Friday, December 28, 2012

Everyone make it through that one?

Our holiday season was happy but a lot of stuff got away from me this year.  I didn't send Christmas cards like I usually do, and the present I bought two months ago for my brother is still sitting here on the floor.  It's wrapped and ready to go, has been for weeks, but getting to the post office is hard.

While I'm in confession mode, might as well alert my sister and my mother, one of whose birthdays was almost a month ago, that their birthday cards are still on my desk.  It doesn't seem to be my year for handling mailing details.

Our holiday was full of good family times.  Al and I took the kids to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma for the model train fair.

Tacoma, we are in you

Our kids love tiny trains so came armed with millions of questions about how they were made.  They didn't get many answers, though, because model train enthusiasts tend to be rather introverted people who can't speak or answer questions in any coherent fashion. From my observations, they appear to avoid eye contact and interaction because it frightens them.

Alex, with his customary loud voice and larger-than-life bravado, was frustrated in his attempts to communicate with the choo-choo artisans.  He couldn't understand why they skittered away from him and hid under tables.

Fortunately, I speak Introverted Model Train Nerd and was able to coax them out by speaking softly with a singsong tone to my voice.  They liked me so much I was granted backstage access through a swinging door that said KEEP OUT so I could look at the model buildings along the back wall.  One was a candy factory; the people inside were making tiny almond roca, delightful!

This is the kind of incredible picture a choo-choo VIP can take

My kids looked pretty disappointed on the other side of the plexiglass but I just pumped my fist in the air and yelled, "Kids, look, mama's finally a SOMEBODY."

Even as I celebrated my VIP status, I was preoccupied.  My beloved Parisian houndstooth coat was in the unattended coat check downstairs and I was convinced someone was going to steal it.  Halfway through our visit, even as Alex yelled after me I was being paranoid,  I ran downstairs to retrieve it and held it close to my body from then on.

I see you, sneaky model train enthusiast coat thieves

Santa came to visit the kids at the museum.  We'll get the official photo in a couple weeks but until then, this blurry one will have to suffice to preserve the memories.

My mom warned me about taking the kids to see Santa Claus too late.  She said kids will always ask Santa for something at the last minute, something you didn't see coming, and you'll be unprepared.

Boy was my Mama right.  Lucien has talked about nothing but "Beyblades! Beyblades! Beyblades!" for months but when he sat on Santa's lap, the only thing he asked for was a goddamn remote control helicopter.

The model train geeks startled and dove back under tables when they heard me yell, "What the F*CK???" from Santa's Jolly Christmas Corner.

We left the model train exhibit and drove directly to Toys-R-Us where I told Alex to keep the kids distracted in the parking lot (he attempted cartwheels, it was terrifying) while I went inside to fight a giant toy store three days before Christmas.  In a related thought, people are goddamn insane and I don't know what's wrong with any of us.

It was bumper carts in the store and everybody was grumpy/scary.  I'm from Ohio, though, so automatically smiled and chirped out some cornfed "Thank You"s when somebody decided NOT to decapitate me for taking the last Etch-a-Sketch. (Because Coco apparently suddenly loves Etch-a-Sketch, what the HELL happened with Santa?)

There was time spent in downtown Seattle before Christmas.  It reminded me of our Christmas last year when we lived in Belltown, right after we moved back from France.  That was a bittersweet memory.  A year ago already?  It feels like just minutes ago we were celebrating Christmas in light-strung Saint Germain and being firmly reprimanded by the Parisians (as per my usual).

We went to Seattle Mom and German Seattle Dad's house Christmas Eve for dinner with friends.  Quite a few of us decided not to travel this year so the crowd was a sizeable, stress-free one.  The food was delicious and the company pretty drunk.  Thank God for the drinks, though, because the kids put on a "play" that was directionless and seemed to go on forever.  Only one kid cried, though, so that was good.

He's dancing again

Back at home, Alex and I attempted to play Santa through the haze of champagne cocktails and food coma.  I stared at the directions to Coco's princess castle and thought, "Man, I am not gonna make it through this."  Alex wrestled with the parts to an artist's easel next to me, hissing the "F" word periodically and saying things like "this damn easel has 47screws."  It's impressive what parents endure to keep the magic alive for their young kids at Christmas.

The next morning, the kids' eyes were big as moonpies (Coco's especially, Lucien has always been a bit of a skeptic) when they saw the loot under the tree.  Coco could barely speak, could only point and stammer "San..?  San..?  San....?" with a rapturous look on her face.  And that's why we do it.

Hope everyone had good holidays.  Or at least made it through with a sigh of relief.   

Finally a somebody!

Friday, December 21, 2012

I love the nightlife

When I'm not cowering in a corner terrified of my fellow countrymen, I like to go out and have some fun. I especially like (need) to go out and have some fun when Alex is out of town.  If I don't get out and see my circle of people while he's away, I don't do well. 

It hasn't always been this way.  I'm an introvert and have historically enjoyed my time alone when Al has traveled for work.  But now something's changed; instead of being a happy cozy blanket-wrapped slipper-wearing hermit,  I become a crazed anxious wall-climbing hair-pulling needy social vampire tornado bomb.  I blame Paris for this but I'm not sure why.

I go to bed way too late when I'm on my own.  I think it's because when Alex is home, we have this conversation every night --

Al:  I'm going to bed.
MJ: OK, I'll be up in a bit.
Al:  You have to go to bed now, too.
MJ: Why?
Al:  Because if you don't go to bed now, you'll wake me up whenever you do go to bed.
MJ: I'll be super quiet.
Al:  But the bathroom light will wake me up.
MJ: I will wash my face and brush my teeth in pitch black darkness.
Al:  I'll hear the water.
MJ: I will wash my face and brush my teeth with air.
Al:  I'll wake up when you get into the bed.
MJ: I'll sleep on the floor.
Al:  Go to bed now.
MJ: No.
Al:  Go to bed.
MJ: No.
Al:  You are not a good person.
MJ: I am never going to bed.

With Al away, I become drunk on my bedtime freedom, staying up later than I ever dreamed possible!  Unfortunately, because Al's not around to help with the kids in the morning, I also have to get up earlier than usual.  This phenomenon is known as "burning the candle at both ends for absolutely no good reason."

I went out several times during his most recent China trip.  One of those nights began when Supermodel Neighbor texted me "The Babies play the early show at Barboza."  It sounded like a top secret spy message to me so I reported him immediately to Homeland Security.

Supermodel Neighbor has another friend with the same name as me.  We call her "The Other MJ." The three of us went to see The Babies at Barboza that night.  I arrived quite a bit earlier than they did so had to sit through the opening bands by myself.

The first act was an abomination.  The lead singer -- and I use the term loosely -- screamed a lot.  When he did "sing" it was so flat I tried to catch his eye, pointing up towards the ceiling with the message, "Come on, buddy, lift that note way the hell up so it's mildly bearable."  Twice he stopped, apologized, and asked to start the song over.  That's when I knew all hope was lost.

The singing was bad but the lyrics were worse.  The words in all caps were yelled, so you get the proper effect --

"It's a sunny day in Seattle.
I better not sleep all day.
Because it's going to RAIN TOMORROW


Good grief.  I distracted myself by putting my hands over my ears and looking around the room.  I noticed many people were not only drinking PBR in cans, they were drinking PBR in cans held in beer cozies.  That's really taking hipster to a whole new level.

After their set, the band sat at a table right next to me, where their supportive friends patted their arms and said things like, "No, really, the vocals were really good this time!" and "It was seriously your best show yet."  They're talentless as a band but I'm happy for them because they have really good friends.

The second band was fronted by a woman who screamed "I FEEL DEAD" and seemed to take pride in the fact she couldn't play a saxophone because she wasn't embarrassed at all as it squeaked into the microphone.  By the time Supermodel Neighbor and The Other MJ arrived, I'd begun plotting my escape, drawing intricate plans on the back of cocktail napkins.

The Babies saved the night. The music finally got good, the instruments finally properly played.
Get Lost by The Babies on Grooveshark

The Other MJ pulled me towards the front of the stage where we engaged in the appropriate level of dancing for a Seattle show.  There are stringent limits regarding what's acceptable.  You can stand, preferably arms crossed, hands in your pockets if you must, and bounce up and down a little.  Swaying left to right is also permitted, as is nodding your head up and down in time to the music.

If you do more than that, people will assume you're on drugs.  At least that's what I assumed of the spaz next to me, a dude with long hair who seemed to be experiencing some kind of music-induced seizure.

We're here for the holidays.  No travel, which is both a bummer and a relief.  It would be great to see family but we really wanted to spend Christmas here at Banister Abbey.  Stockings are hung, Christmas tree is up, Santa is somehow magically going to come through our ancient bricked-up fireplace (Lucien is not convinced, "Santa can get through bricks?" to which we reply, "Yes, absolutely, hush now, child.")

I'm not quite ready for the holiday so am doing the usual last minute holiday rushing.  I've been ignoring Contractor God as he works like crazy on The Goddamn House, trying to ready it for rental in the New Year.  He calls and says things like, "Go buy the refrigerator" or "You have to make an important decision right now" and I'm like, "Leave me alone, I have to go buy cookies and pretend I baked them myself when our friends come over tonight."

Finally, this is the side of my car up until about fifteen minutes ago --

Lucien has fessed up, said he and his friends wrote "poop" on my admittedly dirty car while waiting at the bus stop.  At least it's an improvement from The Cockmobile?

Happy Holidays from us in The Poopmobile,

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

All I want for Christmas is a ban on assault weapons

Lucien came home Friday with another write-up from school, this time for bending over and smacking his butt in the middle of the lunchroom.  His behavior was called "completely inappropriate" by the lunch lady who reported him. 

I didn't care.  I saw the telltale envelope in his hand as he got off the bus, marked sternly, "To the Parents of Lucien," and knew what it meant.  But all that mattered to me in that moment was I was seeing my six-year old get off the bus on a day when 20 kids on the other side of the country didn't.

That day has changed some things in my mind, to the point where Christmas shopping has ceased and all leftover Christmas money has gone to The Brady Campaign.  Enough is enough, gun people.  Your right to bear arms does not trump my right not to bear arms and feel safe in a public place.  Your right to bear arms does not trump my son's right to receive an education without worry of being executed in his classroom with a legally purchased assault rifle.

I have to believe someday soon we, as a country, will have had enough.  I have to believe someday the gun lobby will lose, that there are only so many times we can bury our loved ones until we rethink our worship of the great American god, The Gun.

I have to believe things will change, that we're not going to ask a classroom of six-and-seven year olds to be martyrs for the Second Amendment.  Because if I don't believe it right now, I'm going to do ridiculous things such as bar my windows and homeschool my kids -- which, as we all know, would find me checked into a mental health institution within 48 hours.

Enough is enough is enough is enough is enough....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Live a little

This was my first year hosting Thanksgiving.  I think everyone assumed I'd make a real mess of it -- an "epic Thanksgiving disaster," if you will.  I pleasantly surprised them by not burning anything and getting most things close to hot at the same time.

Truth is, it was not just unburned and fairly warm, but also delicious because I used a lot -- a lot lot -- of butter.  My guests left with pounds of saturated fat in their arteries.  They even thanked me for it, which is one of the unexplained phenomena of Thanksgiving.

The turkey, even though no one really likes to eat turkey, is always the star of the show at Thanksgiving.  I bought a fresh one from a local butcher and brined the shit out of it for 24 hours.

 Bob's got good meat

The brine smelled so good, I was tempted to drink it.  I reminded myself it was made of kosher salt and apple cider and would therefore taste very bad.  But it smelled so good.  It was a confusing time.

Brine.  Drink.  Yes.  No.  Yes.  No.  Damn.

We had a great group of family and assorted holiday orphans gathered around our Thanksgiving table.  My parents and brother were here, along with Seattle Mom and Dad and family, L.A. Mom (remember her, Paris blog people?) and her family, our Egyptian friend who has bright blinky eyes like a meerkat, and one of our contractors, Dan the Man, who showed up in a suit jacket with his hair slicked back several hours before the meal was to start.

Dan the Man entertained Mom and I with stories of his childhood in Alaska while we cooked.  For such a young guy, it's impressive how many times he's escaped death.

My mom wanted to put a salad on the table that included curry powder in the dressing.  I told her I didn't think curry powder had any place in a Thanksgiving meal.  She then sighed and told me to "live a little."  I repeat -- my seventy-something-year-old mother told me to "live a little."  That does it, I'm off to race motorcycles and maybe, if I have time, kill a hooker.

The last half hour before a Thanksgiving meal goes on the table is one of frantic mayhem. Thankfully, Mom and Dan the Man were happy to take orders in the kitchen.  Amidst shouts of "MOM, CARROTS, BROWN, WHERE?" and "DAN THE MAN, MAKE THE ROUX THEN A LITTLE LATER ADD THREE TABLESPOONS OF TURKEY FAT AND THEN AFTER IT BROWNS ADD SOME OF THOSE DRIPPINGS AND STIR," we all got it done together.

My favorite parts of the meal were Seattle Mom throwing rolls at L.A. Mom who then tried to catch them in her mouth and the numerous suggestive mutterings of Dan the Man after Seattle Mom presented the five pies she'd baked for dessert.  "Mmm... I'd definitely like to eat Seattle Mom's pie...." was uttered more than once.

I'm very thankful for all the people in my life, each of them fantastic in their own wonderfully bizarre way.

My family stuck around for several days after Thanksgiving --

Coco likes the low notes

Stratego is hard

We drove down to Olympia where we met up with some old family friends.  These people are beloved to my family -- they're the fellow Ohio family with whom we took a Colorado ski vacation every year when I was growing up.  There was a lot of reminiscing about those joint vacations while in Olympia, including raucous laughter about that one time we had to throw a flaming log off our balcony to avoid burning down our vacation rental condo. 

A lot of the ski trip memories didn't include me because I was always the youngest and thus always in ski school.  One of our friends said in Olympia, "I'm sorry, MJ, but I just really don't remember you being around much." Ski school sucks.

After all the memory sharing, our two families experienced the horror that is the Olympia Hands-On Children's Museum on a holiday weekend.  It was full of dead-eyed parents desperate for two seconds of quiet and maybe some more turkey.

Coco refused to leave the construction area, happily selecting a pink tool belt and talking incessantly about Contractor God, Dan the Man, and Supermodel Neighbor, her three favorite construction buddies.  I've got to get Coco out of the house more.

I randomly ran into an old friend at the Children's Museum.  We just stared at each other for awhile, each afraid to be wrong, until she tentatively said, "MJ?"  Then I confidently said, "Becca!" because of course I knew it was her all along.  We chatted for two seconds until I realized I'd lost both my children in those two seconds (it really doesn't take long) and had to take off through the museum looking for them. Becca, it was great almost catching up with you.

We took a few walks with my family, too, one of which yielded a leaf roughly the size of Coco.

On one of our walks, we passed the B&B where Alex and I held our wedding reception --


We chose that reception location because it was across the street from where Alex and I totally made out for the very first time --

Sexy wall

And now.... I've got some really big news.

(Anyone who just thought "pregnant" gets a sucker punch to the eye socket)

I haven't mentioned it in a long time because it was going nowhere for that long time, but Al and I never gave up trying to buy The Goddamn House.  Even though we bought and settled happily into Banister Abbey, we couldn't let that other stupid needy house go.  The saga has been long and frustrating but as of last week, after two years of arguing with people, WE OWN THAT BITCH.

The Universe told us many times to give up.  We told The Universe to shove it.  
It remains to be seen if that was a good idea.

We're now working on two houses that need a lot of work, one of which must be done quickly so we can rent it and stop bleeding money.  We are so stupid.  But we WON, don't you see??

(I realize I should update on the Banister Abbey renovations but honestly, at the end of a long day of thinking about nothing but Banister Abbey renovations, it's pretty much the last thing I want to write about.  But I will, at some point, soon, or at least post some pictures then run away from the computer screaming.)

Street of Dreams,  I am on you.  Finally.