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!


  1. Wow!! That being in the train nerds inner sanctum sounds better than backstage passes at a Zeplin concert. I'll bet they're party animals to the nth degree too. I hope you got out of there with your reputation intact and you didn't feel dirty and ashamed the next day. Do they have buck teeth like computer nerds?

    Praise be, the G-damn holidays are about over. Your post was a nice overview of the sacrifices parents make for their chilluns.

    I only had to endure my 3 grand newphews for 4 days and just that was an ordeal at times. Much of my family, like me aren't quite right.
    My 9 year old nephew was wolfing his food down like a famine victim and I mentioned to him he ought to slow down.
    He said "I'm a man! I go full force!". I pity his future girl friends. I think its a line he picked up from a movie or tv.

    1. Hi Bill! I can tell you're quite impressed I'm a model train groupie. No buck teeth, and surprisingly, they can really party.

      The holidays are stressful. I, too, am glad they're over but am still extremely reluctant to take down our Christmas tree. Everything looks so boring after the holiday.

      Love your nephew. That's awesome.
      Bye, Bill!

  2. Nooo, not the coat! I was almost too scared to read ahead. Phew.

    Well if I didn't already think you were the coolest chick on the planet, your new VIP status as backstage model train groupie has firmly cemented the deal. Woo woo!

    1. Bec! I'm happy to see you!

      The coat's OK and is resting comfortably in the bed I made for it out of feathers and unicorn eyelashes. Alex has accused me of loving the coat more than any real person on earth. He may have a point.

      High five, Bec, miss hanging out on the blog!

  3. Glad to hear you made it through, MJ, but it really is a blast with small kids. They look adorable, by the way, and those all nighters putting together toys really are worth it.

    One of my kids wanted tires! I gave him a check and a bunch of clothes just so I could watch him unwrap stuff.

    Love your posts, they're all great!

    1. Hi Lou! Tires -- at least you have a very practical son.

      Agreed, putting the toys together is worth it, just sometimes painful in the moment. Plus most of them have already been forgotten. Dammit!

      Take care, Lou!

  4. Two posts! Wow blog fest.

    Everyone here in the great white north had a great Christmas...lots of snow...and we had a Christmas day bonfire...a new tradition. Hope you have a happy new year

    And hold onto that coat for dear's a beauty

    1. Two posts just for you, Debbie. Jealous you've got snow up yonder. That's nicer than the rain we got. Bonfire sounds pretty heavenly, too, just as long as you don't get your booze too close to it.

      Happy New Year, Debs!

  5. "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."

    DAMN you!! You got me all choked up with that last sentence after the whole build up. But I am also smiling large! What a wonderful Christmas story!

    I miss you guys. Been reading. Not been commenting, but had to on this one to tell you all Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Who can believe it has been over a year since you have been back. I thought a lot about you guys as I NaNoWriMo'ed the month of November since last year I did a lot of that in your St. Germain apartment.

    My own updates have been up on Facebook -- Deb, I see you up there. Are you on the Book of Face, m'dear? I should connect to you if you are.

    Much love to you all, and thank you for continuing to post, MJ. It is much-appreciated from this member of the peanut gallery!

    Hugs to the kiddos from Nanny Karin, and next time you all are out Colorado Way, we ARE connecting. Period. So let me know if/when you are.


    1. KARIN! I miss you, woman. I've been meaning to write you forever but -- well, you've heard how it's going with me and the stuff I'm supposed to do. I'm just not doing it.

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too. I've been following your news on Facebook (not commenting as much as I should be, but I'm there with you, woman!) My fingers are crossed for you.

      I should be in Colorado in the next handful of months, am overdue for a visit. Hell yeah, we'll be in touch!!!

      Hugs, hugs, hugs, miss you!

    2. Awesome. :-) I'm so glad to know you have seen the updates! It's one reason I decided I really just need to post some stuff there. there are many of you all who I know have to be reading, and I'm glad to know you are. DO NOT worry about not commenting -- I totally get why not and OMG, how do you DO it? Two little kids, a remodel, two houses, AAAACCCKKK.


      You know where to find me, so we shall connect when you are next in Colorful Colorado. :-)

      Hugs back!!

  6. Hi, MJ! I have actually asked you a question on here a few weeks ago, but I forgot which post it was on. And so, I don't know your answer and will have to ask you again- sorry, please don't hate me!
    I LOVE your blog.

    I am currently in college pursuing my degree in International Studies. I am just wondering what career field your husband is in? Based on your posts, his job allows him to live in Paris, travel around, go on lovely vacations, and provide a great life for your family. I am interested in work that will allow me to travel and show my kids different parts of the world. Any info you can provide would be most helpful! Thanks! :)

    1. It doesn't make any difference what Alex does. He might be a janitor or he might be a metallurgist formulating new alloys to withstand the forces in the Hadron Collider that physicists use to discover new atomic particles. That doesn't mean you'll be a janitor or a Hadron Collider metallurgist and make all your family dreams come true. In fact your reasons for wanting to know are really lame and Walt Disney like childish.
      You're nosing and fishing around for things that are none of your business. The next thing you'll want to know is his salary. Even worse, you might disagree with MJ's blog and want to notify Alex's company about the politically incorrect things his wife says on her blog.

      Even if I'm all wrong about you, put yourself in the
      bloggers shoes. None of them give out such personal information.

    2. Whoa, Bill!

      Thanks much for the blog kudos, Anonymous, but I'm afraid Bill's right. It was an agreement I made with Al long ago that nothing, not even the most insignificant detail, about his job or education appear on the blog, ever. (Too bad, though, because man, the stories I could tell!)

      What I can tell you is it took him years -- years upon years, during some of which he also obtained another degree -- of very long hours to get where he is now. So work hard, crazy hard, to the point of not having much of a personal life.

      And maybe marry a low-maintenance person like me who can make sure your friends don't abandon you even when they haven't seen you for months at a time. And who can keep the pantry stocked with stress-relieving potato chips.

      Cheers to all, we all friends here.

    3. Thanks MJ!

      I truly am not trying to pry into your personal business at all- so sorry if I was inappropriate! I can totally respect what you said.

      @ Bill, wow, way to tell off someone more than half your age! I am a college student for God's sake. I am not trying to pry into MJ's personal business and I definitely would never ask what her husband's salary is! Being that A LOT of mature, educated, and grown people are in whatever business they are in solely to make money, I don't see what's wrong with me asking about a profession so that I can travel and provide a great life for my family. Seems like logical reasons, no? Especially being that this is something I will be doing for the entirety of my life. You don't know me or what I have been through. So please, I would appreciate it if YOU wouldn't address me again. I definitely don't have time for snide comments when you aren't MJ- this is HER blog and who I addressed the question to- not you.

    4. No worries, Anon. Bill is just auditioning for head of my security team.

      We're all friends here, people! Now everybody high-five and make up.

    5. Don't cross Bill...;)

      If I may add something... I too have a job that allows me to travel all over the world and make a very good living and I'm not at all in the same field as Alex... but like him, I have spent years studying (still am!) and have worked my butt off to get to where I am... and I constantly have people telling me that I've "been lucky", have "always been at the right place at the right time", and that it's "easy" for me... but I made my own luck with a hell of a lot of 90-hour weeks and I suspect that Alex is no stranger to that type of schedule either...

      And I too have a low-maintenance spouse who's willing to follow his wife around the world;) Oh, he bitches from time to time (people don't realize just how much pressure expat life puts on a relationship - they actually think it's a never-ending holiday!), but he sticks around:)

    6. Amen all over the place, Sister Duchesse.

    7. I just have to add... you have to do what you love, the money will never make up for doing a job you don't like. If you love it (even when it's exasperating),you won't mind the 90 hour weeks, and studying for more degrees, you'll take pride in it. This comes from another low-maintenence spouse.

    8. Dear Anon,
      I have to address you one last time and hope you overlook my overreaction and butting in when I shouldn't have. I also thought you chewed me out in a nice manner. I am indeed more than twice your age. You are young and have legitmate idealistic thoughts and goals whereas I am old and deal mainly in a logical realism way, having had the idealism beaten out of me long ago. The Man beat me down something terrible. Often the idealist doesn't have enough realism and the realist doesn't have enough idealism.

      From what I've seen in the work world, I can tell you that you can write your own ticket to live anywhere in the world and make big bucks too with an accounting degree or knowlege of computer network architecture. And if you're outdoorsy, there is a huge world wide, high paying demand for geologists. And none of those jobs are ever going away.
      There's one huge downside to those high salary jobs - their family life suffers terribly or is non-existant.

      Good luck to you. And that's the last time I will ever do my Andy Rooney imitation. He always struck me as a bitter old man while I like to think of myself as an ordinary curmudgeon.

    9. At Anon:

      You might want to look into international organizations. The competition is fierce, but if you're willing to go to grad school and learn at least another language (in most organizations, English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian or Chinese are official languages - Spanish and French are good ones to know), you could have a really nice international career. NATO has English and French as official languages, so do UN Tribunals. In the Red Cross, it's English, French and Spanish. OECD has English and French, but German is a plus.

      Or you could also try to get into the foreign service. It's good that you're thinking about it now as an international career requires years of preparation.

      Anyway! I hope this was useful! Good luck to you and Happy New Year:)

    10. Yeah, everyone's friends again! And helpful and supportive to boot. 2013 is totally our year, I can feel it.

    11. No hard feelings, Bill! And thanks for that information- it really is helpful!

      Duchesse, thank you so much for your helpful info! I am really interested in international organizations. I'm actually majoring in International Studies w/ a concentration in International Institutions and Globalization. I am also double minoring in International Social Justice Studies and French. I'd really love to work for the OECD. I checked out their website and the Young Professionals Program sounds like an option for me after graduating. I am going to go for it! I am really interested in working for companies that work toward social reform and equality. But, I am not sure if my minor in International Social Justice will be the best idea or if I should minor in Environmental Studies (which I am also interested in). I noticed a lot of environmental jobs on the OECD website.

      MJ, yeah 2013 is totally our year!!! :) Everyone has been super supportive.

      Thanks again everyone!

    12. @ Anon:

      Both international social justice and environmental studies would open doors for you, so my advice is to pick the one you prefer and to keep your options open. By the way, as international organizations don't pay their interns, it's fairly easy to get a four-month internship in one of them, and it could be your ticket to later getting a more permanent position. Four months in Paris at OECD would be great for your future career and your fluency in French;) (Or four months in Brussels working for NATO or the UN). You see, international organizations are rather quite "incestuous": they like to hire each other's employees, so once you've worked for one, it's a lot easier to be called to sit an entrance exam with any of them.

      By the way, a couple if years ago, the UN was encouraging people from "under-represented" countries to apply for professional-level positions. Unsurprisingly, small countries like Yemen and Uzbekistan were on the list. Shockingly, so was the US!

  7. You posted on my 40th birthday! I feel honoured;) I spent it eating at the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower (sumptuous meal) and then out in the Butte-aux-cailles with friends:) It was my best birthday ever! God, I love Paris! And we left Ottawa the day before a 30-cm snowstorm to arrive in quasi-springtime Paris (12 degrees!):))) Ahhhhhhhh! It's mostly grey and cloudy, but I love it all the same!:)

    We're off to Monop for last-minute shopping for tonight so we're not scrambling to get a baguette and cheese at 8 pm!:)

    I'm glad you had a great Holiday season so far:) Enjoy the last day of 2012!

    Looking forward to your mad adventures in 2013:)

    Cheers to everyone! (Hi Debs! I'll drink hot chocolate to your health at Angelina's tomorrow:)

    1. hey Duch....happy new year to you stroll along Rivoli to Angelina's think of's amazing how many times you end up on rivoli in Paris..despite the horrible tourist stores (and yes of course I've been in them all)

      enjoy that chocolate chaud!

    2. Happy Birthday, Duchesse, but darn you, you made me sad for Paris!

      Yeah, you're 40 though! Have the best time ever.

      Butte-aux-Cailles! Angelina's! Monoprix! (no, actually, screw the Monoprix...)

      I've really, really, really got to get back there. Kiss the city for me. And have so much fun.