Saturday, June 30, 2007

Happy Half

Jarrah is officially 2 1/2 this week. I really can't believe it. The book Your Two-Year-Old warns that 2 1/2 is a lot more terrible than plain two. Eek. I'm bracing myself. ;)

So...what's important in her life these days? Joy. Friends in general, including new adult friends. "See friends?" is often the first thing out of her mouth when she wakes up. Movies. "Fwimming." Making pretend pizza (though we've expanded into pancakes now.) Fruit, especially "BlackBlueberries." Anything with cream on it. Camp, where her mystery boyfriend Ethan is (I'm not sure I've ever seen this paragon of manhood.) Jump-jumps, though they can be "too hot." Copying people, even if they've just sliced off their own finger. Owies of all kinds. Imaginary (at least to me) things that are "gross" or "ewwww." Bees--she draws them and fears them; they "get mad and stink."

But she still doesn't care about cuddly stuff. No blankies (unless Joy has one), no lovies, no stuffed animals. The one exception is "The Baby."

Funny story about The Baby. Last summer, I took Jarrah to Target and she was making me crazy from the cart. (That part has not changed.) I finally turned her loose in the toy section, and lost sight of her for a bit. When I found her, she was carrying a small plastic baby doll, completely bald, wearing what looked like a turquoise warm-up suit from the '70s and a jester's cap. The doll and the outfit were filthy. I didn't want to make a scene, though, so I let her hold on to it for a bit. Then I forgot, and we were at the check-out.

"How much was this?" asked the checker. "It has no tag."

"Ummmm....." I said. I really didn't want to get into the likelihood that Jarrah had stolen it--perhaps forcibly--from another child.

"99 cents?" the checker replied. Those Target people--they're nothing if not efficient.

"Sure," I cringed. And so The Baby went home with us. She's never had a name. Jarrah calls her The Baby and so do we. I managed to wrest it out of her hands long enough to swab it with Clorox wipes and run the sweatsuit through the wash.

Ever since that day, Jarrah has slept with the Baby. At night, we tuck Jarrah under a blanket, and the last thing she says is "Baby?" One of us digs under the piles of scorned stuffed animals until she is located (she might very well be a "he") and tucks her under Jarrah's chin. Then she rolls to her side and snuggles The Baby, and goes to sleep.

I've noticed that the The Baby's feet are gnawed to nubs. I really don't want to know if it was Jarrah or some bereft child somewhere who was responsible for the carnage. All I know is, we better never lose that Baby, because we have no clue where to get another one. The Baby is one of a kind.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Who's Gary?

Just hope he's not hiding under your bed. Lately, Jarrah is very invested in Gary's whereabouts:

Sam: Guess what! We're going to the fair on Tuesday.
Jarrah: But not Gary.
Sam: No, not Gary.
Jarrah: Not Gary, okay?
Sam: Nope. No Gary.

After some trial and error, I've contextualized that Gary is actually "scary." How she came up with the idea that things are scary, I don't know. As I was explaining to Teresa while we were in Ohio, I'd hoped not to project my irrational fears onto my child by programming her with the meaning of "scary" or "scared." I just feel she's entitled to her own feelings, rather than having to inherit (ha!) mine. The exception to this lofty plan is cars: cars are scary, and they will SMOOSH you. That's right--SMOOSH--so hold my hand.

Gary is not the only code word around these parts. There's also "The Dark Side." As in, we are out to dinner and when we leave the restaurant, it's become "The Dark Side." She proclaims The Dark Side with a gasp of awe and appreciation--there's no telling when The Dark Side will manifest.

"Fish Fingers" wasn't terribly opaque, but I wish I didn't find it quite so charming. In England they have fish sticks, but they're called "Fish Fingers," rather like our Chicken Fingers here (those saucy Brits!) We know this linguistic variance because we've heard it on Charlie and Lola, but Jarrah has made the expression her own. She will grudgingly wield her fork for the first few bites of any dish, but when that conveyance becomes too taxing, she'll gaze up from beneath her lush lashes and inquire sweetly, "Fish Fingers?" If we say "Okay..." the fork is sent packing and her more expedient fist extracts half a bowl of penne in a single swoop. "Fish Fingers" is why we go through the jumbo box of Costco wipes every month.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Mother's Work is Never Done

Yesterday at the fair, looking at cows in the livestock tent:

Sam: Look, Jarrah--that cow is making a poo-poo.

Jarrah: Big poo-poo!

Sam: It is big.

Jarrah: Mommy, you change it?

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Jarrah seems to be developing some freaky powers of observation. Or maybe she always had them, but we didn't know about it when she couldn't talk. Lately, I've been amazed by what she notices and remembers.

Yesterday, we were at my parents house, and I took Jarrah into my mom's den to put her pajamas on. She leaned against an arm chair and murmured, "Cherry Valley." I laughed. "You're right, Jarrah, it does look like Cherry Valley in here." Cherry Valley is where we stayed in Ohio, and like the den, it has dark, floral carpet, dark wood furniture, and cozy chairs. This made me remember that when we first arrived at Cherry Valley, which is white with flowers in front, she proclaimed, "Grandma-Grandpa's house!" Granted, there was some size differential, but I could see what she meant.

Jarrah got a present from her grandmother during our visit: a pair of lime-green Crocs. We are late to the party with Crocs, so I'm sure my educated readers already have several pairs, but just in case, they look like plastic clogs with big holes cut out of them. My mom presented Jarrah with the Crocs, and without hesitation, Jarrah yelled, "Hannah!" Ha! Jarrah's friend Hannah has some orange Crocs. I believe Jarrah has seen Hannah three times in her Crocs, and not more recently than May, but clearly she made a fashion statement. Jarrah was thrilled about her new "Crops," and insisted on wearing them out to dinner.

We went to a party at Robyn's a couple weeks ago, where Jarrah spotted a lunchbox shaped like a football amongst Jared's toys. "Ruben!" she shouted. "Ruben?" I repeated. Hmmm. Jarrah has a Ruben friend at preschool. Now he is going to camp with her. I approached his mom last week during pick-up time, as she was extracting a non-sports-themed lunchbox from her son's cubby. "Does Ruben have a lunchbox shaped like a football?" "Yup." "I think it made quite an impression on Jarrah."

The most mortifying instance of Jarrah's keen eye thus far occurred a few weeks ago at the FCC Kite Festival. We were watching a magician do some incredible tricks with bubbles, when suddenly Jarrah said to me, "I get your purse, Mommy, okay?" "Hmmm?" I said, distracted by the show, and the fact that there is often a two-second delay in my translation of Jarrah's sentences. But it was too late, and I was compelled to watch as Jarrah sprinted over to a lady I do not know, forcibly pulled her faux-Pucci-print Le Sport Sac from her shoulder, and headed back to me. Now, I admit that this is a distinctive bag; I get comments on it nearly every day. But what amazed me is that this lady's purse was not merely a similar print, or similar colors, but the exact same bag. Ergo, from Jarrah's perspective, it must be mine, and should therefore be restored to me post haste. I dashed over to intercede, relieved that the theft victim was extremely good-humored, even going so far to unzip her bag and display the contents, so Jarrah could satisfy herself that nothing more criminal than cloning had taken place.

I'll tell you, though, Readers, these incidents have made me a little paranoid about my everyday habits and behaviors. I had heard, of course, to curb my profanity lest I hear it repeated in a tiny voice, and I try to avoid shooting heroin in front of her, but I hadn't counted on a budding private eye living under my roof. No eating Hostess Sno Balls for us. No watching The Bachelor. No fudging on our taxes. Someone is paying attention.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

First Family Vacation: Sunday

Departure day. I was a little blue that the time passed so quickly—I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months. We were slow on the draw and relieved to get a late check-out time, but still ended up being late to our breakfast date at the “greasy spoon” (her words) with Marlene, James and Jessie, our new friend from Milwaukee, whom we would be driving to the airport. Following a scrumptious meal of blueberry pancakes, we hustled back to Cherry Valley (with a brief pitstop to change Jarrah’s diaper in the back seat of the car on Main St.—hopefully we did not disrupt anyone’s impression of serene and pastoral downtown Granville) threw everything in our suitcases, and still checked out 15 minutes late.

We headed to Marlene’s house, and “helped” open wedding gifts (lots and lots of bowls of various composition) but the clock was relentless and all too soon it was time to leave for the airport. Jarrah had just made friends with Lea and Willy, and was kind of busy locking them both in the bathroom, so was not inclined to go. It was a moment we all resisted, but Route 16 beckoned.

Teresa had called with the portentous news that the airport was overrun with lines and delays, but everything went smoothly for us.

Jarrah was incredibly weepy on the first, short flight, and kept asking for her nap. When she actually asks, it's a bad sign. But we didn't want to encourage napping on a 40-minute flight and thus use up our "nap coupon" for the day before the 4-hour flight. By the time we got to Nashville, she was in no mood. In days of yore, a 50-minute layover might be spent in the leisurely pursuit of snacks and magazines, but not this time. I thought I was taking Jarrah's hand to walk her across the way to buy a banana, but instead she bolted, and she sprints like the wind. The airport was crowded (obviously) and within seconds she was out of my sight. With my heart pounding, I took off after her, but she had run 10 gates (!) before I caught up. I arrived just in time to see her chummily explaining to a stranger: "I run away from Mommy!" Basically, we're talking your average "Abduction Red Alert" nightmare. I strolled serenely towards her (all in show) knelt at her feet, and then walloped her bottom--just once. I'd never done that before. I really had no idea if it would be at all persuasive, but I was so furious.

I did myself no favors with that move. She lay down in the middle of the walkway, face into the carpet, and cried histrionically. When I lifted her, she was dead weight, and since she refused to walk, I had to carry her all the way back. As I walked, she used both fists to whack my face in a rhythmic motion--"whack-whack-whack! whack-whack-whack!" I gritted my teeth and did nothing, just soldiered on. I was sweating. I had a sudden strong yearning for my old life, when layovers were all about my needs, mine, mine, MINE! But my old life was nowhere in sight, and my new life was making a lot of noise.

The plane was pre-boarding when we staggered back, and Jarrah was asleep within minutes of take-off. She slept three hours. The girl was tired. I'm not unsympathetic to this. After all, I was tired, too. David also snoozed while I made good use of the laptop for a couple hours, and then finally got to read my book. We arrived in San Diego right on schedule, but had some shlepping to get our luggage onto the bus and then to the garage. Jarrah was starting to get the idea that we had not, as she'd hoped, made a permanent move to Cherry Valley. She cried most of the drive home, moaning, "Back to Che-wee Valley...Mommy Daddy go out to din-nuh...babysitter comes." I knew just how she felt.

First Family Vacation: Saturday

The big day! There was a non-scheduled plan to hang with Marlene while she dressed, but of course we were slow getting out the door, particularly since we needed not only to shower and breakfast, but dress up in our wedding finery. We made it to campus by noon, and the wedding started at one. Jarrah was in a mood, so David took her into town to get some sandwiches while I scurried upstairs in the student union to join the women. It was all very exciting, and I ended up getting to distribute boutinieres, carefully snap some amazingly complicated panels on Marlene's antique dress, offer lipstick advice, and generally behave like a bossy person of imagined importance, which is one of the things I do best. ;) Eventually, Gina and I carried the box of programs down to the rows of white chairs in front of the library steps, where I pinned white roses on the musicians and then greeted each arrival with a smile and a "Program for you?" That was fun. David had snagged some prime seats under a maple tree canopy, from whence we might have enjoyed the lovely ceremony except that Jarrah lasted no longer than it took to spot Teresa in the first few moments of the processional, occasioning gleeful shouts of "Teresa Parade! Teresa Parade!" before David was obliged to whisk her to an undisclosed location. I noticed that while the Dearly Beloved included many toddlers and babies, every last one besides Jarrah maintained a vaguely soporific state throughout the wedding, slumped on their parents shoulders as if sedated. After a while, I began to wonder if they were sedated, and wished someone had tipped me off to this handy wedding trick so that the three of us might have enjoyed the ceremony, too. David had to miss it, and I felt bad about that. I also felt bad that Marlene and James's first moments of greeting with the minister were partially obscured by Jarrah's departing screams. Sigh. It was a beautiful ceremony anyway, and I noted that one of Marlene's readers had chosen (been requested?) to read e.e. cummings's "I Carry Your Heart," which I myself have chosen when I was a wedding reader. Either Marlene and I have a psychic connection, or both of us saw In Her Shoes last summer. ;)

The reception was rockin', with a band called Lazy Boy and the Recliners jamming away when we reached the room, the center of which was adorned with a high tower of cheese and hummus, and all the crackers and fruit you could eat. There were bowls filled with something called "Mock Champagne"--no clue what was in there, but it was lip-smackingly refreshing. I loved that you did not have to wait to dance at this reception, nor interrupt your revelry with a slow sit-down meal, but could nosh and boogie in alternating bursts for several hours. I got to dance with the bride a few times, and I danced with everybody else a few more. I even cut a rug with a phalanx of toddlers, who wiggled their hips and were agog at this person who didn't seem to know she was a grown-up. ;)

Jarrah enjoyed herself, too, ate a great deal of the appropriately-named "Dream Cake," chased Jacob, and may have been dipping into the champagne if lifting her dress to flash her diaper was any indication. Hey, at least she had one on! The only tragic moment was seeing the older toddlers plotting to escape her relentless attentions, running away whenever she came near, or flinging her hand away when she reached for theirs in "Ring Around the Rosie." It hurt me to see how she could not be deterred, but lifted that little hand again and again as if there had been some mistake, clutching for nearby fingers, and finally moaning "Nooooo!" after the third or fourth or fifth time she was shaken off, but still didn't stop. My heart fills with love for her at times like these when I glimpse her unquenchable spirit. I understand intellectually that four-year-olds are toddlers, too, and there's no good reason they would want to play with a two-year-old, let alone consider her feelings, but it's still hard for a mommy to watch. Life is full of disappointments, and I am amused when she acts like the week is ruined because we're out of Yogos. Being rejected by people, though, is a very real hurt that never gets any better, no matter how old and logical you become.

We stayed until Jarrah seemed almost shell-shocked with exhaustion, and indeed she stared into the middle distance with her mouth hanging open the whole drive home, unable to muster speech. I'm sure she would have slept three hours, but we had to wake her after two to get ready to meet Teresa and Gina for dinner before our evening event. You know that Jarrah is really tired when she watches four adults consume hot rolls with honey butter and never even demands a bite, but she perked up when her mac and cheese arrived.

The post-wedding festivities kicked off at 8:00 at Brews Cafe in downtown Granville. You know a town is vigilant about preservation when even the Subway looks like the historical society. There was no one at the bar when we arrived (and we were late) so we strolled out onto Main St. in the sunset of a balmy June evening and joined the line at Whit's Frozen Custard, which was even mentioned in the Frommers. To call it ice cream would be to do it a disservice, so creamy and unctuous is its texture. We lounged at a wrought-iron table with our treats and people-watched, gabbing about the wedding and how happy we were to be there. Soon we were joined by another couple who had also found Brews empty, and our lively party expanded to six. I lay back and basked in the delight of being far from home in a beautiful place, laughing and peaceful.

Where was Jarrah in all that peace, you may ask? Back at Cherry Valley, with yet another perky Denison babysitter, Erin. Jarrah adored Erin, but I'd have to say she's the least experienced of all the babysitters we've experienced to date. When we returned at nearly 12:30 a.m., Erin cringingly noted that Jarrah had only recently gone to bed ("She said she didn't want to") and that she'd "had to use the restroom." That last part was unfortunately obvious from the stench in the room--apparently Erin had been overwhelmed by my diaper-changing instructions and had flung the dirty diaper into an open trash can. In the morning, I discovered why Jarrah's pajamas were all wet--her diaper was on backwards. Still, Jarrah liked her, evidenced by her plaintive call in the wee morning hours: "Babysitter? Babysitter?"

But back to the adults. Eventually, we all made it to Brews, friends new and old, followed by a rather strong Whiskey Sour since it was the last night. Marlene arrived still in her blusher veil, bearing an entire tier of wedding cake, with giddy, good spirits and a handsome, new husband. Much rejoicing and merriment ensued. We stayed until midnight and then raced to the car, fearing Erin might turn into a pumpkin and Jarrah would be unsupervised save for an autumn vegetable. I got a little teary saying goodbye to Teresa and Gina, who were leaving "at the ass-crack of dawn," to quote the always-eloquent T, but was consoled by the knowledge we’d be having breakfast with Marlene and James in the morning.

First Family Vacation: Friday

It's a good thing, because Friday dawns bright and early with my 9:00 appointment with the Spa Girls. Teresa and Gina pick me up, leaving me free to get ready on my own and leave David and Jarrah in their pjs, the better to sample the wonders of the hotel pool. The previous day, we'd taken a stroll around the corner to Coco Key, a water resort attached to Cherry Valley. I wasn't really sure what an indoor water resort might entail, but Coco Key is quite a wonder with twisty slides two stories high, and a sort of Lazy River on which you float in a tube. It wasn't crazy-crowded, the air was very warm, and the families were clearly having a ball. Jarrah didn't prevaricate, indicating that we were to put on her "baby suit" and go straight into the "fimming pool." The catch, though, is that Coco Key costs 30 dollars *per person* and that seemed a little steep to entertain someone who might go down the slide once and announce "All done!"

As it happened, we were wise to save that cash, because Jarrah LERVED the hotel pool. David proudly told me that she was very brave, and even rode a noodle without him holding on to her. She even told me later, as a point of pride, that she went "unna the watah," even though David said she definitely didn't like that part. I was only sorry I had missed it, since we never did find another moment to go in the pool.

So they had a great time, which is good, because I was off having a BLAST. I love a spa morning, and I love dishing with awesome women, and to be able to do both for four hours was heaven on a stick. Even better, Marlene had booked the entire spa for her 22 participating guests, and they had a central room she'd kitted out with bagels and mimosas so we could nosh and shmooze to our heart's content. My pedicure was fine, but my facial with the delightful Carrie was sheer bliss, even including full body comfort on a sort of Craftmatic bed that cradled me like a kitten. The best part was I never had to get bored like I sometimes do at spas, because my friends were in and out of the rooms to chat with me. Teresa even took my picture in a face mask, something that might have annoyed me except that I adore her so much. ;)

Our spa morning was meant to be followed by a "tour of local sites," which I reported to Carrie, who replied uncertainly "I'm not sure what those might be." Hee. Turns out we were supposed to visit the giant Longaberger basket (the Longaberger company is based in Ohio) and something called "the Mounds," which I never really got a straight answer about, but it all remained a mystery because Marlene was called away for an emergency dress fitting. She sent Teresa, Gina and I to Royal Thai for lunch, where we met David and Jarrah, and it was supremely delicious. At this point the sky was threatening a bit and there was a heavy feeling in the air that we really don't get in San Diego and that I find rather exciting. We thought we'd have time for a long snooze when we got back, but it was really just about an hour before we needed to get primped for the rehearsal dinner.

I had seen Denison University, where Marlene is Chair of Women's Studies, once before under a steel-gray sky and several inches of snow, but in June it was a leafy, brick paradise. It's a small school, but obviously one with a lot of money, because just driving onto the campus makes you want to go take an Intro to Philosophy class, so stately an edifice it is. The rehearsal dinner was in a gorgeous blond-wood room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking one of the tree-filled quads, and the glass sparkled with recent showers in the late afternoon sun as we took our seats. We had an elegant meal of which Jarrah ate nary a bite, and chatted again with Marlene's pals, some of whom were becoming old friends from previous encounters. We finished off the evening at the Cherry Valley bar again (you might think I was drinking excessively, but I stuck to Shirley Temples on this trip--I wasn't in a mood to miss anything) and David retired early with Jarrah while I whooped it up with various members of the wedding party.

First Family Vacation: Thursday

Marlene has a fun day planned, and it starts with breakfast at her place just down the road. Her house is lovely, and I get to meet her son Jacob, who is five, for the first time. Jarrah is instantly smitten with him, and the refrain "Where Jacob gone?" could emblazon her t-shirts by the end of the trip. Sadly, it's one of her first encounters with unrequited love, since at five Jacob has little use for a grasping two-year-old who paws his toys with peanut-butter hands and copies every move he makes. Luckily (and her current ego-less state is a joy and marvel to me) she either doesn't notice or doesn't care that she's been spurned, and adores him anyway. He's a beautiful boy and smart as a whip, and it's incredible to finally see him in action. After a leisurely catch-up (a hallmark of all our get-togethers over the years, though this is the first one interrupted periodically by parental refereeing) we head back to Columbus for a scheduled visit to CoSi, the Columbus Science Museum, which turns out to be like the eighth wonder of the world. Even the lobby blows our minds, as there is a cyclist on a tight rope high above our heads who turns out to be an ordinary museum patron. Jarrah and I spent many an hour at Kidsville in our science museum in San Diego, but it seems like a bus station waiting room compared to KidSpace at CoSi, which has like ten rooms and looks like a city designed by Roald Dahl. We have so much fun, and even enjoy our lunch in their cafe. And Jarrah is in heaven because she can chase Jacob everywhere he goes.

When CoSi closes (I honestly felt I could have spent another hour at least--no Museum Head to speak of!) we head to Udipi, a vegetarian South Indian cafe that is one of Marlene's favorites. There, we finally meet James, her adorable fiance, and many of his family members who have come to town for the nuptials. We eat all kinds of delicacies that we haven't tried before, and try to overlook that Jarrah, who has gone without a nap for the second day in a row, is so tender-hearted from tiredness that just tasting a bite of spicy food is making her burst into tears. She sleeps a bit on the way home, and is in better spirits for the arrival of our first college babysitter, Bridget, who is straight out of central casting with her peachy cheeks and blonde bob. She is a total pro, too, and David and I head to the Cherry Valley bar for a "casual gathering" with more of Marlene's friends, another lovely evening. Jarrah is snoozing hard when we return, and Bridget is a total bargain. Sweet. Jarrah sleeps much better this time, and so do we.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First Family Vacation: Wednesday

We just went to Columbus, Ohio, our first trip with Jarrah since returning from China over a year ago. Why Columbus, you ask? My friend Marlene got married. We hadn't seen each other in several years. Before marriages and kids, we made an effort to meet up somewhere almost every year, and it always felt like no time had passed at all. Which is kind of weird, because I met Marlene twelve years ago at the Wyoming English Conference in Laramie, and we have never even lived in the same state. Praise the age of e-mail! At the same conference in 1995, I met her friend Teresa, who lives in a different state from both of us, and we have also been friends ever since. Teresa was at the wedding, too, and I was so psyched to see both of them.

Because I've been rather wordy, I'll post one day of the trip report each day on the blog. That way, if you have a mind to read the whole thing, you won't be overwhelmed by the length.


I have been packing for months. The image of myself trying to stifle the screams of a two-year-old at 35,000 feet weighs heavily on my mind. In addition to various snacks of delectable and non-nutritive value, I have amassed several toys and wrapped them in newspaper, the better to present them, magician-like, only in a crisis. Because Jarrah does not know we sleep (we put her to bed at night, and get her in the morning, so it's of little interest to her what we do in between) I've researched and purchased a system involving a clothesline, wooden pins, duct tape and a high thread-count sheet for rigging a Wall of Jericho (allusion to It Happened One Night) in our hotel room. I believe I am ready, but I'm still terrified.

The trip to the airport goes amazingly well, considering we are laden with 150 lbs of baggage and a device called the "Gogo Kidz" that attaches to our car seat and turns it into a stroller for airport sprints. Indeed, the flights are on time, we are allowed to pre-board, and there is relatively little need to threaten Jarrah for kicking the seat in front of her. She goes through a lot of the snacks and two movies on her brand-new portable DVD player, and though she will not nap, I'll call it a success.

In Columbus, however, we lose the time we made with our early-arriving flight by standing in line at Dollar Rent-a-Car for the better part of an hour, and then crawling along during rush hour ("Why is there traffic in Ohio?" I ask David) on the 25 mile trip from Columbus to Newark, where our hotel is. I feel strangely elated, however. We've survived two flights relatively unscathed, we'll be seeing friends very soon, the weather is glorious (whither the lashing rain and crushing humidity promised by We never saw it--each day but one was sunny and mild) and Jarrah makes a friend in a five-year-old boy who is also waiting with his parents at the Dollar office.

Seeing the two of them giggling and chasing each other around the gumball machines makes me understand the wonder of childhood for perhaps the first time. Here we are enduring, as we've endured so many times before, the crushing tedium and annoyance of spending the first hour of one's vacation in a dank office in a non-moving line, and Jarrah is as happy as she might be at the beach, maybe even more so. The point is, she doesn't wait for an occasion to have a good time--she seizes any opportunity, and defines it for herself without prejudice. There is something so touching and beautiful about this that I am overcome with the thrill of enlightenment myself. It lasts for at least a couple of hours. ;)

We reach Cherry Valley Lodge a little after seven, having just missed the first event on our wedding schedule, but in enough time to meet Teresa and Gina for dinner. Cherry Valley is wonderful, huge but somehow cozy, and our room overlooks a pond with ducks. I almost cry with relief when I see that the room is L-shaped, so we can push Jarrah's Pack n' Play against an interior wall and she will be unable to see us doing that mysterious thing we do when we close our eyes for long periods of time, and thus unable to stand at attention shouting "Wake-a up, Mommy Daddy!" at regular intervals. Best of all, we are made to feel so welcome by Marlene, the Bride with the Mostest, who has left us the Pack n' Play, a stroller, and a massive gift basket with snacks, toys, spa goodies and a card informing us that a) she's arranged a babysitter for two nights of our stay and b) I have a pedicure and facial scheduled for the Girls Spa Morning. Newark, Ohio is looking more and more like the best-kept secret that Travel and Leisure ever neglected to cover.

Turns out Teresa and Gina are only one exit away on Route 16 and right next to a very promising-sounding place called the Texas Roadhouse, so after a quick reunion catch-up (and their first Jarrah sighting) we head out for steak and baked potatoes amidst thousands of peanut shells on the floor. Jarrah gets the hang of that right away.

I wish I could say that we slept like precious angels and woke refreshed, but despite replicating her bedtime ritual from home, Jarrah is cranky and unsettled that first night. She wakes what seems like every fifteen minutes, crying in confusion. We are all kind of wrecked in the morning, but we don't dally because a lot of people who are already on Eastern Standard Time are waiting on us.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer Lovin' 2

Yesterday was a lovely summer day. First, leisurely perusal of the newspaper and two cups of coffee. Then I drove to Fashion Valley in the gorgeous, breezy sunshine to meet my friend Lisa for a girly lunch n' shop. We ate like ladies in the Nordstrom Cafe, and my salad and signature tomato soup were divine. I ate slowly, savoring every bite. Afterwards, we hit the Half-Yearly sale, where we scooped up some jeans for our hubbies, then checked out Old Navy and the Gap. Lisa is a really great shopping companion, and had lots of good tips. We then sidled into See's Candies, where they just happened to be handing out my all-time favorite Chocolate Butter as the free sample of the day. Thanks for the snack, See's. No need to buy anything now. ;)

We parted ways, Lisa towards the movies, and me to Bay Park, in pursuit of a free massage from an old friend who has recently started at the School of Oriental Medicine and needs bodies. As I lounged on her comfy table with soothing music in the background, she explained the technique of Tui Na, and how it would likely help my neck. I guess it did, since my neck feels great today, but I'm happy to say I don't remember much because I was snoozing like a kitten on the hearth through most of it. She even offered me another freebie as I was leaving! Sweet!

From there I hit Trader Joe's, and picked up some snacks and savories, all satisfyingly cheap. When I got home, I did a bit of reading, then took a shower and primped for the evening's festivities. David and I headed out to our friend Lynne's birthday party at Lei Lounge* where we whooped it up for several hours, sharing finger foods, sipping fancy, fruity drinks, and appreciating how as the sun went down and the balmy night set in around us, the mood was enhanced by fire pits and a wall of ambient video across from our cabana. Yes, cabana--it was that kind of place. A fun evening to cap off a fun and relaxing day.

Let me count the ways this perfect summer day was oh-so-different from summer days of yore:

Yesterday was a lovely summer day. First, leisurely perusal of the newspaper and two cups of coffee. (I got up at 7:00 with Jarrah, which I don't usually do, so I was nodding off again by 10:00.) Then I drove to Fashion Valley in the gorgeous, breezy sunshine to meet my friend Lisa for a girly lunch n' shop. (I felt a little guilty leaving my two babies, but David said he was going to bring Jarrah on his errands. Hmmm.) We ate like ladies in the Nordstrom Cafe, and my salad and signature tomato soup were divine. (I rarely order salad or soup, because they are time-consuming, and hard to share.) I ate slowly, savoring every bite. (Okay, that hardly ever happens anymore.) Afterwards, we hit the Half-Yearly sale (no one whining or begging for snacks), where we scooped up some jeans for our hubbies (one day 'til Father's Day!), then checked out Old Navy and the Gap. (Jarrah already needs a new bathing suit, since she's trashed the tush on her current one via undisclosed manoevers at camp.) Lisa is a really great shopping companion, and had lots of good tips. (Normally when I see her, we don't even finish a four-sentence conversation.) We then sidled into See's Candies, where they just happened to be handing out my all-time favorite Chocolate Butter as the free sample of the day. Thanks for the snack, See's. No need to buy anything now. ;) (Walking into a candy store with Jarrah would create an ugly scene. 'Nuff said.)

We parted ways, Lisa towards the movies, and me to Bay Park, in pursuit of a free massage from an old friend who has recently started at the School of Oriental Medicine and needs bodies. (I am totally tweaked these days from improper toddler-lugging methods.) As I lounged on her comfy table with soothing music in the background, she explained the technique of Tui Na, and how it would likely help my neck. I guess it did, since my neck feels great today, but I'm happy to say I don't remember much because I was snoozing like a kitten on the hearth through most of it. (See above, where I didn't get enough sleep.) She even offered me another freebie as I was leaving! Sweet! (I scheduled it for when Jarrah's at camp.)

From there I hit Trader Joe's, and picked up some snacks and savories (a certain snacker in our home goes through my stash in 2-3 days), all satisfyingly cheap. When I got home, I did a bit of reading (Jarrah was sleeping), then took a shower and primped for the evening's festivities. ("Wha' doing, Mommy? Wha' doing, Mommy?") David and I headed out to our friend Lynne's birthday party at Lei Lounge* (after briefing our newest babysitter on bathtime and dinner options) where we whooped it up (with the occasional eye to the passing time, since it was costing us by the hour), sharing finger foods, sipping fancy, fruity drinks, and appreciating how as the sun went down and the balmy night set in around us, the mood was enhanced by fire pits and a wall of ambient video across from our cabana. Yes, cabana--it was that kind of place. A fun evening to cap off a fun and relaxing day. (As we drove home, I silently hoped that Jarrah had had a good evening, and looked forward to being back under the same roof with my sleeping cherub.)

*Please see attached post for a review of Lei Lounge!

Everybody Must Get Lei'd

I've always less-than-secretly fantasized about being some kind of reviewer...movies, preferably, but travel and dining sound pretty great, too. Sadly, I'd be stymied in the dining arena by the unfortunate fact that I'm a picky eater! And not only picky, but with an "I'm a fifth grader from the Midwest" culinary bent.

Nevertheless, I love to tell people about new restaurants I visit, especially on vacation, but sometimes in dear old San Diego, too. So here is my first official blog restaurant review!

I was a little bummed I didn't discover Lei Lounge myself. After all, I devour all the local restaurant reviews in the U-T and the Reader, and keep my ear to the ground for word-of- mouth gushing. So I wince as I admit that I might never have discovered this kitschy little gem, in the footloose-and-fancy-free neighborhood of my youth, had I not attended Lynne's birthday party on Saturday night.

Luckily, I don't like to miss a dear friend's birthday party, and after procurement of a babysitter and a little extra effort in dressing (ooooh, earrings and lipstick! some gel in my hair!) I was off with David for an adventuresome evening. Even the name itself--Lei Lounge--filled me with girlish longing.

Lei Lounge is wedged between the venerable Bourbon St. bar and El Zarape burrito joint in downtown University Heights (a downtown comprised of two blocks of Park Blvd. between Monroe and Adams, yet jam-packed with gems) and has a slick, glass front that screams "hip" and "young." Entering, our aural faculties were assailed by ear-splitting house music, so loud I literally could not hear what Lynne was saying about our table when standing six inches from her face. Not my demographic, I surmised. A quick survey of the bar crowd revealed a lot of youthful, tan skin and trendy Empire tops, plus a wall of water. Later, Lynne's husband Grant mentioned how much he likes the bar, but had I stayed there longer, I would have spent the evening screaming "What?" and needing to pee.

What Lynne was trying to tell us was that five members of our party were required before access to our table, but luckily Kay was hard on our heels and we were briskly escorted through an outdoor courtyard to a white leather-sheathed cabana to the left of the teeming center. I gasped with delight at the set-up--a cushioned banquette arranged like a "C" complete with throw pillows, a low coffee-style table, and our own personal heat lamp. Diving onto the cushion, I glanced up to see diners across from us seated around an actual ring of fire doubling as a table--the effect was lovely, though I wondered if revelers in their cups ever get singed in a moment of inattention. Above the courtyard, a wide, high wall reflected, with increasing drama as night fell, an ambient video presentation that alternately put me in mind of kaleidoscopes, time-lapse flower growth, and gynecological exams.

The mood was wild and loud, facilitated by a vast selection of fruity imbibements with cutesy names, all served in sleek, round glasses with no stems. Within seconds, our fabulously flamboyant waiter Kevin appeared ("It's our anniversary today," Lynne told him, at which he shouted "How many years? Or is it weeks? Honey, I'm a homo--weeks ARE years to me") and we quizzed him about his favorite cocktails. "Well, I like the Tokyo Iced Tea," he said, "But I can stagger home afterwards." Thus forewarned, we each chose something slightly less potent but no less delish. My Lei Signature Martini combined pomegranate and cherry juices and flavored vodka, with the result of making me want to slurp it down with great haste.

While waiting for our other guests, we ordered a couple appetizers for the table. Kevin explained that pretty much the whole menu is tapas-style, eminently shareable, and there are lots of choices. The theme seems to be Asian/Polynesian fusion, with a comfort food flair (e.g. Cheese Steak Spring Rolls and Crab Mac & Cheese) Even more fun, some of the combinations are served as bento boxes, with four or more disparate flavors and textures artfully presented in a partitioned lacquer box.

We started with the edamame (enjoying a recent surge of popularity in local restaurants) and the sweet potato fries with raspberry dipping sauce. The edamame were cooked perfectly crisp, and arrived warm and nicely salted. But the sweet potato fries were a revelation--delicately sprinkled with powdered sugar, fluffy and ethereal, with the sweetness of fresh yams. And though the dip sounded weird and looked even weirder (kind of like salad dressing) it was absolutely yum on the fries.

More friends arrived, and several of us moved to a second round of drinks. We put in our orders for entrees, but many of us chose to share. Kevin brought a metal contraption that put me in mind of a cupcake tower--when we were done with our little plates, we stacked them on the rungs to make room on the table. The kitchen sends out dishes as they are ready, so everything came to the table piping hot and fresh, in no particular order. That was fine with me. The mood in the courtyard, from which we were partially protected, buzzed with almost manic glee. Many of the tables contained large groups, all dressed to the nines, snapping photos of each other and shrieking with laughter. The firepits twinkled and the video wall glowed. I sat up straight on my cushion (at 5'4", I was hamstrung by not being able to lean back unless I wanted to plunk my feet in the food) and was able to imagine for a moment that I was one of the chic gals from Sex and the City, or part of Paris Hilton's posse, only seconds before being immortalized by Us Weekly. Considering the low glamour quotient of my life these days, it was a mighty fine feeling indeed.

Our entrees did not disappoint. David and I shared the Kobe mini-burgers, not all that mini ("These are the size of the ones you make us at home!" he laughed) and the trio of tacos with steak, chicken and mahi, all with different sauces. Grant let me stick a fork in his Lobster Pad Thai, which was scrumptiously peanut-y. Lynne offered me some of her plump, fluffy crab cake, Crab cakes I do not do. Across the table, Gil received a plate of frites as beautiful as any in France, no wider than matchsticks, gloriously tangled in a stack nearly a foot high, with a spicy sauce on the side. "Kevin!" I called. "Another plate of those, please!"

There had been talk of hitting Extraordinary Desserts afterwards (as Seinfeld would say, not that there's anything wrong with that) but then Kevin asked if we wanted to hear about the desserts. "There's dessert?" someone asked, almost dumbfounded. It seemed our cup runneth over. He started rattling off various confections, but my mind screeched to a halt when I heard "House-made mini-donuts with caramel, chocolate and strawberry dipping sauces." Hold the phone! Everyone pretended they weren't going to eat any, but I sensed there were liers among us. We also tried to order an insane-sounding apple dumpling built around an entire baked apple, but they were sold out. Small wonder. The donuts, though (and 10 forks were out like a shot as soon as Kevin placed them in front of us) were a sensation, hot and sugary outside and fluffy inside, though it was the dipping sauces that put them over the top.

Alas, we all turned into very full pumpkins at the stroke of two hours (well, Kevin looked the other way for an additional half-hour) because private cabanas in a restaurant where the food is actually good don't come without a price. In this instance, the price is spelled out on the website, and gently reiterated by the servers: your reservation guarantees the cabana for two hours, and then, with a tinge of regret, our merry party made way for the next band of celebrants. Luckily, my fortune says that there will be more Lei Lounge in my future.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Summer Lovin'

Jarrah started camp this week. She finished her first semester of preschool last week, so there's been no hiatus, which I'm so thankful about. ;) She would have attended camp at her preschool, but they are in demolition/construction mode this summer (for the attached synagogue, not the school itself) and hence have shut their doors for the first time. Through the on-line rumor mill, I heard that there was another synagogue preschool in the neighborhood, so it was an easy decision to sign Jarrah up for the same days she is used to going.

The camp is very nice, a preschool palace, even. The playground and classrooms are huge, the equipment sound and shiny, and there's even a long Astroturf runway where they set up kiddie pools, bubble machines and "jumpy castles," depending on the theme of the day. Because Jarrah attends Tuesday and Thursday, she has swimming on Tuesday, and "science and cooking" on Thursday. Both the science and the cooking seem to involve mud, which I suppose if you're two is the way you want them to be.

On the first day, I learned that I am more like my mom than I ever imagined. David and I were greeted by three smiling teachers, but my eyes were darting submarine sonar-style around the room to take in the smallish, tottering children. "What's the age range in here?" I inquired, with what I hoped was neutral politeness. Turned out Jarrah was indeed one of, if not the oldest in the room. Hmmm. At her other school, she's the very youngest in her class. She's also a giant for her age. She is used to 3-year-olds and her language skills seem to rise to meet theirs with every passing day. I perused (more like snatched) the class roster, which did not contain familiar names. "Aren't there a few kids from her class here this summer? What room are they in?" Turns out they were next door, in the 3-year-old room. I'm not sure why, since several of them are mere months older than Jarrah. I suggested she might be more comfortable with them. There were some darting glances, a bit of scrambling, and then the word came down that Jarrah was welcome to step next door. I snatched that roster, too. No fewer than four names from her current preschool class appeared on the page. Jarrah was the same height as the other children. I had a tiny tremor of nervousness for having been so demanding--would it come back to bite me in the ass?

When we left, Jarrah was crying. "Will you be be available around, let's say, 11:00, if the day seems to be getting too long for her?" asked the director. "It won't happen," I smiled, my confidence restored. I called 30 minutes later. "Hi, I'm calling about my daughter, who was crying when I left?" "I'll go check on her," said the secretary cheerfully. "Call me back in five minutes." I called back. "She's painting a picture with a friend and smiling," she said, "Go enjoy your day." When I picked her up, both her teachers said, "She had a great morning." I was vindicated. I had been a meddling mom and it had paid off. My mom was always marching into my various schools, demanding that I be moved or re-tested or whatnot, and it used to mortify me. Why couldn't she just let the teachers do their job, like everyone else's parents did? So it surprised me that the craving to meddle was instinctive. I had to speak up for Jarrah, since she couldn't do it for herself.

Jarrah is loving camp, and came home wet and filthy both days. The first day she rhapsodized about the "fimming pool," and today about how "very, very hot" it was in the jump-jump. She didn't seem to have eaten much lunch both days, and today her socks were missing. "I have no socks," she said serenely as I was searching for her backpack. "Sure you do!" I said, not looking at her. But when I turned around I could see her statement was purely factual. "Where are they?" I asked. "By the bubbles," she said. No one could find them, though. That's okay. A pair of socks is a small price to pay if she's having a good time.

Speaking of good times, this week we discovered the Tierrasanta Rec Center Pool. I was yearning to get wet on Wednesday (I'm a Water sign, after all) and didn't feel up to lugging all our gear to the beach. Then I remembered that in my carefree childless days, there had been a great deal of unnecessary screaming in the shallow end when I'd swum laps at the Morley Field pool. Perhaps, I mused, we could now become part of the screamers. I called around, but none of the local municipal pools had morning hours. I vaguely remembered hearing that the Tierrasanta pool was a kiddie paradise, and I'm happy to say that whoever said that did not lie. The Children's Pool is a sort of mini-theme park, with no edge (hence, no falling) no water deeper than a two-year-old's thigh, and a big slide with waterfalls smack in the middle. Jarrah and Yea-Yea splashed themselves silly, and I hurt my wrist from all the patting myself on the back. We have discovered another playdate with great allure! I like to update my options regularly.