Friday, May 26, 2006

The Good, The Bad and The Pathogically Messy

As you know, we have been adding on to our house. In March, Paul Pope (Pope Builders) began tearing off our old 3 season porch and building a new, two story, two room addition and half bath. Paul and his crew have been easy to work with, reliable - a joy, really. In honor of Pope Builders, I have written a haiku:

A Haiku for Pope Builders

You come to my house
Build two huge rooms and a bath
Lovely work – no mess

Check out the most recent pic of their fabulous work:

We have never really had a good experience with a contractor. We generally have the Local News Insider Exposé kind of experience. We had our bathroom remodeled in 1999 and, let's just say, we were out of our house for five weeks and the whole bad experience culminated with our bikes being stolen. You may be wondering, "How can a bathroom remodel lead to bike theft?" Yeah, it boggles the mind doesn't it? Anyway, yesterday, we had a guy (not affiliated with Pope Builders) come to spray our living room and dining room ceilings with that textured stuff. I came home yesterday to a complete mess. Most of the furniture and floors were covered in a 1/4 inch of white dust. Plastery gunk had been tracked all the way upstairs and was ground into the carpet runner. The glop was all over the landing and on our beautiful bathroom tile. It was ground into our bath mat. We found plaster in our antique claw foot tub. I'm pretty sure they invented utility sinks in basements for that purpose. I just don't understand the thought process: "Should I mix plaster in this person's clawfoot tub cast in 1913 or should I mix it in the grungy utility sink in the basement? I think I'll go with the nice tub." The man splashed water all over the toilet and bathroom floor. Inexplicably, there was plaster on my hostas in the front yard. He did not bother to clean any of this up. Miguel, at the tender age of 4, walked into the house and said, "What a mess!" Now, if a 4 year old can figure that out, why can't a contractor? We had to go out to dinner, come home to put our dusty children in their beds and spend the rest of our evening cleaning. Luisa called the guy today and informed him that it would be best for all concerned if he did not return. Oh, I didn't mention that he only did one of the two ceilings? Yeah. So, in honor (or dishonor, I suppose) I offer the following haiku:

A Haiku for Mark the Ceiling Sprayer

You spray one ceiling
Mix plaster in my cool tub
Children think you’re dumb

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Over Easy

I was on my way to the elevator when I saw a co-worker coming towards me. He smiled broadly and said loudly, "Eighteen eggs this morning!" Turns out, he was not sharing the news of a rather impressive breakfast. No, this was the number of eggs retrieved from his wife's ovaries this morning. Considering I barely know this man and have never had anything resembling a personal conversation with him, I think I would prefer "hello" from here on out.

Monday, May 22, 2006


It’s strange what can make you wistful. By “you”, of course, I mean “me” but I’m trying to be inclusive here. One moment, you are going 50 miles per hour in the bow of a speedboat, a gaggle of laughing children around you and you can’t help but laugh too because you have never seen anything funnier than children’s cheeks flapping in the wind while they sing Scooby Dooby Doo at the top of their lungs. The next moment, you are crying - not because of the 50 mile per hour wind and bugs in your eyes but because of a big ol’ wave of nostalgia that drags you out of the moment. You remember another boat and other people laughing and as your mind is perusing that other speedboat – the speedboat in a past life – your eyes finally land on the driver of that boat. The driver just happens to be your father and he is smiling and laughing his deep and subtle laugh that rumbles and resonates in your chest. In that moment, you realize that your father is one of the few people in life that made you feel really safe and you start to cry because you are going to lose him very soon. Then, just like that, you hear the children screaming again, screaming because waves are so incredible and because speed and Scooby Doo are so darn funny. You are back in the moment and can laugh again. You wrap your arms around those children and you sing along and the moment is somehow sweeter.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Extreme Makeover

1. Blog Edition

As you can see, I have made some dramatic changes around here. I know I have broken one of the main blogging commandments - Thou shalt not change things too often. Still, I wanted a new look. I plan on sticking with this one for awhile. Let me know what you think. Those of you who lurk here (and you know who you are) - take this as an invitation to actually leave a comment.

2. Government Center Edition

It's day two here on the flooded 14th floor. Here are a few pics of the new look in my work place.

If you think the pictures look great, you should smell the new look.

3. Addition Edition

I came home last night to the most dramatic progress on our addition yet. When they first dug the foundation, I was convinced that the addition was going to be too small. Now, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the enormity. You can barely even see the old house.

4. Oldest Child Edition

When we picked up Miguel from school yesterday, we received the following note from his teacher:

Dear Mothers,

Miguel will need a good shampoo tonight to remove the shoe polish.


Mrs. Raasch

Should this ever happen* to your child, let me just tell you - that shit doesn't come out. No matter how much shampoo you use. No matter how hard you scrub. It does - not - come - out.

*The word "happen" of course implies that your child was an innocent victim to a drive-by polishing. I can't really say that this "happened" to my son. There was no other party involved in the polishing. No other child did this to him. No other child encouraged him to do this. No, my son decided to polish his head all by himself. You can imagine our pride...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Catastrophe Team

A water main burst on the 14th floor of the Government Center and half of it is flooded. I work on the 14th floor. Let me just say that the carpet here is very old. The maintenance staff no longer regularly vaccum because of budget cuts. We have had a terrible mouse infestation since I started here 9 years ago. Water...mouse urine...dirt - imagine the smell that the giant fans are blowing around in here.

There are men wandering around wearing black t-shirts that read "Catastrophe Team". If I could get one of those shirts, this would all be worthwhile.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mothers' Day

At 1 a.m. Miguel yells for me from his bedroom. He relays the details of a horrible nightmare in which he built something and someone knocked it down. I assure him that he was dreaming, that neither building nor knocking has occurred. Zeca also wakes up but she is crying, standing up in her crib rattling the bars. We can only assume she has had a terrible dream in which someone built something and she knocked it down. She is wracked with guilt and Luisa gives her a pacifier and a back rub.

At 5:45 a.m., Miguel wakes up and begins yelling for us. I go in to tell him that it is too early and that he needs to go back to sleep. He tells me that it is Mother’s Day and he wants to make coffee for us…got up early to make coffee for us…needs to make coffee for us right now. By 6:15 a.m., we are all downstairs and I am supervising the making of my Mother’s Day coffee. By 6:30 a.m., I am cleaning up the mess made during the making of the Mother’s Day coffee. At 7 a.m., Luisa and I are preparing breakfast for the children. By 7:30 a.m., we are cleaning up the breakfast dishes. We each grab a Luna Bar and try to have coffee. We sit down to read the paper but there are many demands for attention which detract from the reading of the newspaper. I manage to look through a few ads and Luisa manages a couple of editorials. Zeca is removing all of the books from the bookshelf. Miguel is playing prairie dog on the couch which involves throwing all of the cushions on the floor. By 8 a.m., toys are strewn all over the entire downstairs. Interestingly, neither child is actually playing with any toys. It is raining outside and we are all bored.

The hours between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. are a blur of Luisa nagging Miguel, me nagging Luisa, Zeca crying because she is not allowed to destroy various objects in the house and Miguel occasionally yelling at us that we are the meanest mothers in the world and will not be getting Mother’s Day cards next year. I begin to grit my teeth and glower. I consider locking myself in the bathroom but decide Luisa would rather deal with moody me than be left alone with the children. We decide to go to Ikea to get a dresser for Zeca and to drop Miguel off at the ball pit where he can climb and jump.

We drop Miguel off at the Ikea ball pit, plop Zeca in a cart and proceed into the store. Ikea is virtually empty and I imagine all of the other mothers having their Mother’s Day brunches or breakfast in bed or receiving numerous bouquets of flowers or gorging on chocolates in their beds. Zeca cries because she doesn’t want to sit in the cart. I explain to her calmly that she must remain in the cart. She continues to cry. I give her cranberries and she stops crying. We select a dresser and return to the ball pit to pick up Miguel. It’s lunch time and we have no food at home for lunch. Cranberries do not an entree make and there is nothing else in the diaper bag. We decide to eat at the Ikea cafeteria. We find a table among the elderly mothers that seem to have come to Ikea just for the Swedish Meatballs. We sit down to enjoy our Festival of Carbs, though “enjoy” is generous. As we leave Ikea, Miguel asks when we are going to do something fun.

We return home and put Zeca down for her nap. Miguel goes to his room for “quiet time” which consists of him yelling “Happy Mother’s Day” to Luisa from his bedroom window while she mows the lawn. He gets louder and louder so that she can hear him over the mower. While Luisa mows the lawn, I pick up all of the toys and take out the trash. I also make the grocery list. When Luisa finishes the lawn, she comes inside and I take Miguel to do the grocery shopping. While we are shopping, Luisa does the bills.

We return from shopping and Luisa puts the groceries away while I call my mother to wish her happy Mother’s Day. She says nothing about the card I sent, nor the Visa gift card I got for her. I finally ask her if she received them. She says that she did and that she doesn’t even know how to use the Visa gift card. There is a five minute discussion of how to use the card that concludes with her saying “humph” rather than anything resembling a thank you. I am fuming and call my sister to complain. My sister is very sweet to me. While I luxuriate in my sister’s kindness, the children wander around the house leaving a wake of toys in their path. I get off the phone and begin making lasagna for dinner. We decide to invite our friends (Raquel, Susan and their daughter Luca) over for dinner because they just returned from Ohio and probably don’t have food at their house. They say they will be over right after they unpack. Miguel spends the next 45 minutes asking us when they are going to get there.

They arrive and we have a lovely dinner and a bottle of wine. Miguel plays with Luca and Zeca performs all of her most adorable tricks. We have snippets of adult conversation…the first of such snippets all day. At 7:30 p.m., Luisa puts Zeca to bed and Miguel and Luca play quietly in his room. We have actual adult conversation. My jaw unclenches…could be the wine, could be the conversation. Around 8 p.m. the “clean up the mess in the bedroom” negotiations begin. I go up to check it out and am horrified to see that nearly every inch of Miguel’s floor is covered in books, toys and clothing. I tell the children to clean it up. They come down at 8: 15 p.m. and say that it is clean. I don’t believe them but I am tired and don’t care anymore. Our friends leave and I take Miguel up to bed. I walk into his room and it is immaculate. He is beaming and says, “See, I told you I would do something nice for you today”. I want to cry. We snuggle into his bed and he tells me in a fake French accent…”Zee keeds, zey like to eat zee boogers”. I respond in the same accent, “Zat eeze gross”. We laugh. He rubs my cheek and says he loves me. I hold his small hand and tell him that I love him too. He drifts off to sleep. The house is finally quiet. I go back downstairs where Luisa is doing the dishes. I pick up all the toys and make the coffee for the next day. We prepare tomorrow’s lunches. We sit down at 9 p.m.

Just another day for these mothers…


Luisa called to suggest that, perhaps, my account of the day was the tiniest bit harsh. I didn't mean to describe a day that would drive people to drink or to give the impression that we are bitter, unhappy people. I was simply struck with the difference between the Mother's Day that is marketed by Hallmark and an actual day in the life of a mother with small children. So, I offer the following disclaimer:

Vikki and Luisa are happy, well-adjusted women raising two wonderful children. They love their children (and each other) dearly and would not change their lives for anything.

There, I've disclaimed. Besides, how I could I not love these little people...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Overheard in the Government Center Elevator

Woman (to man): You are retiring soon, right?

Man: Yes, August of 2007

My subconscious: It is hot in here and someone has been smoking.

Woman: You don’t have it down to the days?

Man: 449 days

My subconscious: Why do so many middle aged men working for Hennepin County wear Hawaiian print shirts?

Woman: And have you settled on a place to retire?

Man: Yes, we have decided on Bismarck.

My subconscious: Hmmm…there must be another Bismarck. Maybe there is a Bismarck in Germany…

Woman: Do you have family in North Dakota?

My subconscious: Man – Be gentle when you mock her for thinking that you would move to North Dakota.

Man: No, it’s #28 on Kiplinger’s list of great places to live.

My subconscious: Retiring to North Dakota?!? Please, if there is a god, don’t let me work at the county so long as to believe life would be better in Bismarck.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Fast One

Remember how I was complaining about my boring workday and how the most exciting thing I did was wrestle with an industrial size stapler? Well, I'm yearning for that simpler time...

We are incredibly busy at work. If you sell Cuisinarts on commission, busy is great news. If you are a social worker who investigates abuse, not so much. We are investigating record numbers of abuse/neglect/exploitation cases right now which does not say much about the current state of the world.

I have 20 cases to close and about 20 more to open. I hate it when work gets in the way of blogging.

So, I just wanted to post some exciting pictures to keep you all updated on the construction progress at my house. I was looking in through what will be the windows and actually pictured art on the walls. I am way past the angst of the fork in the road and am downright thrilled.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Luisa and I are in the kitchen preparing dinner. Zeca is hanging on to my pant leg, begging for food. We hear beeping from the living room, the sounds of the buttons on the cordless phone. I enter the living room and find Miguel sitting on the couch with the phone in his hand.

Me: Miguel, what are you doing?

Miguel: I'm going to call 911.

Me: If you call 911 and the police come to the house and there is no emergency, you will get into a lot of trouble.

Miguel: When the police come to arrest you, do they already know which jail they are going to take you to?

Me: Honey, the police don't usually take kids to jail.

Miguel: So, they would probably just take me to juvy?

Who is this kid hanging out with?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Too Much

I haven’t slept well in days. Zeca and I both have bad colds, Miguel seems to have lost the ability to cover himself at night and, on Saturday night, I had those 7 tiny pomegranate martinis and 2 beers. That said, I don’t have high hopes for wit and coherence here. Lower your expectations right now.

Saturday night was the Lake Country School auction. I’ve gone to this event for years and always have a fabulous time. I mill about bidding on the silent auction items. I stop by the Marketplace and buy some Lake Country apparel and paraphernalia. I chat, joke and laugh with people I barely know (which is no easy task for an introvert). I feel all bubbly and happy and a part of something bigger than myself. I even start to feel like I am just like everyone else there, like we all have so much in common. Then, the live auction begins.

The big ticket item at the auction this year was a trip for six to a private home in Telluride, Colorado. The trip included travel by private jet, gourmet meals (including one provided by a top chef), private ski lessons, skiing or other outdoor activities and massages. The estimated value of the trip was $14,500 and it was donated by a family at the school. The bidding began at around $3,000 (I can’t remember exactly because of the aforementioned martinis). My friends and I stood in awe as the people around us kept raising their hands and the bidding…$5,000, $10,000, $15,000 – sold for $17,000. Then, five minutes later the family that donated the trip decided to offer another to the second highest bidder, the guy who bid $16,500. In moments, the school had raised $33,500. I could never offer such a trip (let alone, two) nor could I ever afford to bid on such a trip. It is fun to be around that kind of money but it also made me a bit sick to my stomach. Granted, it could have been the pomegranate martinis and all the free pork but I really think it was the wealth.

On the outside, I am a middle class, educated professional but, inside, I am working class just like my parents. My mother grew up poor – didn’t have an indoor bathroom poor, lost everything in a flood poor, three to a bed poor. She graduated from high school and became a typesetter for a printing company. My father owned a small bar in our working class neighborhood. As a kid, I remember a generalized feeling of stress around issues of work, insurance and money but my basic needs were always met. I remember being told that I could not have certain things because we did not have the money for them but those were extra things, not needed things. I never knew that my parents could barely make ends meet. I didn’t know that my mother hocked her jewelry one year to buy me Christmas presents. I didn’t know that she had to work overtime to pay for my guitar lessons. Even though my parents shielded me from some of the hard truths, somehow, that working class experience still shaped the person I have become. Even though I probably make more than my parents made combined, I worry more about money than just about anything else. I worry that we don’t have enough money, that we won’t have enough tomorrow, that we can’t do the things we need to do for our children. Sometimes, for an added twist (and because I am so good at this), I worry that we have too much, that we do too much for our children, that they are spoiled and will grow up feeling entitled. I alternate between an overwhelming sense of privilege and associated guilt and a desperate sense that tomorrow is the day when everything will fall to pieces and I will have to make my children’s clothes out of paper bags and duct tape.

So, it’s surreal for me to stand next to a person who can bid $17,000 for a vacation, seemingly without much thought. I have to force myself to focus on the school. I can’t allow my mind to wander or my working and middle class sensibilities begin to plot an uprising. It’s just too much…too much money, too much comfort, too much ease – just too much. I have to remind myself that the money is for this very special school. I have to think about the values of Lake Country and that those values have nothing to do with wealth and privilege. I have to think about the school’s focus on independent thought and community service. I have to think about my son’s love of his school and I have to reflect on all that it has given him. Then, I can applaud the winning bidders. I can laugh and drink and play Twister – my middle class self all tangled up with the rich.