Building a Babysitter

When my good neighbor-friend moved away last summer, she took with her a warm cozy place for me to visit, a hospitality that always included coffee no matter the time of day, and my babysitters. Since neither of her daughters drive, nor are they interested in learning how, no matter the distance, their new house required me to drive them home after an evening out. So, I stopped going out with my husband. I stopped planning ways to invest in my marriage and started putting the kids to bed earlier. We'd like to think that spending time at home with our husbands after the kids have gone to bed is just as quality as spending time at a restaurant or a movie theater. It's not. Because there's the computer and laundry, a magazine or a phone call that inevitably leads to distractions and non-conversations, and very little eye contact. Which all equals zero time alone, together.
I had gone as far as verbalizing my interest in finding a new babysitter. And that's as far as I got for three months. Shelby whined about being left alone at home and how she didn't want the old sitter to come back. I realized that introducing a new sitter was a little like adopting another child. This person was going to become a part of our lives, of my children's life for (hopefully) a few years of their childhood. This person would learn how my baby likes to fall asleep, what my toddlers' favorite bedtime books are, that my closets are as disorganized as my refrigerator. A babysitter is a part-time family member. And it's a big deal to let them into your life. You can't just have anybody putting your kids to bed. And so, I devised a plan.
After John had mentioned (several times) that he had recently hired a college intern who was interested in babysitting, I decided to call her. She was over 21, owned a reliable vehicle, was friendly and had spent the last three months working for John through harvest. If the tasting room manager trusted her with his newborn three days a week, I guess I could give her a chance.
Once I had scheduled Hannah to babysit the kids, I cooked up a sales pitch to give Shelby. My daughter is intuitive and likes a party, she does not enjoy being left behind. So I told her there was a friend coming over. A big girl friend who had been asking to come to our house and play with her. That this friend really wanted to come over and read books with her, play with her toys and do special things with Shelby. The anticipation was already building. She began asking questions like, how old is she? and what's her name? does she like to wear pink like me? what are we going to do?
The first time Hannah came to babysit, I made sure it was late enough that the baby was asleep. This way, Shelby could have all of Hannah's attention and they could build an uninterrupted relationship. I also left a few new activities for them to do-not a movie. A new activity book, new markers, new playdough and a tidy mat, and a potted bulb. Yes, one of those Christmas pots with the ingredients to grow your very own Hyacinth or Paper White at home. Although this activity only took them a few minutes, it has helped to encourage the relationship even in Hannah's absence. Shelby and I check the bulb every other day, talk about the tiny green sprout that has recently appeared and how Hannah will be here next week again and she'll be so excited to see how the bulb has grown! It's a little reminder of the new part-time member of our family, of the relationship this college girl is growing with my daughters and how it continues to sprout every day.
The last time Hannah came over, both girls were awake and the end of evening report was positive. Even Shelby's morning after report was good. I am so happy to know that the sitter I leave my kids with is as enthusiastic about them as they are about her. That we talk about her almost every day (thanks to the bulb) and Shelby is actually looking forward to an evening when her parents leave her at home with "The Babysitter."


Happy Thanksgiving

Here's to cranberry sauce and red wine,
eating Turkey and feeling fine
a room full of relatives unruly and loud,
a fat full tummy and a friendly crowd.
Raise your cup and drink it up,
cherish your family and your good luck.
Warm crackling fires, and plenty of laughter,
a year full of happily ever after,
There's Aunt Judith's big jumbly squeeze,
Pass the pumpkin pie, please,
A year of memories, laughs and living,
I wish you all a


Ode to My Town

I dedicate the following poems to my muses, all those crazies who wander the streets of my town.

Crazy Jack
Dressed in black,
Wears his iPod with a head wrap.
Big black boots, with buckles and straps.
Kid Rock's cousin, high on crack.

Old man-lady on the street,
carries a broomstick by her feet,
Pushes a cart, wears a hat
plaid and puffy,
"Look, it's Pat."

Skater Dad, travels around
riding half pipes down town
middle aged, got no car
wife and kid skate just as far.

Creepy fisherman on a walk,
To himself he likes to talk,
Up the curb and down again
Pausing for his imaginary friend.

Pizza guy, with his sign
stands on the corner, lookin' fine.
Got his beats, and his rhythm,
bops for hours, cocaine in him.
"6 buck buffet, try it out!"
Scary guy on my route.

My kids observe,
each day in town,
watching crazies cruise around.
"Grow up right, work hard, be good,
Don't be a crazy in the neighborhood."


Baby Shower Brilliance

As promised, here's some evidence of my most impressive efforts for H's baby shower.

A cake made of baby diapers, towels, bibs and baby blankets. This pic was taken before I decorated it with fresh flowers from the bouquets the day of the party.

The illustrious party favors containing all items related to relaxing:
A mixed CD, a candle, "Calm" tea, face lotion and/or calming spritz (an array of samples I scored at the department store makeup counter for free), and a family recipe for yummy chocolate peanut butter cookies from the guest of honor's kitchen. (I, of course, neglected to capture photos at the actual party, please excuse my reenactment)

One idea I had, but did not follow through with, included hiring a reflexologist and or masseuse to orchestrate an entire room full of relaxing time. Either foot soaks and foot massages or a chair massage. I also made a failed attempt at concocting an organic sea salt scrub to include in the party favor bag. I went as far as to buy the oil and sea salt and glass containers. Then I got overwhelmed.
We didn't play games at this baby #2 shower, but instead were asked to submit a fact about ourselves that no one else would know. Everyone diligently scribbled something down before we sat down for brunch. When we retired to the living room to watch the opening of gifts, my co-hostess filled the down time between presents by reading from our fact cards. Then we all tried to guess who was "a former Sports Illustrated model" , or who "ice skated as a child". It was a nice way to get to know the other guests.
One other tried and true addition to our party was a basket full of envelopes on which each guest was invited to write her name and address. After the party, the guest of honor receives all the envelopes and their respective Thank You cards so she can easily mail out her Thank Yous with pre-addressed envelopes. Easy and rather helpful.

Happy Showering!


A Fitz Family Gathering

My Irish Catholic side of the family reconvened this year for a pre-Thanksgiving bash at The Ranch. For exactly 24 hours, more than 65 Fitz-somethings gathered to eat, drink, sing, four wheel a random collection of vintage machines, drink, shoot weapons(I never said we were smart Irish Catholics), drink and perform. The strange finality of it all resulted in happy goodbyes and only one lukewarm screaming match. This year paled in comparison to past blowouts, crashed cars and broken bones. Contrary to our roots, my family is not the Irish whiskey type. But what they lack in traditional drink they more than make up for in wine, Vodka, swimsuit drag queens and live karaoke performances. I've finally reached a point in my life where I revel in these gatherings. I anxiously anticipate the perfect mix of young and old in a sprawling farmhouse against the backdrop of rolling hills. I love the smell of mingled perfumes, Uncle Jim's oak bbq, cherished memories, cattle, warm pumpkin pie, fresh squeezed lime in the cocktails, dusty boots and avocados. I love the way the house swells with conversation, often bursting with laughter, how there's always a crowd gathered at grandpa's bar. I love the way the children shoot out of the doors like firecrackers and music spills from the piano like sweet, velvety syrup. I love the sunset on Grandma's back porch, the rusty candelabra over her outdoor table, the whir of golf carts racing through the orchards, piled high with giggling cousins, the horseshoe pits beckoning from the shade of an old oak tree. The sweet smell of garden roses, the whinny of a horse, the crackle of the fire pit, strong coffee wafting through the air.

When the sun slipped beneath the horizon, a stage was lit for lifetime performances this family would not live down (or live without). There was a simulated family road trip, where 7 siblings-most seasoned grandparents themselves- lined up folding chairs and invited their 90 year old mother to sit at the helm of an imaginary station wagon on her own candlelit porch. They handed her a mug of Irish Whiskey(apparently an authentic driving prop back in their childhood) and led the entire family on a bumpy, and albeit loud ride down memory lane singing, "Over the river and through the woods to Lake Nacimiento we go...HEY!" chiming in with knee slapping quotes and memories of their chaotic and colorful childhood. My family is a varied collection of performers, artists, musicians, lovers, livers and intellects with a thirst for adventure. The final act involved five young men dressed in women's swimsuits with rolled socks stuffed in all the wrong places. Cameras flashed, jaws dropped, the crowd joyously cheered in loving adoration as these muscle bound queens flounced and posed, swinging scarves and tossing their gloves into the air.
And for those of you who read last year's account of my family's annual pre-Thanksgiving bash (see "Best Posts of 2007") my drunk recovering alcoholic aunt gave an encore acoustic performance into the wee hours of the night...or so I heard. When John and I rallied the kids for breakfast the next morning, half the crowd was pirate eyed, disheveled and gripping coffee mugs like their life depended on it. Apparently, old Auntie rocked Janis Joplin's greatest hits with her guitar and trusty vocals well past midnight, to the tune of an unappreciative packed house. Some things never change.