much sunnier and warmer day.  Already better.  And inspired by my dear friend Nicole's new affection for vintage phone apps, I decided to play around with the Hipstamatic app on my phone, which I'd had fun with before but never thought to use for actual documentation.  Here are some of the scenes I took in:

I love these applications because the resulting pictures remind me of my childhood.  And I especially love that for the purposes of today's outing because my childhood was a time of joy and security and the unbridled potential of possibility.  And that's exactly how today felt.

Today I saw the families gathered for graduations and early Father's Day celebrations.  I heard the birds and ducks calling and the calming lap of the lake's waves.  I felt the warmth of the sun and--despite the hazy nature of the photographs that recorded my outing--I saw, with absolute clarity, that my life is more beautiful than it has ever been.  I trusted all the decisions I've made that got me here, and I knew in my heart that my son's life will be beautiful too, even though his earliest days were marked by uncertainty.

I ended up walking around the entire lake, and on my way back to the car I took a shortcut on a walkway that passed between 4 baseball fields.  Afternoon little league games were in full swing, and the energy of dozens of 10-12 year-olds and their families surrounded me and lifted me up.  And I dreamed of the days when Monkey will be old enough to play sports.  And I dreamed of sitting on the bleachers, his biggest fan.  And I was thankful for all the days that have passed and all the days yet to come...


The GGA Project -- Day #188 "Vested Interest"

I was spoiled by the experience of working for Barnes & Noble.  I've mentioned before that I made a lot of friends there who are still a big part of my life.  It was amazing to me that a store that at times employed 55-70 people could make the machine run with so little drama or gossip.  I've worked at 9-employee outfits where managing the personnel was a bigger issue.  My friend Nessa, who is the longest-running BN employee I'm friends with and I have 62 friends in common, according to Facebook.  Now, this does include siblings and good friends of employees who were brought into the folds, but that makes it all that much better.  It really was--and in certain ways continues to be--one big, happy family.

It stands to reason that employment opportunities like that don't come along all the time.  And I certainly wouldn't advise working any kind of retail long term if you're looking to become wealthy or like the idea of having your weekends free.  The perks associated with working at the bookstore were more intrinsic than tangible, but there was a lot to be said for them.

First of all, people who work in bookstores like to read.  Duh.  The thing is, after so long working in the bookstore, it's easy to begin assuming that most people like to read.  But 5 minutes working elsewhere are enough to disabuse a former-employee of that notion.

Secondly, working at a place with so many employees (especially employees who are generally curious and informed) ensures a lot of interesting conversation.  And since there is such a wide variety of interests, which often get shared and adopted by others, the whole crew is somewhat well-rounded.  I know I sound like I'm waxing a bit nostalgic (and for certain I am), but I can honestly say that the difference between working at Barnes & Noble and working anywhere else I've worked has been stark.  I miss those days well and truly.

Since joining my new company, I haven't made any new friends.  In the beginning, I wasn't even interested in making new friends.  I was very sad about going back to work after having Monkey in the first place, and I was also stress-out about what was going on at home at the time.  I didn't even think about socializing with my co-workers, but I suspect that even if I had, I wouldn't have found much opportunity.  I'd yet to connect on any substantial level with any of my fellow employees save one, who was also going through a difficult marital situation.  But even that was a pretty surface-level connection.  I simply hadn't found anybody at work with similar interests or overlapping senses of humor.  Apparently the common denominator among people who work at banks--if any--is merely the necessity of having need and found a job.

When I transferred to my new branch (going on 3 months ago now) I breathed half a sigh of relief.  My managers were much more approachable and relaxed than any of those at my former branch, and the whole vibe in the branch was more friendly and customer service-oriented.  Already things were looking better.  We laugh a lot throughout the day, and I didn't find the level kind of stress and looking-over-of-shoulders that was so prevalent before.

Still, I'd yet to make a significant connection or have much of a desire to hang out with any coworkers outside of work.

Today's New Activity: One Step Closer to Friendship at Work

Two days ago we found out my Assistant Manager had been transferred to another branch, effective next week.  So we quick threw together a goodbye dinner for tonight to take place at BJ's right after work.  It was nice to see that everyone cared enough to show up, even the banker who was off for the day.  We had a nice time and sent my manager off fondly and with appreciation.

And the extra nice part was that the hangout extended beyond dinner.  It was just a beer and about 1 1/2 of talking, but it was a refreshing break from the corporate banking environment that typically casts its looming shadow over any interesting conversation that could be happening at work.  It was nice to laugh freely without worrying about stopping when the next customer appeared.  And it was also nice to be able to finally know a little something more about my coworkers' (real) lives.

Or maybe, it was just nice to be emotionally ready to care.

It's difficult to work day-by-day alongside people in whom you have invested very little time or emotional energy.  It's taxing to make small talk and keep up a work-appropriate front.  And though I know all that will continue during working hours, I liked getting a peek into my coworkers' interests and even just to know how they dress when they're not in the standard-issue work duds.

And while I don't think it's likely I'll make the kinds of friends at my current job that I made at the bookstore, I could definitely get used to tonight's new level of familiarity.


The GGA Project -- Day #187 "The Buzz"

This is a quickie.

Today's New Activity: Afternoon Pick-me Up

Last week my boss came in to work with a cup of iced Vietnamese coffee.  If you've never tasted a cup f pure joy, you've never ordered a Vietnamese coffee.  It is just espresso and sweetened (make that SUPER sweetened) condensed milk over ice, but I swear it is the most brilliant thing ever poured.

It's been a long long time since I've had one, so I'd mentioned that I'd love for him to pick me up one next time he went (there are no Vietnamese restaurants or coffee shops in the area) and then promptly forgot about it.

Apparently he bought one for me this morning and then promptly forgot about it himself.  But this afternoon he busted it out of the fridge, with "oh!  And I forgot this!"  It was one of the best surprises ever.  It came right at the super boring, low point in the afternoon and instantly transformed my mood.  I'm pretty sure every afternoon would be better if it included this special treat, so I'm going to find away to make that happen once in a while.

And more bosses would be smart to provide Vietnamese coffees to their employees.  I'm pretty sure I've never moved the line faster or been quicker to close up shop.  I was even eager to do all the clean up following a networking event our bank hosted in the afternoon.  :)



The GGA Project -- Day #186 "Proud Mama"

Summer is in the air.  Complaints about the heat from customers (who were complaining just last week about the rain and the cold) abound.  What else to do but

Today's New Activity: Visiting the Local Swimmin' Hole

A qualification: I've actually been to Ryland Park Pool in downtown San Jose once before.  I've even been there with Monkey.  But that was a whole year ago, in the days before he could speak or even crawl, so he didn't appear to care much at all about what it was we did.  He was just along for the ride.

In recent days my boy has begun to show exuberance about things he didn't much notice before (say the word "ball" and he goes nuts.  I'm pretty sure he could play at hitting and throwing the dozen or so variously sized balls he owns for the better part of a full day), while he shows caution doing things he didn't used to think twice about (my Dad told me that when he and Bro took Monkey to the playground on Monday, he didn't want to go down the slide).

So while I wasn't sure how he would take to the water, I was eager to find out.  My best gal Nicole found a summer to-do list she's eager to start crossing off with the kiddies, and we were so happy to join her and the girls, along with Kelsi and the boys, for the first of many sun and fun activities.

The only bummer about this pool is that the kids aren't allowed to have any inflatable floaty things.  The lifeguard said they don't want the devices popping when the kids are unsupervised.  My thought on that is that the kids shouldn't be unsupervised at all.  This is a giant, circular pool that's about 2 feet deep all the way around and 3 feet at its deepest, in the middle.  I'm pretty sure only the smallest of kids really go there, whose parents are hovering like all good parents should be.  But anyway, that meant no arm floaties.

At first I put one of the life jackets they had at the pool on my boy, but he didn't seem to like the giant orange puff surrounding his face or the feeling of floating without support.  So for the first half hour at least I held him while he clung on like a frightened kitty.  Any time I held him up away from my body he would get nervous and want to be tucked in at my side again.  I was starting to feel sad, thinking his love of the bath and all other type of water play was not translating to this actual body of water.  Having wanted to spend a good amount of time at the pool near my own house this summer, this thought had me bummed for sure.

But then I reasoned that it's pretty natural to be freaked out by this new experience, and I decided to stick it out with him rather than giving up and going to play at the playground.

And with time, he got comfortable and started having fun.  Once he was distracted by a ball (big surprise) that Nicole had brought, he started walking along in the shallow parts on his own, chasing after it.  Soon he was playing a throw and fetch game with Maya, Nicole's 8-year-old daughter (he threw, she fetched) and splashing around like nobody's business.

I have to say I was nothing short of thrilled about this outcome.  It was a reminder to me that it is sometimes a very good thing to be pushed outside of one's comfort zone.  Of course if my son had been absolutely terrified and in tears I would have proceeded more cautiously, taking him out of the pool and trying to reintroduce him later.  But there was a moment when I was thinking of doing this anyway, when I saw he was scared and not enjoying himself.  And the thought of our big fun afternoon plans being dashed was a major bummer.  So when I saw that I could keep him in the water, gradually giving him a little more freedom while staying nearby to make sure he was comfortable and safe--and that he would actually start to have fun....well that was a proud and happy moment for me.

I was talking with Kelsi about this, because it was the same feeling I experienced when we went to the movies a couple of weeks ago and he started squirming about an hour in.  While we could have left at that moment, I--as a paying customer and having already a vested interest in the movie's conclusion--didn't want to.  In fact, I felt like I was the child in these scenarios, saying, "no no no, I don't wanna go!  Don't ruin my fun!"  But I think that in the end it was good.  Monkey ended up relaxing and having fun in both instances, and I didn't end up with the resentful feeling of having given in to a toddler's whims.

Now, I know there are times when, as parents, we have no choice but to act as the situation dictates; sometimes that absolutely means giving in to the whims of the child.  And if my son were truly having a terrible time I would never want to torture him.  Similarly when a child is due for a nap and cranky as a result, it's only right to get his or her needs met, even if it conflicts with original plans.  But I also think there is something to be said (for the sanity it affords us alone--long-term if not immediately experienced) for letting the kids know through our actions that we are the ones with the plans and they are joining us for the time being.  Maybe this is somewhat fear-based: I'm afraid that if I change plans every time he's mildly displeased I'll never feel confident in my role as the one calling the proverbial shots.  But the other option would also be fear-based: I'd be afraid my child did not have the strength of spirit to weather discomfort and trust in my plans for us.  In short, I'd be afraid he'd throw a tantrum and really kill our buzz.  And I think I'll take the former any day.  I think it'll serve us both better in the long run.

Monkey is still very young, our experience very limited, and this theory yet to be challenged by the legendarily terrible twos, but I'm keeping the faith.

And...I'm so happy to have spent the day with my gals and their munchkins.  It's wonderful to see how they're all growing and developing together.  Max, the youngest among them, was sitting up on his own today (!), the brave and spunky Sureya and the Monkey have started communicating with each other (see below), Mo is the talkingest, most observant little guy you've ever met, and Maya is the ever-patient honorary big sis to them all--they all love her.  We are so lucky to have these chosen families to share the learning with :)

I had to post this sequence, as a sidenote:

Here Sureya is trying to help Monkey up (grunting sounds to prove it!  Awww, and she was even saying "come on, Chupi" (his nickname)).  She is such an adept little climber.  He's a little bulkier and clumsier at this point, but she's always game to help him along.  So sweet!


The GGA Project -- Day #185 "Worth Its Weight in Clay?"

On the hunt for a costume for my friend Denise's Nintendo-themed karaoke birthday party (Happy Birthday, Denise!), I was looking for a respectable thrift store in Fremont.  I wanted to go on my lunch since I am short on time to find this costume, but I wasn't familiar with any thrift stores near my work.

Today's New Activity: Strike Out at Thrift Town

Posing the question to my long-time-Fremont-resident coworker led me to Thrift Town, a large well-stocked spot about 2 miles away.  I've written before about my love/disgust/mostly love relationship with life's second hand peddlers, and there was nothing particularly worthy of comment about this place.

I was looking for a big pink poofy dress that I could wear with a tiara and go as Princess Toadstool (who, it seems, is actually called Princess Peach...which I find strange given that when you rescue her at the end of Super Mario Brothers the game refers to her as Princess Toadstool).

But anyway, I didn't find a suitable dress.  Or a suitable anything really, save this framed (framed!) picture of Clay Aiken from Bop magazine.

At $3.99 I can't tell if this is highway robbery on the part of Thrift Town or a steal on this year's family gag Christmas gift exchange.

And that is all.


The GGA Project -- Day #184 "A Thrill a Minute"

Oh man, I was so bummed to have to spend the day at work instead of at home with Monkey and my parents and my Bro on the last day of his visit.  Thankfully, the day went pretty quickly.  And I chose to give in to a little Tapioca Express treat, which I haven't done in weeks.

I knew there'd be dinner waiting when I got home (awesome), and family talkin' and movie watching tonight.  So it'd have to be a quick and easy one for

Today's New Activity: Strawberry Green Tea

Yeah, so nothing too exciting here.  But it was yummy and not as filling as the milk teas I usually drink.  And SO refreshing.  Perfect for the summer-like days that have FINALLY arrived here in Northern California.

And as a complete sidetrack thought: I can't wait to get to the beach.  Thank you summer days...we're so glad you've come :)


The GGA Project -- Day #183 "Surprise History Lesson"

A few weeks back I was talking to my Bro on the phone and he mentioned there was something he wanted to do while he was up here.  Since we were all game for anything and didn't already have plans, his idea became

Today's New Activity: Visiting The Oakland Museum of California

One thing I love about museums is that even their entrance ways are interesting.  And I was sure to capture those since I wouldn't be taking (m)any pictures inside.

The below are bird feeders...

The OMCA, as it is somewhat awkwardly referred, turned out to be quite a nice surprise.  We only managed one of three pretty large galleries (well, my Dad powered through all three but I was lagging), but that galleray alone exhibited enough to make the visit plenty worthwhile.

The reason my Bro wanted to go was that he'd read in the L.A. Times about a SoCal artist, Michael C. McMillen, whose work was showing in an exhibit called "Train of Thought."  I'd never heard of the artist but a brief read-up on him revealed that when he was a child he used to visit the t.v. sets his father worked on, and at a young age began designing miniatures, models, sets, and--eventually--installation art.

His pieces ranged from a miniature scene like this, which you open a beat-up old screen door to get in to view:

(this is a close-up of what was an old, parked-forever trailer in what was a desert, overrun-with--broken-things/mini-junkyard scene)

To entire buildings installed there in the museum.  One was a small set-like piece which depicted an old motel.  Three of its doors had peepholes which you could peek into and see tiny scenes featuring moving parts like a ceiling fan or a rear window that was actually an aquarium.

Then there was this somewhat haunting piece:

And this, the little hut portion of which you could actually walk up into and sit down in.  A lot of his work featured water (the hotel above is perched precariously on stilts over a small body of water), and all the somewhat unsettling pieces--with their abandoned feel and the sad, muted colors--were made less so (or more so, I guess, depending on where you're coming from) by the sound of trickling water.

I wouldn't normally take pictures inside a museum but I suppose I felt comfortable because these pieces were off in tucked away rooms where I was the only person viewing them at the time.  Of course flash photography is verboten, but I couldn't resist wanting to take home a little bit of McMillen's eerie charm.  Viewing his work made me feel like I was in a Cohen brothers movie...like a little bit Raising Arizona and a whole lot of No Country for Old Men.

Plus I just loved the (lack of) light inside the fixture that seemed like a run-down house boat anchored in a contaminated bay:

A few pieces in McMillen's exhibition also included film elements, all housed in darkened areas where you could sit for however long and take it in.  His work was fascinating and diverse, and I'd love to see more of it.

All that said, however, I was most happy and pleasantly surprised to find a number of works from the photographer Dorothea Lange on exhibit.  You might not know it but you're probably already familiar with Lange's work, the most famous photograph of which is probably this:

During World War II and the Dustbowl, Lange was commissioned by the US Government to document conditions among various classes and groups of disadvantaged people.  Her work in the field was a terribly bitter dose of truth serum to people who realized they'd prefer never to have known what was going on out there.

One image, depicting two small Japanese children with tags around their necks, among many pegged for immediate interment and/or deportation during WWII, was taken right here in Hayward, CA.  In fact all of the images were taken in California, and every piece in the current mainfloor exhibit features California-based artists or artists from elsewhere whose work depicted California.  That's what I loved about the museum.  It is so great to get a glimpse into the history of the state you love calling home.  But that photograph was heart-wrenching, as was so much of Lange's work...how could it have been otherwise, given the nature of the subject matter? 

I happened to be viewing the Lange exhibit while a tour guide was bringing his group through there, so I got to hear some interesting history without having to move along through the *entire* museum at the long-winded guide's snail pace.  I had no idea she was based here in Berkeley or that she was married to artist Maynard Dixon. They eventually divorced after having two sons together, which was almost shocking to learn.  This was back in 1935, when divorce was a major cultural taboo and rarity.  It's really no wonder that an independent and successful woman (who, the tour guide related, had been supporting her artist husband all throughout the marriage--her job was a paying one) took such a bold step, but still it made an impression on me.

It was also interesting to learn that the woman featured in the above photograph, Florence Owens Thompson, had lost her husband a few months before that photograph was taken and that, after seeing the image splashed on the cover of Life magazine and various other print outlets, had written to Lange imploring her to stop printing it.  Lange responded that she was unable to do so, since the photograph was by then the property of the US Government, and I found that unfortunate.  While it is amazing to have this image in our collective national memory as a forever reminder of the difficult times our people have endured, it is unfortunate that it came at the expense of the dignity and privacy of a woman who was doing everything she could to provide for her children.  The week the photo was taken, she'd sold two of the wheels from her family's truck to buy food.

I've always loved Lange's photography, but seeing this body of work and hearing some of her story gave me an a new level of respect for her.  And I was grateful for the chance to get out of my little bubble and spend an afternoon appreciating the creativity of artists spanning three centuries.

If you're ever in the Lake Merritt area of Oakland with 12 extra bucks in your possession, I highly recommend stopping in.