Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's Left Behind

My maternal grandmother was born on November 30, 1920. She was only nine years old on Black Tuesday, but she remembers that day. Her parents took her to get new shoes, but when they stopped by the bank, they found the doors chained and panicked people on the sidewalk outside. I asked if she still got new shoes, and she said she did. She doesn’t remember much about the Depression, saying that her parents shielded her from whatever hardships they experienced.

She married my grandfather in September 1947, and had her first child (my mother) in November 1949. While in labor, there was concern that both my grandmother and her baby would not survive childbirth, and my grandfather was brought in to say goodbye, just in case. She delivered my mother via C-section, then remained in the hospital for two weeks, and in bed at home for another four. My great-grandmother stayed with my grandparents during that time, since my grandmother was confined to bed. When I asked if this long recovery was due to the complications she experienced, my grandmother replied that six weeks of bed-rest was normal after childbirth. I was surprised at how differently doctors saw the recovery process then.

I was born in 1976, and was close to my grandparents from the start. Since I was their only grandchild for the next nine years, they doted on me. My name for my maternal grandmother is Mema (Meemaw), and she was – and is – my favorite grandparent. For 90 years old, she has been healthy, especially considering her diabetes and high blood pressure. Her mind is strong, and we’ve only noticed it beginning to slip in the last two years.

As I write this, she is very ill. She was hospitalized on August 23, but returned home after two weeks. Mema was better, but not the same as before. On October 12, she was hospitalized again. I went to the hospital immediately, and talked with her while waiting in the emergency room (for her to be admitted to the hospital). I was able to say all the things I needed to, in case she took a turn for the worse. But she improved, and even though she was still experiencing pain and needed oxygen, she was moved to a rehab facility on October 18. Her condition has deteriorated, and each day seems to be worse. On Friday, she had difficulty recognizing both my mom and my uncle. I was delighted that she said my name as soon as she saw me, but then she started asking where she was, over and over again. Late on Saturday evening, she became combative with the nursing staff as they tried to medicate her.

It is apparent to the entire family that her time is short. She has lived a long, happy life (as she told me herself in the ER last week), and we don’t want her to suffer. Of course, this is difficult, but it has made me reflect on all the time I spent with her, and all the wonderful memories I have. I realized that, although I don’t know nearly enough about my family’s history, what really counts are the parts of my grandmother that will live on in me.

My grandmother gave me unconditional devotion. She bought me animal crackers every time I went grocery shopping with her. She encouraged my love of reading by renewing magazine subscriptions for me year after year. She cooked separate meals for me when I was a picky eater and didn’t want what the rest of the family was having (how I wish now that I’d tried her Shrimp Creole just once!). She made 24-Hour Salad and Chocolate Icebox Pie every time there was a family dinner, because she knew I loved them. She made Date Loaf every Christmas, just for me, and there was always a LifeSavers Storybook in my stocking. She never told me “no,” but she didn’t spoil me. She bought me my first pair of pantyhose, and took me to get my first contact lenses. She didn’t even frown - much less get angry - when I spilled bright red nail polish all over a set of white sheets. And she never told me that I’d disappointed her, even when my life was in shambles, and I was a disappointment to everyone (especially myself). I have her fingernails, and from what I can tell, as an old woman I will have her crepe skin and snow-white hair. And I have her name; my middle name is the French deviation of her first name.

Her life was devoted to her family. Our happiness made her happy, and as strange as it seems to me, it was all she ever wanted. She loves J., and never fails to say what a nice man he is. She sees the goodness in him, and I think it gives her comfort to know that I’m cared for. Her three grandchildren are all married now, but I don’t expect she’ll live to see great-grandchildren. As much as I don’t want to, I’m prepared to let Mema go. She’s told us that she’s ready, but what really hurts now is that we can’t do anything to ease her suffering. The doctor talks about “making her comfortable,” but they can’t. She’s not physically sick enough to have IV painkillers, but she fights taking pills. Two years ago, I wrote very briefly about euthanasia; then, it was an abstract concept. I believed it was a tragedy to let humans suffer in ways we would never inflict on our pets, but now that I’m seeing that suffering first-hand, I realize that "tragedy" doesn't even begin to describe it. It makes me angry, and it hurts much more than the idea of losing her. Mema gave to her family for the last sixty years, taking nothing in return. She doesn’t deserve this.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Playing Favorites

They say confession is good for the soul, and it seems I’ve been confessing some of my sins lately. Here’s another: among our furbabies, I have a favorite.

I love all our cats. Keke – even though she is J.’s cat – is my snuggle-buddy at bedtime. And having Bo in our home has been a wonderful challenge for all of us. But Monkey…he's my favorite.

Monkey was our first foster. He was born to a feral mama behind our house, and we kept an eye on their little family. Mama was tiny, and couldn’t keep all four babies nourished, even though we were feeding them, too. Over a few weeks, two of the babies died and one disappeared. We caught the last of the babies and brought him in, intending to socialize him and then make him available for adoption.

J. and I had never fostered before, so we kept him in a crate the first two nights. He cried non-stop, even though I stayed close and tried to soothe him. On the third morning, he’d lost his voice. He would move his mouth, but most of the time, no sound would come out. Occasionally, there would be a tiny, pitiful, precious squeak. After a visit to the vet and a bit of time to acclimate, we took him to two adoption events. He slept through both, and we joked that he’d never get adopted if he didn’t show off a little (like he did at home). We had named him Monkey; he would climb anything, and since he has the standard tabby “M” on his forehead, it seemed appropriate. We realized he just wasn’t going to show well at adoption events, and we were enjoying having a second cat, so we decided that his forever home was with us.

That was over a year ago. Monkey is 18 months old now, and has grown into the sweetest cat I’ve ever known. He got his voice back after a couple of months, and he is the most vocal of our cats. He still sleeps about 18 hours a day, and he plays like a crazy kitten the other six. That can be very entertaining, since he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s not a two-pound kitten anymore. Now, he’s a 17-pound Baby Huey. He romps around the house, driving his sisters crazy, and making me laugh.

I don’t know if Monkey will ever be a lap-cat, but he loves skritches. In the morning, he cries and cries until he gets petted. And he loves to have belly rubs when he’s sleeping; he’ll stretch out to his full length, then curl up tight around your hand. He's always sweet (and a little dumb). Monkey has only scratched J. or I a handful of times, and then only when he was overzealous during playtime or was very scared. Unlike Keke, he never uses his pointy-parts in anger. I'm not sure he would even know what to do if he were ever in a fight.

I know a mama shouldn’t have a favorite, but look at him…how could I not love him best???

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Happy Hour

From Mental Floss: "Every Friday, I post a series of unrelated questions meant to spark conversation in the comments. Answer one, answer all, respond to someone else's reply, whatever you want. On to this week's topics of discussion..."

(Now that I actually have followers of my blog, I’d love to see your responses in the comments here. Tell me what you think, friends!)

Are there any intentionally misspelled — or unintentionally, I guess — business names that make you reach for your red pen?

~ All of them! I know that sometimes businesses do this intentionally, and that it can actually bring in customers, but it has the opposite effect on me.

Is there any movie whose preview initially gave you an entirely different picture of the film?

~ I know this has happened, but I can’t think of an example right now.

If TV characters competed in an elaborate Fictional Jeopardy! tournament, who do you think would come out on top?

~ I’d love to see Peter Griffin from Family Guy, Michael Scott from The Office, and Phil Dunphy from Modern Family in a Jeopardy! tournament. I don’t know who would win, but it doesn’t really matter. It would definitely be entertaining!

Time for another edition of What Are You Reading? Do you recommend it?

~ I just finished The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, and I highly recommend it. I was extremely hesitant to read this book; I loved some earlier books of Bohjalian’s, but detested the last book of his that I read (Skeletons at the Feast). However, this book sounded so interesting that I gave it a chance, and I’m so glad I did!

I just started The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Poking a Tiger

Oh, I love dumb people - especially people who are too dumb to realize they're poking a sleeping tiger. If you’re not up to speed, please read this.

J. and I moved into our new place on the 23rd. We informed our former landlord (FL) that the unit was vacant and clean on 9/26. The keys were mailed to his post office box on the 27th, meaning he received them no later than 9/29. On Thursday (9/29), J. drove by the old place to check the mail one last time, and could see that FL had already begun renovating our unit. Since FL hadn’t bothered to reply to our email, I wrote him again and asked when we could expect our security deposit to be refunded.

He replied this morning, stating that he intends to comply with the terms of the Texas Property Code in relation to the return of our deposit. Having been a renter for the majority of my life, I’m aware that the TPC only applies if 1) an item is not specifically addressed in the lease agreement or 2) what is stated in the lease is illegal. So I reply to FL with a strongly worded email. I said that his “refusal to return our security deposit in a timely manner is further evidence of (his) unscrupulous business practices,” and that “we expect the return of our security deposit no later than October 29, 2011.”

Well, that set him off. His next email had a much more stream-of-consciousness feel to it. He wanted to know how we had the “gall” to say that he has unscrupulous business practices. And then he said that the lease agreement was the primary contract, but since we broke the lease by not giving one-month notice before vacating, now the TPC governs. Umm…we didn’t *break* our lease. We requested – and FL agreed – to voluntarily terminate our lease on September 30. We did this because his representative threatened our lives. We did not want to move; in fact, we’d been discussing that we might renew our lease for another year in May 2012!

Still, at this point, my patience was gone. Here’s my full reply to FL:

“Your attitude towards this matter, in which we have been entirely professional, shows the type of landlord you are. Continuing to employ a property manager who is abusive and threatening to your tenants = unscrupulous business practice. Refusing to refund our security deposit = unscrupulous business practice. Requiring that the tenant at (omitted for privacy) be evicted before you would close the sale with our original landlord, and then not actually evicting her = unscrupulous business practice.

Our lease agreement was not broken, since you agreed to the termination of our lease. The only reason we requested the termination of our lease is because of the threats made by your property manager. We did not want to move. We fulfilled every requirement in the residential lease agreement. It was the violation of our "quiet enjoyment" of the property by the guest of a tenant that led to this situation. Since we did not violate the lease, it is the primary contract, and Texas Property Code is secondary.

It is pointless for us to continue to debate this. You will either return our deposit or you won't. We will either pursue legal action or we won't. We will not accept further emails from you. If you wish to contact us, you may do so at the previously provided forwarding address.”

J. and I have talked this situation to death, and we decided – prior to this exchange of emails – that we were not going to pursue FL in court. Even to us, it’s just not worth the hassle (our deposit was $250). We love our new home, and we really just want to forget that the entire situation happened.

Here’s where the story gets funny.

I started to wonder what, exactly, the TPC says about situations like this, so I looked it up. And guess what? As far as I can tell, it backs us 100%!!!

The code states that, “The landlord has 30 days after the tenant surrenders the premises to refund the security deposit.” Okay, fine – he can make us wait. The TPC also states that, “If the landlord makes any deductions from the deposit, a written, itemized accounting of how much is being charged for each item must be sent to the tenant. If the landlord fails to provide such an accounting within 30 days after the tenant moves out, the landlord may forfeit the right to withhold any part of the deposit.” So FL has to contact us within 30 days, one way or the other. And we have the right to dispute any deductions he takes. Since we took photos after the unit was cleaned, that would not be an issue.

TPC goes on to state, “If a new owner buys a house or apartment and it is tenant-occupied at the time, all lease agreements and deposits should be transferred from the previous owner to the new owner.” Then it says, “Unless there are records of the move-in inventory, the new owner will probably not be able to establish the condition of the unit when the tenant moved in. Therefore, it may be difficult for a new owner to deduct damages from the tenant’s security deposit. The new owner should not keep any part of the deposit for damages unless the new owner can prove that the tenant damaged the unit.”

We did not fill out a move-in inventory; our original landlord (who is also our current landlord at our new place) did not require it. And we left the unit in better shape than it was in when we took possession, since we agreed to clean it upon move-in, in exchange for a break on our first month’s pro-rated rent.

Here’s the best part: “If the security deposit or itemized list is not mailed within 30 days after the tenant vacates the premises and turns in a forwarding address, the tenant has several options. The tenant can attempt to recover the deposit through mediation or the tenant can sue the landlord. A landlord can be held liable for $100, three times the amount of the deposit which is wrongfully withheld, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs, if the tenant can show the landlord acted in bad faith.”

So if he doesn’t send the deposit or the itemized list within 30 days, we can sue in small-claims court, and end up with $850 (plus court costs), instead of $250. It will be very interesting to see what FL does next. All I know is…this isn’t over. FL poked the tiger one time too many.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It's My Job

I have a confession to make: I am good at my job.

That may sound silly, but the truth is that it feels like a confession. I have received a ton of compliments on my work over the last eight weeks, from several different people. Each time, I’ve felt proud, but the pride is overshadowed by embarrassment. I don’t feel like I do anything special, or at least like I do anything that should be seen as special.

I have had many jobs since I took my first office job at the age of 19. Over the years, I’ve learned that my strength is in serving a customer base. I am highly organized and detail-oriented. I love people, and it pleases me to make someone else’s job or life easier. I work best for a manager who includes me, teaches me, challenges me to grow, and then leaves me alone to do my work.

When J. and I moved back to Dallas in April 2010, I signed on with a staffing agency, which placed me as an administrative assistant at a commercial property management company (specializing in medical office buildings). After three months, I was hired on by the company. It was a complete fluke that I landed in this industry, but it is a perfect match to my personality and skills. It's a dynamic workplace; I have changed offices four times in the last year, and I’ve worked under four different property managers. I have been blessed to love each one more than the last. My current boss began work on September 12. She lauds my work daily, and she's already working to promote me. For the first time, I see myself in a career, not just a long-term job.

I’ve received compliments on my work over the years, but never in the quantity of late. And while it brings me joy to be recognized, it also feels strange. I believe in working hard, and in doing a good job. I’m being paid to accomplish certain tasks, so I have a responsibility to earn my keep. And my name is attached to those tasks; I want them to be done well! I’ve worked with a lot of people who do the bare minimum, and I have no patience for that. If I can do an extra minute or two of work that makes the next person’s job easier, I do it. I don’t believe in job descriptions; if something needs to be done, and I’m capable of doing it, then it’s my job.

My current office manages a brand-new building. That means that most of our interior space is still under construction. I deal with contractors for the bulk of each day. I also assist with our tenants’ needs, including coordinating everything for their move-in. On some days, it’s a very complicated dance – not so different from juggling a set of flaming bowling pins. I have days when I’m busy every second and yet cannot name a single thing I accomplished that day. Other days, I get several projects finished in one swoop. Either way, when I leave work each day, I’m happy.

So why do I blush when I receive a compliment? That reaction seems to be typical for American women. “They” say we don’t get raises because we don’t expect them the way our male counterparts do. It’s difficult for us to accept, or demand, recognition for doing our jobs well. Or maybe women are just hardwired to work hard for no gratitude. Perhaps that’s part of my embarrassment, but I think it’s more than that. I work hard because that’s the right thing to do; I do my job well because I would be ashamed not to. And it seems that I receive such gushing compliments because those traits are rare in 2011.

Now there's something to be embarrassed about.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September 2011 Book List

Everyone knows I’m a voracious reader, and I’m often asked for recommendations. I decided that on or around the first of each month, I’ll post a list of the books I read the month before.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson - Rating: 4

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs - Rating: 3.5

Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris - Rating: 4

Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich - Rating: 4