Monthly Archives: May 2012

How My House is Like Educational Reform

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The “rental” is presentable. The mess is up off the floors, bagged, and sits in a pile in the garage until payday when I can order a commercial dumpster for a day. This dumpster will be left in front of the house so we can toss in all the trash bags and broken furniture that remain in 24 hours, at the end of which the garbage company will haul it away for us. At $119, this is a good deal considering I just took a trailer piled high with mattresses and a pickup full of smelly garbage and it cost me $63.

The outside of the home is cleaned up and the rotting stench (or the garbage creating it) has been hauled away. And, yes, during the clean out my worst fears were confirmed when two rat carcasses were discovered in the garage. I’m not surprised that they had rats. The place was the worst cesspool of filth, debris and decay that I have ever seen. This made the mess left by The Evil Ex when he moved out look like Felix Unger’s flat.

The alarming reality is that my tenant had a child living in that mess with her. The little guy was about one; still in diapers and not talking. It just makes me wonder, when we know all that we do about the importance of early experiences on the developing body and brain, what kind of life this child will have. Growing up in filthy, rat infested, smoke filled, dwellings lacking in the requisite attention from his mother who most likely is battling addiction and depression and is unable and ill-equipped to parent. I can empathize with being poor and struggling desperately to make ends meet, but I have a hard time understanding how people when given an opportunity and a place to live that is safe, clean, and in good repair can be so negligent, destructive, and disrespectful.

I don’t want to go off on a big political treatise on the American educational system, but is it any wonder our schools are in trouble when this mentality of disrespect is becoming the mainstream of society filling the seats in our public school classrooms? I just have a hard time understanding how the teachers who deal daily with children who come from circumstances like these are vilified and held responsible for their students’ failures on high stakes tests when the fact that their students are often struggling to survive the night after they leave school. In situations like the one my tenants represent, homework and school achievement seem a bit irrelevant. And, for the record, I live in a small rural area, of which the largest city boasts a population of 60,000. I’m not talking large metropolitan inner city here. This is suburbia. This is the small town. This is not the exception it is becoming the norm. To lay the ills of society and the failure of the educational system to adequately meet the needs of a society it was not designed to service at the feet of teachers and then point blame is misdirected and completely pointless. The failure of our school system is not a teacher problem, it is a societal problem. Poor policy only compounds the problem.

Our society is changing and policy makers, the people who pass the laws telling teachers what they will teach, how they will teach it, and how long each day they will teach it, are completely out of touch with these changes. Further, there seems to be little understanding as to how these pervasive societal changes impact children and classrooms.

It’s a start to get policy makers out of their tidy, manicured offices furnished with items that costs more than it would take to feed a family of five for a year into the classrooms. The problem is that policy makers cannot get any idea of how their policies play out in a five minute walk through. They ought to spend some real time observing how things roll day to day in the life of a classroom over a period of time. They need to see how their policies impact daily instruction and school climate. That would only scratch the surface, but it would be a start at increasing the awareness of policy makers so they could better understand the situation they attempt to improve with their policies.

Of course, if policy makers really wanted to make a difference, they would also familiarize themselves with the things outside the classroom that make learning so difficult for students in the classroom. The mindset shared by my tenants is clearly one absent of the most basic level of respect: for things, the environment, others and themselves. How do you help people who just don’t care? Effecting real, lasting and positive change in a society that often seems dead set on destroying itself, is not and will not be an easy task. It is so much easier to concern oneself with merely getting re-elected.

It’s like my house. 72 hours ago, the place appeared to be in ruin. Some muscle, hard work, and a bit of knowledge and determination, and a whole lot of desire to help later and my house is moving toward being inhabitable again. It could function adequately as a safe dwelling for a family. This is like the policy makers and education today. What we have is okay. In some respects it is even great. But, based on more thorough investigation, there is still a great deal to change.

My house, in order for it to be a good home for a long time, needs far more than a clean out. It needs a complete overhaul. The plumbing needs to be replaced and the kitchen needs updating in the worst way. Windows need to be replaced with energy efficient ones. I’m sure the wiring is out of code. Attic fans and new insulation are necessary. Cabinets, counter tops and floors require updating. The roof will need to be replaced before the homeowners policy expires. Once the improvements begin, it may be discovered that there is further work to be done beneath the surfaces. So it is with our educational system. Once we get started working on educational reform, it will be a large, seemingly impossible task. Where will it end? How much will it cost? Maybe it is better to leave well enough alone?

So, until we figure out which parts of the educational house need to be renovated and which we should dispose of, its just easier to do the basic clean out. Instead, we stick with the basics and make the house look presentable and hope for the best. I think we know it isn’t just the educational system that needs refurbishing. Instead, like it often happens when you remodel, when you rip into one wall, you might uncover a deeper, bigger problem that must be dealt with before the remodel can move forward. That’s where I think we are with education. We’ve begun to remodel, but until we deal with some of the deeper, larger issues buried in the framework of our society, our educational remodel will never be completely effective.

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Cleaning Out

Decluttering. Minimalist. Organizational Strategies. Less is more. These phrases are the trendy, edgy buzzwords of the new millennium. In movies, the set depicting a cluttered homey living area is more and more equated with low income characters or low class characters. Wealthy characters in the media are more often set in upscale living quarters that are minimally furnished, clean and clutter-free. More and more, it seems, that the trend in decorating is moving to a less is more approach.

I like this trend. My mother toward the end of her life, after many years of living with my father, who was the ultimate pack rat, told me, “Clutter creates stress.” I am not by nature a minimalist. I have some creative hobbies and in the past the supplies for these hobbies dominated a very large portion of the garage I am now cleaning out in my rental. Since leaving the Evil Ex, I have learned that my mother’s words are true. I have spent the last 5 years cleaning out my home and my life of the clutter (and damage) he imposed. The supplies for my creative projects now take up a 2-foot shelf in my closet. It’s been a long process of going through things, cleaning up and tossing out. It feels good to lighten the load of stuff that one must manage, organize, or maintain.

The last thing I want to do is clean out someone else’s squalor. This is exactly what I spent the day doing. Thanks to my friend whose son had the crazy friends, her husband, her son and some members of a community group that is trying to prepare a garage sale to raise money, we were able to get a phenomenal amount of work done today.

It’s late, I just took a sleeping pill, and , while I’m waiting for the pill to kick in, I thought I’d share some before and after pictures of the work that has been accomplished on the Trashed House in the last 24 hours.

Here is the front yard before:

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Here is the front yard now:

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The kitchen:

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Here is the garage:

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Every bit of trash, junk, etc. has been gone through and either trashed or donated. What you see here is the stuff that just needs to go to the dump. This will have to wait until payday, but,at least, there is nothing there that will deteriorate and cause the house further damage.

We loaded up over 10 mattresses:

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The debris in the bedrooms has been cleaned out:

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The bathrooms cleaned up alright:

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The back yard looks amazing:

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The toilets actually cleaned up without overflowing:

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There is now no trash in the house. It has all been bagged up and placed either outside, in the garage or in the living room ready for disposal. Bathroom and sinks are clean; toilets usable. Lighting fixtures have been repaired and new light bulbs put in. The hole in one wall has been repaired and is ready for paint.

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There is still a huge amount of stuff in garbage bags to get rid of, but at least now the place is safe and cleaned out. It is now manageable. I’m deeply indebted and grateful to my friend and her family and friends for giving of their time to help me with this overwhelming project. I could not have done this so quickly nor so well without their help.

This chapter in my life is coming to an end soon. I hope that by this time next month, I am completely free of this house and any responsibility for it. It has been nothing but a huge drain on my time and energy. At least now, it is presentable. I feel a lot better about that. If I ever get into the rental business again, I will hire a property management company to deal with the headaches for me. Furthermore, as I was cleaning the place out, I realized just what a dump fixer the place was. Of course, when I purchased it there was money enough to fix it up. The Evil Ex made sure that never happened. I have learned that I am just not the fixer upper type.

I guess I’ve learned a few other things. Once again, my mom is right:

Less is more.

Clutter creates stress.

Always be very careful who you allow into your home.

Bad things are going to happen to you; it isn’t what happens but how you choose to deal with it that matters.

There are better days ahead.

This year, of all years, indeed to believe that.

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Trashed House~My Payment For Trying To Do A Good Deed

I wonder, is it my payment for doing a good deed or is it just that somewhere along the line, maybe when I was a kid, (I was a really bratty kid and lied a lot to my parents) I earned up some really bad karma. Or maybe, it is that bad things, sometimes really bad things, happen to good people. I don’t know. My right wing fundamentalist evangelical Christian friends might say it is because I’m being punished by God for not attending church every week, tithing, and being a faithful servant. Well, as for not attending church, tithing and being faithful they’d be completely accurate. I’m just not sure that’s how God rolls though. I mean, think about it, when Jesus walked the earth he hung with some of the lowest of the low according to society and the religious elite of the day. Rahab, a harlot, was used to save some godly peeps and, well, I kinda think God tends to look past the mess in our lives right into our very inner being and that is where he deals with us on an individual basis. I think the outer stuff, the yuck that I am dealing with now, is just life. It is also the result of me being a naive person, when I should not have been. It is also the result of me simply making some very foolish choices. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But about the next bad thing that has happened in my life. The thing that makes me wonder what kind of evil karma I built up throughout my life only to have it be dumped out on me this year has to do with the rental. I’ve only alluded to it. Here’s most of the story.

Last year, I made the decision to go through bankruptcy (actually a smart decision given all the details which I will not disclose here). In the process, I decided to surrender my home. This was also a smart financial decision when you run the numbers, again, something I won’t bore you with here. This was not a case of me being angry at the bank for whatever reason. I just wanted to make a fresh start financially and the home was more financial and physical burden than I was going to be able to deal with. However, the entire process has ended up taking far longer than expected (over a year and counting). I knew it would take some time and I was not able to stay in the house and risk a move during the middle of the school year. I have three school age kids and my own career would not have been able to accommodate such a transition at such a time. I was getting legal heat from the Evil Ex and needed to make sure my daughter was enrolled in a good school and that she was doing well and liked it. I decided to move to a nearby town and in September we found a place to rent and settled it. And that, was going to be that…or so I thought.

I was approached by a friend….(you can see this coming, can’t you?)…who mentioned that her son and two friends were looking for a place to rent temporarily and would I be interested. Well, no, not really. I mean, I really had no desire to be a landlord or make the place a rental; I just wanted out. But this was a friend I have known and worked with for 14 years. Her kids and my kids grew up together, went to school together and our kids are now graduating together. This woman has impeccable character and is a top notch quality person. Her son is also. The friends came highly recommended. So, I did a bit of research, wrote up a rental agreement, we all signed it, they paid their move in money and I moved out. I left the place in pretty decent shape. It wasn’t perfect. I had some stuff in the garage still to move out, but the place was, for all intents and purposes, a clean and homey dwelling. The friends of the friend’s son turned out to be disastrous.

Things started being a problem almost right away. I’d drive by the place and see that it wasn’t being maintained, then the rent began to come in partial payments. Two months in and I was working on evicting them. Fortunately, they ended up getting out within the 30 days after being served the rental termination notice. Then I got another renter in, who was actually, at first, responsible and timely in her payments. She got some roommates to help share the rent and utility expenses and all was golden. That lasted about two months and things began falling apart. There were violations of the rental agreement, which I followed up and she attempted (though not satisfactorily) to remedy and I gave her a 30-day notice of termination of the rental agreement (we have a month-to-month). Rent was not paid completely last month and rent didn’t appear at all on the first. I went by to collect on the first, no response. I went by the next day. The house looks deserted, but the door is wide open. No answer when I ring the bell. I try contacting my tenant with no response. I drive by the house the next day, the door is closed, otherwise there is still no sign of life. The dog does not bark when I go to the door. This goes on for a week and I’m beginning to think they’ve abandoned the house. Finally, I get in touch with the tenant, over a week after the missed payment and the termination notice. She confirms that she received the notice. She also confirms that they have indeed abandoned the place, with the intent to come back for her stuff by the end of the month; the others have already gotten all their things out. In a phone conversation, I express my concern about the security of the home if no one is living there. She agrees that she will get her stuff moved out within the week and move the rest of her stuff to the garage. I gave her till the end of the month to get her stuff out of the garage. In exchange I get the possession of my home and I won’t go after her for the late rent. Her week to move her stuff ended yesterday. Today, after my radiation treatment, I went over to the house to check things out.

This is the scene that greeted me when I drove up to the home:

I just had a really bad feeling about this. I immediately texted my tenant asking about all the stuff and she actually texted back saying she’d had a garage sale and this was the leftovers. On the mattress, there is a sign that reads, “Free. Please take.”

This is what the living room looked like when I entered:

Those are the window blinds that were in great condition when I moved out…now all broken and scattered on the floor. The big black stain in the middle of the carpet was not there when I moved out. You can’t see it well from here, but there is also smoke damage on the fireplace brick. Nice. Here’s the other side of the living room:

It gets better, before we head back to the bedrooms, let’s check out the kitchen.

The back slider was left open. Check out the grass in the back yard. We left them a lawn mower. It sure looks like they made good use of it. Here are views of each side of the kitchen:

2They left the kitchen sink.

And some food for any guests that might stop by:

I just can’t fathom how people can operate like this. They were in violation of their rental agreement for trash being left around. I gave her the appropriate amount of time according to state law to correct the problem. An attempt was made, but it was nowhere near satisfactory. Look what they left behind in terms of trash:


The thing that really irks me about this is that for the entire time I was renting this house to both sets of tenants, I paid for the garbage service which included a recycling bin and a yard debris container. What kind of mentality is it that thinks that it is okay to live in squalor like this let alone leave it for someone else to pick up? But let’s just do a quick tour of the rest of the home. My skin is beginning to crawl and I’m glancing around for the rubber gloves and sanitizer.

Part of the rental agreement stipulated no smoking in the house or garage. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to these folks.

Those aren’t just carpet stains you see in that picture with the pillow in the corner. That is dog poop on the carpet.

Of course, no rental trashing by tenants is complete without some damage to the walls. This hole is about a foot long from top to bottom.

That wasn’t the only hole either, but it was definitely the largest one. In all there were three holes in walls, and a wall had been repainted a hideous purple-blue color. The wall was previously white. Other damage to the home included damage to lighting fixtures:

Broken glass on the floor:

The toilet looked a lot like the kitchen sink:
I guess they had a crappy experience living in my home. Here’s the genius work in the master bathroom:
I’m not sure you can make them out. The writing reads, “I am beautiful. I am a leader. I am an amazing mother and friend.” I’m thinking that explains a lot. She must have run out of Prozac.
Last but not least, the garage is the coup de grace:
These mattresses are as high as I am tall.
Yes, folks, this was the disaster that I walked into today after getting my tenants out. When I moved out all the lighting fixtures had just been replaced. Now they are all damaged and missing light bulbs. I had just had someone put new screens on every window a couple of years earlier, and only one window has a screen left. There are stains on every carpet, holes in walls and the yard alone will take weeks to clean up. There is damage to doors, the air vent grate has been kicked in and there is rotting food everywhere.
Upon returning home, and while uploading the photos, I did a quick Google search on landlord’s rights when tenants trash a house. Turns out, in most states, this is not a police matter, it is considered the risk one takes when renting. It becomes a civil matter. In my case, I know these people are unemployed and even if I did go to court and win (which I would), I wouldn’t see any of that money ever. I’d spend more than I’d be awarded just to get it back. Here’s another kicker: I have to do this clean out myself as I have absolutely no financial resources to pay someone to clean it up. The Hesitant Boyfriend’s long stretch of unemployment and even longer stretch till he gets paid for the work he started last month is straining my monthly budget beyond belief and it was already strained before I picked up the tab on his car payment and insurance this month. (Which he promptly decided to increase the cost of by getting into a fender bender with a Cadillac.) Add to this the fact that the 18 y.o., just got her license and her cost to be insured inflated my insurance bill to over $400 a month.
Yes, I am the poster child for the club “Smart Women Who Basically Make Idiot Choices In Every Aspect Of Their Lives”. Or maybe Some Divine Being mistook me for the Morton Salt Girl who is comfortable with the idea that when it rains it pours.
Which leads me back to the thought about karma vs. punishment vs. it’s just life. This all happens to be just great timing. The tenants are out of the house, but the house is completely trashed. Just making the house secure and sanitary so it isn’t a public health hazard is going to take some doing. I’m halfway through my radiation treatments and my energy is in limited supply as it is. Just as all this crap is hitting the proverbial fan of my life, The Hesitant Boyfriend and I ran headlong into a deal-breaker, that I just can’t get past. I’ve told him he needs to move out and get his Hesitant Stuff sorted out, because sorting it out in anger on me or my children is just not how I roll. All of this is just very, very, very unfortunate.
This afternoon as I looked upon the devastation that is my life right now, I turned to my son and said, “I am truly at the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life. It is worse, even, than when I had to call in help to clean out after the Evil Ex.” And yet I had no tears to cry. I could do nothing, but make sure the doors were closed and locked, all the electrical items unplugged, and walk back to my car and get in and drive away and try not to gag in the process. My brief search on Google helped me realize that while tenants can trash houses, and unhappy people who are unhappy tenants often do trash houses, my situation could have been so much worse. While this clean out is bad and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get it done quickly and on the cheap, it is basically a matter of dumping and cleaning. At least, I hope that is how it works out.
As I am up late documenting this damage and pondering the irony of this all, I strangely aware that while none of this is fun for me, I’m not exactly in a panic about any of it. It is kind of like I’m playing a game of Monopoly and I pulled the “Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200” card. I’m stuck in the Monopoly Jail of life right now, not able to move forward or improve my situation because I simply keep drawing the bad cards. It’s a season. It’s not forever. (I sooo have to tell myself that right now because there is that teeny voice that sometimes squeaks, “What if this NEVER changes?” or, worse, “What if things just keep getting worse?”)
In a nutshell, it can all be summed up in the following conversation I had today with my oncology nurse:
Nurse: So…how are things going? How are you handling the treatments?
Me: Great. This is the least of my worries in life.
Yes, she looked at me like I’m crazy. Maybe I am…just a little.

The Evil Ex Saga Continues

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Never, ever ask yourself the question, “How much worse can things get?” If you do, you are tempting fate, and you are likely to discover the answer to your query. I must have asked this question. This year has been nothing, if not a direct answer to that very inquiry. I’m ready to be done with all this (insert expletive here).

I mentioned last month that The Evil Ex, had requested a review of the child support he barely pays. The Hesitant Boyfriend, picked up the ticket for the certified letter from the District Attorney’s office yesterday and failed to mention it to me. He texted me this morning and mentioned it. I was mildly annoyed that he’d done this, knowing as he did, how the whole situation has created such angst for me. I had him take a picture of it and message it to me, I then emailed the picture to myself and printed it off. I spent my lunch time dashing to the post office, praying for good news the entire way, only to find that I was losing over $200 each month in child support. Welcome to the genius of our current child support system which seems to somehow punish the decent people who pay into the tax system while rewarding those who do not. Never mind that I am a single mother with four children I am still responsible for, while he has a second and third income–I make more money than he does. Never mind that I am now responsible 100% for ALL the medical expenses and I don’t even have an order anymore requiring him to pay half of all the uncovered medical expenses. Yeah, it pretty much bites.

I could request a hearing, but I think the income he stated is accurate. I don’t think the DA will consider other issues. Like the changes in our out of pocket medical expenses. The stress and likely cost of getting an attorney involved will be more expensive than just adjusting my lifestyle and moving on. The less I have to do with this man, the better it is for me.

On a good note, I feel completely free to be vindictive and inflexible when it comes to planning the summer schedule. My answer will be no, plain and simple, unless it works for me.

Sigh. Words cannot express how much I detest this man and all he says he stands for. I have to move through that, but I am just not there right now.

On a better note, I do have three weeks of work lined up this summer that will help me get caught up on bills and, hopefully, stack some aside in a savings. On an even better note, The Hesitant Boyfriend, has been getting anywhere from two to four days of work a week subbing for the school district. This means a couple of things. First, half of that will go to his Evil Ex. That’s a good thing. He has been unemployed and unable to pay anything for so long that quite a bill has accumulated. So, please, State, take your half and leave him alone. The second good thing is that he can now begin paying some of his own bills and pay me back for some of what I’ve had to put out to support him this year. That should make next month do-able even though I’ll lose the child support.

If he HESITATES with any of that, I’m kicking straight to the proverbial curb. And then I go get a second job. And a housekeeper.

What I really need is a sugar daddy; good-looking, intelligent, wealthy, and willing to share the wealth. Right now, I have everything but the wealth. I’m really not looking to trade in The Hesitant Boyfriend, but money matters. It especially matters when you don’t have enough of it. The lack of it can create real strain in a home. I just don’t want that.

Now that I’ve said all that, let me finish by saying after being really disappointed and unhappy about this financial turn of events, I’ve already begun thinking of things I can do to cut costs and increase income without a whole lot of upheaval. It’s going to be okay…isn’t it?

Pain & Worthless Tenants

1:10 a.m. Tonight, every part of my body hurts and I cannot explain why. It just does. I haven’t done anything other than very routine activities; no serious exercise. And, I’m awake. Hopefully, not for long, since I did take a Unisom capsule.

The unexplained pain concerns me, as does the not being able to sleep. My oncologist told me that getting more sleep during radiation treatments was imperative. That’s going to be tough if things continue as they are.

On another note, today was the first and my renters who assured me they’d have the full rent plus any past due ($185) were not at the house when I stopped by to collect. I left a cancellation of the lease agreement on the door and will also mail them a copy. What are the odds I see any of that $750? I’d say, unlikely at best. Further, when I went over there, no one was around, but the front door was wide open. Now, I get to go over there daily and become a royal pain in the ass to them. Well, I won’t be a pain, but I will show up every day after radiation until I get an answer about payment. That’ll be fun for me.

Right now, I just want to not hurt and to sleep.

New Places To Lose Myself

There are moments when I check out Freshly Pressed on WordPress.  Granted, this doesn’t happen often, but when I am able to do it, I nearly always find something new to marvel in.  When lucky, I find a few blogs that I can lose myself in.  The next thing I know, four hours have disappeared, never to be regained.  My advice: visit Freshly Pressed with caution.

My first treat today was Freshly Pressed on Monday, April 30. The title of the post, Walked the Walk and the picture that accompanied it caught my eye and I bit. When I arrived at Calliope’s Tablet, I was pleasantly surprised.  First, she’s talking about walking around a city I am familiar with.  Next, I just found her blog and it’s content to be a delight. She writes about writing and creativity.  I can’t get enough of that.  Hope you’ll check it out.

The other treat, another creative blog type, I found because the post that was Freshly Pressed was all about bike touring, something I am contemplating starting up as my kids get older and leave home.  Actually, my son is pushing me to do this with him.  He loves camping, we both love cycling and he agreed to deal with setting up the tents and taking them down.  That’s all it took.  I’m all in.  Now all we have to do is acquire some gear.  While I’m saving up pennies to do that, I’m going to check out LizardArtworks and read her post about Biking From Monterey to SLO, so I can be prepared when the time comes.

I hope you’ll go visit these two fun finds.

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