The GGA Project -- Day #262 "Cutie"

I've had this little guy for almost a year now and had yet to take it out of its package:

I'd bought it so I could have music at the gym without having to lug my entire iPod or phone in with me, both of which are pretty unwieldy for the gym.  But computer logistical issues prevented my being able to do what I wanted with my Shuffle, so I just kind of forgot about it.  Until it became

Today's New Activity: Naming, Charging, Loading up the iPod Shuffle

And I did name it Cutie, just because it's all small and orange like that.

Like all Apple products, it's incredibly sleek in design, easy to figure out.  Since there is very little space on the Shuffle, I am slowing and carefully selecting only the most upbeat dance tunes for my gym helper.  Though you can skip songs, there is no choosing the songs that play ahead of time (hence the name "Shuffle,") so it's a good idea to make sure there are no duds.  Woohoo!


The GGA Project -- Day #261 "Trying Not to be Judgey, But..."

Today my best gals Nicole and Kelsi had planned to take the kiddos swimming at Lake Almaden, in south San Jose.  At the last minute I decided to join them, getting Monkey and myself outfitted for the lake and packing our lunches and incidentals.  At the laster minute, when I was on my way down, Nicole texted me to let me know the lake was closed on Mondays (seems to be our Monday fate--at least we didn't drive all the way down there this time!), and having "water quality issues" besides.

Since it was already afternoon, we forewent a possible beach alternate plan and went for the lunch at the fountain at SJSU standby option.  It was a beautiful late summer day, the campus had come alive will all the freshly returned students, and a few hours into our time there we were happy to see the toddlers had made fast friends with a girl who was there with her mom and siblings, all playing near the fountain.

I was surprised a little bit later to see that the girl played a little roughly, picking Sureya up and actually shaking her a little (being only a small girl herself, she couldn't shake her very hard so it wasn't scary, just surprising) and tipping both Mo and my son over in their strollers, in turn.  When I saw her do that with Monkey, I ran over to where they were playing, scooped him up (he was scared but unharmed), and explained to her that what she'd done wasn't nice.  At that point I wondered why her mom, who was just a few feet away and seemingly very attentive to her other children, hadn't intervened with her rough-housing daughter.  It finally occurred to me: that wasn't her mom.  But if that wasn't her mom, who was?

I asked her: "Where is your Mommy?"

"She took my baby sister and went to her appointment."

"Where is her appointment?"

"Right there," she said, vaguely pointing in the direction of nearby buildings.

At that point I remembered that I had indeed seen this girl sitting with a different woman earlier, whom I'd noticed when I looked to find the source of a very strange-sounding infant cry (it's weird--the information your brain can sweep aside until you find it relevant).

I asked the little girl (named Maya, like Nicole's other daughter) to the other Mamas and I on our blanket where we tried to puzzle out what to do.  And my concern turned to actual alarm when the girl revealed she was only 5 years old!  She'd seemed quite a bit older than that, perhaps because she'd grown up quickly, having been left to fend for herself who know how often.  I was genuinely confused, partially because I couldn't understand what kind of appointment her mom would have had on campus to which she could bring her infant child but not her 5-year-old.

Maya sat with us on the blankets while we learned more about her.  She had 3 siblings but made no mention of a father; she'd taken a train and two busses to get downtown; she could remember clearly the instructions her mom gave her before leaving: 1) she could read something while her mom was away, 2) she wasn't to go anywhere, 3) she was to find other children to play with.  The more I talked with her I saw she wasn't the cruel child I'd imagined from afar, shaking babies and tipping strollers.  It seemed she really was just used to playing roughly with kids and lacked a bit of social refinement, even for a 5-year-old.  She was actually a real sweetheart, basking, glowing in the attention of adults.

When I asked her if she was frightened to be left by herself, she said "Mmm...no...When a Mommy leaves her kids she always comes back."  It came out almost like a mantra--something she'd needed to remind herself of before, or a mother's well-worn line, issued often on the way out the door.  For a moment I could find no words to respond.  I couldn't even say "that's true," because sadly enough, it isn't always.  And I had this fear growing in my heart that this little girl's mother had simply gotten fed up with the whole mothering thing and left her there in a baby-on-the-doorstep kind of move--other Mamas were around; surely somebody would see she made it safely to....to....where, exactly?

All three of us gals had to get going within a half hour, and we made the collective decision to wait 15 more minutes for the mom to show up before taking some other form of action.  Even if the mom *did* show up before we left, it seemed strange to just leave this alone to happen again.

Here's the thing: even as the campus of San Jose State is safer than other places to leave a 5-year-old on her own (lots of people around to witness any wrongdoing) it also serves as a main thoroughfare between the blocks peppered with old Victorian halfway houses and the restaurants and businesses downtown.  In the time we were sitting there, three different transient men wandered near, two of them stopping to talk to the kids.  If this were some kind of habit of her mom's it seemed like a ticking time bomb of sorts.

Spotting a Public Safety vehicle approaching after some time had passed, I decided it was time to act.

Today's New Activity: Snitching to the Campus Po-Po

In the years I attended SJSU, I never had cause to involve myself with the university police, for mine or anyone else's matters.  It was a strange decision to have to make.  While I would have been overwhelmingly relieved to see little Maya's mother reappear to take her away, I worried, as I said, about future incidents and thought maybe there was a lesson that needed to happen--one that I certainly wasn't qualified to teach.  But I didn't want to scare Maya in the event that the police would haul her off to the campus station while they tried to locate her mom.

The public safety people (who in turned called campus police) did their best to make the little girl comfortable, handing her stickers and being real sweet, but all the opening up she'd done shut down at that point.  A girl who just minutes before excitedly named her new stuffed doggy with us (which she'd pulled out of the backpack she had) wouldn't say a word.  I asked her if she wanted me to stay right there next to her while the officers talked to her, and she came close, whispering "I'm shy."  That seemed very strange to me, because she wasn't at all shy.  It sounded more like a practiced party line to be unearthed whenever authorities were present, but perhaps I was just extra suspicious of her mother and overly cautious at that point.

Thankfully, when the university police arrived they wanted to talk to the Public Safety officers first (who at that point had all the information I'd been able to learn, including the fact that the girl had be left alone for more than an hour by that point), relieving Maya of the need to be questioned.  After a while, one officer came over to me to talk, and just as I was telling him I'd had no contact with the girl's mother, the young mother herself reappeared, infant in her arms.  She was younger than I'd assumed--maybe 28, max.  Maya had mentioned a 10-year-old sibling and a 3-year old one, besides the infant; for certain this was an overwhelmed mother with her hands very much full.

The officer went right over to her to talk.  I was surprised to see she showed no sign of alarm or any change in expression at all to find officers there where she'd left her daughter (5 of them at this point) and to have one of the approaching her.  I don't know what he said, but I'm quite sure it must have been a strong caution and perhaps a threat of action against her if it were to happen again.  I said my goodbyes to Maya, who with her wave said, "nice to meet you; I'll see you next time!"  My heart sank at that thought.  Next time.  This seemed just as normal a day as any for her.

I've thought a lot about Maya's mother and what circumstances brought her to do what she did today.  The officer said she'd reported having an appointment in the building across the walkway from the fountain area, where the blinds were open and she could see her daughter.  It made me feel a bit better, except for the fact that if somebody had snatched her up and taken off, there's no way she could have stopped him or her...she'd just be able to say she witnessed it.

Still, I felt for the woman.  Four kids is a lot for a mother of any age, and it's possible she'd reached the end of her resources for childcare, or just her mental resources that would have explored other options.  I mean if she'd only asked any of us moms to watch over her daughter for a while we would have happily done it.  Mothers have a way of looking out for each other's kids that way.

But I was also heartbroken for Maya and her siblings.  If her mother's life choices had left her incapable of providing better care for her, it wasn't her fault.  I was sad she'd had to grow up so soon and was so early on forced to make quick decisions on whom to trust, whose blankets to squat on and share the naming of stuff animals with.  Even as I hope she is never in a similar position as today, I also hope that if she is, her sweet nature is balanced by a strong set of instincts that guide her and keep her safe...


The GGA Project -- Day #260 "Same 3 Blocks, Different Day, Company, State of Mind"

There was a period of time when I visited Santana Row in San Jose on a near-weekly basis.  I never did this because I was all that fond of the place (80% of the shops sold merchandise outside my budget, and I usually found it to be a sort of here-to-be-scene kind of atmosphere), but it was a pattern I got into with my husband during our marriage.  Mostly, I didn't mind so much because I liked being out and (somewhat) about.

In the 14 months since my ex and I separated, I'd only returned a handful of times.  This is partially because it's pretty far out of my way, but also because I just didn't feel drawn to go to a place that held memories that were almost exclusively from that time in my life--and the two most recent memories I had of us together were pretty unpleasant.

Today was a beautiful day to be shopping and people watching outdoors, however, and midmorning I got it in my mind to head that way...so I did.

A lot has changed in the past year.  There are a few new restaurants and lots of new shops replacing the many that have shut their doors.  I think this happens a lot at Santana Row because rent is so high that it's very difficult for businesses to survive; but that doesn't stop their trying.

As I meandered down one side of the avenue, I was magnetically pulled into one particular store, which I've learned is actually one of many locations, though I'd never heard of it before.

Today's New Activity: Browsing Free People

So.  Free People is actually the name of the store, not a group of people I was studying.  I was drawn inside by all the pretty, flowy things I saw through the window.  As was the case with most everything else at Santana Row, the clothing was priced outside of what I'm comfortable spending on my current budget, but it was still fun to look.

I poked around on their website to see if there was some interesting concept behind the store's name: was the clothes made from sustainable materials coming from countries free from human rights abuses or something along those lines.  Having not seen a mission statement or declaration of special mission in any obvious way, I'm guessing it's just a name.

So I didn't buy anything today, but I've noted the place for some future day.

To round out the afternoon, I visited a restaurant I've been to before but only for a drink.  They had half-off appetizers for their happy hour, so I sat outside on the patio where I could here a live band nearby and read the book I mentioned buying a few weeks back (A Game of Thrones, which has turned out to be incredibly engrossing) while munching on this:

Yum.  And though this particular trip to the old stomping grounds was shared only with the company of myself, it was nice.  I enjoy my own company.  :)  It was a beautiful Sunday.


The GGA Project -- Day #259 "Veggies, Non-Threatening"

Well this is just a quickie:

My friend Kelsi came over tonight to visit and so I could take some photos of her for her website (she recently became a licensed therapist and is in the throes of building her client base).  We relaxed in my backyard as the sun set.  I love that beautiful light.

She brought some leftovers from her son Mo's 3rd birthday party today, one of which I sampled for

Today's New Activity: Tasting Broccoli Pasta Salad

It was really just a taste, since it didn't exactly go with my cheese sandwich, rice and bean dinner, but it was very good.  I didn't get the recipe from her yet, but it's made from extremely thinly sliced broccoli stems, cabbage and carrots, sliced almonds, and uncooked rop ramen mixed in a light vinegairette.  Pretty yummy stuff!

It was also nice to catch up with Kelsi.  We were both childless for the night; it's rare we get the chance to talk without having tiny voices interrupting every few moments.  It was a very nice, peaceful evening.


The GGA Project -- Day #258 "Wait, WHO Sat on the Wall?!"

I awoke today with the knowledge that I had a whole day off to spend doing whatever I wanted with the Monkey, but with no plan to speak of.  A quick "things to do with kids bay area" Google search led me to a place my Dad had mentioned hearing of a few weeks ago, and which my parents and I took the little guy to for

Today's New Activity: Children's Fairyland in Oakland

I don't know why it didn't occur to me when I read the name of this place but of course...of course!  Children's Fairyland is an amusement park at Lakeside Park (Lake Merritt that is) created especially for kids ages 2-4 that is all about children's fairy tales!  Every little structure and play thing there is tied in to a story.  Take, for example, this crooked house (that the crooked man lived in of course)

There were dragons to climb in and on

and real life animals representing those in well-known fairy tales, the structures in their living areas showing which story they were telling (like goats and geese and donkeys and bunnies and, for some reason, this random alpaca (the first I've ever seen))

The spider from Little Miss Muffet was mercifully fake

On the way in we bought a "magic key" for two bucks, and at every area there were these boxes, where the kiddies inserted the keys to play a talking story or song.  So cute!  Monkey finally got the hang of the turning toward the middle of our visit, and he must have played the one at Hey Diddle Diddle 8 times in a row.

At one point my Dad introduced him to Humpty Dumpty, whom he kept referring back to for the rest of the day as "Humpy Dumpy," which I thought was itself a pretty awesome name.

There were so many fun things to do: a little train, two carousels, puppet shows (all of which we missed), mazes and a pirate ship climbing structure, an old ghost town to explore, a gigantic slide made out of a dragon and this other one, set in the middle of the old lady's shoe (as in "there was an old lady who lived in a shoe")

We stayed only two hours for this first visit, but I plan to drag my friends and their kids back very soon.  There was a decent snack bar, tons of shade, and no lines for anything.  It was ten times cheaper ($8 admission for all), closer, and more rewarding for kids this age than Disneyland would be.  Even a child younger than two had full access to everything, and the Mamas don't have to run that far too keep track of them.  I love love LOVE this place!!  Can't wait for the next time :)


The GGA Project -- Day #257 "Your Life in Planets"

For my birthday a few months back, my parents gave me a somewhat unconventional (for me anyway) gift, which I would have to arrange a time for.  Last week I finally made the appointment, which became

Today's New Activity: Astrological Reading

If anyone had suggested this to me a few years ago I certainly wouldn't have been open to it.  I might have even rolled my eyes.  But recent years have found me more open to and curious about this sort of thing, about every sort of thing.  So I approached today's over-the-phone reading without a hint of skepticism beyond that which any normal person would have when a stranger is about to tell her what's what in her life.

When I called to set the appointment last week Stephanie Jones, astrologer extraordinaire, asked nothing more than my first name, my date/time/place of birth.  And 6 days later, at the appointed time, she called to tell me a whole lot of true things about myself and the recent events in my life.

Now, I know what you're thinking: yes, I have a blog where I spill many many details about my life; any semi-decent internet sleuth could dig up plenty of info about me.  But nothing that Ms. Jones talked about had to do with what I share on my blog or elsewhere.  I found it fascinating.  For example, she mentioned my recent idea for a new software application and the fact that I may feel drawn to working with the dying in a hospice nurse type capacity.  These are both true, obscure details that I've never shared in any way she could have known.  The latter I've never shared in any way whatsoever.

My thought, when I used to hear people talk about having visited psychics or other types of clairvoyant workers was: okay, cool.  They told you stuff about yourself that was true.  But you knew it was true because you already knew that about yourself.  So what was the point of that?  A lot of people like to get information about the future, but I don't fall into that category, so it didn't hold much appeal to me.

Today's experience, however, made me see that there is another reason why talking to a skilled person who works in this area can be a worthwhile exercise.  Some of the things she talked about--tendencies I have and people I tend to gravitate toward as a result of what is in my chart--was very much true and very unhealthy.  Having somebody explain why I behave in these ways shed some light on the subject and helped me see my own capacity to change the behavior.  In the hour and a half long reading, there were several lightbulb moments for me, and one huge one that in itself would have been enough to call this a success of sorts.

I know many people cringe at the mere mention of anything that might fall into the category of New Age. Believe me, I know because I was and often still am such a person myself.  But the willing suspension of disbelief for today's reading was, I think, a good thing.  And it was definitely among the most interesting birthday gifts/ways to pass an hour and a half that I've experienced.


The GGA Project -- Day #256 "Demented and *Sad*, But Social"

I've mentioned my friend Kenneth's unrivaled levels on the Dorkometer scale before, namely when he showed me how to play World of Warcraft just a month into this project.  Since then I've been witness to a few of his other special hobbies, but today I'd get to visit the legendary store where he used to work and which supplies him with all the little gnomes and other random accessories that make the Dork Nights (Tuesdays...yeah, no...Tuesdays are really called that in his house) possible.  Tonight he gave me the keys to the castle (er, Kastle) for

Today's New Activity: A Visit to Dork's Paradise

More than any other place I've been to, I can say I walked the length of Game Kastle in Santa Clara without having a clue what to do with anything contained therein.

There were miniatures

And role playing game guides

and board games of the kind you most definitely won't find at Target

and Warhammer stuff

and a whole set of rooms devoted to tournaments, where the dorks gather to get their game on.  A trio of middle-aged fellas allowed me to photograph their...their...well, whatever this was:

Ok, I have to disclaim now and say that I tease Kenneth (yes, to his face, and often) about his dork hobbies, but I'm really not trying to hate on the people who call Game Kastle [their second] home.  And the title to this post, borrowed from The Breakfast Club is said all in good fun.  I will say, however, that the evil fluorescent lighting alone may keep me from returning to this place.  Beyond that, it wasn't nearly as creepy or full or weirdos as I'd always expected, based on his descriptions.  My favorite part was the little food section, full of all the types of things I used to see Kenneth eat for breakfast when we worked together at Barnes and Noble (like Cheez-It and Mountain Dew Code Red, for example).  It seemed this and the neighboring racks would be plenty to keep the participants of an impassioned round of Dungeons and Dragons sustained and going for weeks!

Needless to say, I didn't buy anything.  Kenneth was there to pick up a paint he'd ordered for one of his miniature armies (part of this gaming thing that is truly cool and admirable--I can't believe the patience it must require to paint the tiny details of the tiny miniatures involved).  And he chatted for a while with a friend from there who I have to say seemed like a perfectly normal and well-adjusted individual.  Three cheers for the dispelling of prejudiced myths!  :)


The GGA Project -- Day #255 "And.....CUT!"

Today my parents took some video of Monkey playing baseball in the backyard (pretty much his favorite pastime), and my Dad asked me if I could edit the video to so as to only leave the last hit, where he points to the tree and the proceeds to smack the ball right over it.  At first I wondered why on earth he would think I would be able to do such a thing, seeing as I have no experience with video editing of any kind.  And then I remembered the Mac Book I'm interviewing, and a little program that it seemed may be able to help.

Today's New Activity: Video Editing in iMovie

I don't know if this can really be called editing, since all I did was take a long video and make it shorter, but since I'm super intimidated by the idea of doing anything having to do with video, I considered it progress and a good start.

The 5-minute task took 3 hours because the program hadn't even been set up yet on the computer and I had to let it do its thing, then upload videos from my phone before I could even get started on the editing.  Then it took me a bit to figure out how to do that, though it was a simple thing and shouldn't have taken long.  The real challenge and time suck, however, came in trying to then send the video to my Dad.

I couldn't e-mail it for some reason.  And so I decided to upload it to youtube and send him the link.  Only because it was edited in iMovie there were some changes I had to make to the uploading format to get the audio to sync correctly, all of which took some time.  It was a simple thing that turned complicated, but I like those experiences because they make me learn new things.  Now I can do that again and it will take me much less time next round.

And in case you haven't heard me say it before, that's what this project is (mostly) all about!


The GGA Project -- Day #254 "Better, Sweeter, Cheaper Than Plan A"

Half the reason I was excited for Monkey and I to spend the weekend at Nicole's was that we'd already be more than halfway to Gilroy and well-positioned to make a day out of what we planned for to do, which was to go to Gilroy Gardens (an amusement park that is supposed to be very good for toddler-aged kids).  And it did work out perfectly--we were down in Gilroy and at the gates to Gilroy Gardens by 12:30 in the afternoon--they open at 11 so we didn't lose much time.  Well, they open in theory anyway.  Unfortunately they were actually closed today, so we never got past the gates.  Five seconds' worth of research on the internet would have told us that ahead of time, but unfortunately I'm made the assumption that the good-for-weekdays coupons I'd printed out online were actually good for weekdays.  Go figure.

Anyway, Nicole was armed with a wonderful back-up plan, which to was revisit a little farm she'd taken the kids to a few weeks ago and which we'd wanted to come along the next time for anyway.  It was down in Watsonville, which--at that point--was only 20 minutes further on.

Today's New Activity: Berry Picking at Gizdich Ranch

Strawberries are in full bloom, so for the bargain price of the $1 carton to take them home in and $1.55/lb, you can pick them to your heart's and belly's content.  We grabbed a bucket each for Maya, Sureya, and Monkey, and got down to business.

First, however, an encounter with a freaky ass bug:

and some beautiful flowers

It was a perfect day for the outing--warm with a nice ocean breeze.

Nicole and I worked very hard at trying to direct the kiddos on which strawberries to pick (no!  NO!  Only the really red ones), and they got the hang of that part pretty quickly.

The only thing that kept the outing from being totally relaxing was a little sign at the entrance to the field that read "Sampling is okay.  NO GRAZING."  My son likes but doesn't unequivocally looooove strawberries when we have them at home, but I'm telling you every single berry he picked from those vines went straight into his mouth before I could even grab it from him.  I don't know if it was the warmth and softness to them after they'd been in the sun, or just the thrill of picking food and eating it fresh, but less than 2 minutes into it he already had a giant red ring around the entire bottom half of his face.  There was no way I could call this "sampling," but I relaxed once I stopped trying to keep the strawberries out of his mouth and resolved to just pay a buck more (thank you Nicole!) at the end to cover the grazing costs.

After the picking we visited the ranch's deli, which smelled strongly and yummily of all the 9 varieties of pie they were making and where we ate what was by far the best boxed lunch I've ever encountered (complete with soft and delicious chocolate chip cookies and freshly squeezed lemonade and apple juice--Nicole bought some cookies and apple juice to go...once was just not enough!)).

And finally, we let the kids run loose in a little grassy courtyard, where they could creep through a tunnel cut through some bales of hay (except that Monkey was too scared to actually go through) and pretend to drive an old, out-of-commission tractor.

An apple fell from a tree they were playing under and almost hit Sureya in the head.  What was there to do but pick it up and eat it?  Which is what they did together.  I LOVED watching the kids have the experience of seeing where their food comes from and grabbing it straight from the source.  It made me want to grow a bit garden and let Monkey care for it.  He's already got the watering down from helping his Nana, and obviously the eating part is not a problem.

Super fun day!!  I can't wait to go back in October for apple picking!  :D


The GGA Project -- Day #253 "Trader Jaspinder's"

Long about 11am, Nicole and the girls, Monkey and I--after waking up in the same house at the outset of our sleepover weekend--got a move on and headed out on foot/in stroller for the San Jose State campus.  I mentioned The Fountain last week...the place where Nicole often takes the girls for leisurely days spend in the sun and the shade, where she can relax and do her art while the girls play on the grass and in the fountain.  That's where we were headed, but first: food.

I decided to just get our whole breakfast/lunch at Philz Coffee, where they have breakfast burritos (which they were out of), pastries, and a whole lot of whatnot.  First, I ordered a new coffee called Soooo Good.  By that I mean it was new to me.  Philz has a extensive selection of roasts, all of which are available to order in their one-cup-at-a-time brewing style.  Soooo Good lived up to its name.

After we ate we let the kids run around forever while Nika and I talked and Raul did whatever it is Raul does on his computer (right now something likely having to do with the already twice-funded startup he and some friends launched just a few months ago...go Raul!).

This was the scene when they finally began to wind down, watching videos on Nicole's phone.

In the early evening we went to our favorite place (Target) and then to Trader Joe's to pick up dinner.  Nicole's meal plans became

Today's New Activity: Trader Joe's Does Indian (Surprisingly Well)

I'm very, very leery of any kind of Indian food that comes out of a box.  Even Indian brands that sell the vacuum-sealed, off-the-shelf versions of Indian meals do it horribly.  How are you gonna sell paneer (a tofu-like textured cheese) off a grocery shelf?  I had my doubts about tonight's dinner.

But after Nicole had warmed a few trays each of Chicken Tikka Masala and Paneer Tikka Masala in the microwave, the whole house smelled like an authentic Indian restaurant.  You can trust me on this one.  After that she tossed some frozen garlic naan (also from Trader Joe's) into the oven for exactly two minutes and the meal was ready to go.

The Paneer meals came with a cilantro rice, and all of it was delicious.  I've tasted Paneer Tikka Masala ranging from the bland and too tomato-ey to the incredibly complex-in-spice, creamy delicious.  And this was definitely on the latter end of that spectrum.  I was shocked.  The garlic naan wasn't the best I've tasted, but it was by far the best among store-bought and way better than some I've eaten in restaurants.

I have to say that Trader Joe's has recently fallen a bit out of my favor.  I just haven't been as thrilled with their food of late as I was when Joe and I first met.  But tonight's meal gives me new cause to go there and see what other frozen stuff I can explore.


The GGA Project -- Day #252 "Night Watch"

I have been ridiculously lucky to have the easiest baby ever to put to sleep.  For the first 6 months of his life he just fell asleep while I nursed him, whether I wanted him to or not and no matter what time of day it was.

In later months,  I would put him to bed at 8pm and he would fall asleep on his own, waking 2-3 times during the night.  At those times I would nurse him back to sleep, and the only problems came when I was trying to train him into falling asleep on his own, without nursing.  The two sides of me were fighting it out inside: get him trained so I could sleep at night, or continue the routine until he moved into a different in his own time, naturally.  I ultimately went with the latter, if only because--given that we were sharing a room--ignoring his cries for me were easier said than done.

One thing I can say has been true since day one is that I never needed to stay with him in order for him to fall asleep.  I was relieved about this, because I've heard of parents exhausting themselves trying every tool in the arsenal trying to get their kids to sleep, only to find it impossible unless they stayed right there in bed with them, talking them down of the ledge.  

Every night (no matter what time I put him down, and it varies from 8:30 - 9:30 or so) and nearly every nap time, I can just give him hugs and kisses, lay him down in his crib with all his stuffed homies, say goodnight, and walk on out the door without a word of protest from him.  This is true no matter what is going on outside the room in terms of noise (the washing machine and dryer are right outside our bedroom, and my Mom and I are both likely to be doing laundry late at night) or where we are (during our recent road trip we slept in 4 different places, and he slept well in all of them without any assistance from me).

So imagine my surprise when, 5 minutes after putting him down to sleep in my friend's Nicole and Raul's son Zach's room (Zach is out of town and Nicole and I planned a weekend of sleepovers so our kids could play for three days in a row without us having to drive all over the place three days in a row), I heard his desperate sobs coming from the back of the house.  I walked in to find him clinging to the teddy bear I'd lent him for the night from Maya's collection, which was already damp from his tears, as was his twisted up, sad little face.

This is the absolute most heartbreaking moment for a parent: to see your child scared and wondering where you are.  Uhh, it makes me want to cry just thinking about it.  Nicole was in a room near Zach's when Monkey'd started crying, and she assured me he'd only just started when I heard him, but that made me even sadder, to think he'd been sitting there *quietly* crying and I couldn't hear him.  Awwwwwwww :(

I lay there with him for a long time, rubbing his back and reassuring him, until he was calm again.  I was going to leave the room, but I got one step away from the bed before he started whimpering again.  I'm guessing he just was truly confused by the new setting and in need of my presence to feel secure.  It makes perfect sense; I'm just not used to it, coming from him.

Today's New Activity: Witnessing the Awake-to-Asleep Transformation

I decided I'd hang out for the long haul, and I knew it wouldn't be long.  He was tired, overtired even (which I think was contributing to his different behavior) and his eyelids already clearly heavy.  I laid my head next to the pillow and watched as they got heavier with every blink, slower to re-open again and never reaching their full, wide awake state.  I listened as his breathing became slower and more even.  And I stayed there with him as the wound-up energy of a playful evening gave way to the quiet, deep sleep of toddler dreams.

It was a beautiful thing to see.  It made me wish I hadn't been so excited about his ability to put himself to sleep at night and more insistent on being there for this magical, peaceful moment.  I always assumed that my presence would be the thing to keep him awake.  But I think that, when he moves out of his crib and into a toddler bed, I'm going to make a habit of being there with him for these moments from time to time.  To be there as my son fell to sleep was to know for absolute certain that all was well, in his world and all of the world we shared together.


The GGA Project -- Day #251 "Spot of Tea, Non-PC"

I'm writing this from a computer not my own which is one part of

Today's New Activity: Test-Driving a Mac

My friend Kenneth is looking to sell his MacBook, and when I expressed interest he offered to let me take it home for a few days to see how I liked it first.  Man, I wish Best Buy and Fry's had that kind of offer.

What I can say about it so far is that it's taking me a little longer to type, just because I've grown so accustomed to my tiny netbook, and my fingers have to get used to stretching a little more to reach the keys.  I've also used to being able to tap the trackpad as a way of left-clicking, and also used to being able to right-click (of course), but other than that I've been able to handle the functional differences just fine.

Last night I downloaded the updates for iLife, which took some time because the internet speed at my house is sad enough to make IT people cry.  That's a lot, given that they have no hearts.

J/K folks :P

After the download finished I used the program to edit some photos I downloaded from Facebook.  And whoops (!)...because I can't remember the network password for the wireless in the house, I'd used internet tethering from my iPhone (have I mentioned that I do, in fact, already love Apple products?), which meant that the MacBook wanted to import all 900+ pictures currently hanging out on my phone.  To which I said, "sure!"

So I guess I pretty much made the buying decision too in that moment.  Yay!  I'm excited to have a powerful (albeit heavy...that will take time to get used to again) laptop back in my life, which actually has enough space on it for me to wanna upload pictures and download music.  Woo hoo.  Now there'st just the little matter of payment... :P

The other new thing I did today was to go with my Mama to a tea shop in downtown Hayward to use a gift certificate for high tea for two, which my Dad had given her for her birthday.  The Golden Tea Garden was a cute little shop not far away, physically, from the multiple pawn shops of downtown Hayward, but miles and miles away from ANY kind of downtown feel, given the peaceful and inviting atmosphere, not to mention the sweet bird track coming from hidden overhead speakers :)

Beneba, the owner of the shop, was a shy but sweet and attentive hostest with a great attention to detail.  And the variety of sweet and savory treats she served with the tea was wonderful.  

My Mom and I were remarking on how amazing it is that such tiny treats could fill us up so quickly (forcing us each to take half the treats home with us), but somehow it happens that way.

Oh my, how precious is that heart-shaped sugar?

I swear I am not a tea party kind of girl.  At least I didn't think I was before my girlfriend Colleen invited me with her to The Crown and Crumpet a few months back.  But I've gone to tea twice more since then, and I've found that I really enjoy the dainty ritual of it.  Plus, it's a wonderful way to just take some special, set aside time to enjoy the company of my Mama.  We've really enjoyed the last year, reconnecting and talking in the way we used to before I moved half the country away from my parents 15 years ago.  And I felt blessed today to have my Dad home, always happy to care for my son for a spell while my Mama and I took that special time.

The GGA Project -- Day #250 "Halfway Decent Start"

I was up and at 'em this early morning (and by "this morning" I mean "yesterday morning," for while I was up early and in a productive mood, I can't say the mood followed me into the evening, so this post is going up a day late).  So early that I got to the shopping center where I work a full two hours before my shift started, leaving me plenty of time for

Today's New Activity: Breakfast at The Prolific Oven

The Prolific Oven is a bakery/cafe that I never heard of before I began working a block away from one (although they've apparently been around for over 30 years).  I wasn't too interested either, until I heard they served pastas.  There's no other place near my work to get pasta, unless I wanted to rush through a lunch at The Claim Jumper, which would just be a waste.

But anyway, we were talking about breakfast.

It normally takes a pretty special occasion for me to eat a full-on eggs breakfast at a restaurant (unless it's breakfast for dinner.  LOVE that!), but today I was uncharacteristically hungry by 9am and seeking out someplace that could do full-fledged breakfast.

A quick glance at the menu posted outside The Prolific Oven looked promising, so I went right in a ordered The California Omelet (tomatoes, avocado, and jack cheese) and a cup of coffee.

They had about 6 or 7 self-serve coffees to choose from, but I had to go with this one

because, what a way to start a morning, right?

The place was near empty, so I had my choice of seats, and it was a pretty pleasant and inviting space

I wish I could say the same of the cashier there, because she was all kinds of unpleasant and uninviting, but I guess we can't all be morning people, eh?

When the food came, it looked super yummy.

but was--amazingly and unfortunately--not.  The tomatoes were very tart, and the sour cream was insanely sour.  I mean I know it has the word "sour" in the name, but my friends this was sour!  The hash browns were also pretty flavorless.  Awww, what a let down!

I'd still like to go back there to see if I can have better luck with their lunch menu, but I don't think I'll be kicking and screaming to make that happen all that soon.  Still, it was good to have a couple of hours to myself in the morning, with Wi-Fi and coffee, to enjoy a nice start to the day.


The GGA Project -- Day #249 "So Many Letters, So Much Time"

Two weeks ago I mentioned attending the housewarming of my friends, Lynh & Maribel.  Tonight I got to return to their lovely home for

Today's New Activity: Super Scrabble Night

First of all, it's been years since I played Scrabble on a real board.  Scrabble vs, computer and also Words with Friends have been the name of the game in recent years.  And that's bad because it totally dumbs me down as a Scrabble player.  With those versions you risk nothing when playing words since there's nobody to challenge you.  The programs simply prevent you from being able to play words that aren't in the Scrabble dictionary.  It was difficult to go back to risking a challenge for playing a word I only *thought* was a word.

But beyond that, it was really fun.  The math was a bit of a mental workout when we got 3 hours into it, but even that was a nice change of pace.

The thing that makes Super Scrabble super is that the board is larger, there are many more tiles, and there are quadruple letter spaces (!).  So yeah, playing this version was definitely a commitment.  Thankfully nobody present was the take-twelve-minutes-strategizing-the-BEST-EVER-POSSIBLE-PLAY type.  We'd still be there now.

Our friend Sharon came too, along with her now 4-month old, sweetest, happiest baby in the world, Calvin.  It was a wonderfully mellow night with some wonderful, mellow people.  Thanks, Lynh and Maribel!  :)


The GGA Project -- Day #248 "Phase 3: Absolute Mobility"

Not me.  The Monkey.

This post is not so much about anything new I've done, just the change in outlook and perspective I'll have to adopt now that I know what I know.

Today's New Activity: Bathroom Barge-In

So.  Normally when I'm at home and I have to use the restroom I'll do one of two things.  If I'm home alone with Monkey or if he just happens to be right under foot, I'll bring him in there with me and he just plays around with whatever while I go.  If my one or both of my parents are home I will let him stay wherever they are until I come out.

Last night I did the latter.  It's not uncommon for him to seek me out and to call for me from outside the bathroom door, jiggling the doorknob with his not-so-tiny hands.  But it IS uncommon for him, unprecedented actually, to do what he did last night...which was to burst through the door and coming running toward me, door left wiiiiiiide open behind him.

Whoah whoah whoah!  "Hey Monkey, go close the door, okay?"  He stopped and just stood there, midway between the toilet and the door trying to decide which way to go.  Of course I don't mind if he's in there with me, but I was a bit helpless sitting there and hoping he'd either come in and close the door behind him or leave and do the same.  What if we'd had company over?  Eventually, when I asked him again to come in and close the door, he replied "no thank you," and backed away, closing the door behind him on his way out.  Hahaha.  That was a relief, at least.

Until now I've never had any need to lock the door behind me, but it seems my son has finally cracked the code and can go anywhere in the house if he pleases.  I know he's also certainly no more than a week away from being able to scale the wall of his playpen, and I'm actually shocked he's yet to climb out of his crib.

You think and plan entirely differently as a mom when you know there are places your children simple can't get into or out of yet.  I remember the pre-rollover days, when I could leave the baby flopped out on the bed and go do any number of things.  Not no mo!  I still don't feel comfortable with him even in another room where I can't see him.  There is so much he can get hurt doing or break.  But he's too old to be expected to just hang out in one place while I do whatever it is I need to do.

I've asked other moms about this....as in, how do they take showers?  When the babies are super young, you can just bring the car seat into the bathroom and let them chill there.  My friend Renee takes her oldest daughter into the shower with her and lets her play there.  I think that's a good idea, but I don't know how long I'd want to do that, given that I have a son.

I guess that, like all stages of child development, this stage of toddlerhood will require thinking and creativity on my part (good thing I've been practicing those lately!), and lots of planning ahead.

Wish us luck :)


The GGA Project -- Day #247 "Sweet Breakfast"

I woke up at 5:30 this morning without a hope of falling back to sleep.  I don't know why this happened, but I just decided to go with it.  First I caught up on most of the blogging I'd missed over the weekend.  Then I went back to my room to wake up my son.  After all that quiet in the morning, I was missing him and wanted him to wake up.

While we were lying in my bed reading books, it occurred to me that what this morning needed was cake.

Today's New Activity: Early Morning Baking Session

I thought I had a mix for coffee cake in the cupboard, which is what I was going to make, but it turned out I didn't.  Instead, I decided to make the one mix I did have on hand, which was devil's food.  And I mixed in some chocolate chips and some coconut.  And I frosted it with white, whatever *that* flavor is (because it doesn't say...I looked).  But it tastes good, so who cares?

I don't wanna say this was a wake-n-bake, because that's something different entirely, but when you wake up and you want to bake, you should definitely go for it :)


The GGA Project -- Day #245 "After Hours"

As I've written before, on blog past and present, the San Jose Jazz Festival is kind of my thing.  I plan summer trips and work around it and would probably feel pretty damned sad if a year slipped by without my making it out.  But the jazz festival isn't all about the 10 stages featuring bands during the three days of music.  There are other events associated, most of which I usually skip.  Until this year, that is.

Today's New Activity: Jazz Festival After Hours Club Crawl

Since I had to work Saturday and couldn't get to the daytime stages, I finally decided it was time to check out the music that happens after the afternoon sun has left festival-goers in a super tired, super happy, super mellow state of wide-open listening.

The best thing about this 12-club/restaurant/bar event is that none of the establishments charge covers, so you are free to wander into and out of all of them, searching for the vibe that fits your mood.

I met Kelsi down there.  She'd gotten there earlier than me and set off first to see our friend Jonah's band play at The Temple Bar.  I love So Timeless, but they are more of a funk band and I was in the mood for straight-ahead jazz, which we found in good working order at Mosaic, a nice, classy restaurant/bar inside of the Four Points hotel.  The Jazz Mechanics was a three-member group made up of a keyboardist, bassist, and drummer, and they were amazing.  During their break we caught up on girl (or woman, rather) talk, and halfway into their second set we headed off to see what else was what.  I kind of wish we would have just stayed in that spot, because it was my favorite of the three we went to, but what's a club crawl without at least a little bit of crawling?

The band playing at Los Gatos Brewing Company was a little lounge-y for us, so we left there in short order and set out for The Fairmont Hotel where, inside the lobby, a swirling mass of folks had gathered around the r&b cover band, trying to eek out a last bit of soulful groove before, I imagine, retiring to their hotel rooms to make sweet love :P

I've never seen that place (normally a bit on the stuffy side) so crowded or so alive.  It was a great way to close out the evening before heading to Nicole's, where I'd spend tonight in order to wake up within walking distance of the festival bright and early tomorrow...


The GGA Project -- Day #244 "Sooh-She"

Now, if you've been reading this blog since its inception, you know that I came up with the idea for the project while sitting next to my vegetarian coworker/friend and deciding to try a new dish at a restaurant where tried-and-true had been the name of the game.  I found it fitting that Kane, this same friend, should be the one to introduce me to what was a pretty significant installment of

Today's New Activity: Raw Fish, Hold the Fish

Now...I'd just begun to eat fish a couple of months before becoming vegetarian (going on 9 years ago now).  I never made it as far as sushi because, well, if one makes it to the age of 24 before even venturing to taste cooked fish, raw fish is definitely an idea that takes some getting used to.  I also never even ventured into sushi restaurants because it was my (incorrect!) assumption that all sushi involved sea creatures.  Oh my goodness, have I been missing out!

Kane knew of a vegetarian Japanese restaurant in Berkeley called Cha-Ya, which served sushi as well as a number of appetizers and noodle dishes.  I don't normally go to vegetarian restaurants; I'm guessing that's because--9 times out of ten--when I'm going out to eat I'm going with at least one other person (never another vegetarian) for whom 50 vegetarian menu items are not enough to choose from because they're all missing one crucial ingredient.

It occurs to me, after today's experience, that my approach has been all wrong.  Must needs find more vegetarians to eat with!  Or at least VERY VEGGIE FRIENDLY meat eaters.  It's a whole new, wonderful experience to walk into a restaurant, open the menu, and see nothing but line after line of things I would actually order instead of hunting around for the few veggie options or asking the server to hold the meat on some pasta dish or Mexican dish.

At the same time, it was a bit overwhelming to have so many options, and it took a while for us to decide on the order: three different types of Hosomaki (which are small sushi rolls--we chose avocado, sea salad, and asparagus), Kinoko (mushroom) noodle soup (we chose soba, the thin buckwheat noodles, since I'd never tried those either), and Gyoza (pot stickers).  They also served us Miso soup and Sunomono (cucumber salad).

Damn.  So many yummy flavors!  I have to say I liked but wasn't crazy about the sea salad sushi rolls.  The flavor was good but the chewy texture was a little off-putting to me.  Other than that I love everything.

And I also love eating meals that involve such variety of tastes and textures.  It feels more ceremonial since it just inherently takes longer.  And Kane was a passionate eater...it's always fun for me to be in the company of people who eat with abandon and to their heart's content.

The biggest takeaway for me in the aftermath of this meal is the affirmation that this project is one of the best ideas I've ever actually acted on.  Eating this meal made me wonder, of course, what *else* I've been missing out on all this time, food and otherwise.  So I'm off to continue finding out...


The GGA Project -- Day #243 "The View from Here"

So the on/off ramp from 880 to my house has been under construction for, oh, um, about 2 years now.  That's as far as I know anyway.  Could be longer but I didn't live up this way before then so I don't know.

It's slow going for sure, but the most painful part of it is that it's virtually impossible to see any progress in that time.  One of the off-ramps changed slightly a few months ago, but beyond that it's been difficult to determine what the workers have been up to these past two years.

That was until Sunday, anyway.  Sunday I tried to get on the freeway and failed!  The on ramp had just up and been sealed off out of nowhere.  This was mildly inconvenient because I had to go to the next street and turn around, but I figured it would be reopened in time for the work wee.  Naw.  I made the same mistake trying to get on the freeway Tuesday and Wednesday too.

And then, finally, this morning I realized that there WAS, indeed an on ramp open the get on the freeway headed south.  I just hadn't noticed it because it comes immediately after the on ramp headed north, still on the east side of the freeway, before even crossing the overpass.  I'm not sure I'm describing this well.

Today's New Activity: Wonky On Ramp Fun

So picture this: you're going from east to west and trying to get on the freeway southbound.  Normally you would cross on the overpass and either make a left turn onto the freeway or, more commonly (in California at least), get in the right lane and do a loop-around onto the southbound freeway.  But this was neither of these.

So.  You pass the northbound on ramp on the right and then, right after that, there's the southbound on ramp. You kind of veer right and then start veering left, pass OVER the traffic you're about to merge with and head down, landing on the right side of the freeway, where you then merge to the left.  It was really pretty cool, just because it was so novel.  I have no idea what prompted the non-traditional civil engineering choice, but I didn't mind it at all.  It kind of woke me up on the way to work and made me appreciate the fact that we even HAVE freeways to drive on, even if they are under perpetual construction.

And that is all.


The GGA Project -- Day #242 "Schooled"

Today was a beautiful day for

Today's New Activity: Chillin' with the Gals at The Fountain

Nicole--because she lives within walking distance of it--often takes Maya and Sureya for picnic lunches near a fountain at San Jose State University.  She's described how nice it is to have a wide-open patch of grass where they can play while she does her art journaling.  I've been wanting to go with them for a while now and just finally had the chance today.  Oh man, what a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

Kelsi and the boys met up with us on the way over, and we made a three-Mama, five-child stroller brigade through the forever-under-construction-and-renovation campus, sparsely populated this time of summer, with just a few hints of professors returning for preparation and new student orientation tours parading through.

First we tried to cajole our children into eating, but soon they were off doing their thing--playing in the fountain, running and running and kicking a beach ball and running, and sitting and standing on Kelsi's double stroller while Maya, their constant mini-Mama companion pushed them up and down the wide sidewalks.

Apart from trying to keep them out of the way of slow-moving electric carts, passers-by on bicycles, and reversing-in, super loud cement trucks, Nika, Kels and I were all able to relax pretty well and catch up.

Late into the afternoon my son started to get antsy.  He was doing a fake whine that I rarely hear unless he's well overdue for a nap, so I figured it was time to take him for a stroll and see if he'd fall asleep.

I have to say that--while I love every chance to get together with my gals and talk as we've done for 20 years now--this 15-minute stroll was my favorite part of this particular day.  I always enjoy returning to the campus where I learned so much and found my stride, eight years ago now.  And I love seeing how it's constantly evolving.  Since I've graduated it's sprouted two new monuments, both of which I was happy to show to Monkey and give him a little history lesson at the same time.

This statue is a tribute to the hands-raised-in-protest overture made on the part of San Jose State alums Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.  We stopped nearby and I said to him, "this, my son, is called civil disobedience."  :)   I swear I did not prompt him to do what he did next:

Gotta love the bunny Pez dispenser in hand!

Next we wandered past more construction and on to a recently erected monument to another famous son of San Jose, Cesar Chavez.  A mosaic gateway depicts him, sister-in-United-Farm-Workers-movement Dolores Huerta, and everybody's favorite civil disobeyer Mohandas Gandhi.

Finally, we continued along a temporary fence put up to separate areas under construction, which had been covered with students' renditions of famous portraits.  Not bad!

I love having the opportunity to take my son to the places that hold meaning and memories for me.  And as much as it will change as the years pass, more buildings torn down and others built in their place, I hope it will always fill me with familiar joy and a distant or not-so-distant sense of pride to have been part of this campus and, thereby (however feebly) connected to all those who have made this lovely, big-small northern Californian city shine.



The GGA Project -- Day #241 "Proxy Mama"

Today Duy, my coworker, called me over to his desk.  That in itself was strange because usually it's the other way around (I have customers that need a banker, so I either call him over to me or send them to him).  The only time I've ever been beckoned over to a banker's desk was to translate, and I knew it wasn't that this time around because the mother at his desk and her two kids had already been there talking to him for a while.

As I approached, he wasn't saying anything to let me know what he needed, just looking at me with a kind of question mark on his face.  Finally, he came out with it: "Could you please take this little girl to the bathroom?"

Today's New Activity: Potty Patrol

The little girl in question was a 3-year-old cutie, sitting there with her brother and her Mom, who was opening up a number of accounts including savings accounts for both kids.  I paused briefly, only because it was hard for me to imagine that any mother would rather have a stranger take her child to the bathroom than simply take a little break from the banking action and go herself.  But I'm happy to help out a Mom in need, so I went.

The little girl looked super wary at first (Good!  She should be!  Sent off to the bathroom with a stranger?!), but I tried my best to ask questions and share about my own young son, just to put her at ease.

When we got to the restroom, the handicapped stall was open.  We both took one look at the seat and knew it was too high for her.  I told the little girl we'd have to wait, because the one other stall that was unoccupied had a broken lock that would trap her in there if she closed the door behind her (good job putting her at ease, eh?).  When the other stalled opened up and I let her in, I realized the toilet was the same height as the handicapped one.  What was there to do but tell her to pull down her pants so I could lift her onto the toilet?

I have to say this was a very strange feeling: sharing this very personal experience with this poor little girl who'd never so much as seen me before I walked up to take her away from her Mommy and to the bathroom.  I asked her if she wanted me to close the door and she said yes (which I was a little relieved about).  But I realized that she was too small to reach the toilet paper, so first I wadded up a few servings for her and left them within reach.

After a second I remembered the last thing her Mom had said to me as we set off for the restroom: "She knows how to wipe herself."  That was funny to me at the time; I was wondering why in the hell this woman would assume any old bank employee would have been willing to do the wiping, were this self-wiping skill not already in place, but at the time I hadn't thought *all* the way through the implications of that statement.  A question occurred to me just then:

"Sweetheart," I said, "do you have to go number one or number two?"

"Number two," a tiny voice answered.

Okay then.  I'd wait it out.

I knew, because I'm a Mom myself, that the amount of time we were gone must have been making the Mom nervous (and Duy told me later that she was definitely antsy in that time), but I wasn't about to rush the girl, and the whole time I couldn't help but wonder again and again at this Mom's choice.  But ultimately I decided I was glad she judged me a trustworthy person to handle this task, and I understand why Duy chose me for it too.  Shockingly, I was the only mother working in the branch today; he must have figured it was familiar territory for me.

The other thing I was thinking about is how nice it must be to have a child who takes care of bathroom business on her own.  As much as I'm not looking forward to potty training, I'm of course looking VERY much forward to the days immediately following, when I can hoist Monkey up onto any old toilet and let him do his thing.

I went to the next stall and gathered up more little toilet paper bunches and waited to hear the little girl's call that she was ready for them.  And I was strangely grateful for the chance to be a nice stranger in this girl's life--one that her mother could task with helping her through this moment, and who'd see it done, hand washing and all.

Not in my bank teller job description perhaps, but among the Interconnected Nervous System of Mama responsibilities to be sure.


The GGA Project -- Day #240 "Gummy Nation"

On the way home from river rafting, when passing through Fairfield, Brian mentioned that he'd been thinking to go on the Jelly Belly factory tour.  I'd been thinking the same thing, and when I mentioned it to my parents they were super excited.  So the folks, Monkey and I headed up there today to see how in the world they get all that flavor in those tiny little beans.

Today's New Activity: Jelly Belly Factory Tour

My parents are the king and queen of plant tours.  They've been all over the country, touring the likes of the Hersheys, Ben & Jerry's, Yankee Candle Company, and Celestial Seasonings factories, for example.  My dad goes for the thrill of seeing the manufacturing in action, and they *both* go for the free samples at the end.  It's a win-win.

I was pretty excited about today myself.  I'm not even into jelly beans, but I like to see heavily automated machinery at work, and I always like behind-the-scenes peaks and anything.  Cameras weren't allowed on the actual tour (I guess they were worried we'd take the pictures home and build our OWN mini-Jelly Belly plants, rendering them obsolete), but I got some pictures of the waiting area--a happy, carefree sort of place, fitting for a place that makes jelly beans:

After about 45 minutes meandering through the line, it was our turn for the tour.  First things first, though: everyone had to wear a hat.

The tour itself was fascinating.  I couldn't believe how precise and fast all the machines were.  But even so, the various flavors take anywhere from 7-21 days to fully cure.  Yes, I said cure.  The process is incredibly complex.  And did you know that jelly beans don't just come out that shiny somehow?  They actually look pretty strange before they're put into huge metal tumbling machines that buff them up.

One thing that was very strange about the tour was how much fanfare there was surrounding Ronald Reagan. There's a whole video about how he helped popularize jelly beans (Jelly Bellies, specifically) during his state governorship and presidential campaign.  There were tons of different Ronald Reagan inspired packages in the gift shop, and the only two presidents pictured in the many jelly bean art pieces were him and George W. Bush.  That whole thing was a bit odd, but the portrait itself was impressive.

The last stop on the tour is the sampling counter, where a miserable looking employee answered the bean-by-bean whims of every last person passing through that plant (and there was a constant stream, to be sure).  I'm not sure if there was a limit to how many individual beans a person could sample, but it didn't seem so.  Poor kid.

This was the menu of option:

And this was the scary part of that menu:

These are real flavors available to you, yes you!

Our final stop was at the snack bar, where my dad got a jelly bean-shaped burger and I a pizza.  That was definitely novel.  Monkey's smiley fries were fun, too.  The food was surprisingly good for an amusement park-like setting.

I guess a lot of people must stop at this place on cross-country trips, as the parking lot was R.V. friendly on numerous levels, not the least of which was this helpful feature: 

A real-looking fire hydrant put there solely for dogs to have their way with.  Nice!

The Jelly Belly Factory was a very family friendly place that I'll enjoy taking Monkey back to when he's old enough to see and understand more.  But for a free tour with a complimentary bag of beans at the end, it was well worth the 45-minute drive :)