Friday, April 29, 2011

A New Era: The La Mesa Farmers Market's Final Week Before Its Move And Prince William Gets Married

We love Baba Foods Hummus!
I try to make it to the La Mesa Farmers Market every couple of weeks. My family is almost unnaturally addicted to hummus from Baba Foods, and so I need to go at least that often in order to replenish our supply. The regular vendor worker--known by my family as "The Hummus Guy"--is always welcoming to me and my kids, calling us only by the name, "The Hummus Family."

My son has gotten so accustomed to the routine of our hummus shopping that he is excited to help pick out the flavors. Today's lot included Roasted Sweet Bell Pepper, Chipotle, Sun Dried Tomato & Basil, and Baba Ghanouj (the close cousin of hummus).

Hummus aside, I was extra intent on making it to the Farmer's Market since today is its farewell week at the current location. While I am not personally affected by the location change (other than having to figure out a new parking routine), I have become aware of the debate over the change in venue thanks to local news coverage including the Patch article, "La Mesa Farmers Market Will Move West of Trolley Tracks in Early May."

I can see value in the different points of view presented in reader comments to the Patch article. On the one hand, I'm excited about the extended hours and the fact that there will be more vendors present at the new location--I can't wait to find out who will be added to the mix. On the other hand, I see the point that La Mesa Village shops will likely lose business. I hate to say it, but it's probably going to be true in my case.

Ready for the Royal Wedding
By my present habits, I park my car and then go through the process of getting my kids out of their car seats and into a stroller and carrier. I then walk a short block to the Farmer's Market, passing by all the Village shops. Depending on the mood of my kids, I will sometimes stop in and buy something at one of the stores. Today, for example, I was sure to stop by All Things Bright and British.

To informally celebrate the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I thought it would be fun to check out the festivities at this everything-British establishment. As promised in the San Diego Union-Tribune article, "La Mesa shop caught up in the 'I do' hullabaloo," the entrance to the store was appropriately decorated with an arch. There were tables of British snacks out for people to indulge in, despite the fact that the largest crowds had gathered nearly half-a-day earlier to watch the live broadcast of the wedding before sunrise.

By the time we stopped in at the shop, there was only one other customer around: a middle-aged, overly-teased-and-hairsprayed-bleach-blonde woman. This Harley-Davidson-biker-chick-looking woman explained to the clerk that she was in to buy snacks for a "Princess Party," which will involve her friends all dressing like princesses to watch the taped royal wedding. I couldn't help grinning when picturing this woman dressing like a princess of all things.

Got Smarties!
Nevertheless, I decided to join her in celebrating the marriage. I told my son he could pick out some special British candy in honor of the Prince's wedding, and he carefully scoured the candy shelves. In the end, he picked out Smarties, probably because they look to be just like his beloved M&Ms.

As we walked to our car, I tried to explain where Britain is and how their government includes real-life versions of his only fairytale imaginings of kings, queens, princes, and princesses. At four-years-old, he still doesn't grasp the concept of different countries and government systems, but he now knows that while Smarties look similar to M&Ms, he finds them to be quite different. According to him, the British counterpart is "more fruity."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Love Letter To Kaiser Permanente La Mesa's Solar Panels

To The Newest Object Of My Affection,

Looking up to you
I am writing to offer you my deepest apologies. I have been in your presence multiple times recently, and yet I've been so blind to your existence. It wasn't until someone opened my eyes to you (my thanks go to @karenpearlman) that I was finally able to see what has been right before me all of this time.

Today, when I approached you, I finally saw you in a whole new light. I stood humbly in your shadow, looking up to you as you so rightly deserve. Despite me having taken advantage of you in the past, you continue to stand strong, protecting me and even helping me keep my cool.

Don't think that I didn't like you at all to begin with. When you first arrived, I thought you were a nice enough addition. I could see right away how skillfully you might serve to take the heat off of me and countless others. The thing is, I never looked close enough to see all that you have to offer. In fact, and in my defense, try looking at things from my perspective. If I had been able to step back and get a better view of you from above, it would've been hard to miss seeing you for what you are. But, from where I stand, it is hard to get the full picture.

Standing in your shadow
Luckily, now I am able to see the complete package, and I must say that I am quite impressed by your versatility. As well put together as you seem upon first glance, I am honestly most taken by what lies beneath the the surface. Now that I know what you are accomplishing, I stand in complete awe of your humble productivity. Your efficiency is a quality that I highly admire, and it is one I wish others would try to emulate more often. 

The all makes sense now!
I think you are a shining example, and I have high hopes that you will prove to be a leader for others. Please remember that there are people out here who appreciate the work you're doing, even though not everyone may be aware of all that you do.

Love from your new admirer,
El Cajon Mama

Monday, April 25, 2011

DCH Honda Of Lemon Grove: Free Oil Change, Free Car Wash, And...Zoobles

Just this past winter, my beloved '93 Corolla had finally required one repair investment too many. I had always loved this car, back when my mom first bought it off the lot and years later when she passed it along to me after I finished college. The engine always remained strong, but unfortunately, many other parts started to give out. The heater broke, I had to replace the car handles after they cracked, the steering wheel started to peel from sun damage, and more. Living in El Cajon, the final straw was when the air conditioning broke after trying to fix it for the third time. I know some people are able to survive without A/C, but I just couldn't see letting my poor kids bake in their car seats.

Suddenly, I found myself in a position to buy a car for the first time. I weighed all of my many options, from buying used or new to buying from an independent seller or a commercial dealership. In the end, we decided to go with a closeout-sale Honda Civic. While we did originally check out the El Cajon Tipton Honda dealer, I ended up boycotting them after encountering pressure sales tactics. In contrast, I was much happier letting my commission go to a totally goofy, green associate at DCH Honda of Lemon Grove.

DCH Honda of Lemon Grove
The absolute sales clincher was Lemon Grove's VIP Program. I realize that the store made a profit off of the sale, and that all of the VIP treatment is their way to build customer loyalty so that they can make more profit off of us in the future. Still, I'm a sucker for deals, and the VIP Program promises us free car washes, free tire rotations, and $20 oil changes (the first one being free).

This afternoon, my husband and I took the kids to Honda to take advantage of our complimentary first oil change, including our usual free car wash. Arriving at the dealer, we dropped off the car keys and headed to the kid area of the lobby to hang out for the hour it would take to complete the job.

Our son setting up his Zoobles in the Honda kid area
Anticipating the boredom factor of waiting around, we let our son bring along a tin full of Zoobles toys per his request. Much to our son's pleasure, another boy his age showed up at the same time, and so he ended up with a built-in playmate. Click here to read my husband's account of what happened with the Zoobles (For context, read Part One about the Zoobles).

Zoobles are for anyone!
It was torture watching our son process the older brother's comment that Zoobles are for girls. It was as if we could hear our boy's thoughts: "Girl toys? No, it can't be. I love these toys, and I'm a boy." The worst part was when the older kid provided as hard proof: "Look at the colors." We could see our son starting to question himself right before us: "Okay, maybe the yellow one is 'a girl,' but the green one is still 'a boy.' Right?"

Where the Zoobles are found at Toys "R" Us
Fortunately, since my husband had immediately spoken up that everyone can play with any kind of toy, Zoobles are still in full effect for the time being. After our car was ready to go, we went to Toys "R" Us so that our son could spend his Easter money, and the first thing he wanted to check out was still the Zoobles aisle. As our boy made a beeline for the section, my husband slyly pointed out to me the sign marking the aisle as "Girls."

It is so touching that our Wittle One is still so innocently free from being held captive by many social norms. We know that our time is surely limited before he turns his back on Zoobles and anything else for "Girls." Sadly, and very likely, the words that older boy planted in his head today will probably continue to grow as he overhears more comments to the same effect. I hope that he will also internalize the advice he gets from my husband and me and not allow others to dictate what he can enjoy and who he becomes, but conformity is an overwhelming force for most kids, and even for most adults. As for today, the extra generous "Easter Bunny" funds from his grandparents allowed our son to pick out four Monster Jam Monster Trucks, a Bakugan with Bakugear, and...two Zoobles.

NOTE: For any little boys out there who may get teased about loving Zoobles, my husband Tweeted his blog posting about today's Zoobles encounter and received encouraging replies from grown men who also  love and collect Zoobles, because the toys are so colorful, cute, and cleverly designed. By the way, my husband is fan of Zoobles, as well. My son had to get his good tastes from somewhere!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our Saturday Afternoon: An Epic Walk, Amvets, and Scooby-Doo

We love Amvets!
My family and I just returned from one of our favorite weekend activities that we call Epic Walks. On our Epic Walks, we buckle both of our kids in strollers and head out on an urban hike, stopping to run errands and window shop in stores along the way. We have several different routes that we usually take, and today's chosen path happened to include an especially fun destination: Amvets Thrift Store on El Cajon's Main Street.

En route to Amvets, we were very conscious of other pedestrians sharing the sidewalks with us. The one who stood out the most was a particularly scary-looking man we got stuck behind for a few blocks. He had a hardened gait, was covered with skull tattooes, and walked with an appropriately intimidating pit bull. Even other tough-looking people seemed wary of this fellow and kept a careful eye on him as they walked past. We were glad when he finally turned down a different direction, and before we knew it, we had arrived at Amvets.

If you've never been to Amvets before, just know to pay attention to the sign when you walk in that advertises the specials of the day. (Once inside, you can also see the specials posted above the cash registers.) The regularly marked prices on items can be hit or miss, but if you're able to cash in on the extra savings, you can score some really super deals. As you can see in the image on the right, today's deal was for 50% off of all departments, except for items with red tags. What you'll find is that a large amount of the merchandise inside will have red tags. Just look below at the Flowbee for sale, complete with its original box. It is selling for $14.95, and since it has a red tag, there is no discount. Maybe later, when red tags are on sale, someone might spring for it at less than eight dollars. But, even in all of its kitschy glory, who is going to buy it today?

Flowbee aside, all that you need on a trip to Amvets is an ability to dodge the crowds that block the aisles, a discerning eye to pick out hidden treasures amidst the over-packed and picked-through shelves, and a little bit of luck. Today, by the time we had arrived, our son had fallen asleep in his stroller. He's usually eager to check out the toy section, and so although he wasn't awake, we still made our customary stop by that area.

Hidden in a far corner, I spotted a humongous Scooby-Doo stuffed animal. I gave it a once over and determined that it was a fine specimen, very clean and well-manufactured. To sweeten the deal, the $7.95 priced Scooby had a yellow tag, which meant we could bring him home for less than four dollars. My only concern is that Scooby was so big that 1) we would still have to walk all the way home with him, and 2) he would take up a lot of space in our small home. But, my husband said we should go for it since my son happens to be a big Doo fan right now.

I managed to balance Scooby on the sun shade of my son's stroller and before checking out, I also found a cute, like-new Gap messenger bag that, while red-tagged, was only $3.95. With our new treasures secured, we continued on our Epic Walk. Now, however, as we passed other pedestrians along the way, I could see their eyes being drawn to the giant Scooby atop the stroller. There were still plenty of "hardened" looking folks that we passed, but the sight of Scooby seemed to soften them just a bit. It makes me wonder if the pit bull man we had seen earlier would have even walked a little less aggressively had he seen us with Scooby in tote.

Our son clutching Scooby tightly
My husband and I have realized as we've gotten older that, in many ways, adults are still little kids inside. I think that people build up shells around themselves as they age, but every once in a while, something will speak to their vulnerable kid self. Maybe the homeless guy who seemed to give us a longer than normal glance was once able to live in a home where he got to watch Scooby-Doo on Saturday mornings. Perhaps seeing Scooby out on a walk took him momentarily back to a safe feeling he may have had all of those years ago.

The icing on the cake was when our son woke up, and we saw his eyes light up at the sight of Scooby. I think it took him a little while to realize he wasn't dreaming. Maybe someday when he is all grown up, Scooby-Doo will be a trigger that is able to speak to his tender child's heart. I know it is something that will always remind me of this young, innocent-version of him. I can hear his voice in my head asking, "Scooby-Doo, where are you?" He always answers himself in his best Scooby voice, "I'm here!" Tonight that'll be more true than ever. Scooby's here. He's officially home.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Power Mama And Her Two Rangers

As I mark the one week anniversary of this blog, I am featuring a new banner, which was kindly drawn by my husband. I'm no graphic design master, and so I was a little nervous when setting up the blog template. Having decided on the name "El Cajon Mama," my first thought was to create a banner with an image inspired by the videogame "Mama" series, which includes Cooking Mama, Gardening Mama, Crafting Mama, and Babysitting Mama.

If you are at all familiar with these games, you'll understand why I tried posing for pictures wearing a handkerchief on my head. Home alone with the kids, I held a camera at arm's length to snap shots of myself with wide-open eyes and a smile to mimic the cute cartoon Mama. Unfortunately, instead of looking cute, the pictures just turned out to be disturbing. I hastily deleted the Mama photos from our camera, and with my failed attempt behind me, I settled on creating a simple text banner with a font mimicking that used on the Mama games' cover art.
The original "El Cajon Mama" banner
The following day, my family and I were hanging out with some friends, and my husband was busy taking pictures of the kids as they played. Out of nowhere, he exclaimed, "What the heck?!?" I was worried that something bad had happened to one of the children, but was instead horrified in a whole different way when he turned the camera's viewing screen toward me to reveal one of the Mama poses that I now realized I had not properly deleted after all. As if that were not bad enough on its own, he had incredulously zoomed in on my face making it all the worse.

The incriminating evidence was humiliating, but since he is a loving husband, he didn't give me too hard of a time. Rather than inflict further shame, he offered to help me out by drawing some cute artwork. Since I love his art, I immediately took him up on it, and the results of his work now adorn this page. In case anyone's wondering what the story is behind the choice to depict a masked trio, it's simply an homage to my son's latest obsession with the Power Rangers. I am the Yellow Ranger, my son is the Red Ranger, and my daughter is the Pink Ranger.

When first seeing the drawing, my son smiled for a second, but then inquired with an air of disappointment, "Where's Daddy?" It's sweet to think that even in the drawing, our son doesn't want anyone to be left out. My husband promised that he would draw a picture just for him that has all four of us in it, but my son seems worried because it remains unresolved whether Daddy will end up being the Green Ranger, the Blue Ranger, or the Black Ranger. The uncertainty is eating away at him as I type.

As for myself, I think the banner turned out pretty darn cute. I especially like the fact that my family is depicted as a team of superheroes since I've been having many heartfelt discussions with my son lately about how important it is to "do the right thing" even when seeing other people getting away doing the wrong thing. Just yesterday, I was dismayed when witnessing my son tease another kid. He wasn't even speaking in real words when he jibed, "Bay-bay, blah de blah de blah..." Even though the kid couldn't have possibly taken too much offense by the word, "blah," it was the tone that said it all.

Later that afternoon, I talked with my son about how he had hurt the other child's feelings. In the discussion, I asked him if he ever got his feelings hurt, and he admitted that other kids are mean to him sometimes. Thus I see through my son how bullying begets bullying. I told him that there will always be people who are mean, but he shouldn't be one of those people. We don't hurt people, even though others may hurt us. We are not bullies. We are protectors. There are enough bad guys in the world, and so we need to make sure that we are on the team with the good guys.

My sweet little guy matched my gaze and finally broke down into genuine tears. I think he cried because he did feel bad that he had hurt the other boy, but also because of the times that he's been hurt. I wrapped my arms around him, wanting to protect him from the unfortunate meanness that exists in our world. I think the fact that he loves Power Rangers so much is because it feels safe to believe that there are good forces out there ready to battle the bad, and perhaps also because he, too, wants to be a protector. The next time you walk down the streets of El Cajon, and you pass by a plain-clothed family of four, just keep in mind that you may actually be in the presence of a family that sometimes masquerades as Power Rangers. Go, go El Cajon Mama and family!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Incident Alert: Public Pooping Outside Dollar Tree

WARNING: This post contains description of graphic bodily functions. Proceed with caution.

My mom finds it a little perplexing that a large percentage of my son's vocabulary consists of the words "booty," "toot," and "poop." When I talk to my friends with small kids, though, they agree that potty language is high on the list for their children as well. And, after working on potty training with my son, I can hardly blame him for focusing on these words, because it seems that our days really do revolve around talking to him about taking care of his various body parts and bodily functions. In fact, we spend so much time focusing on pee and poop that we become pretty immune to how uncouth these topics sound to people not living in the preschool world. So, if this topic will gross you out, please don't continue reading!

As I have mentioned in a previous posting, my son recently graduated to wearing "big boy" undies. What I didn't understand before having kids is that, for most people, potty training is not an over-and-done matter. It is a process. I didn't think about the fact that kids will need help wiping their bums for a while even after they master pooping in the potty. I also didn't think about the fact that they while they may want to use a toilet, they don't always have the control to make it to one. "Holding it" is a skill all unto itself. This brings me to yesterday.

Yesterday, I was out running errands with my kids in Santee. Before we left our home, I made sure to have my son use the potty. He did so without any fuss, and so I hardly anticipated what was about to go down while we were out. We arrived at the Santee "Wal-Mart" shopping center, and although my first stop was to go to Michaels, I figured that we could also go by Dollar Tree after that to look at some last minute Easter goods. Rather than park by Michaels and then have to move the car, I decided to park by Dollar Tree instead. This not only saved me the hassle of an additional strapping and unstrapping of the kids from their carseats, but it meant I could get a little extra exercise and my son could burn off a little extra energy.

To the average adult, the walk to Michaels is not long, but in kid-distance it was apparently long and "too hard," as deemed by my son. I encouraged my little guy to keep up the pace. But then, as we were about halfway there, he started complaining that he was cold. Uh oh. This is his "tell" when he's got to go potty. Stuck walking between stores, while also juggling my wriggling daughter in my arms, I asked him if he could wait. The answer was no.

The panic level in my son grew nearly instantaneously. He could no longer walk, but just started nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot while continuing to complain about being "cold." I apologize for the possible public health hazard, but before I knew it, my son was pulling down his pants and peeing into the nearby planter. To my amazement and relief, (I think) we actually lucked out that he timed it perfectly when there happened to be no passers-by. The whole peeing incident was over in less than ten seconds. I told him to hurry and pull his pants up, and then we went on our way.

After our errand at Michaels, we started back toward our car and stopped in at Dollar Tree, as planned. Since my son had already relieved himself in the planter, I figured we were in the clear. I was wrong. We made it down two aisles, and then I heard his little voice, "I'm cold." Again? Our shopping trip was abruptly cut short as I quickly purchased the few items we'd already placed in our cart.

Re-staging of the incident
Luckily, this time we weren't stuck far from our car. I initially hoped that he would be able to hold it long enough for us to drive to a restroom-friendly establishment like Target or Wal-Mart since they are both so nearby. But, when I asked my son if he could hold it, the answer was a resounding no. My next thought was that I could have used the Potette that I've been diligently keeping in my trunk, but have just never had the opportunity to use. But, of course, it just so happens that we transferred it to my husband's car this past weekend. This is when my lifesaving Throw-Up Bucket came back into use.

A Throw-Up Bucket is something I invented when I was pregnant. As I had horrible morning sickness throughout both of my pregnancies, I would vomit often and with very little warning. This meant I never could guarantee making it to a toilet or trash can in time. I invested in four small-sized wastebaskets from the 99 Cents Only Store and strategically placed one in each of our cars, one next to the sofa, and one next to our bed. I lined the Buckets with shopping bags, soon learning which stores offered the most leak-proof ones, and whenever the urge came, I could neatly aim, contain, and then dispose of my throw-up.

Even though my pregnancy days are over, we have kept the Buckets in our cars, using them as makeshift trash receptacles. As of yesterday, however, the former Throw-Up Buckets have reclaimed utility as Poo-Poo Buckets. Returning to the parking lot outside of Dollar Tree, my son grew increasingly antsy, and so I rushed into action. I took out the existing bag of trash from the Bucket, emptied my Michaels bag of purchases to re-line it, and then set it on the asphalt with my propped open car door serving as a makeshift privacy guard. I instructed my son to go ahead and poop into the Bucket, and lo and behold, he did. We had extremely lucky timing once again, this time that the people parked around us didn't happen to return to their cars at that moment. My son was proud that he had avoided having an accident, and I was ever-thankful for the now christened Poo-Poo Bucket.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hallelujah! Amazon Opening Library Lending For Kindle!

Today feels a little like Christmas to a nerdy, frugal person like myself. Even as the El Cajon skies above are overcast, the day has started off with a press release from Amazon that they will finally support library lending on the Kindle. I was spoiled enough to get a Kindle from my in-laws this past year. The eInk is truly impressive, and I've downloaded some great domain-free classics at no cost. But, I just could never get past the fact that Amazon stubbornly didn't support interconnectivity with OverDrive, the eBook lending system used by many public libraries, including our very own San Diego County Library system.

There's a silver lining to this cloudy day!
 Now, I'm giddy with excitement that in the near future, I should be able to read current, popular books for free on my Kindle. This leads me to my unsponsored plug for the San Diego County Libraries. Where else can you go to hang out without having to purchase anything? What other way can you read books, watch movies, and listen to music for free without fear of putting your family at risk of being investigated by the Feds? As a San Diego County resident, you must make sure that you have a current library card! Not only does this allow you to check out a large selection of print books, DVDs, and CDs--it also gives you access to free online resources that you can use from the comfort of your own home or even on the go, as I've been doing a lot lately.

Included in the County's online resources is OverDrive, which allows you to borrow from an ever-growing library of eBooks. I've only started making use of OverDrive myself, accessing it via an app on my smartphone. But, I'm already a huge fan, having been able to indulge in my guilty pleasure of celebrity biographies including Queen Latifah's Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom (currently $9.99 on Amazon) and Kitty Kelley's Oprah: A Biography (currently $8.99 on Amazon). This past week, I've even dabbled with OverDrive's audiobook offerings, and so I've been enjoying Frank Bruni's Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater (currently $20.95 on Amazon) while driving around town.

Even though I've already been enjoying OverDrive on my phone, am I still excited that it's coming to the Kindle? Heck yeah! I can't wait to breathe new life into my Kindle. Since I've started using OverDrive, do I still visit the physical libraries themselves? All of the time! I love taking our kids to various library branches for programs, to play on the kiddie computers, to meet up with friends, and to check out books. Besides, library eBook offerings are still much more slim when compared with what's available in print, especially when considering how the County allows you to make free interlibrary loan requests from within its own system, with San Diego college and university libraries via the San Diego Circuit, and with other library systems throughout California and Nevada via Link+. No matter how little money you may have, there is no excuse for denying your family the valuable privileges provided by our public libraries!

In closing, here's a final tip regarding OverDrive: Maximize your eBook offerings by getting a library card for the City of San Diego's public library system, which has its own OverDrive library. You just have to be a California state resident in order to get a card from the City. Even if you don't make frequent trips out to City library branches in person, a card will allow you to access their online resources. Since you'll discover that most OverDrive books are often checked out and with a sometimes lengthy waiting list, it helps to be able to use both the County and City. And, if you just can't wait, buy the book from Amazon--I'm happier than ever to give them my endorsement since they are now willing to work with libraries!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

7-Eleven Self-Serve Beverages Go Up $0.10...Still The Best Deal In Town!

Help the earth and save money with refills!
One of my family's favorite guilty pleasures is 7-Eleven. In particular, I've developed a bad habit of stopping to get coffee in the mornings before work. When it's hard to drag myself out of bed, just the thought of concocting my perfect mix (3/4 full with decaf and then topped off with the cappuccino machine--Pumpkin Spice, if at all possible) gets me a little more excited to get going for the day. I'm guessing that Starbucks must still be doing okay business-wise since I haven't heard about them having to shut down locations, but when you're living in El Cajon, 7-Eleven is king!

My family has so many adventures that include 7-Eleven that I'm sure I'll be writing about it more in the future. For today, I'm just reporting that at all locations, the self-serve beverage prices have increased by $0.10. This means that Slurpees, Big Gulps, coffees, etc. are all just a little more expensive. I actually found out about the price hike yesterday. I was at the counter waiting for my turn to pay when the regular cashier made the announcement to people. The man he was currently helping said gruffly that he wouldn't be coming back anymore, but then immediately just started chuckling. It was apparent that he is a regular, as are most of the morning goers--I'm not the only one who thinks that this is a great way to start the day.

Frequent drinker cards are available at some locations.
Returning to the price increase, I asked the same worker this morning to clarify the new drink prices. He reiterated that drinks across town went up by $0.10 yesterday, but then he made sure I knew that I wouldn't have to worry because I have a reusable cup and so my refill would remain $0.99. I didn't want the guy to think I was complaining, and so I made sure to let him know that I think it's still a great deal. He defended his business saying that it is a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks and then he ended with, "We ain't rich, we live in El Cajon."

As I checked out with my one dollar bill, I was fishing around in my wallet and the cashier immediately knew that I couldn't find my frequent drinker card. He started a new one for me with a smile and wished me a good day. As I headed for the door, a gangsta-looking guy saw me coming and backed up so that he could hold the door open for me to go out. I must say, I felt a little bit like royalty leaving 7-Eleven this morning, and all for less than a buck!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Graffiti

Feeling protective of our neighborhood, my husband and I can't stand it when we encounter graffiti. Unfortunately, this is an occurrence that is all too common when living in El Cajon. Although there are many targets, there was one poor house on the western side of Mollison Avenue, close to Park Street, that seemed like it was always being singled out by taggers since it has a long expanse of street-side fencing. Every week, I'd spot new graffiti that would get cleaned up only to have more new graffiti pop up once again. The most memorable was when I drove by to find a giant penis spray painted along the expanse. Perhaps that was the last straw, because it seemed like soon afterward, the once tempting blank canvas was reclaimed as an official canvas with a purpose. See the picture below for the multi-panel mural featuring various historical scenes of El Cajon that now adorns the fencing.

What used to be an eyesore is now a great tribute to El Cajon!
One block down toward Broadway, on the same side of Mollison Avenue, you may or may not notice another mural that was added at the same time. This mural camouflages the fence so well that it appears to be just part of a natural landscape.

Do you notice the fence? Luckily, taggers don't seem to anymore.
On the eastern side of Mollison, take a peek at the expansive mural that was created for the El Cajon Valley High School campus. Once another favorite spot for taggers, this wall now stands as an exhibit of school spirit. Go Braves!

If you watched this mural unfold through "drafts," you'll agree it is a relief that it ended up as it did!
So, have these murals made a difference? From an outside perspective, they seem to be working. I've only personally noticed graffiti on them once. If there have been many more occurrences, then the maintainers are doing a great job of removing the graffiti right away. On a practical level, they've taken away the whole "blank canvas" aspect of these spaces. I like to think that the artwork holds even more power, though, by inspiring a sense of community pride.

To any fellow El Cajon residents, if you happen to be a victim of graffiti, please take action quickly! The best way to combat this vandalism is by swiftly removing it. Luckily, the city of El Cajon seems to be very receptive to helping residents tackle this problem. They have a Graffiti Abatement Program with a hotline that you can call to report incidences and to even get help with free removal. In addition, if you have any tips on the perpetrators, you can anonymously submit tips through Crime Stoppers.

Here's to keeping our streets clean and safe!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Day The Goats Came To Grossmont

Look at how neatly manicured the hillside is now!
Last Sunday, my family and I were driving west on I-8 out of El Cajon and we noticed the weirdest sight. Halfway between the Main Street and Severin freeway exits, we discovered the whole hill on our right side was polka dotted with white blobs. As we got closer, we were able to discern that they were indeed goats! We could tell a striking difference between the areas that the goats had already cleared away and the areas they were yet to visit. This was the first time that I had ever seen goats in action like this. It was fun to see, and I'm only bummed that I was unable to snap a picture of them that day or the next day when I saw them again, this time working a little further down in the direction of the Main Street exit. The picture on the right was taken today. The goats are sadly absent, but you can get a peek at the admirable work that they accomplished.

I think it was an awesome idea to employ these four-legged creatures to help out in reducing fire damage in our local area. After finding some news stories about the goats--"Goats, nature's barbers, on a spring tour" from the San Diego Union-Tribune and "Getting their goats: homeowner's hire four-footed brush clearing crew" from East County Magazine--I am pretty proud to learn that the effort was one initiated by local homeowners. I hope that the trend catches on and that I will get a chance to see the goats in some of the many other overgrown areas around town. It brought a smile to my face to see these animals at work, and hopefully it means we'll all be just a little bit safer, too.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Worrying About School As Our Son Just Masters The Potty

Just this morning with the Potty Master himself
Our son just graduated from Pull-Ups to big boy undies, and now I find myself consumed with thinking about his next big step: big boy school. Since he will start kindergarten in Fall 2012, we only have a little more than a year to figure out where he will go. In the past, parents didn't blink twice before sending their children to the local neighborhood school. But, these days, parents are busy researching their options to secure the best opportunities possible. 

Does this mean that there is a single best school out there? No. The best decision will vary for each family and possibly even for each child within a family. It's all about what is the best match. For our family, we live in close proximity to three different primary school districts: Cajon Valley Union School DistrictSantee School District, and La Mesa - Spring Valley School District.

Here are a few of the many factors we're considering:
  • Location - We want to pick a school that is within a 5-10 minute drive from home. We want our kids to attend a school that is in our general area so that they hopefully feel connected to and accepted by the community. We want them to be able to easily get together with school friends to play or study. And, for practical reasons, we don't to add the burden of a lengthy commute to our already crazy work schedules.
  • K-5 vs. K-6 vs. K-8? - What do we think will be best for our kids? Are kids at K-8 schools (i.e. Santee District schools in East County) kept more innocent for longer, or are they too sheltered and have a difficult transition into high school? If they will need to go to a separate middle school, which one would we pick?
  • High Schools - I know that this is a long way off, but I'm thinking that the elementary school we pick will determine the friends our kids make and thus where they want to go for high school. What will matter most in a high school: social climate, school size, test scores, class offerings?
  • Academic Rigor and School Culture - How can we determine the academic rigor of schools other than by their test scores? The schools immediately near us have pretty low test scores. Do we try to get our kids into "better performing" schools further away? If we send our kids to these other schools, will they feel like outsiders because they are "transfer" students? Will they be more influenced to develop an entitlement attitude if they go to school with more "privileged" kids? How much do we prioritize sending our kids to a school with more "diverse" populations? It's easy to quantify test scores, but how do we measure differences in the values and self-image our children will develop?
  • Public vs. Charter vs. Private? - We've always believed in sending our kids to public schools, but with public education getting hit harder all of the time, are we stubborn and crazy not to consider other options?
If anyone reading this has advice or opinions on local schools, please contact me! I'd love to hear how people feel about them firsthand.

My Love Letter To The New 52 Corridor

To My Dear, Sweet 52 Corridor,

I know, you're already in a committed relationship with the 67...
I know that we've only just officially met, but I want you to know that I love you already. I know that other people think you're not perfect, but I am still overjoyed that you have come into my life. For years now, I have watched you from a distance, but I haven't had the chance to step foot near you, as fences have kept us apart. Yet, all along I've known that you've been busy focusing on building yourself up and that you've allowed many others to help you along the way. 

Just recently, when the opportunity finally came for you to enter my life, I jumped at the chance. I even went out of my way, changing my plans for the day just so that I could cross on your path. I was a little nervous at first, unsure of where we might be headed. But, my nerves were instatly replaced by a feeling that you were always meant to be in my life. All of these years I've felt like I was going in the wrong direction, and now where I am heading is straight to home.

You make me feel like I'm flying high in the sky!
I hope that you are not too overwhelmed by all of the affection that you may be receiving lately. I understand that it's a lot to handle when you're not used to it, and it probably isn't easy to juggle all of the demands that are being placed on you. But, the fact that people are entrusting you with all of these new responsibilities is really a testament to your potential. After all, you have worked so hard to make good of yourself. You're breaking down barriers for people--you're building connections!

I know that you're really busy and so you are only able to give me about five minutes of your time whenever we meet, but please know that I cherish these minutes and always look forward to when I am able to be in your presence once again.

Love from your secret admirer,
El Cajon Mama

Friday Night At The Santee Drive-In

There are only two drive-in theaters left in San Diego County, and we are lucky enough to live within a 5-minute drive from the Santee location. This is the only way that we ever "go to the movies" these days, and in our opinion, it is the best way. Tonight we went to the Santee Drive-in to see Rio and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

To begin with, the drive-in is a relatively good deal. We paid $16 for my husband, my two kids, and me to see the double billing--adults are $8 each and both of the kids are still free since they are under five. We also save money on refreshments since we're able to bring our own food.

But most importantly, the drive-in is awesome because it means that we get to spend the whole night bundled all together. There is no way that the kids would be able to sit in a regular theater for even a single movie without disturbing people. In the comfort of our own car, though, they can make noise when they need to, we can change a diaper right where we are, and we can even kick up our feet.

Tonight, my son snuggled on my lap during Rio while our daughter slept. Then, right before Diary of a Wimpy Kid, my daughter woke up and so I held her and got her back to sleep while my son had his turn sitting with Daddy.

On the drive back home, my husband reminded me that even though I had had reservations about going to the movies tonight since I was feeling tired, making time for these outings is worth it since our kids won't be little like this for long. We must cherish these times when we can simply hold and cuddle with them. I can't think of another way I'd rather spend my Friday night.

For drive-in newbies, it is bad etiquette to arrive late and drive around with your lights on!

My son and I kicked our feet up on the dash while enjoying Rio.

Friday, April 15, 2011

La Jolla Mom, Meet El Cajon Mama

Last night, I attended an SDBloggers MeetUp event at LEGOLAND SEA LIFE. I had not been a member of SDBloggers (nor had I even heard of them) until my friend invited me to join her at this evening's event. Without having any expectations for the night, I was pleasantly surprised by how exciting it was to talk with others who are interested in and pursuing social media for a career or hobby. 

Although I never did speak with her, I was particularly inspired by one of the organizers of the LEGOLAND night, a blogger who is known as "La Jolla Mom." One quick web search brought me to her La Jolla Mom website, and I was instantly impressed by how well she's managed to create a niche for herself on the Web. Believe me, I have no intentions of attempting a full-fledged social media venture on a scale that she's accomplished. Between work and kids, I rarely find time to update all of the other blogs I've started in the past. To be honest, I hesitate in even starting this new project.

All the same, I just can't pass up my chance to answer the call of La Jolla Mom with an East County version I'm calling, "El Cajon Mama." Just as La Jollans proudly claim their city as "The Jewel," I'm proudly claiming El Cajon as "The Drawer." I already have a growing list of my favorite things "East County" that I look forward to cataloging. May you enjoy discovering the contents of this drawer along with me!

My husband wanted to see a shark. Mission accomplished!

My favorite creatures of the night were the jellies.

My son always likes the rays. We'll have to take him soon!