Thursday, August 27, 2009

Us vs. Them: Elected Officials

Driving to work this other morning, listening to NPR and trying to stave off complete maternal mental atrophy, I happened upon a discussion about Ted Kennedy. No big surprise there. They were outlining who would take over his Senate post, who would have the requisite $3-4 million dollars for a quick campaign (don't get me started on that one) and one of the candidates mentioned was his wife. Completely plausibly.

America - What The Chuff?

There is constant debate over how money may or may not win you a political campaign (common sense would seem to indicate more ad revenue would bring in more votes - but Freakonomics disputes this). Then tell me why our State has twice been run by a movie star? Huh? Huh? But that's an argument for a different day. What nobody ever seems to bat an eyelid at is the number of instances when an elected official dies, and their spouse (most often a wife) runs in his place and is elected. This seems to make a complete mockery of the system.

When Sonny Bono died skiing, his wife was elected to fill the remainder of his Congressional term. When Santa Barbara's Congressman Walter Capps died of a heart attack in 1997 his wife was elected to fill his position, and has since been re-elected four times. Now I'm not knocking our Congresswoman (after all, my Green Card expires in a couple of years), she is very highly educated and used to be a nurse - quite a useful background considering the current healthcare debate, it just seems so odd. I for one will not be leaping into LK's job should the worst ever happen.

I am instantly dubious of anyone who wants to be a career politician - someone who has always been hell-bent on political power and has never held a 'real' job, but equally, someone who takes up the reigns because they happened to be married to a politician. What kind of a qualification is that - how seriously ambivalent are the constituents? (Don't ask me - I can't vote).

As a counterpoint I will agree that the House of Lords is an equally ridiculous institution when it comes to inherited voting rights - but that at least is being addressed and the number of hereditary peers who can vote has dwindled to 92. The number of wives taking their deceased husband's seats in America seems to be increasing. If I was Arnie I would be pretty chuffing worried that my Kennedy wife would bump me off so she could start to run California. After all she would appear to be the more 'qualified' of the two....

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pretty Damn Hard, That's What

To backtrack, we were the ones that had let them have a puppy. They had been our tenants for about three years, and were really nice guys. The puppy though, not so much. They came to us about a year ago and said they would have to move. One of their roommates was moving out, and the girlfriend of an existing tenant was thinking about moving in, but she had a puppy....

We thought about it, I was pregnant with Lucy, the rental market was already starting to look a little dodgy, so we said yes.


So yes. I went upstairs to take a look at the partially vacated apartment and came back to tell Lance, "We're moving to England!" "No need to know why!" "Just pack!"

More medicinal martinis later and he told me we had to be grown-ups, we had to face the destruction of Apt A. He said we couldn't just run away - mostly because there's no suitcase big enough for Anna's collection of princess dresses (true).

The renovations began the minute we got back from the UK. Carpet was installed, paint was applied, surfaces were scoured. A thin trickle of prospective tenants toured. LK was an absolute stud. I can't tell you how much money was saved by him being all manly and scurrying back and forth to the DIY shop. We faced a broken toilet. He figured out it was cheaper to replace the entire toilet than re-order the parts for an old one. So he bought it, and installed it. I know?! How many of you know how to install a toilet? He built drawers after our tenants absconded with a couple from the kitchen. Seriously, what the chuff? Who steals drawers? LK reckons it was easier for them to pack their cutlery that way. That made so much sense I am now suspecting LK to be a drawer-nicker himself.

So yes, there was plastering, and fixing and handiness of all kinds, but it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops for me either. I went to World Market to buy curtains. With a screaming baby. See, I suffered. I bought poo brown curtains to match my mood.

I think the reason I was so disappointed in discovering the state of the place, was not so much the cost (we did have a security deposit), but the time and effort it took to rectify things - you can't after all charge tenants for time wasted in trying to get a place in a decent enough condition to put on the market. Plus I now have tenant-trust issues. Welcome to the real world doe-eyed landlord. I now plan on being a landlord beotch and will scowl if I hear a gnat-fart past 9pm.

We did manage to re-rent the place fairly quickly, but to a less than perfect group of four college lads. And yes, we did get their security deposit and take pictures of the new carpet.

Can't wait to see what they do with the place!

Friday, August 14, 2009

How Hard Can It Be?

I don't post much about being a landlord, because really, all we do is cash the checks each month and then get back to our champagne lifestyle.


We own four three-bed two-bath apartments in a liminal area of town. One block up, million dollar condos, two blocks down Chicano gangland. When we bought the place, two weeks before I had Anna *won't be doing that again*, our intention was to go through the immense City process to get the apartment building converted in to condos. One run-down apartment building would become four beautiful, separately saleable condos. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

Well, that was the plan. The glacial City process was completed, but took us from May 2005 to May 2008. At which point, it became clear that the final hurdle, a construction loan with which to activate all our lovely new permits, was nowhere to be found. We were months ahead of the game with the global economic meltdown. In a way it was a relief to discover all those loan rejections weren't purely personal.

So, we're left with a run-down, but fully rented apartment block, and we live in one of the apartments. We had not planned on the need to have rents cover our mortgage for years on end, so things are a tad *tight* now that that is how we must survive. As such, when one of our tenants said they were moving out mid-month, coinciding almost cosmically with the day we left for England I literally fell to my knees and tried to remember how to breathe.

I am a rock in times of crisis.

After a very large martini and a stern pep talk from my husband I decided to think positive. We would rent the place before we left on vacation - before the existing tenants had even moved out! They probably knew people, desperate to move in! Who wanted to pay more rent! I had myself thinking 'I'm sure the place just needs a spritz of Febreze and a quick vacuum and we'll have an Open House! This weekend!'

I got slightly anxious when I went to post the ad on Craigslist and saw just. how. many. apartments are available to rent right now in Santa Barbara. For a lot less than in previous years.


Historically, you could only find a rental in this town through word of mouth. Now people were advertising first month free! Pets OK! All utilities paid!

The playing field had clearly shifted in favour of the tenant.

Then - after having rather too trustingly advertised the Open House on Craigslist (for increased rent - oh how I laugh now....) I popped upstairs to take a quick look at the place. Our best apartment. Our best tenants were leaving this:

To be continued............

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Creepy Crawlies

A few days before our trip I took the girls in the stroller up to our local park. It's uphill all the way, and the Phil and Ted's, ergonomic though it may be, when packed with girls and diapers and snacks and drinks is a bit like trying to take a Sherman Tank for a power walk. It was a great workout, and we weren't exactly racing along the streets.

Anna was not asleep, so that means she was talking. And talking. And talking. Like quite a few prolific talkers, she doesn't need much in the way of actual 'conversation' so I usually keep my iPod on low and throw out the occasional 'yes, uh-huh' or 'really' at random, and that seems to sustain her momentum. Halfway to the park she suddenly broke from her monologue and said 'That's Shelly's house'. To which I replied 'yes, uh-huh-, really'. This time she was not to be fobbed off. 'Mom, look that's Shelly's house!'.

In the space of 5 seconds, maybe less, I thought: 'wait, what? Who's Shelly? how come I don't know anything about any Shelly while my daughter has clearly been over to her house? Is this how I find out? LK's been having an affair, taking my daughter over to her house and I've been completely oblivious and this is how I find out?! Oh My God, what am I going to do, what.....'

"Mom, Shelly is a snail form Sunny Patch Friends and that is her house - look!".

We had literally been going at a snail's pace and Anna had been pointing it out. Turns out, the 'other woman' in our relationship wasn't some ho called Shelly, it was TV, and more particularly a TV show.

I stepped back from the precipice.

Because of this one TV show, Anna now calls all snails 'Shelly'. When we went to England she was in hog heaven because my Mum and Dad's gorgeous garden:

Contains about 10 snails per square foot. It's a veritable Marks and Spencers food court for snails.

Anna set about collecting them all.

My Mum suggested she keep them in an old fishtank (read, snail Auschwitz). Anna thought this was a brilliant idea, completely oblivious that she was hastening their demise. She is absolutely fearless when it comes to all things creepy, crawly and slimy. She had the time of her life with her 'Shelly's'. We counted them, we raced them (riveting), she even found a gorgeous stripy one. I suggested we call her 'Speed Racer' because of her go-faster stripes. "Or..... we could call her Shelly?" suggested Anna.

England was kind to Anna. Thousands of Shellys, lots of frogs, slugs and wood lice to capture. So imagine my horror yesterday when I saw the biggest black widow spider I ever saw in my life, just taking a gentle stroll around our property.

There was no mistaking her - fiercely black, with a perfectly round body, like a spider wearing a latex fetish suit. About the size of an old 50p, it took half a can of Raid before she finally twitched herself on to her back - displaying that tell-tale red hourglass on her abdomen. I finished the job with the non-so-delicate heel of my English winter boots. No show and tell this time round.

Imagine what could have happened if I hadn't spotted her first? In California, Mother Nature bites back.

I think our little Gerald Durrell needs to take up stamp collecting.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

You Can't Fit England In A Suitcase

I love unpacking. I know it sounds crazy. I don't love the piles of dirty clothes, the inevitable exploded shampoo bottle and the fruitless search for that other flip flop, but I do love checking out the loot from my trip. This is particularly the case when we come back from England, and in that respect I am always disappointed.

I spend an average of 18 months between trips home. I tell LK, Christ, even prisoners get better visitation rights than me. He loves to hear that!

This length of time between visits always leads to a mammoth list of things to buy/eat/do, not to mention, people to visit. When we're home for 10 days, it's just not possible. Plus, most of the food I want to consume, the 'delicacies' peculiar to my hometown just can't be eaten back to back without suffering extreme gastric blockage. Obviously I don't spend 18 months longing for a nibble of a red currant or a Bramley apple. I want sausage rolls, curries, pork pies, chocolate, toffee, Fat Rascals, pontefract cakes, fish and chips - the list is endless and a veritable comfort food time bomb. It's just not possible to get to everything on my list without resorting to having pork pie and chocolate for breakfast. OK, I may have done that. Don't judge me!

The same is true for general shopping. I spend a year and a half yearning to go back to White Stuff, Jack Wills, H&M, Zara, Mango, Monsoon for kids, etc and then find I have to cram it all in to a morning in York with my Mum. Whilst also fitting in a cup of coffee at one of the many gorgeous cafes crammed in to a 500 year old building.

This time we managed to hit the White Stuff sale. OMG. I blew 80% of my paltry time and money budget in that one shop - but it was well worth it. Still, no H&M, no Mango, only the briefest of sprints through Jack Wills (which I'm beginning to think is like a UK Abercrombie and Fitch and I sadly may have outgrown it - but oh, I will wear their sweatpants til I die!!).

*Sigh* All of this means that when I gleefully unpack in our sunny bedroom in SB a few days later I'm consistently disappointed at my lack of loot. You can't put a Marks and Spencers minced beef pie in your carry-on if you've got 3 days, 2 trains and 4 flights back to your final destination but you can stuff your luggage with Wheat Crunchies, pick and mix, Thorntons toffee and the like. You can't buy every article of clothing you've yearned for (and I haven't even explained what it's like to be confronted with an entire country's worth of new girls clothes and a pound that has FINALLY weakened against the dollar).

I think in all honesty the disappointment stems from the realization that you can't fit England in to a suitcase. You can take as many photos as possible, visit as many places, have pints with as many friends, gorge on a years worth of British 'cuisine' - even catch a sneaky 'University Challenge' on TV, but you can't do it all. I can't pack that cold, damp air that seems to be so much fresher than the soft California breezes. I can't pack green on green on green. I can take a photo of my Nanna holding her sleeping second great-grandchild but I don't get to keep seeing it.

I don't get to live there.

I was in tears at Manchester airport. As usual. People would look at me in puzzlement and think 'but love, you're leaving Manchester, you're one of the lucky ones....'. Do you know what started me off? Jelly Babies. I saw them in a shop yet I just couldn't fit one more thing in to our over-stuffed hand luggage, and quite frankly I've never been the biggest fan of Jelly Babies, but the idea of Anna being denied them, that despite me telling her I would introduce her to all that was brilliant about English sweets vs. American candy I had failed; well that destroyed me.

Chuffing Jelly Babies. I must be losing my mind.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

How To Travel With Small Children

It could have been much worse.

Granted, it didn't start well. On our first leg of a mammoth 8 flights, I was asked to sit with both girls on one side of the plane while LK sat across the aisle a few rows up. It was a smaller plane and apparently only the right hand row of seats had sufficient oxygen masks.

Oh please, statistically - what was the greater danger - emergency loss of cabin pressure or small children-outnumber-parent-time-bomb? I resolved to let Anna play with the overhead lights and 'call steward' button as many times as she wanted. Take that United! LK gave me a supportive but secretly relieved smile, opened his book, ordered a hugely expensive beer and settled in. I set to work getting both girls preoccupied with boobs and/or sticker books.

Fortunately Lucy adores Anna. Even when Anna hits her over the head repeatedly with a pink My Little Pony. You could see Lucy's face going 'I love you! Ow! I love you! Ow!' Eventually, to save Lucy a future of pain = pleasure masochistic personality disorder, I confiscated 'Princess' the pony. There was the briefest of pauses.

Then Anna bawled.

One of Lucy's most endearing characteristics is that she's a sympathetic cryer. Endearing, but not exactly helpful. Anna was crying, Lucy was winding up for that big wail, her face scrunched up in readiness, and LK, several rows away took a hefty sip of beer. 'What can I do?' he seemed to say. 'The seatbelt sign is on! You can't fight the seatbelt sign!'

I went in to emergency placate mode, ie hissing "Anna, shut up! Please, stop crying now, Lucy's crying because you're crying. For the love of God, shut up and I will give. you. candy".

Anna gulped back her sobs, gave me a devilish grin, and the nuclear meltdown Defcom Delta situation diffused.

Unbelievably that was the only issue we had. Well that and a truly massive poop that Lucy dealt us while flying from Frankfurt to Boston - in turbulence. Damn you seatbelt sign! Twenty minutes later I was behind two men also queueing for the only toilet with baby changing facilities on the plane. My happiness at seeing two blokes stepping up to the plate with their progeny instead of sending their wives, was short-lived because they took FOR-EVER. I felt like knocking on the door and asking if I could help. Honestly how long does it take to Hazmat a child and have a quick wee? I was not happy about waiting while they paraded their incompetence. Two minutes into our session I had Lucy scrubbed clean and returned to her usual pink and peachy self, despite a poop with the consistency and staying power of molasses. How she does that to my breastmilk is beyond me.

The more astute of you are probably thinking - wait, 8 flights? Where did you go Kamchatka? But no, not Kamchatka, the north of England, which is close but with fewer bears and more Jaffa cakes. We took 8 flights because we used air miles and stopped off in Boston to visit LK's family in Maine. If my camera battery charger wasn't still lying on my parents' kitchen worktop in England I would now post bucolic pictures of lakes and canoes and cherry red lobsters (OK so perhaps bucolic was the wrong word).

Anyhoo, the travel. It was smooth. When possible we checked in online, paid for our bags online (saving $4 by doing so was a poor anesthetic for having to pay to check chuffing bags. Seeth) and we always seemed to arrive about an hour before our flight left, which was perfection. Long enough for LK to have a beer and me not to twist a gut with anxiety. Plus, traveling with the midgets is a joy when it comes to the security checkpoint as they whisk you straight through. A little too hastily as it happens, because twice we found large quantities of liquids stowed in our hand luggage that had already cleared security. A bottle of 'Revive' (ha!) Vitamin Water tucked in to a stroller and a large bottle of Daisy perfume that I had forgotten to put in the suitcases. Perhaps we just don't look that menacing.

Another great thing about traveling with tiny ones is that you get to board first, which technically means you get to spend even more time on the plane, but does give you the opportunity to have first pick of the magazines and newspapers in the gangway. We picked Elle and Vogue, only to realize they were in German. Scheiße! Then LK said - on second thoughts - European nudity!! Only to discover it was male nudity! Doppelte Scheiße! In the end Lucy grabbed them both and pronounced them very tasty. Especially the naked male flanks.

Both girls slept very well on most of the flights. A sleeping child on a plane is your ideal (although I've never resorted to Benadryl just in case they go bonkers). However, it's pretty hard to do anything other than sit while you're pinned under a leggy 4 year old. Anything other than drink of course. They also slept all the way to Maine, where we arrived at 4am. Many thanks to LK's sister who picked us up in Boston at 2:15am. What a trooper. The girls were oblivious to our journey so when Anna woke up bright and early the next morning, she cast her eyes around LK's sister's bedroom and said "Why did you guys think you should redecorate?".

So in conclusion, the trick to traveling with small children is: portable DVD player, a New Native sling for the infant (I could have sold mine 50 times over in each airport we passed through), sticker books, baby toys that entertain quietly and lots of booze. And yes, that means if you've paid for that 3rd plane ticket for your 4 year old then she will be having the Cabernet with her meal thank you very much. Don't look at me like that Fraulein, just keep pouring.