Side note: chocolate covered barbeque chips are far, far more delicious than they should be.
One interesting thing about the style of our new friends: they are firmly in the camp of, "provide a safe environment in which the children can play, let them play, and have conversation like grownups." It's wonderfully refreshing from our normal style, which is a more benign form of helicopter parenting. Then again, when you have one child (a little girl), it's a bit easier.
Don't get me wrong; I have every intention of doing that more often, once The Baby is old enough to play without direct supervision. The older boys are perfectly fine if they are upstairs by themselves. There isn't anything that is immediately available to them that is harmful or dangerous, other than Little Bear's continued insistence to try to eat the ear plugs with which I sleep at night. (I've solved that problem, mostly, by hiding the ear plugs. They can't reach the new hiding place yet, and I'm hoping that the ear plugs will be less delicious when they've grown enough to reach it.) We don't want to leave the children alone for TOO long without somebody checking on them; Little Bear is far, far too intelligent and creative to be given free reign for that long. But, they can play while the grownups finish dinner and actually talk about stuff like movies, and books, and politics (not so much), and other unimportant grownup things.
Nobody expects - or should expect - The Baby to be able to play independently. He's way too little, and he doesn't have a lick of common sense developed yet. (Having said this, I've stopped Little Bear - the smart one in the house - from sticking things in the light socket in the kitchen on at least three occasions since yesterday.) He's still liable to climb on tables, pull things he can't really see, and hit things that shouldn't be hit. So, somebody needs to keep him in sight at all times. At our friends' house, I chased after the children; at our house, The Wife did. No real reason why; that's just how it worked out.
The differences between kids and their preferences: Z, the little girl, wanted to play games on the iPad. After perusing the options, she wanted something that wasn't a letter game or a superhero. There wasn't much there for her. Entertainingly enough, she did ask her mother if "The Boy would have only boy toys." Most everything we have is devoted, in some way, to letters or to superheroes.
Similarities between children: she wanted to be swung around and flipped like I do with the boys. She also had a good time playing with the Wii upstairs - I think they made a Mii figure with her name on it.
And, to Guru: we did use the good China for dinner with our friends... we're determined not to let it gather dust, even if - as it eventually will - it costs us a couple of plates to breakage!