After several weeks of thinking about it, I finally decided to go out on my own and practice approaches by myself. I wanted to make it a cross country, especially after just missing the minimum cross country distance on my last flight, so in addition to the Stockton and Livermore approaches I wanted to practice, I decided to start with an approach at Modesto and conclude that approach with a touch and go.
So I called up Norcal near Sunol and picked up flight following to Modesto. I got ATIS at Modesto, and configured my radios for the approach. My first thought was to go via the MOD VOR, and then up to WOWAR and do the hold/procedure turn to get back inbound. But then I thought I'd save the time, and about 20 miles out, turned direct WOWAR and began my descent. ATC then began giving me vectors; I carefully stayed above KMOD's Class D and descended below 2400' only after I was clear. ATC then cleared me for the approach, at which point I clarified with him that I'm VFR and this is practice. He apparently knew that; I guess they say "cleared for the approach" even for VFR practice approaches.
Problem #1: I never actually switched my nav source to NAV instead of GPS. So luckily I was VFR, otherwise the approach would've been illegal. At WOWAR, I reported as requested, descended and started my stopwatch. About halfway to the MAP, for some reason I was showing a full scale deflection on the CDI, which made no sense because I was exactly on course. Oh well, at that point I could see the runway so I went ahead and landed (nice one), powered back up and raised my flaps, and took off again. As had been instructed, I turned to heading 360 and climbed to 2000'. I called back to Norcal, and they gave me heading 290 toward Stockton.
At this point I realized I was still using GPS as a nav source, so I tuned ECA VOR and the inbound course, and changed my nav source to NAV1. At some point I found myself depending more than I wanted to on the moving map display, so I dimmed it to black. I intercepted the inbound course, and had my clearance, so made my way inbound. This approach went totally smoothly, and since I had a better idea of what to expect on the radio, I was much more efficient with my calls. I did just a low pass at MDA and made the left turn that had been requested by Norcal before I switched the radio back to them.
And when I did, I went ahead and requested Livermore ILS 25R. Again, the whole thing went pretty smoothly, except there was one point where I lost my situational awareness and had to undim the moving map display. In fairness I'd gotten some odd vectors, and had been given a "maintain until intercept" clearance (request, really, since I was VFR) while being vectored through my course. Still, I should've been more aware of my situation. The ILS was interesting; I decided to try to keep my airspeed at full for as long as possible. Right around REIGA, the FAF, the tower requested that I slow to "slowest possible" approach speed, so I slowed to 90 knots, and then just to try it I put in 20 degrees of flaps and dropped to 75 knots. However, in all that chaos, I neglected to start my timer at REIGA. Considering all that, I kept on the ILS very well. I got to the DA and again did a low pass, with a left turnout, and flew back to Palo Alto. Upon reaching PAO, I did a short approach just for practice, and nailed it, easily leaving the runway on the first taxiway off.
All in all, it was a good flight to do. I did fall behind a few times, and lost situational awareness at least once. But I think if I do this a couple of times, I'll be way ahead of where I was, in terms of ability and confidence. It was also nice to be fully responsible for ATC communication through the whole flight. I did very well, I thought, nobody got annoyed with me and I was pretty efficient. I am planning to visit a friend in Tracy on Sunday, so I figure I can do something similar to today -- Modesto, Stockton, and then just do an approach to full stop to Tracy.