Saturday, May 21, 2011

Update for the Week: Mostly Me Venting About Our Rental Woes

First, the good news. The baby is healthy and active. We had an ultrasound yesterday and saw the little jumping bean squirming and somersaulting away. What a relief--a couple of days before at my physical the doctor was unable to find a heartbeat. With everything else going on, I was a wreck.

So now, on to the bad news, AKA everything else going on. The job continues to be a drain. On Thursday, Jeff and I both called in sick and we went to Spiny Gooseberry Shangri-La with our dog and a dog we're taking care of for a week and had a very nice hike. So that was great--we both needed it.

The big issue we're dealing with is the problem with our house's owner, which I described a little bit here. To sum up: she's convinced our cats are destroying the only carpet in the house.

She has now declared that we were dishonest from the beginning because we knew there was a chance a cat might pee on it. We made the mistake, a few weeks ago, of saying that we deliberately chose the bedroom with the carpet to discourage that from happening--our cats don't pee where we sleep. She interprets that to mean that we knew one of them, who does tend to pee outside his box (like a foot outside his box, where we've put down two sheets of thick plastic, lynoleum, and newspaper), would pee on the carpet in the bedroom. She insists that the smell of cat pee is coming from the bedroom in such concentration that she can smell it in all other parts of the house. She's hired this guy, ostensibly to handle the rental, but really to handle pushing us out, and he also claims to smell the awful odor of cat pee, and he says it's so bad he has to hold his breath. Meanwhile, Jeff and I sleep in this room. We've checked all the walls and all the visible parts of the floor: no stains. We smell no cat pee. Jeff's mom smells no cat pee. So anyway, the owner is now claiming we are in violation of our lease and she has the right to evict us. She says she doesn't want to do that. She's convinced she'll have to tear out the rug and the floor boards underneath, and probably the floor under that, in order to rid the house of the alleged smell. All of which, according to the lease we signed, we'll be financially responsible for.

Why is she doing this, you ask?

She needs to sell the house, desperately. Last fall she got laid off and her partner of 27 years, who was still employed, died. It's awful. We felt terrible for her (although I confess, at this point my sympathy has dried up). She owns two houses here in Mount Shasta, one that she lives in, the other that she rents to us, and she must sell them both and move back to the Bay Area where she has a chance of finding employment. Her fear is that with the pee smell, this house won't sell. In reality, there is no smell, but the house won't sell because there are plenty of houses in this neighborhood in foreclosure. They are listed for substantially less. Also, people are moving away from Mount Shasta. There are few jobs here and it's still fairly expensive to live here. Our enrollment at the schools is decreasing so drastically the superintendent is in a constant state of panic. So she's not going to sell this house any time soon. However, she's convinced that if she can get us out, she'll make the renovations necessary, and sell it over the summer. So the fact that our lease would take us to July 31 is unacceptable to her.

She and the man she hired to strong-arm us insisted on coming over yesterday (we agreed before we learned that they can't insist on any such thing, also we didn't know yet how pushy they were going to be--we won't be agreeing again). They were patronizing from the beginning and I nearly lost my temper. By then I had read up on our rights and I was not buying in to their apparent conviction that they were coming from a place of strength. They wanted a "drop dead date" for when we'd be out of the house (previously they'd tried to get us to sign an addendum to the lease saying we'd be out by June 13--three days after school gets out, and as a result totally unrealistic for us). I told them our drop dead date was July 31--they didn't like that at all. They claimed to be being very generous by not evicting us, because clearly we were in violation of the terms of our lease, etc. etc. They kept insisting that we sign something in writing saying we'd be out at least by June 30. This went on for nearly an hour, until I told them I had already consulted a lawyer and we wouldn't be signing anything. They didn't like that either. I thought for a few minutes they would refuse to leave until we signed, and I considered calling the police to have them removed as trespassers (you can do that--I looked it up).

I did in fact call an attorney last Monday and while I'd like to avoid things getting nastier than they already are, I think I'm going to set up a time for a consultation. My father-in-law thinks we should make a list of everything wrong with the house (there are several things) and demand that it all be fixed. That way if she tried to take us to small claims for the cost of the bedroom renovation, we could counter with everything we've been living with. I'm just not sure I want to give her any reason to keep coming back to the house and harassing us. So at this point I want to find out from the lawyer what is in our best interest, legally. I've found in the past that what makes sense to me doesn't necessarily work with the law, so it's best to get a lawyer's advice. My in-laws don't want us spending the money and I admit it's a painful choice, but at this point I think these people are trying very hard to manipulate and intimidate us, and I just don't know enough to make a path through this minefield.

I'm also furious. I don't want that to cloud my judgment and it's possible resorting to a lawyer comes out of that fury. What would you do, if you were in my shoes?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spiny Gooseberry Shangri-La

Yesterday my colleague Tim and I drove to Yreka (about 40 minutes away) to check out what sorts of things they are doing at their continuation school. The way my principal had been going on about it, I expected them to be all shiny and superior to us. Turns out they have just as many problems as we do and are suspending more this year than before, so in the end I sort of wondered why we went. Although the principal there did hint that he might like to hire me for a job opening up over the summer. Which was nice and flattering, but he has no idea I'm pregnant, and in any case the position in question is full-time. I'm currently finding my 75% time position to be exhausting. I don't see adding a 40 minute commute and another 25% in the fall when I'll be carrying a bowling ball around. But I did tell my husband about it. It's an independent study job which is appealing to Jeff. He'd have to take an English CSET, though, and in my experience, once you have an English credential people don't want to hire you for anything else. Still, if Jeff has his way he's only ever going to teach IS for the rest of his career, in which case having English as well as social science would be a good thing. So anyway we'll see--he wants to wait and find out if our current district decides to screw him first.

After the school visit, which we got done with around 11:30, Tim, who is a scrupulous and conscientious person, said he didn't want to go directly back to Mount Shasta before 2:15. I considered pointing out that I am only required to work until 1:30, but I didn't want to burst his bubble of sincerity. (I, for one, have no qualms about getting an extra hour or two off--I know, I'm wicked). We went to a coffee shop and talked a bit about the school and he proceeded to list four possible places we could go next for either a walk or a drive and to eat our bag lunches. My mind started to wander. Hey, I really like Tim, but my concentration isn't what is could be these days, and most of the time I'm contemplating a nap. So all I could remember was the first place, so I said I'd like to go there.

What luck! He took me to the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area and we walked up the side of a hill to see the view. At first I didn't take much in because I was too busy trying to keep up with him and avoid bursting a lung (I'm a little out of shape from all the couch naps). But on the way back down, I saw a spiky-looking bush. I stopped and checked it out, and called Tim over (who is the science and math teacher at our school and probably one of the most outdoorsy people I know). "Look," I said. "Spiny gooseberries!"

What in the world are spiny gooseberries, you ask? Well, last fall I stumbled upon a bush of them for the first time. They were frightening: they looked like red currants on steroids. Big, nasty steriods.

At the time I took a photo (this is not my photo, mine was horribly blurry--I found this in a websearch--but this is exactly what ripe spiny gooseberries look like). I was careful not to touch them, and it took me about a week to finally identify what they were. Turns out, they are edible.

So I was pleased to find this bush, because by the time I got back to that first bush I found, someone else had already picked them. So I never got to taste them, and I suspected that there wouldn't be enough on one bush to make jelly (as I understand it you must cook them, if for no other reason than to soften the spikes coming off the berries). So now I'd found two bushes. Sweet!

Tim was very curious about them, and we discussed the bush for a while, and then moved on. About two feet away, I found another bush. And then a yard more, and there was another. In fact, this entire hill was covered in them, and they cropped up all around the pond we walked around. There are so many, I will never be able to pick them all, once they are ripe. Pretty cool! I hope they taste good.

Have you ever had gooseberries? Perhaps the more tame variety that are green like grapes? What is the strangest fruit you've ever eaten? Do you like to pick wild berries, like blackberries or blueberries? Would you try some of my spiny gooseberry jelly or would you be afraid? :)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Never in Single Spies, or: Why I'm not writing

I'm living through a rather complicated time right now. I'm trying to stay positive about it, but some days are hard. My husband and I were not laid off this year (we're both teachers), and that's a very good thing. The downside is, we both have the jobs nobody else in the district will touch. Jeff is especially burnt out but even I don't see doing this for longer than another year. What I want to teach is history, and I'm thinking of doing an online program to get my MA in history (I did all of my MA coursework at San Diego State and never finished my thesis) so people will maybe more inclined to hire me for my history credential rather than my English credential. I've actually had a school bait and switch me--I drove 20 hours (20 hours, people!) and paid for a hotel and everything for a job interview for history, and when I got to the interview they informed me that they had filled the history position--but would I like to interview for the English position they also had open? I was not amused.

Anyway, Jeff is trying to switch over to slightly less onerous position which would also allow him to be closer to me next year, something I'd very much appreciate with the whole I-might-go-into-labor-at-any-time thing I anticipate happening in the late fall. So here's problem number one: our district doesn't do things in an orderly fashion. they just sort of pick and choose who they want in which positions. Seniority means nothing to them. For example, a man at my current school who has been with the district for 29 years wanted to move over to the big high school when a position opened up there. They gave it to a guy who's been with the district for 4 years, instead. We've heard some things about Jeff's situation that make us think the district may screw him over and keep him in the VERY CRAPPY position he's in now (for the teachers among you: he has 8 different preps and he's "teacher in charge" which means he's acting principal 4 out of 5 days--for no extra pay). I won't go into it more than that, but if that happens, it's going to make staying here pretty hard. But with the pregnancy, moving to a new district (we're far from any others) would probably be close to impossible--I don't see anyone hiring me knowing they're going to lose me for two months or so.

The other thing about staying here (Mount Shasta, CA) that is becoming increasingly depressing to me is the length of the winters. It is SO BEAUTIFUL here, but the forecast for next week, the week of May 16, calls for more snow. More snow! I don't think I can do it. I can't live in a place where is snows from October to MAY.

The biggest stressor right now, though, has to be the owner of the house we rent. She's had some hard times, and I was feeling pretty sympathetic. Her partner died of a heart attack without warning. She had other family issues that were very hard, and she got laid off. As a result, she decided to sell the house we live in. Since January, we've had realtors walking people through our house an average of once a week. We hired a housekeeper to come in twice a month, but Barbara, the owner, also decided to bring someone in on the days of showings before the realtor would arrive to clean the house. The problem: I guess in the last month or so, she thinks she smells an increasing odor of cat pee.

I don't, but then, my sense of smell isn't great. Jeff (known for having a "supersniffer") doesn't, other than from the cat boxes when they need to be cleaned. But Barbara is convinced that a cat is peeing on the only carpet in the house, in our bedroom. You'd think we'd smell it if it was in our bedroom, but we don't. And even if it's really happening, it would be because strangers are spending hours at a time in our house, often running vacuums, with terrifies the cats and causes them to hide under the bed for hours at a time. Anyway, I don't think they are, and we've got a black light, which I need to buy batteries for, and I'll use it to confirm that this weekend. So at this point Barbara, who is a very nice lady, is totally panicked that the house won't sell. She's hired a guy to be the rental manager for her, and he's been throwing around words like "eviction." We have been nothing but accommodating to her from the beginning of all of this, and I think what's really going on is that she wants us out of the house early so she can foreclose. Our lease goes until July 31, and the manager tried to have us sign a paper saying we'd be out by June 13. Which would leave us exactly 3 days after school gets out to move. I've called a lawyer and left a message. I'm hoping he'll get back to me today.

So it's all stressful, and on top of everything else, I may have a complication with the pregnancy (I don't think it's anything dramatic) which I'll find out more about when I have my physical and my second ultrasound next week. At this point, though, I've had enough of it all, and I'm ready to run away to France and live with my mother. Sigh.

With the fatigue of the pregnancy, and all of these others things, I haven't been writing. I did write on Saturday (3000 words--not bad). But the rest of the time I sit on the couch and watch movies. And Glee. This weekend Jeff's driving four hours to do a gig with some old band mates and I can't decide whether to go with him. I probably will, although I need to find out where we'd be sleeping. No floor for this pregnant woman, thank you very much.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Update for the Week

Well, this week there is good news and bad news. Good news: I sold a book! Considering the fact I did close to no promo (that's the bad news, also very little writing or editing), that's pretty wonderful.

Here's the thing, folks. I'm pregnant. Yep, about a week after I wrote that blog entry about being child-free I found out. I'm due in December. This is my first experience with pregnancy and I vascillate between joy and terror. I'm 38, which means the pregnancy is higher risk than it would typically be for a 25 year old, but so far all my tests are good.

The biggest downside is, I'm exhausted most of the time. My friend tells me I'm building a placenta and that's a big job. Okay, but I'm a writer! I need to write! A lot! Yeah. My body has other plans, involving eating crackers while lounging on the couch and watching 40s movies. And of course, I still have to go to work, and some days it's really really stressful. We had a day last week where three kids got suspended (I personally suspended one of them: a six foot tall, 250 pound, 18 year old country boy who likes to bully women) and a fourth got arrested and spent the week in the hall for threatening to stab his teacher (the same woman who told me about the exhaustion of building a placenta, actually). So the writing and everything associated to it has been suffering.

Nevertheless, I will write! My big plan for May was to do a pseudo NaNoWriMo to get 50K words written on Veronica book 3. Realistically, it probably won't be 50K. I also planned to edit the heck out of Book 2 in the hopes of being able to publish it soon. The good news is, school lets out for summer June 10, which is also the start of my 2nd trimester, and I'm told the second trimester is the least exhausting. We will be moving either in June or July, so that will take a chunk of time and energy, but I'm still hopeful that the summer will be a productive time. I really want to get Book 2 out because I plan to lower the price of River to $0.99 promotionally when I do and I'm optimistic about sales picking up then.

What kinds of crazy, unexpected things have been popping up in your life, and making achieving your writing goals harder than you expected? Do you have children? How do you find the time to write as a parent?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An Award for Moi

I'm so spoiled. I have some really really really supportive online writer buddies who give me way more credit than I deserve. One of them, Mary Frame, has given me an award!

This award comes with a few conditions:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated me. Thank you Mare!!!
2. Share seven random facts about myself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.
So this is one of those nice ways to create connections on the internet, and Mare's blog, It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets an Agent, is full of great writing advice, so start by checking that out. Then check out the five I've chosen to pass the award on to below.

But first, my seven random facts:

1. I was in commercials when I was a kid. My dad had a successful career in advertising (he was one of the Martins in the Martin Agency, which meant something back in the 80s) and he got me in a couple of tv ads and several print ones. I don't remember a whole lot about it, except in one there were several rows of people standing for the photo, and they had to find a box for this one guy to stand on because he was too short. In another, there was fake snow--I was supposed to pretend to look for Santa as I stood out on a porch. And in another I had to pretend this woman was my mother, and she looked nothing like her. And I remember after another one getting recognized in a grocery store. But eventually I wasn't cute enough anymore--I mean literally, that's what the photographer who used me as a model said. Ah, the crushed dreams of ten year olds. Actually, I don't remember being all that crushed.

2. I spend 6 years living in Paris, 5 of which were my 8th grade through high school years. Veronica in Paris draws heavily on that experience. I never really bonded with French kids, though, although there were boys I had crushes on. My friends were all expats from all over the world. As a result I never see them anymore--I wish I did! I'd be jetting off to New Zealand or London or Beijing...

3. I like to forage wild food. Today we went mushroom hunting, but didn't find any. Which is typical of my experiences with mushroom hunting. I'm much more successful at berry hunting but that's a few months away still.

4. I was an AmeriCorps member for two years in San Diego. It was the hardest job I've ever done, but probably also one of the most rewarding, mainly in the second year when I was a team leader. The admin let us team leaders have a lot of say in how the program was run, which was really satisfying. Now when I see people in admin making inefficient or even counterproductive decisions all I can do is take deep breaths and think, "I'll find a way to work around this." Back then, I could say, "That's not going to work, here's why, and here's what we should do instead," and 90% of the time, they'd listen. I miss that. But the job was still incredibly difficult. We were supposed to do these huge community service projects and we literally had no budget. It was a rule in the grant that funded us--we were not allowed to have a budget. We had to find in-kind donations for everything. It was really really tough. I would periodically interview for jobs elsewhere. I'm glad I stuck with it, though. Completing those two years (the max you could stay with one program) taught me all sorts of skills and also made me realize I could stick with something even when it's hard.

5. I was a bit of a goth kid in high school (yes, in Paris--what a place to be a goth!). I used to think I'd name my first born son Lestat.

6. The first ever play I auditioned for was in 7th grade (still in the US)--I got the part of Miss Lucy in Dracula.

7. I will eat (and enjoy) a lot of things the average American would be totally freaked out by--deep fried pigs' feet, snails, raw sea urchin, tripe sausage, chicken livers and liver pate, etc., but I cannot stand pieces of corn in cornbread. Ugh! Ptooey ptooey.

Okay, so now for the list of award winners:

I'd pick Mary Kaley but Mary Frame already got to her.

So, the first award goes to:
Michael R. Hicks, who writes science fiction, and is enjoying a fair amount of success at epublishing. I've been following his blog with enthusiasm, as he is sharing the secrets of that success. Last I heard, he's seriously considering quitting his day job. That's such an inspiration to me!

Award #2 goes to:
Kelvin O'Ralph, who has been doing wonderful, wonderful things for a small group of writers (me among them) on Goodreads. He set up a group and is having everyone follow each other and tag each other's books. Great stuff.

Award #3 goes to:
Alexander Hammond, who writes humor. Anyone who can make me laugh or even smile after some of the days I have at the continuation school deserves an award.

Award #4 and #5 go to:
Lori Sizemore and Cynthia Robertson, because both of them have been so supportive and they only just met me, and on Twitter, to boot.