The GGA Project -- Day #324 "It's International"

Ah.  Halloween.  I woke up a bit early so I could have some nice time with Monkey before I had to leave for work.  I dressed him up in his Garden Gnome costume for some pictures and to let him get used to the idea that he'd be wearing it for hours later on (he actually really liked wearing it and didn't even fight the hat/beard piece!).  It was really so great to be excited about this Halloween and to see that excitement transfered to him. :)

My parents had a great time taking him to a couple of neighbors' houses and then to the mall for a trick-or-treating event.  He got plenty of candy and then they swung by my work and had dinner at Rubio's nearby while waiting for me to get off.  Then I had to spirit him over to Palo Alto to drop him off at his dad's.  So I only got to take him to a few houses for some Mama/Gnome time, but it was worth it to see the sweet look on his face when he practically whispered "trick or treat," grabbed a single candy from the bowls overflowing with goodies, then whispered "thank you."  Uh, these are the delicious moments of parenthood.

Anyway, by the time I dropped him off I was pretty hungry, and seeing few options between where I was at and the freeway, I stopped at a little wrap joint I'd considered checking out before.

Today's New Activity: Quick Munch at Rojoz

Rojoz is....  Rojoz is....

I don't know exactly what Rojoz is.  I mean, it's a wrap place, and the options seem to be kind of all over the place, some sounding just like standard burritos, some having more of an Asian or Indian theme, even some Cajun action.  But I thought I'd just go for it and I ordered a vegetarian wrap with curried potatoes and cabbage and, oddly, rice inside (which I didn't remember reading in the description and which was probably made stranger than it would have been by virtue of the fact that there was rice on the side as well).

And you know, I don't know.  I think maybe curried potatoes are best left on their own rather than wrapped in things.  I mean, I'm ALL FOR super carb/starch fests.  It's actually kind of my thing.  But maybe this combination of flavors was just odd.

The place itself was a bit odd.  It was incredibly well-lit.  And by "well" I mean "brightly."  The fluorescents were near blinding.  And the walls were lined with dozens of autographed headshots of stars.  But they weren't signed to anybody, nor was Rojoz itself ever mentioned.  It was clear none of these stars had ever been here; they just were...up on the wall.

I asked the owner where she was from and she said she was Chinese, and when I tried to make some more conversation just to kind of know where the idea for the place came from and how there came to be such a variety of options, she simply answered that they were "International.'  Ok, good enough I guess.

After I ate I checked out the place on Yelp, and it had great reviews...4 stars with over 100 people weighing in.  It made me think that I need to either try again, or that Yelp reviews just aren't all their cracked up to be.

That reminds me: I really enjoyed this article on the subject of reviewing: Rate this Article.  And I'm kind of glad I didn't read all about Rojoz before deciding to try it out; my expectations might have been set too high if I had...


The GGA Project -- Day #323 "On (Renewed) Trust"

The GGA Project -- Day #322 "And Speaking of Challenges..."

A couple of months ago, my friends Kenneth and Peter signed up for something called the Warrior Dash and then (as they are like to do) immediately set about trying to strong arm everyone they know into doing it too.  I was kind of an easy sell at that point, as I have been the entire year because of this project (and hope to be going forward).  I just got the text "sign up for Warrior Dash," maybe a link to the website on Facebook, did a few clicks around on the site, and was signed up within 10 minutes or so.

That was the easy part.

When I told my Dad about the event, he also went to the website, did far more reading and clicking around than I'd done, and came back saying "No way, Jose."  This surprised (and alarmed) me.  My Dad is in great physical shape and challenges himself in that area on a weekly basis.  If he was intimidated by the prospect, what on earth was I thinking?!?!

As the weeks went by, I had occasion to mention that I'd be Warrior Dashing perhaps 3 times.  And every time, a split second shock crossed the face of the person I was talking to, followed with, "really?!" or "you?!"  I don't think it should come as too much a shock, then, that I was pretty nervous heading into 

Today's New Activity: The Warrior Dash!!

When we got to the event grounds (Casa de Fruta, down in the dusties of Gilroy), I felt an immediate sense of relief.  While I didn't exactly see any super out of shape people there, it definitely wasn't an iron man only kind of thing.  And there were minors there as well...how scary could the thing be?

I'd brought Monkey with me so that I wouldn't have to spend the whole day away from him (the event was 1 1/2 drive from my house), and his Auntie Kelsi, who lives relatively close in Morgan Hill, was generous enough to come and scoop him up for a couple of hours.  It was nice to know he was nearby--playing with Mo on the train and carousel at Case de Fruta--having fun while I "competed."

The only bummer about the event is that, in an effort to space people out, each heat starts with 1.5 miles of running.  I hate running.  I absolutely HATE running.  And I suck at it.  So I didn't exactly feel like a warrior, having to walk a good part of that.  But Kenneth and Linda were there with me while Peter, Jeanette and Jon ran ahead, so it was nice to be in good company.

And then the obstacles came, which was the real fun part :)

There were 11 or 12 total I think, and here's a sampling:

This wall was probably the most terrifying to me, because I've never been great with upper body strength, and once you got started you were pretty much committed to either making your way over or having a real unpleasant fall back down, haha.  The top was the most difficult, figuring out how to get all the way over the wall once you ran out of rope.  But I made it.  Actually, in that difficult part when I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to pull myself over, I thought of Monkey, reminded myself that I have a son who looks to me as his example (not that he was there watching, but still I knew), and found that extra bit of effort within.  That was a pretty cool experience.

The last two obstacles were two little mounds of flames to jump through followed by a big trough of mud to slug through, leaving us coming out looking like this:

To help us all get home without ruining our cars, they'd set up a giant firehouse for us all to splash around in and get as clean as we could.

After a quick change of clothes I collected Monkey and sat down in the gravel with my fellow warriors while they ate giant turkey legs and I enjoyed probably the most hard fought veggie burger in the history of veggie burgers :)

It was such a great day.  I'm so happy I had the chance to join the fun and challenge myself a bit.  But I'd also like to say that I think most anybody could do this; they make it accessible enough.  So next year I'm bringing more warriors along for the fun!


The GGA Project -- Day #321 "Weighing In"

Somehow, a couple of days ago, these words escaped my mouth at work: "Hey, we should have a Biggest Loser challenge leading up to the Christmas dinner!"

I think what got me thinking about it was my coworker, who lost her mother in May following a long illness, and who simply, understandably, cannot be convinced to do anything remotely enjoyable.  While I wouldn't try to force her into pretending she's feeling anything other than what she truly feels, lately I've been trying to encourage her to do things she talks about having enjoyed before, like doing her eye makeup for example.  It's been nice to see her take little steps out of her sadness, if only in a "humor me" way for now.  I know that sometimes the "fake it til you make it" principle can start to work a little magic.

A few of us were talking the other day about getting a little dressy for our Christmas dinner in December, and she (actually a few of my coworkers) mentioned how nice it would be to lose some weight before then.  And it was that moment that gave birth to the idea.  Isn't it easier to get motivated to do so many things when you have a group of others to get excited about it and keep you accountable?

It took a little bit of convincing (mostly with my boss, who I think was waiting for everybody to tell her she didn't need to be part of the challenge, which she doesn't, in my opinion), but to my surprise, the ENTIRE branch decided to sign up.  Two of the young men who work there are going to do the competition in reverse (they are thin and looking to gain weight), but in the end it's the change in percentage of weight lost or gained at the end of a month's time that is going to determine the winner.  At $20/participant, the $220 pot will be a welcome little booster come Christmas gift shopping time.

Not everybody wanted their weight advertised, but none of us trusted each other enough to work on the honor system, haha, so I volunteered to bring my scale in and do weigh-ins, which we made happen today.

To my surprise, by the time I arrived mid-morning, everybody was ready and excited to weigh in.  Caught up in the moment, nobody even cared who was standing around when they got on the scale, and we were all pretty ready to get started losing.

Today's New Activity: Kicking off a Get-Healthy Challenge

I am typically one of those people who doesn't like to share my weight (like most women I suppose), and I definitely shy away from anything that asks me to consistently challenge myself when it comes to my physical health.  Yes, I go to the gym with some regularity and like to try and keep my weight in check, but I dislike the ideas of challenge and competition in these areas.  Weird, then, that this whole thing was my idea.

I was happy to find myself in with the majority, jumping on the scale in front of co-workers male and female alike and not being ashamed of what came up (160.4 pounds, for the record).  Yes, I wouldn't mind losing 10 more (hell, 5 more would take me to my high school weight, which I was pretty comfortable with), but I think I've absorbed some of the lessons of the past year in a way that translated farther and wider than I'd expected:

I do, in fact, accept myself exactly how I am.  I love myself and am so able to accept the love of those who love me as I am as well.  I also don't care as much about the whos and whys when it comes to people who don't love and accept me as I am.

And feeling this way makes my heart open wide and accept others exactly where they're at as well.  I want to encourage people to be their best and to do better than they ever thought they could.  If a little friendly branch-wide weight loss competition is what that means for the time being, for some of us, there it shall begin.

I could definitely use a little challenge in my life of the non-emotional variety.  I don't mind emotional challenge; it makes me feel that I'm truly alive.  But sometimes it's nice to get out of your head and your heart and just feel the power and essence of your physicality...to focus on how good it feels to be healthy in flesh and blood.  The next 4 weeks should be interesting...and at the end of them I will find myself exactly where I was (literally, since the dinner is again at Maggiano's) a year ago when I decided to start this project.  How nice it will be to feel healthy and pretty in my dress when that night comes :)


The GGA Project -- Day #320 "WHAT at the Zoo?!"


You've heard of Boo at the Zoo, right?  Wherein they deck the zoo out in spider webs and shrunken heads for spooky Halloween fun?

Yeah, this was not that.

This was something much, much creepier.

Today's New Activity: Poo at the Zoo

Not the elephant's.  Not the zebra's or the chimp's or the pot-bellied pig's, the bear's, the meerkat's or the camel's.  Not even my son's.

I'll elaborate one day.

Or not.

The GGA Project -- Day #319 "Dublin Nightlife"

I so wish I were talking about Dublin, Ireland.

But no.

I'm talking about Dublin, CA., where nothing much at all happens after 9pm.  At least I didn't think so, until I went exploring this evening.

The goal was to go for a late night slide on the big mondo pumpkin patch slide I encounter on Monkey's birthday, then to see if there was any decent place open late besides the Starbucks that was a few more miles away where my friend Neal and I could sit and talk.

After a quick Yelp search, it seemed the best prospect lie in what became

Today's New Activity: Rollin' with the Oldies at Gallagher's Dublin Pub

We walked in (after what I would have to say was way too hard a time finding the place.  It was as if this place didn't want to be found!) to what was a pretty cool *looking* place, with a very odd, almost lifeless vibe.  The music was nearly inaudible and the old men sitting around the bar were just a little too interested in us when we walked in.  I don't know.  Something about the whole thing just felt off.

But we decided to stay and make the best of it, and it turned out to be a pretty nice time.  Can't say I'm dying to return to Gallagher's, but I guess it's good to know of the option(?)


The GGA Project -- Day #318 "Yeah, Still No"

One part of this project I haven't done lately is to choose the thing I'd be otherwise least likely to choose otherwise.

This morning I went to Prolific Over for breakfast on my way to work, took a look in the pastry case and

Today's New Activity: Cherry Danish

Really, of all the things I would normally choose to eat, this was last among them.  It's because of the whole aversion to baked fruit thing I've mentioned before.  Some people would take one look at this and think, 'Yes!'

I, on the other hand, think, 'maybe...possibly.'

And I love the flavor of the cherry goo saturating the danish below.  I just don't like all those bitter-through-baking, plump cherries.  I don't know, just not my thing I guess.

But I'm not complaining about everything under and AROUND those cherries :)


The GGA Project -- Day #317 "On Mixing..."

Recently I was talking with a friend about how anxiety-inducing it can be to mix groups of friends.  I talked about how I originally wanted to invite everyone I knew to celebrate by birthday last May, but thought twice when I imagined what that scene would look like.  I imaged somebody from one group eyeing somebody from a different group and coming to the conclusion that they didn't know me after all, if *this* was the sort of thing I was into.

The truth is that I'm into it all.  And I have friends who have absolutely nothing in common but whose company can bring me equal amounts of joy.  I think most of us are like that.  And I think most of us do tend to avoid the chemistry experiment that would result from trying to combine the disparate groups.

Today's New Activity: Leap of an Invite

So over a month ago I was invited to join some friends for a Halloween gathering at their favorite dive Asian bar.  Exactly one year ago come Halloween was the first time I'd seen this group of friends in years (at the same bar), and that's when most of them learned of my separation.  I felt like it was an important kind of anniversary for me, and that I would very much like to return to the scene a year later and just see how different I felt.

Only recently I'd also decided that I'd like to celebrate Halloween with a different friend of mine.  And I started to wonder how awkward it would be to simply invite the one to join the others.  Thinking about it was really kind of stressing me out about it, such that I avoided making definite plans with either party.

Then, somehow...I got over it.

I just took the leap and decided to invite my friend--who, it turned out, was excited at the Asian dive bar prospect and the prospect of meeting others of my friends...that's a good start--to join in the long-planned other festivities.  I realized that part of my rediscovery of self this past year has involved me accepting myself exactly as I am, and my own refusal to repeat the pattern that emerged in my marriage, wherein I bought into the idea that I was flawed and needed to make serious changes on a fundamental level.  This acceptance involved accepting all the parts of myself...the parts that like all different sorts of people.  I understand now that any friend of mine whom I could truly call a friend would be interested in knowing the people I know, even if they don't have anything in common except for their friendship with me.

I'm sure this sounds like pretty basic stuff for people who have long felt comfortable with exactly who they are, but it is serious headway for me.  And to take this step is also a nod of acceptance to my friends themselves: I like you and accept you exactly as you are, and I'm happy to present you to others :)

I'd say that's a good thing for everyone involved...


The GGA Project -- Day #316 "None of My Business"

Tonight, as I was driving in Palo Alto, I saw a woman go running from a car that was parked on the side of the road.  It was already dark outside, and the woman was dressed nicely in a knee-length skirt, carrying what looked to be a briefcase or attache-type thing.  It always disturbs me to see people running out of context, but especially this woman, in the dark of the early fall evening.

She'd run in the direction from which I'd just come, so I decided to watch the car she'd been in or near in my rearview mirror.  I told myself that if I saw the car turn around to follow her, I was gonna turn around, too.

And then the car did turn around.

Today's New Activity: Not Standing By

In telling my friend about the incident afterward, I realize that part of what drove me to turn my car around in that moment was having had the experience of sitting by while others reached out to help another and realizing that it makes for long-standing regret.  In that previous moment (a big rig lost control, fishtailed, and turned onto its side just a few car lengths ahead of me on the freeway), I was shocked to see people just jump out of their cars and run to help the driver while I sat frozen in shock.  I was ashamed to find that in that test--that fight or flight moment--I'd failed miserably.  But the positive impression it made was the knowledge that I never wanted to be that person again, sitting idly by.

Anyway, I turned my car around and ended up at a red light in the left turn lane, just behind the car following the woman.  I wanted to either find the woman and offer her assistance, or follow the car long enough until I was confident the driver of that car didn't find the woman. 

When we made the turn, I saw that the woman was still running at full speed down the street, and the car pulled over about a hundred feet in front of her.  So I pulled over right next to her and yelled out my window, asking if she needed help/a ride, and to my surprise and also relief, after a brief moment of deliberation, she just hopped into my car.  She was too out of breath to say much, but it seemed she wanted me to pull up to the other car...she kept saying "car" and "straight," pointing to the car ahead.  I was very disturbed and kept asking for clarification: she wanted to get back into that car?!

She had a thick accent and was, as I said, very short of breath, so it was hard to make out what she wanted.  I started to slowly pull forward behind the car ahead, and then she said, "no, no around the car," to my relief.

Just a little way after I passed that car, she asked me to pull over and let her out.  What?!  We were at the corner of a parking lot, and the other car was still right behind me.  She insisted, "YES, please let me out here" and then hopped out just like that.  I saw why then.  She booked it to her own car, which was parked in that lot.  The other car was trying to pull in behind me, but I just sort of stayed there blocking it so it couldn't follow her--until she'd sped off--and then pulled into the lot myself, drove around the cement barriers, and circled back to where the man following the woman had now parked his car and gotten out to approach me.  I paused just long enough to take down his license and take off, leaving him wondering, I'm sure, who this woman was who'd just injected herself into whatever his plans had been.

That moment in the parking lot was a little scary.  I realized that, though the woman was now safe for the time being, I was the only other car in that lot with a man now behind me whom I'd almost certainly pissed off.  I didn't know if these people were strangers or lovers or former lovers and whether or not the situation was dangerous beyond whatever danger that woman must have been feeling to cause her to go running down the street in a skirt and pumps in the first place.  I wondered briefly if I'd just done a really stupid thing.  So I didn't waste too much time noting his license and description.

I left him outside his car in the lot and drove a little ways away.  I called 911 and told the dispatcher about the whole thing, and shortly after a police officer called me to ask the details.  He was going to track down the man, but I never heard anything else about it, so I still don't have a clue what it was all about.

I have to admit I was proud of myself for having followed my instincts to help that woman out.  Like I said I don't know if she was actually under any threat, if she'd been in the car or merely walking down the street and scared by the car pulled over, but either way the car did turn and follow her, so the situation didn't look good.

Ever since that big rig turned over on the freeway, I've wondered what I would do if ever in another situation wherein my likelihood to jump in and assist would be tested.  I think the fact that it was a woman in distress made the call a little easier for me, but still I was happy to feel that I passed the test this time around.  And I'd like to think that the good feeling of having done the right thing as a citizen of the planet would cause me to act in a similar manner in the future.


The GGA Project -- Day #315 "Oaktown, USA"

Can it be possible that I've lived in NorCal for 12 years now and had yet to visit one of Oakland's most famous spots?  I suppose, but that meant it was time to remedy things.

Tonight I went with my friend Neal to experience

Today's New Activity: Jack London Square

What got us up that way was a vegan restaurant called Solely Vegan, which was pretty damned good!  I'm usually a little leery of vegan food, just because my experience has not been all that stellar, but this was really pretty flavorful.  We got a combo plate of everything, including bbq tofu, mac n cheese, potato salad, greens, southern fried tofu, cornbread...come to think of it there was a definite southern theme there that I somehow completely missed until just this moment, writing about it.  And it was so flavorful and the textures so NOT unpleasant that I forgot it was vegan and not just vegetarian.

After that we checked out the docks, passing by the iconic Yoshi's, which is a jazz venue I've been meaning to go to since the first year I lived here.  I felt happy just to have finally gotten THAT close to it, and it's on my list of things to do before this year, this project is over.

Verdict: will definitely be visiting both Jack London Square and Solely Vegan again...great experience in great company :)


The GGA Project -- Day #314 "Forgettable Tex-Mex"

Tonight I met my best gal Nicole for dinner in the rockin' town of Dublin.  Dublin, CA.  It can't compare, I'm sure.

By the time we met I think we were both pretty much starving, so we took a quick look around and said, "Look, a Mexican place."  And that was about the extent of the conversation we had about where to eat.

We walked in without so much as glancing at the name of the place and didn't bother to find out where we were the whole time we were waiting to get sat.  It wasn't until the host who was seating us took the menus out that I saw we were at On the Border, turned to Nicole and said, "Oh no, I hate this place!"

A little too loudly, I think...I'm pretty sure he heard me.  It was just such a rude awakening.  I'd only eaten at that restaurant once and it was an all-around bad experience.  But that was over 10 years ago.  The restaurant is still around, so I figured they must have made some improvements.

Or not.

I looked for something interesting on the menu and actually FOUND something interesting on the menu, which is, I have to say, something of a pleasant surprise in a Mexican restaurant, where I would expect to know what to expect.

Today's New Activity: Enchilada, Grilled

Which, as it turned out, is really just a durpy way of saying "flauta."  I ordered what was billed as Grilled Avocado, Red Pepper Pesto Grilled Enchiladas.  Sounded amazing right?

I was just okay.

You know, not terrible, just not all that exciting, which was a great way to describe the entire On the Border experience, in fact.  Mostly, it tasted like a sodium party to me.

The real gem of the night was the chance to be out with Nicole (who was drinking a margarita, no less...that happens like once every 3 years!) on a Friday night, catching up at a restaurant where people brought US stuff rather than us waiting on our chilluns and then cleaning up after them.  I'd eat fake ass grilled enchiladas every week if it were in this wonderful context...


The GGA Project -- Day #313 "Nice Buns"


I was practically starving this morning by the time I made to work.  And so I made what was a typical stop at Starbucks for some sort of breakfast, coming out with a not-so-typical choice.

Today's New Activity: Sweeter, Cinnamonier Breakfast

Cuz normally I'd go for a scone.  But this Morning Bun somehow managed to be tastier, lighter, and have 150 fewer calories than my usual blueberry scone.

No complaints here!


The GGA Project -- Day #312 "Planking, Non-Lethal Variety"

A few days ago I read a poignant post on my friend Renee's blog about the isolation of headphone-clad gym-goers.  In it, she mentioned getting into a nice conversation with some girls working out nearby and filling them in on the planking exercises (meant to strengthen and tone abs) she'd learned from her trainer.  I'd heard of planking before (though mostly through the attention the high-rise building plankers have garnered through, oh, falling to their deaths) but never took the time to look into it.  Renee's post got me curious.  She's a mother of two who is very much devoted to getting back into her fantastic pre-pregnancy shape, so I figured if it was working for her, it was worth my time too.

Today's New Activity: New, Improved Torture for the Abs

Yeah, so planking is pretty freaking hard.  Here's one of hundreds of Youtube videos meant to guide you through the (un)pleasantries:

I was pleased to find I could manage short, 30-second sets for the time being, but it's certainly not enjoyable.  Why does every exercise for the abs have to be so damned painful?!

Anyway, I don't think I'm going to become a fan of the exercise itself, but I've heard it can be better than crunches (not that I'm doing those).  What I do like about it is that you can do it anywhere (and everywhere!  Why not?!  Weeeeeeeee!) and that it's a timed thing rather than a reps thing.  I can't go anywhere during those 30 seconds to escape.  I can't pause the exercise and drag it out.  Best to just get it over with.

Thanks Renee, for the inadvertent trainer session.  Here's hoping the remainder of my Mama belly will be see improvement as a result :)

The GGA Project -- Day #312 "You Mean You Don't Publish Your WHOLE Life on the Internet?"

Yes.  It would seem so.

Today's New Activity: Tight-Lipping It

There's a lot of good, new stuff I could share about today.  But even for somebody who likes to share (perhaps too much, too openly, too honestly at times), there are some things best kept to herself.

But life is good.  Very good, despite recent ups and downs.  

And I have a lot to be thankful for.

And I am.


The GGA Project -- Day #311 "When Life Hands You Crappy Hubcaps..."

I love my Toyota Matrix.  It is practical and yet still manages to be a little sporty.  And although it's big enough that I can haul a whole lot of stuff in it, it gets great gas mileage.  It's the perfect car for moving the Monkey and I around.

I only have two complaints about it.  One is that while it's a lovely shade of black (probably would have been my first choice even if it weren't the only choice of used Matrix available on the lot where we bought it), that black body tends to show all of its dirt, beginning about, oh, 2 days after a washing.  I suppose it would help if I washed it more often, but I guess that's just not real high on my priority list.

My other complaint about my car has to do with what I believe must have been a design flaw.  One by one over the years, I have lost all the hubcaps off the wheels.  To be precise, three of them fell off on their own.  The fourth I kicked off myself when I realized how ridiculous it was to drive around with only one hubcap.

Perhaps you could say that this is something that just happens with cars, but the Matrix is not a very old model, and a disproportionate number of the Matrices I see on the road are missing hubcaps when compared to other newer model cars.  As you might imagine based on that last sentence, the missing Matrix hubcap question has become something of an obsession for me.

Anyway, back to my particular vehicle: While the pseudo-police car look that resulted from having plain black wheels was somewhat cool, the rust on them was really taking away from the whole aesthetic, wouldn't you say?:

When my cousins were here last weekend, JD mentioned that my car looked pretty good, except for the wheels.  When I asked for his advice about improving the situation, he suggested a good ole fashioned can of Rustoleum Satin Black.  Who new the answer would be in a $5 can of spraypaint?!

Today's New Activity: Aesthetic Auto Improvement

Once I had the can of paint in hand I decided I needed to get the job done that very day.  Lucky for me, my Dad was on hand, ready and willing to help out with the cause.  He told me to start with scrubbing the wheels, and while I was still doing that he emerged from the house and approached with a long metal rod that turned out to be a power washer (!).  I started using that to wash, and 40 seconds later he reappeared wheeling a compressor (!) behind him.

"What's that for?" I asked.

"That's to dry the wheels now," he said (like, duh).

I love the way my Dad works.  Sometimes it makes me crazy, the way my Dad works...so very methodical and German.  And I can never get away with doing a half-assed job when he's around (which is definitely my tendency with projects like this).  Well, maybe I could get away with it, but I wouldn't feel good about it, knowing he's there with 15 practical solutions to doing the job better.  But I love the way my Dad works in that I know if he's going to do something, he's going to do it right.  That means it may take longer, but it will be sturdy, reliable, nice to look at, will hold up, you know, all the things you would hope a built or fixed or in-any-way improved thing would do.

So it was that I ended up putting strips of plastic painting drop cloth behind the wheels (a tedious task meant to keep paint off the brake drums) and painter taping the edges of the wheels to keep the tires from getting sprayed.  Imagine that I wouldn't have done this if left to my own devices, and imagine how crappy the results would have been.

The actual painting I let my Dad take the reigns on.  He's just, well you know, better at getting things even and making it happen efficiently (German).  Check out the end product!  (this first one with the tape still on)

Now my only gripe is that the body paint and wheels look so nice and dark, I'ma hafta keep those tires perpetually Armor Alled if I hope to complete the look.

Part of me wishes I didn't care about this, but I really love that I have a car that I really love.  And I think one way to show you really do love something is to take care of it...you devote time to it, you make sure it has what it needs to perform at its best (and look good in the process), you tell it when it's getting rusty and help it do better.

Now for that pesky storage compartment door that won't stay closed...


The GGA Project -- Day #310 "More Picking, Clicking"

For Aunt Esther, Erin, JD and Mason's last day in town, we decided to do something NONE of us had ever done before.

Today's New Activity: Apple Picking

So a few months back we went to Gizdich Ranch with Nicole and girls to pick strawberries.  But that was strawberry season.  Now it's APPLE season :)

We returned to the same super cute spot and let the boys run amok, picking apples from the low-hanging branches, which was many of them and then munching on pie afterward.

For his birthday, my parents gave Monkey a digital camera made for kids, and he had a great time taking 160(!) pictures his very first time out.  It was so fascinating to see the world from his perspective!  And also so nice that he was using a camera made just for him, so that I no longer have to worry he'll break mine when I let him play with it (no more playing with it!).

One of 65 pictures of the ground:

The day's very popular taking-a-picture-of-the-person-who's-taking-a-picture-of-you maneuver:

Capturing his cousin's first apple pick!:

Here are some of my favorites of the photos he took:

I'm so excited to see what else he'll capture.  He absolutely loved going around clicking and being the one asking other people to say cheese for a change :)

It was a great day all around, but I was just sad to see my family leave town.  The days following a visit with family are always a bit lonely for me, but it was nice to have it while we did!


The GGA Project -- Day #309 "Ahhhhhhhh....Weeeeeeeeeeeee!"

As part of my son's birthday weekend festivities, we met friends at a nearby pumpkin patch in the evening. We'd been to the patch last year, but Monkey was too young to really enjoy or know what was going on.  This year he was truly living it up, and though he was tall enough to go on most of the rides himself, I was loving the chance to join him, especially for this:

Today's New Activity: Biggest Slide EVER!!!

I have to admit there were moments when I was headed up the stairs of this slide that I got a little nervous.  Mostly I was trying to figure out how I was going to get myself and Monkey onto a potato sack together at the top of a slippery slide!

I think all of us Mamas there were too nervous to go down by ourselves (with our monkeys), so we went down in twos (pictures hard to snap...it happened so fast!):

First my cousin "Bug" and me with our boys:

Then Kelsi and Nicole and their munchkins :)

Wow!  What a rush!  I don't ski or really go downhill fast ever, for any reason, but this made me kind of understand the appeal :)  That was after the initial terror passed.  Monkey LOVED it.  We went down again before heading home for cake and presents, all of which were wonderful.

The kids all played well together, and the sweet birthday boy went around giving kisses and hugs and thank yous after each present.  I was so proud of my little 2-year-old big boy!


The GGA Project -- Day #308 "Un-Birthday Cake"

Today my Aunt Esther and my cousins Erin and JD and their sweetie son Mason arrived to celebrate Monkey's 2nd birthday.

I knew we'd be busy all weekend with plans, so I got started early today on the cake we'll be having tomorrow, after we visit a pumpkin patch.  Since we are already so close to Halloween, I decided to have a Halloween theme this year, so I did a little twist on his birthday cake.

Today's New Activity: Making a Monster Birthday Cake!

Giant eyeball! (Red Velvet cake with vanilla ice cream)

Eyeball cupcakes for the kids!

The grizzly aftermath...perfect for spooky theme!

And it's always so wonderful to have family here.  When my Aunt and cousins get together with my family, there is a guarantee that we will be laughing the entire time and that the visit will be comfortable and relaxed.  I love that.  I love being that close to and familiar with people.  I love knowing that I will always have them in my life.  And I love that my son is so close (three months apart) in age to his cousin and that they will always have fun memories of growing up together, even if they only see each other twice a year :)

Can't wait for Monkey's Happy Birthday Party (as I've been calling it when we talk about it)!


The GGA Project -- Day #307 "Danville: The Reckoning"

Early on in my project I spent the day in lovely (if not a little dull) Danville to see what was up that way.  I'd yet to have reason enough to get me back, until tonight.

Today's New Activity: Suburban Night Life

Tonight I went out to meet a friend (yes!  I'm finally making friends in my neck of the woods!) at a little dive bar up there (seemingly the only place within many miles and numerous towns that stayed open late), and we found there was a second establishment right next door that was not only thriving, full of people and with a DJ thumping out beats, but where they served draft beers for two bucks on Thursdays after 10.  Apparently all of the greater Pleasanton/Dublin/Danville area was also aware of this, because the place was definitely alive.

There was nothing particularly special or original about either place or their clientele, but I was just happy to know there was a nearby place to go to late, when the majority of the suburbanites up this was have been tucked away to bed :)

And that's about all I have to say about that.


The GGA Project -- Day #306 "In the Event of an Emergency..."

Today I read a post on Facebook by my friend Don that had launched one the most intelligent discussions I'd ever seen on the site.  The post was a picture of somebody who'd written a sign seeming to be a response to the people of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.  What followed was a discussion on economics, privilege, hard work, expectations/entitlements, capitalism/free markets, etc.

And it got me thinking.

The last thing I wrote in my comment on the post was "If what I needed most in my life right now was to make more money, I'd find a way to make that happen."

I do need to make that happen, but it's not the number one thing I need to do in my life.  Working part time is what allows me to do that thing, which is to spend time with my son.

Anyway, I know the day will come, and not too long off, when I do need to turn my attention again toward my career and begin redeveloping that part of my life.  Thinking about that got me in the mood to do some focused meditation for

Today's New Activity: Bath Time Dress Rehearsal

The thing about emergencies is that they're rarely predictable.  It occurred to me that if anything should happen to suddenly change my circumstances, I'd have to make major changes in my life/work/living situation in order to make things work.  This is true for everybody, and if it were me alone I wouldn't even worry about it all that much.  I have always been able to support myself.

Having a son makes things very different, so during my bath I worked through, in my mind, all the steps I would take if a sudden event necessitated the reconfiguration of my life.  I've heard of this exercise being practiced in therapy, wherein the therapist is trying to help, for instance, a woman in an unhappy marriage work through the steps that could lead to her independence, even if in the present she feels trapped in her predicament because of seemingly insurmountable dependence, financial and otherwise.

It's a really important thing to do, for any person in any situation: emergency preparedness.

I found the exercise pretty mentally overwhelming.  When I considered what I would have to sacrifice--namely time with my son--in order to support us well enough to have our own apartment and pay for the childcare that would enable me to work full time...that thought alone was daunting.

But the reassuring thing is knowing that many, many women have done it, and accomplished more than I've even yet dreamed.  That thought fills me with joy and confidence.

So I can't say this was the most relaxing bath time I've ever spent, but it was well worth my time if only because it made me realize how far away I am from being able to confidently say I could handle such a change in circumstances well, and to know the work I need to do to get myself/us there.  A major part of dreaming about where you're going is honestly assessing where you are.


The GGA Project -- Day #305 "October Santa"

The lunch hour today found me at a swank little bistro near my work called Costco.  LOVE it.  Best cheap eats ever.

Anyway, since I had a whole hour to savor, I decided to look around a bit to see what new whatnot had been palletted in.

I'm normally in the camp of people who are super annoyed by Christmas stuff being brought out for sale alongside back-to-school or even just before Halloween comes.  But Halloween is still almost 3 weeks away and I was not at all disturbed to find Christmas lawn ornaments staring me in the face right off the bat.

I guess that's one of the differences a child can make in one's life.  I've found myself eager to not only celebrate but to decorate for every holiday.  Last week I put a string of colored ghost lights above my bed and Monkey's crib, some colored gel spider and jack-o-lantern clings on the full size mirror in our room, and a giant web (complete with spider) across our bedroom window.  I never do stuff like that.  But having a child has made me excited about watching his own sense of wonder as our living space transforms to celebrate the passing seasons.

In the house, my Mom put Halloween themed cutouts on the doors and mirrors, decorated a large black potted tree branch with all things Halloween, and made some pumpkins they'd bought with Monkey at a pumpkin patch into "mumkins" by gluing eyeballs on them and wrapping them in medical gauze.  The boy loves all of it!  :)

So anyway, not only did I not even flinch at the Christmas stuff lining the aisles at Costco, I took the opportunity to participate in

Today's New Activity: Christmas Recon

I took a picture of this thing I want to buy for my son (it's a secret) because it's large and I need to discuss it with my parents--as in I need to find out whether they can live with this thing taking up so much space wherever it would end up.  And I also couldn't pass up two of the cutest and softest pairs of footed pajamas (or jim-jammas as well call them in this house), which I already bought to stash away for a couple of months.

I love this part of being a Mama.  I love thinking about my son and the things he enjoys and imagining what would make him smile.  Sometimes he has loved a toy immediately, sometimes it grew on him eventually, and sometimes it never quite took.  But as he grows and his tastes become more apparent, it's getting easier to look at something and know that it would bring absolute joy to his face.  I live for those moments.  And I have a feeling I'll be stashing a number of little happy-makers away as December grows near.


The GGA Project -- Day #304 "Blastoff! Arriba!!"

These were the words repeated over and over again by Monkey as he climbed onto and over, dove into and jumped off of a kids' rocket toy during

Today's New Activity: Stoneridge Mall Playtime

This morning I took my son for an early morning Dr.'s appointment for his two-year checkup.  Two years! (Good call on the early appointment, btw.  We are usually forced to wait quite a while, but his was by far the quickest and most convenient visit...I highly recommend making appointments at Kaiser well in advance if only just for the chance to grab the earliest morning appointment!).  Anyway, he's doing fine with growth and development, and I was very proud of his sweetness with the Doctor (whom I LOVE...I want Kaiser forever just so we can continue to see her!) and the nurse, who is pure happiness herself.

When we left, I went to run some errands with my Mom and the boy, and we eventually ended up at a mall I've hardly been to, where we discovered a perfect-for-his-size play area.

One of the things I've discovered about Monkey's most recent development is that he is at a point where I can relax more and be less of a helicopter Mom.  His playtimes are actually somewhat relaxing for me now!  There was just one thing in this whole area I was concerned about (a set of steps that he'd stand at the top of before sliding down the slide from the landing and roar like a dragon (I only know it was a dragon because he'd announce "Dragon!  Rooooaaarrrr!").  Other than that, I was able to sit with my Ma, talk, just enjoy...


The GGA Project -- Day #303 "Lonely Mexican"

Wow.  So today I was having the MOST RIDICULOUS craving for Mexican food.  I'd just driven all the way to San Jose with no plan whatsoever about what to do, but about midway down there I started daydreaming about Mexican food and it was one of those things that I thought I'd faint before I had the chance to satisfy.

The problem was that I was in a part of town where I didn't know of any Mexican restaurants (and really what I was looking for was a hole-in-the-wall taqueria.  I passed 3 Baja Fresh-like places before I saw a glimmer of hope in a little place attached to a Super 8 Hotel...a sign that said, simply, "Mexican Food."

Today's New Activity: Super 8 Mexi-feast

Apparently I was the only person who found this prospect promising, because this was the scene:

But I was surprised it was the scene because they served a lot of very traditional seafood caldos (stews) and other things you don't find at places like Chevy's or El Torito.  Three more table were full soon enough, all with Spanish-only speaking customers, so it would seem my choice was a lucky one. 

This is what I got:

Haysoose Kristo!  They didn't have a vegetarian "wet burrito" option, so when I asked for one I fully expected bean and cheese simplicity, but this mother was loaded with super tasty grilled fajita veggies, rice, cheese, beans, sour cream and avocados.  And it was pretty freaking good.

Of course it was a bit overwhelming, so I took half of it home for dinner.  Nice to spend $5.95 and eat for a whole day!

The GGA Project -- Day #302 "When You've Decided to Call a Place Home..."

Whoops!  Missed a day!

Last week I mentioned that I've finally, after a year and a half, embraced the idea that I live--for the foreseeable future--in the East Bay.  I am now open to the idea of working up this way and making friends here to make my stay feel more permanent.

So, what better way to solidify a place as one's home than to entertain?  Tonight I re-visited and made alterations to a pretty good recipe from Paula Deen for Creamy Macaroni & Cheese.  The change I made was to add Lawry's Seasoning Salt (I found it to be a little bland), then add almost double the called-for amount of sharp cheddar cheese (1 cup or so going on top of the macaroni after I'd transferred it to a casserole), then to cover the top with panko bread crums sauteed in butter.  I baked the whole thing for about 45 minutes and it was.....yummy.

Anyway, to assuage my sense of guilt for the ridiculously fattening (as if Paula Deen made any other kind) recipe, I decided to also prepare a pretty healthy side dish.

Today's New Activity: Blackened Seasoning Green Beans

I'd never heard of blackened seasoning (a kind of cajun all spice) before, but when I saw this recipe for Zesty Green Beans with pecans I was intrigued.  And I thought it would complement the mac and cheese well.  Extra bonus: it was super easy and quick. So I did it, and it was great.

Overall the entertaining went well, and it was nice to feel 100% at home in, well, my home.

I think I could get used to this...


The GGA Project -- Day #301 "(Near) Hazard-Free Good Kid Time"

Today is Monkey's 2nd birthday.  Since he'd be going to his Dad's house later this afternoon, I decided to have a little mini-celebration by taking him to a just-for-kids fun place for a few hours.

Today's New Activity: Finding Toddler Paradise at Super Frank's

Super Frank's, in Pleasanton, is a Chuck E. Cheese type place without most of the arcade madness and with what is purported to be much better food, with the added plus of serving coffee.  Real coffee.  I'd heard about it over a year ago from a fellow Hayward Mom, but I'd yet to make the scant 12-minute drive there to check it out.

What a great idea!  All you pay is $7 per child (which gains entrance for 2 adults as well) and then you just let the kid go nuts for as long as he can manage it.  There are 4 rooms the kids can play in (one of which is an arcade, but with all the wide open space and good-for-toddler toys in the other rooms, they don't seem to be all that drawn to that room), and they feature different activities all afternoon (toddler tumbling, music time, craft time, etc.)

The staff was super friendly and all the rooms just filled with toys that we both (mostly) safe and fun for the kids (only kids under 8 allowed to play, which kept things from getting too roughly.  Mostly the kids were right around his age or a couple of years older).

There were also tons of tables and booths surrounding the rooms, where parents sat and watched and waiting for the food they'd ordered to be brought out.  It was incredibly relaxing and stress-free, even with like 150 kids running around.

Monkey was a little shy and hesitant at first (typical for him), but he warmed up after a bit and was soon running around and trying to kiss and hug babies.  Sweetie.  I can't wait to go back with my gal friends and their little munchkins!