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April 29- May 10, 2015
Written April 30 +

Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
This is another family diary.  No exotic travel or spectacular venues, just a couple of weeks of babysitting.  For Marianne and me it feels like our first extended travel in quite some time, with the advantage of a couple fun "travel" partners.  Those partners, Sam and Ava, get a combination of change and the comfort of home and home routines.  Meanwhile, their mom and dad get ten days of really exotic travel: a sailboat in the US Virgin Islands.  Part of me is jealous, but mostly I look forward to our own time on the road.

I will try to make diary entries daily, as the name implies, not because I expect broadly noteworthy happenings every day, but to remind myself that trying to make each day noteworthy, in a literal sense, brings its own rewards.  Besides, we can then keep Gabby and Mamal current, something a professional babysitter should do.

Before our trip, we had to take care of last-minute Fresno fixing.  We had patio dining with Mamo, and are assured that her bout of shingles is essentially over, with apparently no long-term effects.  Whew.  Marianne also worked to finish a painting or two.  Leaving her art studio behind is one of the downsides of travel.  For me, it was last-minute plantings to start to cover over our discolored fence and inevitable back yard cleanup.  This really is the season for color and growth at our place and I have to admit I will miss the little chores.

-- First travel day (April 29)
The often-repeated trip from Fresno took its normal three hours.  The green grass we had seen a month ago had shifted to California golden, but the green oak trees in Pacheco Pass stood out even more.
Roadside fruit stands are starting to expand their offers.  We are midway through strawberry season and starting stone fruit harvests.

We arrived at our temporary home but were allowed no extra time for settling in.  Sam's soccer practice started soon after we arrived.
While her brother was busy with soccer, Ava tried her hand at overhead climbing.  She worked so hard that she was forced to stop due to a big blister on her hand.  An occupational hazard of jungle gym climbers.

Back at home, there was time for art work and chatting.  Dad was given no time to even get out of his work scrubs before he had to pitch batting practice.  The kids loved it!
A good first day!

Thursday, April 30.

d150430_02_happy.jpgWe started slowly with the babysitting stuff, since Gabby and Mamal didn't leave until late on Thursday.  Both kids also have school (or, pre-school in Sam's case) so Marianne and I had a chance for a leisurely breakfast and some shopping.  She looked at house things, and I stopped by the local Apple store and picked up a replacement laptop.  The old one was almost six years old (42 years in dog-time, or 60 years in computer-time) and was beginning to act peculiarly from time to time.  Old things and people do that.

We made it home about the time Gabby brought the kids back from school and we took over talking with the kids so she could continue trip preps.  (The "highlight" of her preparations ended up being almost five hours on the phone with Comcast and Apple tech support since, true to how-things-happen, the house internet connection and her automatic computer backup scheme both failed at the most inconvenient time!)

For the rest of us, the highlight was tennis lessons.  Mostly this was running around a court, but I suppose there were lessons in there somewhere.  Fun, for sure.
From there it was a family dinner with Mamal's parents, one of their friends, the two kids, Marianne and me, and of course the travelers.  How Gabby keeps up with all this is impressive!  It was nice for everyone to have a last set of goodbyes.

Of course the hardest goodbyes came at the end, when the tired kids cried and the rushed parents finally had to leave.  They faced almost 18 hours of over-night travel (1 hour car-ride to SFO airport, six hours to Miami, an hour to Puerto Rico, and a half-hour to Tortola -- plus hours of layovers).  Sailing always sounds much more inviting than this part.
Back at the home front, Gigi started the kids' process of going to bed, augmented by the erection of a new tepee tent left behind as a gift from mom and dad.  In the end, the two exhausted kids waved good-night to mom and dad and were asleep in minutes.
So, one day down and ten to go.  We can't wait for all of it.  (ps: Gabby, the internet works fine and your backup is complete!)

Friday, May 1
More grandkid pictures and stories.  That's the purpose of this diary after all.  We had a standard start: breakfast, diary, and off to school for Ava.  Gigi and I enjoyed a morning with Sam, including "homework" for everyone.  It's still fun.
We picke up Ava after morning kindergarten and we headed for lunch at Happy Hound, a Los Gatos standard for decades.  The hot dogs were OK (even the one Sam dropped on the ground), but the best part was a surprise phone call from mom and dad. 
Afternoon was play time, like most parts of the days.  Ava and Marianne played Candy Land while John and Sam took naps.  After that, it was more play in the new tent and then some time in the pool.  All fun!
We had dinner at home and then Gigi came up with the idea of a special dessert at the frozen yogurt shop.  Everyone enthusiastically agreed.  Sam dropped this treat too, but was OK with only having a few bites and the candy sprinkles that were provided in a separate cup.  Gigi and I didn't drop ours, but probably should have!
From there, it was home for final cleanup and bed.  Two exhausted kids slept very well! (As did Gigi and Opa.)

Saturday, May 2

Saturday started with a hearty breakfast of Gigi's "palacsinta", Hungarian crepes.  Ava and Sam devoured four or five each, and still had room for a bit of fruit and eggs (Sam, at least).   Grandparents have to get used to the kids' eating pattern; sometimes a little and sometimes a lot, but palacsinta always seem to be a hit.

The rest of the morning, and indeed most of the day, was "play time".  Six-year-old Ava and almost-four-year-old Sam have wonderfully developed patterns and practices for their play.  For hours and hours they create their own world, lately a choice between "cafe" and "house". 

Today, "cafe" was based in the new tent, which served as an elaborate kitchen for the two of them.  The meals prepared for Opa ran to several imaginary courses over many imaginary days.  Every "day" would include one meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner; and a few-second period of lights-out for sleeping.  Then the feast started all over again.  I could ask for anything, and sometimes it was available and sometimes not, but the cafe service was always quick and polite.  Prices were a little bit steep, with dishes and meals going for play-pretend $5 to $80 to "eighty one-hundred ninety dollars".  I was glad they accepted my imaginary money.

"House" is played anywhere.  On Saturday, there were sessions inside the big playroom and also outside.  Ava is almost always the Mom, but Sam alternates between being "the kid", "the baby", or, his favorite, "the Dad".  For hours they will repeat the patterns and dialog they have picked up, a reminder to always be careful when speaking in their presence.  Throughout cafe and house, disagreements arise but, for the most part, play-pretend Mom and Dad talk out some sort of compromise.  This all bodes well for future people-interactions.

Our main outside event of the day was the art show at Sam's pre-school, Oak Tree.  The school is actually quite big, with several "grades", and each class had their own collection of student work.  Of course, we focussed on Sam's pieces, but we were impressed by several ambitious group projects the teacher had organized.  I mean really, when did YOU learn about Jasper John, much less try to imitate his art?  Pre-school!
Pretty formal training, for pre-school!
Art Show open houses are also social events.
Back home, it was more play.  This time, "house" moved outdoors and Ava and Sam alternated driving the car to errands and to pick the other up from work.  These kids will be skilled long before they reach real driving age.
d150502_50_clean.jpg The last event of the day was clean-up, no minor task after all that playtime.  The kids were each promised a coin if they did it willingly.  Ava jumped in right away and, after awhile, Sam was mister orderly too, with each of his toys returned to the right bin or basket.  For as much chaos as there was before, the end result was a house prepared for the professional cleaning crew on Monday and Sam and Ava were happy with the coins for their piggy banks.  Even cleaning was fun.

Sunday, May 3

d150503_01_breakfast.jpgWe started our Sunday normally, with as-requested breakfast. Ava and Sam wake up cheerful enough, but Sam definitely is the slower one when it comes to greeting the day.  It will be interesting to see if this stays true as the kids get older.

Of course we had a major goal this Sunday: Gilroy Gardens.  The amusement park owned by the city of Gilroy is focussed on kids of exactly Sam and Ava's ages.  The two-dozen rides and attractions offer a very full day for kids and guardians!  (A brief history of the park:  It was founded by Michael and Claudia Bonfante with the proceeds from the sale of their "Nob Hill" grocery chain.  The park took decades to build and has been open since 2001.  More here.)

Our full day ran for almost six hours and our team had fun on a majority of the rides, although the day was too chilly for the water attractions to be open yet.  Sam started out reluctant to get on any rides, but by the end of the day he was proud to be "brave" and even went on the merry-go-round horses that went up and down.  I took far more pictures than needed, but that's my pattern.  I hope they serve as memories for Ava and Sam as I know they will for Gigi and Opa.

First ride was the carousel - Sam passed, but Ava liked it.  Next, we moved on to the train and Sam was willing, if not completely convinced.
Ava and Gig went on their first roller coaster, the Timber Twister.  Ava said it was a little scary, but she liked it enough to say she would go on them again.  The Balloon Ride was Sammy's first "high" ride.
Speaking of high, the Panoramic Wheel seemed worth the 20-minute wait.  Back on ground, the stone maze trapped the explorers for awhile, but Sam and Ava found the way out.
Only in Gilroy could there be garlic rides, but there were also flowers, and boats and strawberries.
Sam's favorite ride turned out to be an orange car and, at the end, he was willing to take on the carousel that intimidated him hours before.

A unique attraction at Gilroy Gardens were the gardens themselves, including the "Circus Trees" of Axel Erlandson, amazing pieces of natural sculpture.  How DID he do this?
We ended our excursion with pizza out, but Sam slept through most of the meal, truly exhausted from the long day.

Monday, May 4
It's back to the school week for both Ava and Sam.  They both enjoy going and, today, we were even organized enough to leave the house exactly on time.  That may not always be the case, I suppose.  While the kids were learning, Marianne and I were out eating breakfast because the cleaning crew was doing its thing back home.  It is a nice service and it felt like we were in this giant hotel suite (although we DID have to clean in preparation for the cleaners.)

d150504_02_callhome.jpgAfter school, our first appointment was a phone call from mommy and daddy.  This was definitely a highlight for the day, for both ends of the call.  The parents are enjoying themselves sailing, of course, but they miss the little buddies too.  Same on this side, happy with special play friends Gigi and Opa, but missing regular mom and dad.

From there it was over to the park for a bit of outside play.  This is normally a reliable diversion, although Ava is still a bit out-of-service from her jungle gym hand blister last week.  We assured her it would be fixed within another week.


Play made folks hungry, so we stopped at Noah's for a pair of bagels.  On the way home, Sam fell asleep, tired and full.  This non-nap lasted for almost two hours!

Real dinner was supposed to be pizza and Gigi's chocolate pudding, but only the pudding sold well.  Pretty soon it was time for baths, a pair of night time books, and quietly sleeping kids.

Another fun day for everyone.

Tuesday, May 5
By now, our morning routine was set: wake up, breakfast, clean up, collect school requirements, pile into car seats, and drop kids at schools.  We will readily admit though, that it takes the both of us grownups to make this happen on time.  Our congratulations to the moms (it's generally the moms) that do this all by themselves!

Marianne and I did our routine, breakfast out and a bit of shopping, before we needed to swing by the schools to retrieve the charges.  Then we went furniture shopping up in Redwood City, our break from routine and a test of sorts on how  the kids handle tagging along for decidedly grown-up activity. I had not been in Redwood City for decades and saw that the old, sleepy community has transformed into a chic shopping and dining downtown. 

Marianne's shopping for a coffee table was successful, in a number of ways.  First, the kids were wonderfully behaved (note to mom).  Second, Marianne ordered the table.  Third, she encountered the charming store owner who invited us to visit the factory (and vineyard) up in Napa County and we can't pass up an opportunity for a special wine-country trip.  I wonder when. 
Shopping -- and a trip to the bakery while Gigi was so busy.
Back home, it was more routine: dinner and playtime.  Ava and Sam drove their cars around the pickle-ball court, crashing only a few times. The significant injury came when Sam, ignoring advice to get shoes on, picked up a wood sliver in his big toe.  Apparently a typical event around here, both ignoring advice and getting foot-slivers.  Ava picked him up, put him in her Jeep, and drove him to Gigi's clinic.  He was fixed in no time.
Then it was the last of the routines: bath, wash hair, brush teeth, read stories, and fall sound asleep.  Another fun day for Gigi and Opa and, we hope, for Ava and Sam.

Wednesday, May 6
d150506_02_1stpark.jpgToday was a regular school day for Ava, a day with friends for Marianne, and a day together for Sam and Opa.  We all climbed in the car at the regular 8am blast-off time and dropped Ava at Daves Avenue school, getting there a few minutes before the 8:15 bell.  From Daves, it was over to Philz' Coffee, where Marianne met with Adrienne as planned and, as a surprise, with Rita, both friends for decades - literally.  That left Sam and me alone before his gymnastics class, so we went to a playground for him to warm up.

West Valley Gymnastics is a landmark in these parts and it seems all the kids go there, at least a class or two.  On this Thursday, there were two classes running at the same time, each with a dozen little people.  Three-year-old Sam was with the older of the two groups and, although I am biased, I'd say he did pretty darn well!  I was particularly impressed with the beam-walk-with-rolling-ring.
After class and another half-hour park session, Sam and I met up with Gigi at Adrienne's house, where Sam enjoyed the attention - and the gold fish pond!

From there we went to lunch, just Sam, Gigi, and I.  We chose a nicer restaurant and Sam was on his best behavior.  Actually, he was on his normal-without-distraction-of-other-kids behavior - quiet and funny.  He is going through an interesting stage, full of spirit in familiar circumstances, but much quieter until he gets comfortable.  Maybe not a "stage", but just normal behavior for most people, big or small.

After we picked up Ava, she and Gigi stayed home to finish weekly homework while Sam and I went to his soccer practice.  He thoroughly enjoyed the session, including time with cousin Reef.  The coaches were great with their little sports students, providing lots of fun and a little bit of soccer techniques.  I can see why the kids look forward to soccer class.
playground wind-down
The day ended with an early dinner, because tomorrow would start very early.  Sam's spirit showed itself at dinner time, when he was only hungry for dessert.  He may have been shocked that Gigi and Opa really meant, "no dinner, no dessert", despite his pleas of being "SUPER HUNGRY" (for chocolate pudding only).  In the end, we moved on to the normal bed time routine of baths, stories, and tuck-ins, but no pudding.  He lived.

Thursday, May 7

We started the day very early, in order to get Ava to school at 7am.  Her class was headed to the Monterey Aquarium for the morning.  Sam went to pre-school early too, just to keep logistics simpler.  Marianne and I found ourselves with several hours all on our own.  I could see how moms look forward to such quiet times!
A picture from Ava's trip
After picking up both kids, we returned home so they could work on home projects.  (We won't say who the special people are who will get these art projects.) Both kids do a very good job of concentrating and following instructions.
Of course there was still plenty more time in the day.  The first treat was a double bill movie, a good substitute for quiet time or naps.  Then there was "independent study" when Ava decided to dress up and lecture a class of stuffed friends.  She managed to keep all the little people organized and on task, just like a good school teacher.
And, the last part of every day: story time.
Another fun day.  Only two more nights until mommy and daddy take over.  Ava and Sam can't hardly wait, but Gigi and I have mixed feelings!

Friday, May 8
d150508_02_morningwork.jpgOur babysitting is almost over.  Friday was our last "regular" day, with Ava at school and Sam home with us.  Spending a little alone time with just Sam is much quieter than when he is competing for attention with big sister.  The same is true the other way too.  Just normal people I think.

Ava's school day consisted mostly of a walk to and from an art show over at Fischer Middle School.  Her entire kindergarten class, along with their third-grade buddies, made the 40-minute walk to see their own work on display.  We joined them and exposed Sam to the grade-school culture.
Ava and her guide helped Ava and Sam both match picture samples.
The grade-school work was actually quite good.
We celebrated the art show with lunch out at Willow Street Pizza, Ava's favorite pizza provider.  Marianne and I were reminded how easy it can be now, compared to when Ava and (especially) Sam were younger.  There was a time, before he had "his words", when he communicated with screams and activities in public were a challenge.  Now, we all just enjoy  good conversation.

d150508_30_practice.jpgd150508_32_climber.jpgBack home we continued our normal day; back yard play while Gigi made dinner.  Ava and Sam seem capable of an infinite amount of time having fun out on the pickle-ball court.  Today, Sam practiced soccer shots, while Ava served as coach, repeating the guidance and encouragement they had both heard at soccer lessons.  (Another reason why parents need to make sure coaches give good guidance.)

Dinner and indoor play followed.  Ava and Sam climbed all over Opa, tiring out everyone.  As sometimes happens, the rough housing ended with a minor injury (Ava's smushed nose), but I hope the memory is more of the laughs than the tears.  Besides kids:  Just one more day!!

Saturday, May 9
d150509_01_amwalk.jpg Last day.  Mommy and daddy were winging their way from Puerto Rico to Miami to SFO and Ava and Sam could hardly wait.  The plan was for a slow day, saving all the extra energy for the grand reunion after dinner.  The kids went along with the plan and entertained themselves from breakfast to lunch with lots of imagination, their specialty.

Everyone got baths and cleaned up and they was so sparkely that I decided on a quick "studio" shoot.  Nice looking and happy family.
From here, it was just waiting.  The first waiting activity was a little golf for Sam.  Great lefty swing: start high, head down, arm straight-ish, follow-through.
Then we all moved out to the front yard.  To kill time, we picked weeds, watched bees, and generally ran around.

Then, the great arrival!!!

Gifts for Sam and Ava and a day-early Mothers' Day bouquet from Sam.

And, of course, Sam's favorite:  Daddy time

Sunday, May 10

I went out to Starbucks to write the diary and then returned with bagels to a houseful.  Everyone woke up early and was already hungry.  Marianne and I finished packing and then it was time to say see-you-later to our little charges.  We will miss them, but they are happy with mom and dad back -- and mom and dad are happy to be back with them.  As it shoud be.

John and Marianne

ps: We made it back to Fresno in time for a Mothers' Day "caffe und kuchen" with Marianne's mom.  Marianne had prepared the cherry coffee cake that morning at Gabby's and, in proper German form, we followed dessert with dinner.  I always did like that part of the European culture. 


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