2022: The Year of the Slumlord

Those of you that have been following along for this entire year know that my family has gone through some… well, insecure housing. I will sum it up here, but will also link back to the other posts, in case you want to do a deep dive. The insecurity is of no fault of our own – my husband has a good job, and a side gig; we are responsible, pay our bills on time. We do not make unreasonable requests. Just. an average family, a part of the community. And yet none of this has spared us from being treated like renter scum, along with the other half of California treated much the same, and – I suspect – much of the country that tenant’s another person’s home.

The good news is that I now feel panic attacks are well-deserved.

The bad news is that our housing situation is no more secure now, at the end of 2022, than it was at the beginning when we entered it.

House #1:

I wrote about the housing crisis in California HERE.

After years of living at the same home, caring for it as if it were our own, and diligently paying rent in full and on time, we were callously booted from our rental home. I say callously because we wrote a letter to them after receiving the termination of our tenancy (that’s putting it nicely: it was an eviction without cause), begging them to let us stay until summer so my 18 year old daughter could have endometriosis surgery we had been planning for the entirety of the pandemic, that spring.

They said no. Her surgery was canceled.

This was going on at the same time that thousands of other people across California were suffering the same fate: with the market booming, and looking like it was about to bust; and the eviction moratorium lifted, property managers and owners that wanted to get out of their investments jumped at the opportunity. At the time we entered the market, there was 1 unit available for every 1,789 families in our county looking. So we had quite a hard time finding a place, which we did only for it to be an absolute disaster as well, for other reasons (we’ll get to that next).

The kicker in the pants of all of this is that not only did they cheat us out of our security deposit, trying to charge us for routine maintenance and upgrades to make the house improved above and beyond standard wear and tear, was the fact that: they evicted us unlawfully. As it turns out, California has pretty strict laws about the reasons that a landlord can evict you without cause, not included is that a client of yours needs a rental home. Your landlord cannot, under any circumstance, evict you to just let someone else move in. Unless they are a member of your immediate family, this is a violation of California law.

And yet still, it was the reason we were let go. So a client of our landlord could move in.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, just a few months ago we learned the insult to this injury (one we are all still recovering from): the new tenant is somehow related to our (now ex) sister in law. Tons of people in my husband’s immediate family and friends are mutual friends with these folks.

These folks living in our old house. The one we were unlawfully evicted from without cause.

House #2

I wrote about it HERE.

And HERE.

And HERE.

And HERE.

As I mentioned, we moved in a time that thousands of middle income families were put in the same position. And, we had a limited budget, still recovering ourselves from pay cuts and increased costs associated with the pandemic.

Nevertheless, we eventually found the only place we could afford, in the timeframe we had to get there. It was 45 minutes away from our home, and in a matter of short time (actually, the problems started the first night we moved in), it became evident that this place was not going to work out for us.

Beyond the commute to school, sports, and social activities for our kids, the toxic environment in the HOA, and the smallness of the house were untenable. And then, after we resolved to find a way out of our lease, one presented itself, with a host of maintenance issues and the exposure of water leaks and mold through out the home.

Once we found a new place, back in our old community (actually the same general neighborhood as House #1, where we had lived for years), we were able to easily pull the implied warrant of habitability and get out of our lease. The last day I took a shower at this house, I could see mold peeking through the walls; and shortly after, we discovered the owner had gotten an appraisal only to find over $500,000 worth of damages.

(Of course we’re still arguing with them through the District Attorney to get our security deposit back, but that’s another blog for another day.)

House #3

I wrote about it HERE.

I wrote about landlords HERE.

So now we’re in House #3 for the year. We have moved twice, spent over $40,000 – in total – to move between the three homes, put our children through an enormous amount of trauma, suffered temporary illness from exposure to the mold (more than one night close to hospitalization for breathing issues for me, as well as my son), but figured – hey – we’re back home, we’re back in our community…

Fairly early on, though, it became evident that the property manager of this new home was very inexperienced in being a property manager. He always seemed confused, would flake on showing up for maintenance things, and after moving in July 1st of this year, as of today – December 13th – he has yet to complete the items on the move in walk through.

The gardeners written into our lease have shown up approximately 4 times (they are supposed to come every two weeks, which would be 12 visits at this point). The front lawn, completely dead, has drawn the ire of neighbors, and complaints from the city, so much so that we ended up having to invest $300 to cover it with more attractive mulch just so the neighbor kids would come ask our son to play.

In 5 months, we put in one maintenance request for a broken fan, and after a 100 degree heat wave and months of waiting and never getting any answer, just replaced it ourselves.

Then, a few months ago (just before Halloween), maintenance people started randomly showing up to do maintenance not requested or included in the move in walk through – without any notice. One person showed up one day to “repair window screens.” (No window screens needed repairing.) He took them and never returned. Another time the same person came to repaint the front door. He slopped paint all over the place, and painted the door so many layers that it now doesn’t open or close properly.

The coup de grâce, though, of this whole affair is that 3 days after paying our 5th month of rent (now December, almost a year after our foray into insecure housing began back at House #1), the property manager texted my husband saying effective immediately he would no longer be the property manager. Another company – un-ironically our old company that allowed our landlord to unlawfully evict us without cause – would be taking over. This would in effect nullify our lease, so we started scrambling to get some legal advice only for him to contact us the next day and say “just kidding, never mind it’ll still be me.”

Okay…

Then today, upon entering our tenant portal, we discovered a couple of weird things. One is that our landlord never actually signed the lease. Two is that our security deposit had been zeroed out. My husband again contacted the new-old-new again property manager, who explained all of this but then… texted him again and asked to come over and take photographs of the home in “a few minutes”…

Again… um… okay…

California law is very strict about these things; it’s one of the few protections 45% of the state that rents has. Property managers and landlords cannot legally enter the home except for emergencies or routine maintenance, or if the house is being sold. Otherwise, inspections are illegal, unless you’ve written it into the lease or are a recipient of state assistance (neither of those apply here). By definition, a 5 month “check up” to take photographs of the home and our personal property with absolutely no notice is both illegal, and a violation of the tenant’s (our) privacy. This, coupled with the previous maintenance folks showing up without notice? And the other maintenance requests and gardening included in the rent ignored? Well… it all qualifies as harassment of a tenant.

We decided to go ahead and call the property manager and be amenable to this quick walk thru to try and get a better idea of just what is going on here. He comes tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve done some poking around, only to find – to my dismay – that the landlord and his wife have a number of mutual connections with me, and – this is where it gets crazy, and a little sad – his adult son recently died stepping in front of oncoming traffic. Very tragic, even crazier though is that our landlord was apparently on the hook for $420,000 in bail he had forfeited on that son’s behalf, who was about to go to prison on three strikes for felony car theft.

Obviously our landlord is in a state of grief, and trying to control what he can, and possibly recoup some of that lost money. But, all understanding and empathy aside, this does not make what is going on here okay; and moreover, leaves us wondering just how much we’ll have to tolerate before moving on to House #4.

Fundamentally, renters are very oftentimes folks just trying to live their lives peacefully. In California, as I mentioned, 45% of the state lives as a renter. That is almost half of the state, nearly 20 million people. And yet, time and again we become collateral damage for the poor decisions and lifestyles, the problems and personal issues, of our landlords. There is a sense that we are not people, just a paycheck; that we are nothing more than financial capital in the form of humans that can come up with the money to be so. This Class War, it is personal to me, and so many others of the middle and working classes. Personal because it calls into question the very conditions upon which we are able to live or even survive.

Christmas is just 12 days away, as a mom I should be focusing on the magic of it all – wrapping presents, checking all the experiential boxes; all while taking care of my kids, going to school myself, and just… living. It’s hard to see how people can live under these conditions for so long, though. Every morning I wake up in a panic, wondering what problem will come next, how our housing will become even less secure. I’m trying very hard to hold myself together right now, for the sake of my kids. But I’m also just about done. Today, for the first time in all of this, I very seriously thought about putting the kids in the car and just driving. With no idea what that meant, or where we’d go, all I could think of was that anything would be better than suffering under this cruel system where some of us are treated like subjects to be controlled and used for a paycheck, until there’s no more need for us and then we’re just thrown out with yesterday’s garbage. But renters, tenants – we are human beings too.

We, as a family, have a lot going on now, having thought that we were through all this insecure and crazy housing stuff. Big stuff, little stuff, plans we thought we were safe to make because things were supposed to settle down. We had rescheduled that endometriosis surgery for my older daughter, and just learned my younger daughter will have to have a minor procedure for a meniscus problem we planned for the beginning of the year as well. I don’t see us being able to tolerate all these problems and chaos and just *dealing with* our landlord, and navigate all of that at the same time. As a renter, are we really ever beyond that sense of insecurity, into the safety of settling down? Are we ever able to live life like everyone else?

If this Year of the Slumlord has taught me anything, it’s that the answer to all of that is a resounding no.

The Newsletter: Issue #11

Don’t you love how every time I say I’m going to try to get back into writing the newsletter every week, and then I – like – say I’m going to really and truly hold myself accountable “this time,” I then disappear on the newsletter-front for about a month? Or more? Every time?

Well anyway…

Around the World

So how about that monkeypox?

What an absolute shit show this world is. We have Russia continuing to hedge the world closer and closer to World War 3, an ongoing SARS2 pandemic that is just being made worse by incompetent public officials and capitalist governments, Roe is about to be overturned, and now we have monkeypox, aka mini small pox.

So if you aren’t following BNO Newsroom on Twitter yet, I highly recommend you do so. They post about a number of news items, including a tracker on COVID and now, I guess, monkeypox. What’s so scary about monkeypox I think is actually that it’s spread much more widely and rapidly than in previous outbreaks, which implies that something about it, or us, may have changed; and the fact that its closest relative in small pox can spread 9 miles through the air. While they know what to do, how to deal with it that is… I think the trauma response from the last two years of absolute clusterfuck that’s been COVID is just rearing its head.

Know how to deal with it, or not, I just have no interest.

Beyond pandemic disease, the ongoing climate crisis (which I, personally, believe the pandemic disease stuff is a part of), and all the other shit going on (war, economy, gas prices… you know…), it’s election season. If you’re in California, it’s time to get your ballots in. And while I don’t know the schedules of all the other states, I do know you need to vote, even if it’s just writing yourself in because practically everyone else in public office or politics right now is a piece of shit.

(There, I said it. Someone had to. And yes, I wrote myself in on at least one spot of my ballot.)

What’s interesting about the primary election is that it’s happening as COVID is surging, and so – like it or not – I think this is profoundly impacting both people’s votes, and pandemic policy.

As we see cases of COVID in SoCal, and hospitalizations along with them, rise rapidly, officials still hold their trigger fingers on bringing masks back – even in notoriously mask-friendly Los Angeles. Personally, I understand keeping them off in places like movie theaters and restaurants – those are totally optional entertainment venues, risk takers beware.

But now it’s spread (that mask-free life, I mean) to pharmacies, grocery stores, and doctors offices, which is just insane. People don’t have a choice to stay away from them, so of all the places we should have masks it’s there. And yet, we have no policy, which makes me believe that the election is – once again – swaying health policy. In the words (or word) of Donald Trump: SAD!

Apparently at least a few people agree with me; late last night I posted a Twitter poll and almost all respondents believed that the election is at least partially influencing mask policy.

Around My World

Welp, we’ve been looking for a new place to move to. Again. I know, I know. We just moved, but we know how to get out of our lease easily, and legally; and so we’ve been looking for a new spot back home and out of this remarkably bad, potentially dangerous, situation.

The whole experience of finding a rental in California is so strange. On one hand, 45% of Californians rent, and so you would think that there would be some basic understanding that renters are people too. In my county, this constitutes roughly 400,000 people – that’s no small number of people, and they rent for a variety of reasons, including convenience.

Yet still, you come across so many people that consider renters to just be the absolute scum of the Earth, which is rich when you consider the fact that if it weren’t for that so-called scum, landlords would not have so much extra money from which to avail their own lifestyles.

There is then, of course, the whole matter of going to look at places, only to be confronted with the conditions that they present.

Earlier in the week, we visited a house that was literally crumbling apart. I mean the wall was crumbling to the ground during the viewing. The owner had marked the price so ridiculously high for the amount of square footage she was offering, and admitted in the course of the tour that she was simply trying to recoup her expenses from repairs she had to do before renting it out.

That’s not… how it works…

Then yesterday, we visited a home that was being rented out by a property management company. The home was previously being rented by a couple of real estate agents that had moved to the area and rented while purchasing their own home; they said they were moving out in the middle of July.

So we showed up for the open viewing, which meant about 10 other people showed up as well. We all waited and waited, for no one to be there. Someone finally called the property management company and – apparently – the realtor that had been living there had agreed to show the home. Well she wasn’t there, so she lied; so this man from the management company came over to let everyone (that remained) in.

I’m surprised anyone could get in the front door.

This. House. Was. Trashed. We are talking garbage all over the floor, on the counters. A white board piled on top of their kid’s highchair. Counters covered in products; laundry baskets everywhere, Target bags all over the floor. It looked like a literal tornado had come through the room.

While I completely and 100% respect the struggle of a family with young kids, if you’re a realtor yourself and you (a) do not show up when you say you will, and (b) leave the house in a literally unshowable condition, you’re a dick. You’ve treated your peer in the field (the property manager) and his clients with total disrespect. And you’ve made it nearly impossible for prospective renters to actually see the condition of the home (upon further reflection, I really wonder if that was the point).

It’s also a violation of a standard lease in California. I went back and looked at our last two leases: both state quite clearly that in the last 30 days before moving out, you agree to have the home available and in a clean condition for viewing.

Again, I sympathize with being a busy parent, but that’s not what was going on here, and for us it made it difficult to even assess if the home would work. Many people walked in, saw the mess, and just walked out.

We have some furniture that requires space, so we needed to be able to measure a couple of spaces to make sure it would all fit. There were rooms we could not even get in to. The doors would not open. How could we possibly make the call to take that rental under those conditions? Surely someone will accept that kind of shit, just as in the case with the crumbling home from earlier in the week; but just because someone will does not make it right to expect them to. And that fails, on top of everything else, to recognize that you are responsible for the condition of the home, even if you’ve accepted it as is. This is to say that as a renter, if the house is crumbling, you take responsibility for that – including, when it comes time to return your security deposit.

I think this speaks to a bigger issue: of thinking of renters as people that should just take whatever they can get. When I posted about it on Facebook, naturally several people came after me and said that the mess was not an issue, that I should be more sympathetic (I deleted the post shortly after putting it up, because – honestly – I just did not want to hear about how many people in my personal life are cool with professionals disrespecting each other, and treating renters like they don’t deserve to actually inspect a home they are planning to spend a significant chunk of their lives in). What about sympathy for renters that need to check the home though; for the ones that came to that showing today having taken time off work (there were at least two, that I could tell)?

Perhaps a bigger issue: why is it that we have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when the facts tell us that in this instance we should not?

The only thing that will resolve this is hard and fast legislation and public policy that develops more housing to address both the needs and rights of the middle and working classes. Until then, it’s Target bags, and crumbling walls. If your furniture doesn’t fit, or the trash was covering holes in the floor… well you’re SOL.

You Can’t Unsee This

Today my kids were making collages with this amazing collage book my 14 year old has, and I decided to grab all the election mail trash I received and make my own. It sums up well what I think of most of our local electeds and politicians.

It’s called “Welcome to the Nothing Will Ever Chance Circus: Sorry About the Dilapidated Tent, In This Economy It’s All We Could Afford” The cost of admission to the circus is a $50 campaign contribution, and a blood oath to Big Oil. There are several candidates featured, one has a bright red clown nose, one has a number of supporters that are racist so I made his head pointy and have him saying “My head is as pointy as my supporters’ white hoods.”

In the foreground is our State Assemblywoman. She’s a real thorn in my side, because in 2020 when I ran for city council, she – a Democratic woman – endorsed my opponent – a misogynistic Trump Republican – and even sent out mailers against me – also a Democratic woman. At a candidate’s event she and I were both in attendance, she made perhaps the stupidest comment I have ever heard a candidate make, so I immortalized it in my collage. She says “At the 2020 Islamic Center candidate forum, I was asked what I would do for the Muslim community of Ventura County if re-elected. I didn’t plan to do anything, so I responded “I enjoy your food.””

True story.

STFU Fridays

I don’t have many to say shut the fuck up to this week, but I do still have one in me for a handful of the people that had the audacity over the last couple of days to tell me that candidates should not be judged by their donors.

Only an insipid clown in the show at the Nothing Will Ever Change Circus would think that campaign finance does not have a direct correlation to what a candidate goes on to do, or more often not do, while in office.

To them, I say shut the fuck up. Real hard.

And for the rest of you, if you happen to be local to me, this was in response to a voter guide I posted just outlining some of the highlights from the local races and their campaign finance reports. I don’t usually post these kinds of hyper-local things on this blog, but it seemed an important election to do so. If you fall in that group, you can find that HERE.

Have a good weekend everyone. Rest up, you just don’t know what’s up next in the roller coaster that is 2022.

So We’re In a New Home. A Rental Home.

After the traumatic experience my family of 6 has lived through over these last few months, I hesitate to call anything a “home” anymore. More than 5 years into making our place in Camarillo our home, our landlord decided to “go in another direction,” after spending years calling us the best renters they’d ever had. We are renters by both choice and necessity, so I guess this sort-of comes with the territory; but prior to now I lived in a world (in my head) where people didn’t do things like this to good, hardworking families.

Lesson learned. More on all of that later.

So we’re in a new home. A rental home. The sad part is that we’ve had to move our kids to another city, out of their element and community. That was the only community any of them had ever known – we lived in apartments, townhomes, and the single family home we just left over the years. Our kids have done school, sports, and all of their social lives there; friends and family. When our landlord terminated our tenancy at the same time landlords all over California were doing the same thing to flip their investments (1 listing for every 1,358 middle income families looking in my county), in many ways they threatened to destroy our family.

But it’s close enough that we can still drive it daily, and remembering that these situations are actually not as permanent as we would have liked them to be, it is likely we’ll be heading back in a year or two anyway.

Some photos and important points:

So we have French doors now, which is cool. That’s always been a life goal of mine and made moving in a little easier. We also have a whole host of animals that hang out in our yard, including a number of Dark-eyed Juncos and a dove. Both have nests (the Dark-eyed Junco moved his to the wreath on our front door).

This is the thing about where we live now: it’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We’re in an unincorporated middle ground between two cities, with a lot of open space around us, golf courses, and just up the hill from our house you can see the Reagan Library glowing at night (the driveway to go up to it is directly across the street from our house).

We lost a lot of backyard space, which is unfortunate because my 5 year old has very little room to run out his energy. Couple that with the fact that the community is gated, and in an HOA (read: they want children to be seen and not heard around here)… well, I’m going to have to come up with some solutions to that pretty soon here.

But, the owner of the house told my oldest daughter that she could do whatever she’d like with the back, and we also gained a courtyard in the middle of the entire house, so I think it all evens out in the end.

Of course the kids now have the coolest room, something I worked incredibly hard at ensuring to make the unexpected move (and all the stress and trauma that came with it) more tolerable for them. The house also has all new appliances, new flooring, fresh paint… it really was move in ready.

It’s just new and unfamiliar still, and away from our community. This, in the end, makes it hard for all of us. Right house, wrong ‘hood I think.

Probably what will drive us out sooner than later are the values of the community. We are in an ultra-conservative area, so much so that this sign is on my neighbor’s lawn.

The same day that we discovered this abhorrent sign, the person living on the other side of the duplex rang our doorbell at 11:15 at night because she heard us doing dishes through the wall. Our house was almost all asleep at that point, making this a little crazy; but I suppose I should have expected it, because the first day we moved in weeks ago she came over, introduced herself, and asked if we’re “generally quiet people.”

So we’re just over here getting settled, tending to our mental health amidst all this chaos, getting used to the neighborhood, and trying to keep our heads level so that we can plot a way forward.

And like I said… more on what brought us here later.

This Is Just How Things Are Now, I Guess.

Like millions of other Californians – 45% of households, to be exact – we are renters. I prefer it this way. Of course there are some things that come with the territory, but less stress and expense than what comes with homeownership. Owning your own home – an antiquated ideal that is falling more and more out of favor with younger generations, supposedly starting with mine (those dang millennials) – comes with so much baggage and unanticipated expense. And as climate change ravages our communities, and homeowners insurance rates rise with the increased fire risks (we, personally, know three families that have lost their homes in the last 5 years), it’s just not worth it. Home ownership is no longer an investment, it’s a liability.

There’s also something to be said for the ease of getting out with no real responsibility when you want/need to.

But again, with renting, does come some pitfalls..

For one, you are at the behest of your landlord, which is why anyone that rents with half a brain makes sure to always – ALWAYS – have a lease with obligations clearly outlined. The old days of your landlord coming by and fixing appliances together with you over beers are over. Now, with predatory investors – both small, and large – owning the outright majority of rental properties available, the cheapest route is always the one that will be taken. Even if it’s illegal or unethical.

Personally, I prefer apartment living, where they have regular handyman-type staff available during regular business hours. We used to live in the trashiest apartment complex in our entire city, and it was still my favorite because I could text the handyman and he would be there fixing the problem within 10 minutes. (I also had a lot more writing material unfolding before me.)

Now, with a bigger family, and my 78 year old father living with us as well, we live in a home that is managed by a property management company located here in town. We have been exemplary renters from the get-go, always paying our rent on time, taking care of the home and yard as if it were our own, and never once – during the entire pandemic – taken advantage of the legally afforded opportunity to stop paying the full rent when my husband’s pay was drastically cut. We simply cut elsewhere and paid the bill on time.

Every year, there is an annual inspection to make sure the place isn’t loaded down with trash, mold, and the like; and every year, the person doing the inspecting comments on how well we take care of the house. They have literally never had anything to complain about. They have always left commenting how we are an unusual case with no problems and a well kept home.

In exchange for this, in the five years we’ve been here, we’ve put up with a lot of crap. The first night after we moved in, we found out there were over 70 rats living in the attic. There have been a host of maintenance issues, expected in a house this old, though disappointing nonetheless. Earlier this year, the oven broke, and we waited patiently for almost three, full months for them to get around to ordering, delivering, and installing a new one – paying our rent, again, in full, even though we were perfectly entitled to withhold once we learned that for the first month they simply did nothing about it (and, it turned out to be some black market oven that doesn’t even properly work…).

But, it’s a stable home, in a nice neighborhood, and … well, at some point you put up with the BS because the thought of moving – and especially now, in this economy – is worse than fighting about rats in your attic, or a broken appliance in the kitchen.

For several months now, we’ve had an issue at night, when my husband is working and using a considerable amount of power: the lights flicker. When it first began, I took video of the issue, put in a maintenance request, and at some point our management company said they’d send someone out. The guy couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He did, however, replace the breaker “just in case that was the problem,” broke one of our two portable air conditioning units in the process, and went on his way saying to call if the problem came back.

It came back that night.

The Delta variant exploded around that same time, so the last thing I wanted to do was call and bring some stranger into my house again. He had told me he was vaccinated, but how did I know? The problem with the flickering lights persisted, got worse… and then, last week, we started to notice that outlets were no longer working sporadically through out the house.

So I put in another request, and today the management company told me to call that same electrician. In my head, I was already deciding what things I should unplug to make sure he didn’t break anything else, when I called to schedule the appointment. Now, still having one kid in the house ineligible for vaccination – and that kid also has asthma, as the Delta variants blasts through children, hospitalizing them at exponentially increasing rates around the country – I just wanted to confirm after he set the appointment that no one was going to come and possibly hurt my kid. I said: “so I just want to confirm that whoever you send is going to wear a mask right… I still have one kid not yet able to vaccinate?”

To be honest, I didn’t even get the entire sentence out though… in the middle of I still have one kid not yet able to vaccinate, he interrupted. His response floored me:

“Well we can come wearing full body condoms.”

He then went on to say that sure, they’re all vaccinated at his top level electrician’s shop, but they’ll come in masks anyway. Then he hung up. I was gutted.

This is just how things are now, I guess. People just have no filter, and it’s socially acceptable. Toxic masculinity is so pervasive in our society that we just allow it. We make excuses for it: “oh, he was just joking,” or “you know businesses are so understaffed, they must be stressed.” This type of crass, crude, and inappropriate engagement with complete strangers is just… acceptable if we can explain it away, normalize it with a few flippant words and the wave of a hand. Some, even a lot of people, will even come to this guy’s defense: people will call me a “Karen who can’t take a joke,” or they’ll normalize it with “well I’ve never had a problem with them,” or “I wasn’t there so I wouldn’t know.” As if we all just live in these alternative realities, and facts or things people say no longer have any weight to them.

Is that what I, or we, are to believe?

I ran for city council in my community last year, so I have a pretty thick skin at this point. Some of the worst, most disgusting, and outright horrific things were said both about, and to, me. They still are today. But the comment from the electrician – for some reason – it felt different, and I started to cry as I emailed the property management company to let them know that yes, the appointment had been scheduled, but this comment was made and I thought it was wholly inappropriate. I don’t know if it was the nature of the comment, or just how it came out of nowhere. Or, if it was just such an outlandish thing to say in response to a mom explaining that her kid has asthma and she’s scared someone will come into the house and infect him with a deadly disease.

I don’t know what the solution is at this point; the solution to this flagrant abandonment of social norms and common courtesy towards each other. I just know it’s not a world I want my kids to grow up in.

From Now On, I’ll Do Me

I haven’t had much time to write for the last few months. I’ve written, just not on my blog.

Still, I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since I checked in with you guys until a couple weeks ago.

My daughter was playing a for-fun tennis match with a friend, and the friend’s dad asked me: “so, have you been doing much writing lately?” My response was plainly “no,” and then I remembered I had written the obituary for my husband’s grandfather (who recently passed away at the age of 90). So kind of.

But I couldn’t remember the last time I had written on this blog, so I checked and it’s been …well, a while.

I started making my usual excuses, the ones I always make when it’s been a while. If you read through some old posts, you’ll see them. I’ve been busy. I have three kids. My life is crazy. Blah blah blah.

Those things are all true, but in the past no matter how busy I have been, I have always found the time to write. It has been a few years since that was the case, though. For years now you could scroll through my blog posts and see little spurts of zany, fun, self-deprecating Heather, broken up by large swaths of absence.

The real truth is that I haven’t written in those voids because I’ve been living someone else’s life.

That someone else was so worried about what everyone else thought about her, she’d make herself sick over little things like what someone thought of her eyeshadow color, or whether she wore make up at all for that matter.

She handmade every Christmas gift for all immediate and distant family several years in a row, because  she didn’t have a real job, so what else did she have to do?

She made her family go for an entire 18 months without eating a single meal out of the house. Because mom’s cooking is better, and better for you (spoiler: it’s actually not, on both counts).

For a brief period of time, every free moment she had was spent volunteering in the community for organizations she didn’t give a care about, doing volunteer work that she had no interest in; fully immersing herself into the belly of the beast of each organization as if any of it had any bearing on her own life whatsofuckingever.

Every party was a blow-out Pinterest party. Every corner of the house was spotless.

Everything about life was exactly the way other people wanted it to be. I was living a life that was not one for me; rather someone else carrying out her life, which was entirely for other people, in my body.

What a bunch of shit.

This person that worried about what everyone else thought about her was the biggest shit of the shit. I’m certain that this came about as a result of years, now, of being berated and bullied by people in my community and immediate surrounding (that’s a nice way of saying “family”), but it also is the complete antitheses of who I am to always worry about what others think of me.

Especially over some of the trivial shit I worried the most about.

I’ve actually been so concerned with what other people thought that I’ve intentionally written blogs containing no swear words. I censored myself to be more palatable to people that don’t like words like “hell” and “damn.”

Then all of a sudden, I heard myself say aloud about a week ago “language please” to my dad, and I didn’t even recognize my voice.

Handmade Christmas gifts are shit too. Like literally and figuratively.

Really, who wants some crappy, homemade DIY gift when I could just as easily give them a gift card to Hooters?

And I’m not even good at making things either, like I would knit a scarf and it would unravel while I wrapped the piece of crap in a DIY Christmas gift bag, whose trimmings also fell off before Christmas came.

Seriously, fuck that DIY Christmas crap. It’s like ten times more expensive to make things you could just as easily buy anyway.

I won’t even get into the thing about the 18 month eating out hiatus.

Okay, yes I will. This one I am proud to say faded fast when I got pregnant with Andrew. Between being too lazy to peel carrots, and way too nauseous to consider eating any of my crap cooking, the eating out hiatus got turned on its head quickly.

That doesn’t erase the memory of those terrible, and costly, 18 months, though. I got this idea that it would save money to make things at home, but that’s a total and complete lie. It’s only cheaper to eat at home if you have one kid and eat Hungry Man TV dinners every night. Fruits? Vegetables? Lean proteins? That shit’s expensive, and newsflash a salad at your local salad spot tastes a million times better, and is considerably cheaper, than throwing it together at home.

Moreover, my cooking is about as predictable as Trump’s Tweets. You know they’ll be there, but how good/bad/volatile the reaction is always a gamble. One of my kids one night looked at the meal I made, shook her head, said “mommy no, mommy no” and straight up threw her dinner – plate, silverware, and all – in the trash.

It’s shit.

The volunteering was pretty bad too, because it spoke to that larger issue I have had over the past few years, that need to justify my existence to other people by doing things and impressing people. As if raising two kids, or just being Heather, isn’t enough.

Unlike the 18 month eating out hiatus, I actually don’t want to get into this one, because – frankly – I’m ashamed of myself for going there.

I will, however, say that to make up for those couple years of doing so many things I had no interest in doing, I plan to spend the next few doing absolutely nothing. Not. A. Got. Damned. Thing.

What’s left?

Pinterest parties are shit. Seriously, you spend like tons of money on food labels and dessert tables, for what? People to make comments about how fancy it is, or to not even notice any of your hard work. I’ll never forget the time we had my uncle over for dinner, and I made some fancy table layout, and he kept going “what’s this?” like oh my fuck why did I spend so much time personalizing napkin rings when I could have just ordered pizza and everyone could have eaten off of paper towels?

I get having a cute little layout, whatever; but at least buy things you can use again.

Keeping the house cleanish is still a sticking point for me, but this idea that when people come over I have to remove every speckle of dust from my shutters upstairs, in rooms no one will even go into, is for the bees. My home is the condition it’s going to be in. If you came to see it and not me, well then you are welcome to leave.

If you are in to all of this stuff: into the volunteering and the Pinterest parties and the house cleaning and the impressions and all – that’s totally cool. It’s just not my jam. No matter how much I tried to force it to be, I just couldn’t.

As the saying goes: you do you. From now on, I’ll be over here, though, doing me.

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An Open Letter To My Family, Friends, and Casual Acquaintances

Today marks four weeks since my husband started his new job. Our lives kind of-sort of revolve around his work schedule – well that, homeschooling, tennis, and you know…daily life.

But everything is sort of geared around his very hectic, often unpredictable schedule; if it didn’t, our idea of being a family would be waving casually to each other in passing.

If there is one thing I absolutely, and without a doubt, refuse to turn into, it’s one of those families.

So he started this new job, and today is the end of the fourth week. It’s a night job, which has changed things for all of us – more than we could ever have imagined. He leaves at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and gets home sometime before he has to leave the next day. Last night he got home around 1 in the morning, and was wide awake so he and I watched a movie. Other times, he gets home when we’re leaving for tennis at 9:30 in the morning.

We’re all sleeping in later most days now, which is fine because we homeschool. In fact, we’re all sleeping better now (which makes little sense to me). And we’re all better off for him being home during the day. He’s a part of tennis, a part of homeschooling, he helps with the chores now, and he can even attend things like – gasp – doctor’s appointments and annual visits to the optometrist.

But it hasn’t come free of struggles. Because of our strange schedule, which works for our family but would not work for all, we have had to go through a longer-than-expected period of adjustment. Not only that, but because some days he’s gone for 14-16 hours of a 24 hour period (which, I have quickly learned, has a whole-house domino effect for the days that follow), we just really cannot commit to do much more than our own stuff.

This is why I decided it’s finally time to pen a little letter; an open letter to my family, friends, and casual acquaintances.

Dear Family, Dear Friends, Dear Casual Acquaintances –

It’s not you. It’s us.

We’re sleeping strangely and eating all the time. Dinner, for us, is now at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Lunch is at 7:30 at night. If you ask us to have a big meal after 5 pm, we’re all going to screw up our new sleep patterns and get sick. Our bodies are used to this now. We’ve adjusted. In fact, we like that we can eat dinner together, even though it’s in the afternoon after we’ve only started to get the day going. Until he took this job, we only had dinner together as a family on weekends. Sometimes.

As a result, any further dinner invitations will be declined. Unless they’re for mid-afternoon.

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It’s not you. It’s us.

I want to attend your candle party and your make up event. I really do. I want to meet up with you all at craft group. I really want to get my reading on with my book nerd friends, and paint like a professional at my art class. I’d love to go out for a girls night out. But babysitters are expensive, and what we have in terms of a regular sitter is for me to have time to clean the house, get the grocery shopping done, and to keep my garden alive.

As a result, it is unlikely I will attend much, if anything, in the evening any more. Unless everything else is already done, the babysitter hasn’t called in sick, and I happen to not be too exhausted. (So don’t count on it.)

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It’s not you. It’s us.

Yes, we get it that we still have weekends. And that weekends are for family and you are all our family, blood or otherwise.

But keeping in mind that some nights my husband gets a whopping 1&1/2 hours of sleep during the work week, with me never sleeping well when he’s gone, and all of us trying to tip-toe around the house during the day while he gets the few hours he does – the weekends have become the most critical time for us to decompress, catch up on ZZZZs, and – frankly put – get shit done.

As a result, it is unlikely we will be available for many weekend events either.

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It’s not you. It’s us.

We have lives besides my husband’s job.

We homeschool. Every single day of the year, and this is important to us – not only because we have little lives hanging in the balance of our very adult-like decisions, but because education is a value that is paramount in our household.

We play tennis. Every single day of the week, and this is important to us too. What comes with tennis is not only practice and lessons, but tournaments. So now we’re trying to juggle daily life, homeschooling, my husband’s insane and unpredictable work hours, and tennis too.

As a result, we’ll see you the next time someone gets married, graduates, or dies.

I wish I were kidding.

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It’s not you. It’s us.

At some point, we started talking about the impact this was having on us and our health. Trying to please everyone and everything under normal circumstances is a tenuous proposition. And there is nothing normal about this new lifestyle we have.

When things are tenuous under normal circumstances, and who knows what under abnormal circumstances, you eventually realize that you just can’t spend all your time trying to take care of everyone else and not yourselves.

We’ll be around when we can, and it’s not impacting our health and stress level too much. And we’re sorry, for what it’s worth.

So, dear friends, dear family, and dear casual acquaintances, if I’ve learned one thing in these first four weeks of my husband working his new, exciting, fun-filled, and yet incredibly exhausting and insanely unpredictable job, it’s that taking a step back from all the busyness and the chaos and the weekly parties and the nightly commitments is diluting our experience as a family unit.

Perhaps this was going on all along, and it was only through a drastic life change that we were finally able to see the truth.

 

I Run a Tight Ship. Until I Don’t.

I’m just going to say it: I have a major stick up my ass. It’s way up there, wedged somewhere in the deepest cavern of my innards. I like to call it “a raging case of OCD,” but sometimes I think it’s worse.

I think I’m Type A. Although I’m not entirely certain what that means, so what do I know? I do know I have all of the signs…

I run a tight ship. We have a schedule, a daily schedule. Particularly busy days have an hourly schedule. We have a homeschool schedule. I have a daily chores and cleaning schedule. I schedule our meals, rather I plan out what we’re going to eat. A month in advance.

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Every Saturday I update my calendar for the following week, then I make check lists for every day – combining all of my various schedules into one list, that is usually several Post-It Notes long. I tape them together, then every day I tape my list to my bedroom door.

See what I said? Pretty sure you’re all sitting at your computers, mouthing the words “this bitch is neurotic.” You would be right.

Even though we homeschool, and for the most part it’s an un-schooled, project-based kind of plan, I also demand that everything on the schedule for the day be done. Chores have to be done before technology. Tennis has to be done before TV.

There are rules; they get followed. I run a tight ship.

That is, until I don’t.

You see, for every list I make, schedule I create, and meal I plan, I inch one step closer to total – but temporary – abandonment of this organized lifestyle of neurotic proportions.

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When I abandon my plans and throw caution to the wind, it’s almost laughable what I mean when I consider myself to be doing so.

Instead of following my meal plan, I just cook whatever we fucking have. Sometimes there aren’t three servings of fruits or vegetables with dinner. And on more than one occasion I’ve just made a box of Macaroni and Cheese and literally felt like my next step was selling cocaine.

My daily checklists go missing; although, usually it starts with me checking things off my checklist that I haven’t actually done. All the while I rationalize to myself that it’s not necessary, when really I know that it is; then the next thing you know a Saturday comes and I’m tired of writing or making lists or whatever, and I don’t make the checklists for the following week. Then nothing gets done.

I let the homeschooling go more often than I should too. Though that’s the one thing that’s excusable, as we school all year – because no school work typically means unruly behavior. But when my tight ship goes down quicker than the Titanic, I – again, temporarily – don’t care about the unruly behavior.

Usually because my ass is parked on the couch, eating vanilla frosting straight out of the canister, on my twelfth episode of Criminal Minds. You can’t be upset about your kids’ unruly behavior when you’re comatose.

So this week my husband started a new job, and it’s a night job. It’s a big step for our family; and a huge step for his illustrious film career (I say illustrious only half-in-jest). But as with all major life changes, it’s a big period of adjustment.

And if there’s one thing I know about adjustments, it’s that they are usually the driving force behind my abandonment of my aforementioned tight ship.

Tonight I went through the rest of the week’s checklists and sort of mentally checked things off of them in advance. Also, today I was supposed to make quesadillas, rice, and salad for dinner.

I served rolled up pieces of ham and a jar of olives.

Ultimately, I think that everyone deserves a break. And, when you run as overbooked and understaffed of a household as this one, you’re bound to need a time-out every so often. The good news is that my reprieves are brief, maybe a day, sometimes two. My record longest was a week, and that was the last time I had a cold; my record shortest was an afternoon when I just threw everything out the window and watched nine episodes of Murder She Wrote.

Nonetheless, this is my life. Like an oscillating fan, I wave back and forth between neurotic overachiever and slovenly lard ass.

So I am sure that if I really do take a break from running around this place like my life depends on three, square meals a day and strict adherence to an unrealistic daily timeline of chores and responsibilities, that break will be brief. Then again, maybe it won’t…

 

Renters Forever, We Find Ourselves With No Home

My husband and I, we are lifetime renters. We love the perks of renting: we don’t have to deal with maintenance problems, we have the security of living under the wing of another entity, and renting in Southern California is – without a doubt – cheaper than owning. In the volatile market out here, the risks of renting as compared to the risks of owning are minimal. These are all facts.

What is also a fact, though, is that when you rent you live in constant fear that your rent is going to be raised come lease time. It doesn’t happen often, in fact my husband and I have only seen it happen once before when we lived in an apartment complex owned by a big, brand-name company. Otherwise, our rent has never been raised, unless of course it was because we moved up to a nicer community with more amenities. Which has happened a few times, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was of our own doing.

So in May of last year, we moved to what we thought would be at least a semi-permanent place. It has by far been the nicest place we have lived. Nice area. Gated community. Plenty of room. Quiet neighbors. Clean pool. The only complaint we’ve had has been that the parking situation is a little tenuous, but even so we’ve been really happy. Comfortable.

Almost too comfortable…

As our lease renewal has drawn near, I thought for sure they would raise our rents. It seemed a given – the economy has been rebounding in the last several years, and this is a nice place. But then again, the anxiety has always been quelled by common sense. Reason. Rationality – they can’t raise it that much. Can they? Sure, the economy is rebounding, but not to such a degree that we can’t justify staying here. There are constantly people moving out of there, so they must want to keep some people around…right…?

On Friday of last week, we received our letter in the mail. They were “offering us” another year here – oh how gracious of them – and for only a 16% increase in rent.

Sixteen percent increase. That’s FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE DOLLARS A MONTH.

$485 a month. That would raise our rent to $3041 a month for 1400 square feet.

Let that digest for a moment.

Initially in shock, because I had never heard of anything so outrageous in my life, I asked around, emailed the company, and posted on Yelp and ApartmentRatings.com. I thought for sure this was a mistake. I mean, really. When we first moved in, the man who owns the other three-bedroom unit on the other side of the complex told me we were getting “ripped off” for what we were paying as compared to him. He is still here, and I included that in my emails and reviews.

I wanted to be reasonable and understanding, and honestly I didn’t want to leave. We like it here, we are very comfortable and happy. But we also live on the incomes of a freelance writer and a film editor who hasn’t seen a decent raise in his wages in as long as we can remember (in fact, we have lost benefits in recent years).

So I waited patiently, started looking around some more. And I figured that if we didn’t hear by the end of this week we’d have to get more serious about finding someplace else. Finally, after not hearing back from anyone, today I went on Yelp to find a response to my review. Here is the candy-assed response they gave me.

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So basically: don’t want to pay our rent increase?? – SEE YA!

Renters forever, we find ourselves with no home.

As the day wore on, the reality of this situation started to really sink in. Not only are we completely unable to pay the increase of rent at our current place, rental rates in the area actually are around the same as we currently pay but there is nothing available – so far – in our time frame. I cannot even wrap my mind around that, let alone how many people I know that rent for cheaper than we do but that are holding on to their good prices for dear life.

It’s starting to sound a lot like New York City. I always knew there was a reason LA and NYC seemed so interchangeable.

We have family that owns property down the street from where we live and rents it out, but they don’t want to offend the person they are already renting to by giving them notice so we can take over the lease.

Let that one sink in a moment too.

So in just eight, short weeks we will have no home. Or a new home, but where or how I have no idea. The other alternatives are equally as terrifying: we move into an hotel until we find a place that is in our price range; or we finally decide that this is time to cut the ties of my husband’s career and move all the way across the country with no home and no jobs to speak of.

Nonetheless, I am left with this more philosophical mind frame of the times in which we live. Where no one is safe or secure. Own a home and the market could crash and you could wind up in foreclosure with nowhere to go. Rent a home and the market could soar and you could wind up on the streets with nowhere to go. No one is safe, the middle class is being squeezed out of existence as far as I can see it.

It’s terrifying, really. We were so comfortable.

Welcome To Texas, You’re Pregnant

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss California.

I miss the way you can go outside and not break into a sweat from the sheer heat and humidity, that is both oppressive and shocking – given that it’s only the beginning of April.

I miss our salads. Oh do I miss our salads with our hints of gorgonzola and our notes of fennel. I miss the ability to add beets or carrots to your salad, and I miss the endless options that are both fat free and gluten/soy/sugar tolerant. I miss our sprouts.

I actually miss our pizza. Yes, I said it. I miss our pizza. It may not be Chicago-style pizza, but it’s certainly pizza. I don’t even know what it is they’re serving out here in the heart of the Lone Star State.

I crave the way we all know that Los Angeles drivers suck. I crave our acceptance of this suck-age, as if we all understand and therefore abide by the hidden rules that come with such an acceptance. Like this one: drive like an asshole in your own lane.

Because let’s face it: Texas drivers don’t realize how horrible they are at it, and because of this it takes 3 hours to go 6 miles, and you almost get killed at least 15 times.

I am dying to walk outside and not be attacked by a bug I cannot identify. I want to go a day without a mosquito bite. I need to not find hundreds of bugs squashed in the parking lot. I’m over seeing cockroaches squished with their legs in the air.

I miss skinny jeans, even on men. I miss our attitude glasses, because as ridiculous and stupid as they look it is at least a sign that people are reading. I would kill to go outside and not break out in a sweat because any amount of clothing is too much in this humidity.

I need things to do. I crave them. I need museums that aren’t rip offs. Open spaces that I can walk in and enjoy nature through, and not be accompanied by 500 other douchebags talking on their cellphones and running into people. I need things besides watching television and sitting in traffic to get to the local mall-slash-eatery-slash gun store.

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I’ve been in Texas for a full week now. And I hate it. This isn’t to say to other Texans that you are awful for choosing this place, I’m sure you find some redeeming qualities to this cesspool. But to me – well, it’s a dump. At least in the suburbs of Houston, where I’m holed up while my daughter visits her biological father down the highway. I have been in a lot of truly contemptible places in my life, and this is by far the worst.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is the most miserable place I’ve ever been. I would go as far as to say that. It’s like a total trash dump covered in some nice buildings and a lot of people.

Oh my God, so many people.

And while I know that in Texas a lot of locals pride themselves on their sense of hospitality and decency, the community I am in holds some of the rudest, most horrible people I have ever encountered. Yesterday I went to the nail salon for a manicure and pedicure, and while there saw women literally yell at the innocent nail technicians, for no reason at all. None. Today I went to get dinner only to find that the first two places I hit up had no one stationed to seat people. After a considerable wait at each of the two places (continuing to stand there to be seated), I went to a third – where I got out of the car to find a used pregnancy test on the ground in the parking lot.

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Now I am not always the biggest fan of California. And I am homesick and ready to pack my shit and move back to Chicago pretty much every day of the year. But my God can I not wait to get back home. To my sunshine and my cooler temps. To my salads not covered in 20 pounds of beef. To my people that are either polite, or at the very least so wrapped up in their own lives that their rudeness doesn’t spill over into my space.

Welcome to Texas, you’re pregnant. Pregnant with a sense of horror, misery, and disbelief that no other state could produce quite the same. I miss California. Either this place really is that bad, or I don’t even know myself anymore.