Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Shaky Egg

Today was our last music class. It was bittersweet for me, not because of the content of the class (which was the usual drums, scarves and maracas, with a pinch of black sheep and lassies and hickory dickories thrown in for good measure) but rather because 11 weeks ago, when we started, Jarrah was dozy and baffled, had a very short attention span, and no spirit of cooperation whatsoever. I am proud to say that she is far more alert and social now, even if her attention span is not strong enough to keep her from running to the windows every few minutes, even if we're supposed to be in a circle at that time, getting our armpits tickled. I was thrilled to see how she responds just like the other children when the teachers say "Time to put the scarves away!" and runs to put her bundle into the basket. Ah, obedience. It's a beautiful thing. ;) She claps and sways and puts her hands on her head when requested. And she knows to sit in mama's lap when it's time for singing and chanting. I think we will go back when it starts up again in fall--maybe she will turn out to be a musical genius, or at least a guitar player.

In the mean time, I'm actively searching for more activities for us. I'd like her to learn to swim, and also just think it would be fun to splash around in the pool with her--she loves the water. I even signed up for a free Gymboree class on Friday, just to see what it's like. "Jarrah is in Level 4," I told David. He looked suspicious. "Who are these people and what do you know about them?" "Not much," I admitted, "But they're famous." We'll see how it goes.

We had a really fun Memorial Day with Mary and Paul and Joy. In the morning, we all descended upon Jen and Craig's to visit tiny Ian and terrorize their pets a little with our toddler maelstrom. Afterwards we took our two nappish girls to Soup Plantation for some salad and muffin. Gone are the days when Jarrah dutifully ate anything I put in front of her at that place, including every type of green vegetable as well as those of other colors. Now we're down to noodles, peas, garbanzo beans, and hunks of corn bread. I'm going to have to get more creative. She has me figured out, though--tonight I gave her her first raspberry with a tiny dollop of cream on it; she licked off the cream and handed the raspberry back for more. Whoops.

We brought them back here for some dual napping action, which actually worked, after a bit of complaining from their respective corners. The adults lay around talking and reading magazines (David fell asleep, like a good baby) until we decided they must have had enough at nearly 5:00. Then we packed everybody in the van (having arranged twin car seats in the back row) and drove to Mari and William's out in Jamul for a barbecue. I have always thought of M and W's place (it's more of a "spread" than a house, like a ranch or something, but without the horses) as one of the most relaxing places I've been in the world, surrounded by golden hills, and featuring a limpid pool between the fabulous house and the extra-fabulous pool house/bar/sauna. There's even an actual bed, with a canopy, at pool side. I could loll around there all weekend with nary a care, reading, sipping tasty beverages, and lowering my heart rate to just above coma level. But friends, all good things must come to an end, or at least be altered beyond recognition, within the force of Toddlerworld. My adrenalin soared every time Jarrah scampered near the pool, and she frequently punctuated my otherwise leisurely dinner with "Ma-MAs!" intended to indicate who, exactly, needed another bite of turkey dog at that moment. But it was still lovely, and I got to relive the spa-like fantasies of yore when I was encouraged to change Jarrah's diaper (man, Mari is the consummate hostess) in the guest room of my dreams, which looks out on a verdant landscape and features an antique bed with the world's fluffiest white duvet. I think I could happily sleep for a week in that bed, getting up only for snacks. Even Jarrah saw the specialness, buried her face in the comforter, and pronounced it "Ahhhhhh!"

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Happy Day

Just a quick check-in to report that David and I had a really nice anniversary today. I awoke to a smiling Jarrah opening the bedroom door (David had let me sleep in) in a giggly mood, and then a beautiful arrangement of gerber daisies in the kitchen, where David was also making us pancakes!

Jarrah did not get a rash this week, but she's been uncommonly tired, passing out early in the morning and then seeming groggy and weavy all afternoon. It's a bit concerning, but I've heard this can happen after booster shots. She's been well otherwise--no fever, and retains her hearty appetite.

This afternoon we took her to IKEA for the first time. It's weird that the last time we were there a baby was screaming and I said to David "What were we thinking?" Anyway, she loved it there, and spent a happy hour galloping through the aisles, weaving around tall folk, and flopping on furry or plastic furniture that was near to the ground. We went there because she is peculiarly fond of sitting in "real" chairs that she doesn't need assistance to get her butt into, and the ones at Pottery Barn are a million dollars. The one we found at IKEA was only $40, but then, as David put it, we discovered it was made of "polystyrene," or what in this country we would call styrofoam. Well, we weren't paying $40 for a chair that we could assemble ourselves from a computer packing box, but it was a diverting adventure nonetheless.

Tonight Dani came to babysit, bless her heart, as we had reservations for a fancy fondue restaurant called The Melting Pot, which ended up being quite divine. I got silly drunk on fancy martinis and had to ask David to explain the sauces about a dozen times, but the food was good fun, even though the "S'mores" dessert fondue was a little over the top. When we got home, we learned that Jarrah had stood in front of the tiny square of glass in our front door for 20 minutes after we left, and pretty much cried until she passed out for the evening, which was very sad to hear. She seems to actually be getting less tolerant of babysitters the longer she's with us, perhaps because we have evolved from being "those two people that supply all my snacks now" to something a little more intimate (though frankly, I'm not sure what could be more intimate to our little Miss Jarrah than her snacks.)

We're going to keep working on this babysitting thing, though, because I am determined to get back to regular movie-going sometime in the near future.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I've been wanting to thank all the people who have commented since the KPBS interview--you can't imagine how delighted I am to have such fabulous readers, and how much I appreciate your comments. And some of them have brought tears to my eyes, in a good way (Nancy, it meant so much to me to hear about your daughter! And your quilts are gorgeous!) So, thank you, thank you all. I love to know you're out there.

Just returned from Jarrah's 17-month "Well Baby" exam (yes, you sharp-as-a-tack Readers, she won't actually be 17 months until the 28th! :)) and it was so different from our visits of two months ago. At that time, Jarrah was puffy and miserable from her allergic rash, suspicious of everyone (including us) and not walking yet. This time, she explored the office thoroughly, tried out all the chairs, and apparently looked so mature that the nurse tried to convince her to stand on the "big people" scale to be weighed. That was SO not happening, but it was a "Sunrise, Sunset" moment nonetheless.

She has grown one inch and gained one pound since the last time, which evens out her height and weight quite a bit: she is now in the 80th percentile for both. We also learned something fascinating when Dr. Dern asked us if Jarrah ever pretended to talk on the phone and we laughed and said, "All the time." She has a faux phone (fauxne?) attached to her car seat and this past weekend she was playing with it while my dad was in the car and he kept craning around and asking "Who's phone is ringing?" Anyway, Dr. Dern said that in this day and age when cell phones are such an omnipresent feature of daily communication, pretending to talk on the phone is an excellent indicator that a child is not autistic. David and I were both thrilled by this clever little test, but David even more so, probably because he's so proud to have a daughter showing a keen interest in gadgets at the age of one.

Jarrah also had an MMR booster this morning, and now I'll be cringing until tomorrow, fervently hoping that we don't have a visit from that hideous, horrible rash that accompanied the previous shots. I was a little crestfallen to hear that she has to come back very soon for two more, and considering she has to repeat the whole lot at age four, I may be cringing for the foreseeable future. David pointed out that if we can sail through this one, our prospects for all the others won't be as scary. She's sleeping now, and I'm hoping for a smooth, golden, unpuffed little face to greet me at the end of her nap. (Funny how I just made her sound like a breakfast cereal.)

P.S. She arose, after two hours, gloriously unpuffed, and ate a mountain of pasta with gusto. She also ran my ass off at "Kid's City," where she is beginning to show real dexterity with a grocery cart (hmmm...I'm sensing a way to cut down on my errands.) I have to laugh every time she wedges herself into one of the little "love seat" (built for two, after all) plastic benches in front of the computer games, especially when the other occupant is a great, hulking boy of, oh, perhaps seven. The boy always looks gobsmacked, and seeks me entreatingly to remove her, which I don't do. Instead, I stand there and giggle, while the child grows increasingly flustered by the little person boring her eyes into the activity on the screen and paying no attention to the niceties of personal space. Am I evil? I don't let her snatch the mouse away from him, but hey, there are no rules against getting acquainted, right? :)

I have become sort of puzzled about my role in certain interactions involving Jarrah and much older children. There seems to be a trend in which Jarrah will be noodling about with a shopping cart filled with plastic fruit and a coltish kindergartner will lope over, announce "This is MINE," and extract the cart from Jarrah's hands in one swipe. Now, I don't want to be a hypocrite--I am aware that I've written several times about Jarrah's penchant for the same behavior. But my confusion stems from these children's obviously more sophisticated level of comprehension: I believe they know exactly what they're doing when they take toys from Jarrah, and I believe they do it anyway because they want to. Which, now that I've written it, seems a fairly liberating weltanshauung (HA! :)) but just happens to leave Jarrah crying and perplexed. Each time it's happened, I've fixed the offender with what I hope is a neutral expression and said--in a quiet voice one might use in rational discourse--"Actually, it's not yours. And she was using it." Today I really spooked the little girl who was attempting to make off with 17 cauliflowers and pineapples, judging from her shocked expression. I have a suspicion that I'm not supposed to say the "Actually, it's not yours" part, and am supposed to stick to "How about we share?" conveyed in wheedling tones. Is that right, mums? Is the second option the correct one? I swear, I will never learn the Mommy Handbook at the rate I'm going. ;) I need all the help I can get!

Saturday, May 20, 2006


The other day I bought a copy of The Girlfriend's Guide to Toddlers, which had been recommended to me by Lisa (Hi, Lisa!) This is how Chapter One begins:

Mother Nature is so damned smart to give you your child in infant form first: There might not have been quite so many takers if she were handing out toddlers. Not that toddlers aren't adorable and captivating; it's just that it's hard to imagine devoting your life to a person who breaks your things, eats with her hands and hurls herself onto the floor if she doesn't get her way if you aren't already hopelessly devoted to the little tyrant.

Readers, I can't possibly express how validating this was, coming from a mother of four (!) who is also an unofficial authority on all things baby! It goes a long way towards explaining my sneaking suspicion, following our return from China, that I had amnesia from some sort of blunt head trauma, which had somehow coincided with someone delivering a tiny Tasmanian Devil to my house and now taking their sweet time coming to pick her up. Who WAS this loud, needy midget with the lovely eyes and the imperious pointer finger? Why wouldn't she let me get over my jet lag, or eat a bagel in peace? How did she know which magazines were the newest and most likely to be as yet unread? And why was she prone to the lustiest howls at the very moments I was certain all her myriad needs had been met and exceeded? Readers, now I know. She was, and is, a toddler. One who, for purposes of my perspective, might well have sprung fully-formed from a head of cabbage, so little did I know of her pliable, larvae-like baby form, when she must have done things like sleep and cuddle and remain in one spot for luxurious minutes at a time.

Yesterday Mary forwarded me an "essay" on the beauty of Chongqing girls that some travel agency has posted on the web. Reading it, I learned that "there is a popular saying on line that only when you arrive Chongqing, you understand you marry too early." Also, "they have their own weltanschaung [huh? Lix, can you help here?] and plenty of characters. They are rough but soft. They are unique." Here's my favorite part:

May be because of hotpot [a delicacy of Sichuan cuisine], the character of Chongqing girls also is famous for testiness. When they meet trouble, they may quarrel or make a racket. Sometimes they even fight. So Chongqing girls have another nickname 'Spicy Girl.' Of course their gentle also charm many men.

When we were in Guangzhou and the many purveyors of squeaky shoes on Shamian Island wanted to keep us talking long enough to make a sale, they would ask where Jarrah was from. When we said "Chongqing," their response was automatic: "Ah, spicy girl!" At the time, I paid their pronouncement little mind. But already I have more respect for this cultural cliche. Around 5:00 every day, our own spicy girl becomes famous for her testiness, and all those charmed men have to wait another day to be gentled.

Saturday is David's and my fifth anniversary. I can't believe we've been married five years! About a week ago, I told him that we should find out what this anniversary represents and give each other gifts in the theme. Then, as I do everything else these days, I forgot all about it. Last night I was reading in bed when he climbed in beside me and said, "So, the theme is wood."

"The theme?"

"Of our anniversary." A short silence ensued.

"Wood! Huh."

"Yep, wood." More silence. "I guess we could give each other a new dining table. That's wood."

"That's true. Wow. So...wood!"

"Mmm-hmmm." We sat there for a bit, and then started reading our matching library books by Bill Bryson (isn't that sweet?) And then I said:

"Hey! That's really appropriate!"

"What is?"

"Our anniversary is wood. And we met Jarrah right before our anniversary."

"Awwww, that's true."

For those of you who haven't been keeping score at home, Jarrah is a kind of tree. So there you go. Those themes aren't for nothing. And for those of you wondering if David and I regularly have this kind of deep, analytical conversation now that we are parents, the answer is yes. We've tried bringing weightier topics to the table, and they just lay there like yesterday's flounder. We figure we'll get back to our normal conversations in about five years, give or take.

The photos for this post do not commemorate any particular event. They're just damn cute. Jarrah loves to wear what I call David's pith helmet. It makes a very fetching chapeau, wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Because I Said So

I had the most delightfully self-indulgent experience this morning: I was interviewed on KPBS radio for "These Days" on a show about "mommy blogs." It all happened so fast that it still doesn't seem real: one moment I was trying to figure out why Jarrah's bibs smell so funky while she screamed in the background, and the next I was on the phone with Aaryn, who was telling me that she'd given my name to a friend of hers who was putting together this show...in less than 24 hours. Yipes!

I was beyond thrilled. I loved the idea of getting recognition for my writing, and I loved the idea of talking about myself. When I think about it, talking about the blog is like talking about how I talk about myself. It's a double whammy of "the wonder of me." ;) What could be more delish?

The rest happened just as quickly. Aaryn gave Angela, the producer, my number, and she called me for a phone interview a couple hours later, which was really fun. I thought she asked some really provocative questions, too--about the ephemeral nature of the internet, boundaries of self-disclosure, privacy issues for Jarrah, and how I find time to actually write when I'm claiming this mommy thing is so all-consuming. Good, good stuff that I need to think about more.

I was nervous, but more excited than nervous. I was a DJ in college and looked forward to being back on the air. Also, any time I'm scared to do something these days, I hearken back to my infertility experience and ask myself, "Is this event going to result in the kind of pain that makes you certain all your internal organs were just scooped out and thrown on the floor? No? Then you might as well enjoy it." That always calms me right down.

It was a short drive to the studio, but amazingly, I have never been to SDSU before, even though I now live only one freeway exit from the campus. I managed to get myself in a lather trying to find the parking structure, becoming my own personal GPS unit by painstakingly reciting all the instructions out loud to myself as I drove. A production assistant brought me to a highly fluorescent room where I checked my bloodshot eyes in my compact and thanked my lucky stars this wasn't TV. I was confused about where I was and kept scanning the room for the "secret" audio equipment that no doubt would be revealed once other people arrived. All I could see was a TV, a sink and some couches. Maybe it's all hidden in the TV stand, I reasoned.

At 9:50, Angela came in to meet me, and she was just as warm and welcoming in person. She told me that someone would come to get me at exactly 10:00, and someone did. A silent young man led me down a hallway and now I could see that the room was actually going to resemble a studio, with headphones and a circle of microphones that for some reason reminded me of those close-ups of news flash bulletins in period movies, where you just see a big metal stand and someone's lips. I could see Angela and maybe some other people behind me in a glass room, and I was invited to sit down across from Alison, who was sitting in for the usual guy. I put the headphones on and someone pushed the microphone too close to my mouth, giving me the perfect opportunity to wipe off all my lipstick on it. That kind of broke the ice, actually. Alison said she enjoyed reading my blog, and that it surprised her because so many blogs are "not engaging." This struck me as hilarious because it was such a polite way to say that most of the blogs out there are boring as hell, and I laughed a little, the whole time thinking we were already on the air, which turned out not to be the case. First there was a 2-minute news brief, and making contact with Heather, one of the other bloggers being interviewed.

Now, here is where I started to get a bit intimidated. Heather, known as "Dooce," is famous. I'm not being hyperbolic. Her blog gets 50,000 hits a day. The mind boggles. She makes her living from her blog. It's her job! If my blog was my job, I'd be psyched, considering I'm not doing much of anything these days that makes money. I don't get residuals every time I read Hippos Go Berserk. Heather was friendly and very articulate on the phone. I'm sure she's done hundreds of interviews at this point. It was a huge honor just to be mentioned in the same sentence as her!

The other guest didn't patch in until the last 15 minutes or so. His name is Ben and his blog--which it sounds like he doesn't work on much anymore--is all about charts and graphs, apparently. He said he's interested in his daughter (he's a stay-at-home dad) from an "anthropological" perspective, and he's not much interested in "emotions." His blog includes software that helps new parents track their infants' sleep patterns. Pretty cool, though it's hard for me to imagine a blog without emotions. It puts me in mind of this guy David and I met in British Columbia who lived on a yoga commune. He said that he'd been working on excising emotions from his life completely, as they serve no purpose. "How awesome." I told him. "Emotions make me nuts."

Early on during the interview, I felt a little sad when I realized that Alison had two excerpts from Dooce to read on the air but none from mine. I understood rationally that Heather is hilarious (and did I mention famous?), and that my blog is so rambling and lugubrious that it would have been hard for her to FIND the funny stuff in the time she had available. Still, it gave me a pang. When Alison started listing all Heather's accomplishments, I had a wave of inadequacy that made me suddenly feel like the small-town comic relief who opens for the main act. Not that there's anything wrong with that. A lot of openers make it big some day. But in the moment I had to shore myself up that I might still have something to contribute.

I think I figured out what that was later on. There was a bit of talk back and forth about how blogging doesn't really violate a baby's privacy because so much of their experience (and ours in raising them) is similar. There's a lot of eating, sleeping, screaming and pooping, and it's only in the telling where you might create a distinction. I don't disagree with this idea, but I did remember to say that everthing is a bit of a mystery when you meet your child for the first time at 13 months. When she starts doing weird things with food, does it seem weird because she's a toddler, or because I just don't know her very well? Not that this addresses the privacy issue at ALL. In fact, maybe I have more reason to be guarding Jarrah's privacy in our circumstances. I think I have bumbled along naively believing that everyone who reads the blog cares about us.

There was so much I wanted to say but wasn't able to. I think I would have been funnier and more charming if I'd had more time to warm to my subject. I was very conscious of the skill with which Alison leaped between her three guests and the people calling in (one of whom made a joke that seemed to stun us all with a ray gun of non-comprehension) and, since I was the only other person in the room, not wanting to interfere.

I'll end by saying that the experience was sort of wickedly pleasurable. If knowing I have an audience for writing I already find therapeutic is incredibly enjoyable, having that relationship publicly validated only increased the juiciness, in the way that hot cherry pie doesn't require cold ice cream, but scales vast heights of fabulousness when it's there. Wasn't it Mae West who said "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful?" Oh yeah, baby.

Anyway, don't take my word for it: listen to the interview yourself! Keeping in mind that my good bits are at the end, of course. ;) I haven't heard myself yet--at the moment I'm revelling in my selective (and no doubt imaginary) memories of the experience. There will be time for wincing tomorrow.

Download link to Samantha on KPBS (38 minutes, 15.5MBytes)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

She's A Bad Mama-Jama

So, my first Mother's Day. It was a really nice day, spent with my dear husband, charming daughter, and cherished friends. Here are some photos, many of them of Jarrah and Joy together, taken at a lunch we attended at Paul's parent's house. Mary and Paul have been incredibly sweet to include us in so many of their family gatherings in the past year. I always have a warm glow at these get-togethers. And we agreed that Cute Jarrah + Cute Joy = Cute to, like, the 10th power. There's a massive increase in the Gross Cute National Product when the two girls are together in their holiday finery.

Mary asked me if I thought of Jarrah's birthmother on Mother's Day. I was abashed (but honest) when I admitted that I hadn't given her a thought. Not one thought. It was all me, me, me and my fabulous mother self. A self, of course, that would not be possible if it weren't for a woman in Chongqing who carried Jarrah in her body, nourished her, gave birth to her, and perhaps tenderly cared for her, as the tiny baby I never knew, for four weeks. The longer I know Jarrah, the weirder it is that someone else, someone I've never met and likely never will, carried Jarrah in her belly. Jarrah feels like mine and I feel like hers. So what of this mystery woman, and for that matter, mystery man, who (to make the mind boggle a bit more) could even be a mystery to the mystery woman? When I responded to someone in Target asking "Which one of her parents does she look like?" with "I expect both of them," was I telling the truth?

And I'm going through a phase of being a little angry at Jarrah's birth mother. When we were in China and I learned that Jarrah was found with "a red coat, a bottle, and a peck of formula," I sobbed for this woman who wanted to care for her child even as she left her by the road side in the dead of winter. (Yes, yes, I know I'm choosing rather dramatic language here.) But now that I know Jarrah better, now that she is family, I'm a bit pissed. How could someone leave my baby by the road side in the dead of winter? Was it muddy? Was it nighttime? How long did she lie there? Did she cry?

And yet I understand that if this mother hadn't made the ultimate sacrifice, I wouldn't have the opportunity to feel righteous indignation on Jarrah's behalf, because I wouldn't know Jarrah. She would be a 17-hour flight away, and be one of those billions of people in China that everyone always talks about. This mystery woman had no idea that in giving up her child, she was giving a total stranger the opportunity to be a mother. Having just written that, I realize that this is a lie. She obviously pinned a lot of hope on a total stranger. If she hadn't, there would have been no need for the red coat, the bottle and the "peck" of formula.

I ended up getting easily a dozen calls and e-mails on Mother's Day, and it bears repeating that I was genuinely surprised by this outpouring of thoughtfulness. The reason it bears repeating is that I'm an extremely entitled person, and with the advancing years, willing to admit it. When it's my birthday, I like the celebration to go on all month. I like to feel I'm the only person with my birthday, and that the miracle of my existence is the first thing that my loved ones think of as their eyes flutter open that morning. I was very aware it was Mother's Day, and while I haven't quite embodied the role of mother yet, I knew I had some good stuff coming to me. I knew that David should step it up a bit since Jarrah is as yet unable to shop, and that I was entitled to brunch and possibly flowers. But it didn't occur to me that my loved ones might awaken that morning and think, "Sam has waited a really, really long time to hear someone say 'Happy Mother's Day' to her. I think I'll drop her a line."

And the fact that you did, my dear ones, means more to me than I can express. To all the mothers out there, may every day feel like Mother's Day. And for all the moms-in-waiting, I want you to know that there is a lot of mystery to this kind of love. Sometimes it can be wonderful to accept it without question.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Strawberry Fields Forever

We thought it might be fun for Jarrah to see the Carlsbad Flower Fields while they were still in bloom. For those of you not from San Diego, this is an annual event in which some huge fields above the I-5 are cultivated with ranunculus bulbs (a kind of poppy), which then bloom in an amazing grid pattern of pink, red, yellow, white, orange, purple and gold. From the road, it looks like a giant striped flag. Close up, you can't believe how many flowers there are.

As it turns out, Jarrah might be a bit young to appreciate the flower fields. She very much enjoyed sprinting in the furrows of dust that make up the pathways in between the growing areas, and trying to insert herself in everyone else's family pictures. But she didn't really notice the flowers, and couldn't be prevailed upon to continue an orderly progression up the rows. Oh, well. All was forgiven when she saw the "Children's Play Area," where David and I were compelled to stage an al fresco diaper change before setting her loose on the slide. She had so much fun, she cried when we had to leave.

Our next stop was one I have been dreaming about since I moved to San Diego 13 years ago. I have often glimpsed the white "U-Pick Strawberries" sign over the rows of green shrubbery from the freeway, and fantasized about plucking plump berries to place in my little basket, preferably while wearing a gingham pinafore and a straw hat with a jaunty ribbon. Perhaps it's related to my fruit fetish, but I've always been fascinated by the idea of picking berries. Well, the picking was just as dreamy as I'd imagined (though I forgot my costume--drat), but not for David, who was forced to stick near the parking lot since Jarrah kept tumbling over in the bumpy, dirty and narrow rows, and I was ignoring them completely. He said she very much enjoyed pinching berries between her fingers until they squished into red mush, but that is as far as her interest extends right now. I noticed a lot of excitable five and six-year-olds telling their parents "We're going to need another bucket...maybe two!" so I think this will be a good time for her in a few years.

Jarrah was good and dusty, so we hurried home for a quick outfit change before heading out again to a barbeque at Lynne and Grant's. Jarrah loved their house, with the fish pond surrounded by tempting rocks, and the two big, lovable dogs, Riley and Calvin, who don't mind toddlers at all. She made herself right at home by eating all the cheese and none of the crackers and olives from the appetizer plate (after trying one olive, she pointed to another, looked at me, and shook her head vigorously) and attempting some "landscape design" with the rocks. She also practiced her throwing skills by playing fetch with Riley, though her efforts often landed the toy about two inches from her foot. She inserted herself in the dinner conversation by screaming "Ma-MA!" at the top of her lungs any time we were foolish enough to let her pile of roast potatoes run low. It was a delightful evening, and Lynne and Grant were extremely gracious hosts.