Monthly Archives: April 2013

Savvy Tenant – Knowledge Is Power

I guess there are two things I should say up front before I get into Tuesday’s Tenant Tips.

First is, I am not a lawyer.  I have dutifully sat beside my husband during endless hours of court TV, and he has as successful a track record in small claims court as any good attorney.  Still neither of us is licensed to practice law, no matter what he says. 🙂

Any “advice” that is offered here is not legal advice.  It is more of the common sense variety that your grandmother might offer and therefore should not be relied upon as qualified legalese.

Second is I have been a landlord (or perhaps more accurately, a landlady) for the past 20+ years.  So the common sense suggestions I offer come from being in the trenches.  For reasons we will probably get into later, I cannot always say these things to my tenants when I want to.  So I am saying them here and now, and hopefully they will be of some use to someone out there who wants to be a wise and wonderful tenant.

I know the stories of scurrilous slumlords are prolific and horrible.  Let’s face it, there are those types every business who will make as much money as they possibly can, honestly or dishonestly, without a thought to the people they damage in the pursuit.

I would like to offer that a better relationship between a landlord and a tenant can be achieved if it doesn’t start with the assumption that the landlord is out to take advantage. Start with the desire to build a good working relationship.  If in the course of building a positive connect you see red flags waving, that’s when you operate from a negative position.  And the best “operation” is to run in the opposite direction.

This rental thing is a business.  Businesses are started to make a profit. Our retirement will hopefully be funded by the hard work we’ve put into providing quality housing and by the good tenants with whom we develop a mutually respectful business relationship.

It is easier to approach renting without the fear of being taken advantage of if you educate yourself.  There are two basic principles that I would stress to anyone who is looking for a place to rent:

Read & Know Your Rights & Responsibilities

Read & Know Your Rights & Responsibilities


Know what your rights are and how to protect them.

Know what your responsibilities are and how to fulfill them.

Each state in the United States has a set of laws that outline the relationship between tenants and landlords in that state.  Here in Oklahoma that set of laws is commonly referred to as the Oklahoma Residential Tenant/Landlord Act.  This Act outlines laws that cannot be nullified or altered by a lease, as well as those that kick in in the absence of any specificity in the lease regarding an issue.

Here are examples of these two points:

  1. The Oklahoma Tenant/Landlord Act specifies that a tenant’s security deposit must be placed in a escrow account separate and apart from rent monies received.  Nothing in a lease can legally skirt this law.
  2. The Oklahoma Tenant/Landlord Act specifies that unless it is otherwise stated in the lease, a tenant will be on a month-to-month lease, requiring 30-days written notice to terminate tenancy. It is the option of the landlord to stipulate that a lease be a different term, perhaps six months or a year.  If the landlord does not stipulate a different term, the month-to-month term kicks in under the provision of the TLA

Before one starts looking to rent a place, it is prudent to get a copy of the laws of the state that govern the tenant/landlord relationship.  Read and understand them. No, it is not riveting reading and you might need a dictionary at hand from time to time to understand the official legalese.  However, it is wise reading.

Knowledge is power.

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Better? No, Just Different

Last night, after both my husband and I had put in long, busy day, he walked through the living room, spotted my “project” on the coffee table and stopped in his tracks.

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“What is that?” He asked, pointing to the paper I spread out in front of me, which I am sure reminded him somewhat of what architectural plans used to look like. It was an large old calendar; I was using the back of the pages to spill everything I needed to do and/or remember out of my tired brain and onto a page. From that daunting list, I was spreading the items out among different days, with the goal of being able to visualize the upcoming week without feeling overwhelmed.

“It’s my week. I wanted all my lists in one pla–”

“You spend too much time planning. You could spend that time doing. Look at everything I do. I work a 40-hour week and I’m remodeling a house. I never have a list.”

We are very different people. You would think after 28 years this would be very evident and comments about it would no longer be necessary. Don’t get me started on not even getting to finish my statement. However, I was too tired to start a fight. Plus we had a steak dinner planned.

He went on his way. I looked at all my lists:

  • meals & lunches so he will have stuff to eat while i’m gone
  • shopping to do
  • bills to pay
  • housecleaning projects
  • what to pack
  • information I need
  • information he might need while I’m gone

How could all of that stuff fit in my head along with a character or two that wants attention as well? Wasn’t it easier for him to go to the 40-hour/week construction job where someone else had likely made the to-do list and handed it to him? But then, would I really want him making my to-do list for me?

I rolled up my planning page feeling less enthusiastic about visualizing my week. But attitude is everything, right? So I made myself look at the kernels of truth in what he said.

I am a magnificent planner. Do all those plans come to fruition? Nope. Follow-through is something I have had to work on my entire life. I’m getting better. Much better. I think it is because I am learning to weed out the insignificant. Or at least separate it from the significant. When I focus on what’s important, the rest will usually fall into place.

It is also true that he does not often make a list. Even now when he’s deep into the renovation of a sorely neglected house, he manages to know what he’s doing next, or where he left off on a particular part of the work, sans list. However, he does make an awful lot of trips between project and his personal hardware store (his garage). Thankfully there are only about four blocks between our house and his remodel, and Lowe’s is within a mile.

I am amazed. People are so different and we can learn so much from one another. I am perfectly happy with my lists and my plans, but isn’t it part of learning to at least consider there might be another way? And isn’t growth a product of moving outside our comfort zone and strengthening our weaknesses, instead of relying solely on what’s easy, yet could fail us in certain situations?

No way I’m giving up my planner now. I want to enjoy my vacation and not fret about what I forgot to do at home or what I didn’t bring. But maybe when I get home I’ll try something different. What, I don’t exactly know.

Maybe one of my characters will give me an idea.

What’s your favorite way to tackle a complicated or multi-faceted project?

Bring on the Beach

Vacation is coming! I’m going to the beach. In Florida. With some of my favorite people in the whole wide world. I have so much to do between now and then, but I don’t care. I’m going to the beach!

I can’t remember exactly when my last vacation on the ocean was, but I do believe it was also in Florida. And that my sons were still teenagers. It’s been awhile.

I can remember just about every oceanside vacation I have ever taken, and I have never, ever been disappointed: Cape Cod, Long Island, Port Townsend, Marrowstone, Cancun, cruising, the North Sea (so cold!), the Irish Sea, Myrtle Beach, Ocean City (where I dug a diamond ring out of the sand. Seriously!), Isla Mujeres, Tulum, Xel Ha (where snorkeling felt like swimming in the tropical aquarium at the zoo. So many beautiful fish!).

What I haven’t seen yet and would like to: the big waves. The kind they ride in Hawaii. That and Nova Scotia and it’s beaches. And the Mediterranean. And…

Anyway, I’m writing about this because it’s about the only thing I can concentrate on these days. Here in less than two weeks, I am going to feel like this again:

Carolyn_beach02

Now to get packing….

What is your favorite place to vacation?

Go Save the King!

The king of butterflies, that is: the monarch.  According to Monarch Watch, there is reason to be concerned about the future of the monarch butterfly.  Why?

Monarchs have a four-stage life cycle: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupa or chrysalis (cocoon), and butterfly.

The sole diet for the caterpillar

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is milkweed.

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Butterflies survive on nectar from all types of flowers.

  • Milkweed is in trouble and areas of wildflowers are diminishing.  Housing subdivisions, shopping centers, business and other development projects are consuming millions of acres in the U.S. every year. Habitats for monarchs and other wildlife are shrinking.
  • The use of herbicides and frequent mowing of roadsides has also turned wild habitat to grassland, which lacks food and shelter to sustain monarchs and other wildlife.
  • Herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans allow growers to spray fields with the herbicide glyphosate instead of tilling to control weeds.  Milkweeds survive tilling but not glyphosate when it is sprayed repeatedly.  Croplands represent almost a third of the summer breeding grounds for monarchs.

This is why conservationists warn that monarch numbers are dwindling.  I know we used to see a lot more of them come through Oklahoma on their trip south for the winter.  Did you know that monarch butterflies are the only insect that migrates and hibernates?

Monarch Watch offers an interesting project for folks who want to help—a Monarch Waystation Seed Kit.  The kit includes seeds for milkweed and general nectar plants (nine varying seed kit packs altogether) and a detailed guide on creating a Waystation.  The guide is available as a PDF download.

Even if butterflies aren’t high on your list of concerns—let’s face it, there are plenty of serious issues on that growing list—building a Waystation for the fun of it could be just as rewarding.  A butterfly garden might be a good community or group project.  Planting and observing is a good way to keep kids busy learning through the summer.  A Waystation could also become a beautiful place to unwind, perhaps just the thing to save the sanity of the King (or Queen) of your castle. 

monarch

Other monarch fun facts:

  • Monarchs go through four generations in a year.  The first three generations hatch from cocoons and live up to six weeks, but the fourth generation will survive six to eight months, long enough to migrate, hibernate, and produce the new first generation in the spring.
  • Male monarchs have a black spot on each of the hind wings.  Females do not have this spot.
  • Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains hibernate in Mexico in oyamel fir trees.  Butterflies west of the Rock Mountains will hibernate in eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove, California and areas close by.
  • The monarchs use the same trees year after year for hibernation even though they are obviously not the same butterflies that left the trees the year before.

That was an interesting tidbit that crossed my path this weekend.  Do you know of any other simple wildlife projects for families or communities?

Cookies and Other Pressing Matters

I recently made an impulse purchase. This is not something I do often.

I was invited to a Pampered Chef Facebook party, a whole new avenue of temptation. Silly me. With just a couple of curious, unguarded clicks, there it was: my cookie press.

Not quite like hers, but will do

Not quite like hers, but will do

Nostalgia took over.

I helped my Grandma Lewis make cookies with a cookie press once. One time. I don’t remember what time of year it was, nor that warm-sugar smell of them baking. I don’t even remember how fabulous the cookies tasted.

I remember making them.

The dough had cream cheese in it and was yummy before it even went into the press. How could the cookies be anything but tasty on the other side? How fascinated I was with watching the dough ooze through the different disks at the bottom of the press and become the most lovely cookies I’d ever seen.

Of course I wanted to try my hand at it. It looked easy enough. It wasn’t. My enthusiasm was squashed when my attempts looked nothing like hers. She reassured me that it just took practice and gave me other jobs I could do, like sprinkling colored sugar over those beautiful shapes or filling centers with strawberry jam. I knew someday I would be able to press cookies just like her.

Carolyn_Gma-Lewis

Grandma Lewis & Me

Someday would be a long time coming. Though I did press play dough every chance I got, so perhaps I got some practice in after all. We shall see.

The other pressing matters?

My Grandma Lewis was not deliberately trying to create a memory that would last a lifetime. She was happy to include me in an activity of her everyday life. Nothing can erase the warm simplicity of being together and being allowed to be childishly curious, determined, disappointed and reassured. It doesn’t take an expensive, coordinated “event” to make an impression. Yes, those parties will be well-recorded. Trips to the zoo or the circus are good times for bonds to be strengthened. But the everyday chores and activities hold great potential, too.

Thus it becomes a pressing matter to spend time with the children we love–our own, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, even the children next door. The more time we share, the greater their storehouse of memories. We won’t know in the moment which ones will hold a special place–and perhaps make a huge difference–in a young one’s heart.

Do it now. Don’t wait till later; we might not have the time we think we do to make more of them. I lost my grandmother when I was eight.

So now it is on to the pressing matter of real practice. Next time my great-nieces are here we will press cookies.

Do you have a similar childhood memory? What made it special?