Mason Bee Rentals

A friend of mine crowed on Facebook that she just received her mason bees in the mail. Naturally, I had to learn more. It turns out that you can rent them from They come to you in early spring with a bee house, a nesting block, 50-60 mason bee cocoons and a box with return postage for when you send them back in the fall. What a nifty idea!

Why mason bees? They pollinate your garden for you. They aren’t aggressive. (You really have to mess with a mason bee a lot to get stung because they’re naturally gentle creatures.) They’re super low maintenance, since you’re not dealing with honey. Just hang the box and let them do their thing. They’re also a great learning experience, and a great way to help the planet.

Why rent them? Well, each mason bee does the work of 100 honeybees. And at the end of the season, 50 mason bees can produce 500 eggs. When you send them back free of charge, the company will clean each cocoon and sterilize each nesting block to free them of predators and then safely keep them in hibernation under just the right conditions. The next season, they send these healthy bees to farmers, who need 1000 bees per acre to pollinate their crops, which, in turn, feed all of us.

What’s not to love about this program? If you’re interested, you better hurry, though, because they ship the last mason bees of the season on April 26th. So get your bee on!

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A Brilliant Backyard Idea

Every once in a while I’ll stumble across a business plan that’s so quirky and magnificent that I just have to share it. When people think out of the box and it resonates with me, I just naturally want them to succeed, because, well, the world needs this product or service. That’s how I feel about Rent-A-Chicken.

In a world where we have become more and more skeptical about our food sources, this is an idea whose time has come. Urban farming is becoming increasingly popular. I love the little garden in our back yard. I savor every tomato, strawberry, onion, clove of garlic, etc. that comes from it. I love that we have blackberries and pears and apples in the park that surrounds us. We have also put up a bat house and are planning a bug house and we plant flowers that are good for the bees and hummingbirds. I like the idea of giving back to the planet while also sharing in its abundance. It would be amazing to have fresh eggs, from well-loved chickens, too.

For the price of the chicken rental (the amount of which appears nowhere on the website, and believe you me, I’ve complained to them about that) you get laying hens, a coop, an enclosed run, food, a water dispenser, delivery, training on chicken care, and a help desk. They’ll even house your chicken over the labor-intensive winter for you, and tag it so you can get the same hen back the following year, in case you become attached (which I’m quite sure I would.)

The thought of city-dwelling parents introducing their children to some aspect of farming makes me really happy. I think raising chickens would make the youth of today a lot more aware of where food comes from. It would also make them see how important it is to take care of our environment.

I also love the idea that there are franchises available for farmers. It’s so much harder for them to keep afloat these days that increasing their ability to bring in extra money appeals to me greatly. Currently, I can’t Rent-A-Chicken in the Seattle area, which breaks my heart. So, area farmers, are you listening? We need you to become cluckin’ entrepreneurs!


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Because Why?

So, the other day, some idiot left a rental bike on the movable part of one of our drawbridges here in Seattle. It’s not the first time someone has gotten that bright idea, and it probably won’t be the last. But this one was destructive and expensive. I’m glad I wasn’t on duty.

Unfortunately, the bike was parked in such a way that the bridgetender couldn’t see it prior to opening the bridge for a boat. The movement caused the bike to be caught in the span, and when the operator attempted to close the bridge, he couldn’t. He had to raise the bridge up a bit, and with the help of a pedestrian, he was then able to pull the bike out.


But then when he tried to close the bridge again, the bridge wasn’t in the mood to cooperate. Mechanics had to be called. The bridge couldn’t be opened for traffic or for vessels for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The things pranksters don’t ever seem to take into account are consequences.

  • If that bike had fallen during the opening, it could have severely hurt, or possibly even killed, a pedestrian.

  • If it had fallen into the canal, it could have struck someone in a vessel crossing under the bridge.

  • The bike was ruined, and those things aren’t cheap.

  • The bridge was damaged, causing the taxpayers of Seattle a great deal of expense.

  • Traffic was backed up for miles. People may have lost jobs because they arrived late to work. Sick people might not have gotten to the doctor. Kids may have missed school, thus increasing the potential that they, too, will be stupid enough to pull a trick like this someday.

  • Idling cars caused pollution.

  • Road rage spiked.

  • Commercial vessels were not able to transit the canal, and were therefore unable to deliver their payloads on schedule, which caused independent truckers at the docks to lose time and money.

I hope you got a good laugh, genius. Oh, and by the way, if you were the last person to rent that bike before dumping it on the drawbridge (which is highly likely, since the back wheel won’t roll without credit card authorization), I hope they’re tracking you down via your card even as we speak. If so, the joke is going to be on you.


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Bike-Share Stupidity

It happened again the other day. Some fool left a bike-share bike on the movable portion of my drawbridge. Fortunately, I’m used to looking out for this, because if I were to open the bridge with a bike on it, it could fall down and take out a pedestrian, or even worse, my parked car. (Just kidding that the car damage would be worse. I’d never forgive myself if someone got hurt on my watch.)

I’ve also seen these rental bikes abandoned as far south as Renton, even though they’re not supposed to leave the city of Seattle. It usually takes several days for the company to find and retrieve them. That means they’re not available for another user during that period.

Even worse, I recently read a Seattle Times article about a bike-share bike being left on a ferry. The Coast Guard had to treat it as a potential man overboard. This unnecessary rescue operation cost the taxpayers $17,000, and this is not the first time it has happened.

Another Seattle Times article warns that some bikes have been found with the brake lines cut. That’s not funny. Unless you’re into being a murderer without even witnessing the crime, I suppose. What kind of a sick, twisted human being does that? Check these bikes thoroughly before you use them, folks.

I love that there are several bike rental companies in Seattle. Anything that cuts down the traffic congestion gets my vote. And we all benefit if commuting is more green and affordable. But we also have to behave responsibly so that this privilege isn’t taken away. These companies are not charities. Too many expenses cutting into their profit margin and they’ll soon decide it’s not worth it. Then we all lose.

bike share

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Good Help

Sometimes it’s hard for me to maintain my liberal perspective. Oh, my day started off well. I was at my rental place for the very last time, having moved all my stuff out. I was eagerly awaiting the cleaners I had hired, in hopes of getting more of my rental deposits back.

Yeah, I guess I could have done it myself, but did I feel like it, after all this packing and moving and all the unpacking still in my future? Heck no. And since the company owner said it would be a ballpark figure of $200, I was thinking of it as money well spent. I’d be helping put money into the economy, and giving business to a mom and pop company. It’s all good.

I had no idea what a nightmare this day would become.

Since it was to be a cleaning crew, I was guessing maybe 4 hours work. That seemed reasonable. All the furniture was gone. The carpet had already been professionally cleaned the previous day, and I had done a cursory vacuuming of all the non-carpeted rooms. So I figured I’d hang out in my beloved back yard one last time, maybe take a few cuttings from some of my favorite plants, in hopes they’d take root in my new home. And I’d bring a book. The time should pass by quickly.

But then the “crew” arrived. It was one tiny little woman, who couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds, soaking wet. She said her boss couldn’t come that day, so he sent her. Well… if the boss trusted her, then I would, I suppose.

I asked her how long she thought it would take, and she said it would be hard to say at this point. Fair enough. No doubt she would tell me once she got a better sense of the place.

But now the liberal guilt set in. I never had a maid in my life, and now here I was, lounging in the back yard, while this poor little woman toiled away. I wondered how much of the money she would get. What a thankless, hard, boring job. I felt as if I were exploiting her.

When I expressed my concerns to a friend, he suggested I give her a big fat tip in cash at the end of the job. What a great idea. That’s what I would do.

She started off by vacuuming the cobwebs. And as I was hypnotized by the sound of the vacuum, I came to realize that I was developing a really bad sinus headache. Not good. I had no meds with me. And this was the worst possible kind of sinus headache– the kind where the stuff drains down the back of your throat and makes you nauseous. I spent the next couple hours vomiting in the bushes. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty miserable. I didn’t want to wake my neighbors, so I sat there feeling like death until I saw them put their dogs out, and then I went over and begged for meds, which they kindly provided. I started feeling better again after that.

During all of that, my focus had naturally shifted away from the house and toward the bushes. But once I was on the mend I realized that no sounds were coming from the house. When I walked in, she was standing in the middle of the room, with no cleaning supplies nearby, eating a snack. Well, everyone is entitled to a break, right? So I just asked how it was going, and she said fine. I didn’t press her for a timeframe. I didn’t want to disturb her break. Stupid me.

I went out and lay on a big patch of soft moss, and promptly fell asleep. (I’m really going to miss that yard.)

What woke me up was her coming out into the yard with her lunch. I think she was really surprised to see me there. She explained she needed a break. I said, “Of course.” I left her alone.

From the looks of it, in the 4 hours she had been there, she had yet to touch the kitchen or the bathroom. I was kind of shocked, but she had assured me that she had been cleaning houses for this property manager for many years, and knew exactly what he expected, so I supposed she was being thorough. The other rooms did look good, but I didn’t think they had looked particularly bad in the first place.

After she finished her lunch, I asked if I had time to go down the street and get something to eat myself. I was starting to get the shakes. I hadn’t expected to be there that long. She said yes, of course. That would have been a good time to tell me how much longer it would be, but she didn’t. Okay, fine. I was hungry. I left.

When I came back, she was cleaning the bathroom. Yay! Progress! I went back into the yard and had my lunch.

From where I sat I could see the kitchen. I kept expecting to see her in there. But no. I read my book. But by now 5 hours had passed. I was getting irritated, and bored.

By hour 7 I was afraid I was going to shout at her. I was feeling really ripped off. But I don’t want to be one of those people. You know, the kind who talk down to people. The kind who are rude to waitresses and bell boys and the like. That is not who I am. I’m one of the good guys! I’m a liberal!

But I would be damned if she was going to get that tip now. She was milking this job for all it was worth, as far as I was concerned.

I needed to get away from this woman, so I asked her if I had time to go grocery shopping. She said it would probably be 2 more hours. She also said it would be $315, which is so far from that $200 ballpark that you probably couldn’t even hear the cheering crowds from there. My jaw dropped. Then she told me that she could give me a discount. If I paid in cash, it would be $290. That seemed a little sketchy to me, but it’s a moot point. I had no way to get my hands on that kind of money that late in the freakin’ day, and I hadn’t used my ATM card in about a billion years, and could no longer remember the code.

At hour 9, I got back from the grocery store to find her eating a cookie and staring vacantly at the washing machine, which she had accidentally filled with water. She said she couldn’t figure out how to empty it. So I turned it on. She thanked me.

By now I was so frustrated that I was on the verge of tears. I was tired. I just wanted to go home. By hour 10, after watching her slowly move throughout the kitchen, the dam broke. I started to cry. I don’t cry when I’m sad. I cry when I’m pissed off. I was pissed off.

I wrote the check. I walked next door. I told my neighbor that I couldn’t take it anymore. I was going to pay the bitch the $315, and would she see that the house was locked up after she left? She said yes she would.

So I went in with the check, tears streaming down my face, and handed it to her. And she had the nerve to say that it had taken longer than she anticipated, so she was running the dishwasher to let it clean itself. I had my doubts about the efficacy of this, but I had to leave there right that second to avoid getting arrested. So I handed her the check and she said that since it took so long, it would cost even more.

I said, through gritted teeth, “No. No. I’ve already written the check. Do you want it?” She took the damned check.

And then she had the nerve to say, “Do you have any questions before I go?”

I was tempted to say, “How the f*** do you sleep at night?” But I just said “No.”

And off she went, after 10 hours.

I swear to you, I never thought these words would ever pass my lips, and I know they don’t make me look pretty, but you really can’t get good help these days.

cleaning lady

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Dear New Tenants

When you rent a place that you know has been a rental property for many years, you tend to think of it as having no emotional history whatsoever. It’s easy to assume that it’s just a space that has been occupied by a long line of non-owners who came, paid their rent, and then moved on. Maybe I’m unique in this way, but I like to think that the house I am in has been a home, and I’m just continuing that tradition. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write a letter to the people who are about to move into the place I’ve just vacated.

Dear New Tenants:

Welcome to your new home. My name is Barb, and I have lived here with my dogs for the past 3 years. It’s hard for me to leave this place. I’ve loved every minute of my stay here.

I came here from Florida, and I didn’t know a soul. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest before, and it was all very new to me. It’s kind of scary to start over when you’re in your 50’s, but that’s what I did.

As I struggled to get used to a new job and make new friends, and as I attempted to grasp a completely different culture, this house was my stability. I looked forward to coming home each day. In the warmer months I would sit in this wonderful back yard and eat my dinner while my dogs played, and the wind blew gently through the trees. I’d watch the birds and bask in the peaceful solitude.

When feeling sad or lonely, I’d take a nice long bath. And I’ve always felt safe here, so I was able to sleep better in this place than I have anywhere in my entire life. I’ll miss cooking in the kitchen and gazing out the window. I’ve made plans here. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried here.

Paula and Kevin and Jackson next door have become very good friends to me, and I will miss knowing they are only a shout away. I’ve had many delightful conversations with them as they stood in their back yard and I looked down from my bedroom window. If you have any questions about the neighborhood, I’m sure they would be happy to answer them for you. Also, if you have any questions specifically about this wonderful house, they know how to contact me.

I have bought a house down in Xxxxxxxx, simply because I knew that rent in this area would be going up each year, and would quickly get too expensive for me. If not for that, I’d have stayed here for the rest of my days. I will have tears in my eyes when I lock the door for the final time.

I hope you come to love this place as much as I did, and that you continue to fill it with happy memories. I wish you well.


welcome home

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The Size of the Fight in the Dog

So, I’m trying to get out of my rental lease early, in order to move into my new (to me) house. That means I need to swallow really hard and allow potential renters to root around in my underwear drawer in my absence. My dog Quagmire is less than thrilled by this process.

You’ve got to understand, Quagmire is a little bad ass. He’s been through a lot in his life. He refuses to talk about it. But he was found running the streets, half starved to death. He wasn’t fixed, and he’s middle aged, so the only thing I can guess is that he escaped from, or was ejected from, a puppy mill.

Needless to say, he’s not a people dog. He is bonded to me, for sure. That little Dachshund manages to keep me warm at night. But no one else is allowed in our house. Not if he has anything to say about it.

He once bit a cop on the ankle. Well, technically, he gummed a cop on the ankle, because I had to have his front teeth removed when I adopted him. They were all cracked. Someone must have kicked him. But the cop had no way of knowing that. I’m grateful that he didn’t discharge his weapon.

I haven’t had many visitors since Quagmire moved in. He gummed a friend of mine who never liked dogs in the first place. If anyone so much as knocks on the door, he barks and lunges and growls.

In essence, I’m living with a wiener-shaped Pitt Bull with a major chip on his shoulder. Well, as the saying goes, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. So good luck, potential renters! You are about to encounter a furry little ninja! Try not to take it personally.

Update: We found a renter just yesterday! I don’t know who is more relieved, my dog or me!


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Shipping Container Chic

No doubt about it. Seattle is booming. The city bird should be the construction crane. Despite the astonishing number of buildings being erected, contractors can barely keep up with the housing demand.

Because of this, landlords know they can basically charge whatever they like in rent. According to Rent Jungle, as of May 2015, the average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle was $1853. One bedroom apartments rent for $1501 on average, and two bedroom apartment rents average $2015 per month.

This, to me, is obscene, but it gets worse. Since it obviously is quite profitable to own apartment buildings in this town, they’re cropping up like mushrooms overnight. And they’re being built as cheaply as possible, with little or no regard for aesthetics.

There’s an architectural trend in this city that I like to call “Shipping Container Chic” because these buildings look like your basic metal shipping containers, stacked one on top of the other, and the apartments themselves have about that much charm. And half the time no allowances are being made for parking, which is adding to Seattle’s gridlock.

The proliferation of this style means that this city is getting uglier by the minute, but apparently that’s okay, because, by God, it’s profitable. If this keeps up, the whole area will harken back to Communist era housing, with a little bit of colored paint thrown in as an afterthought. What ever happened to style and variety? Ugh.

Shipping5 Shipping Shipping3

Points to Ponder Before Getting a Dog

I love dogs. I’ve had at least one my entire adult life. They are an amazing source of unconditional love and companionship and entertainment. They supply much needed body heat on cold winter mornings. And they are great, discreet listeners.

The two dogs I have now, Blue and Devo, have seen me through a lot of changes. My return to college. My drive all the way across the country. And when my boyfriend died, their soft fur often dried my tears. They are my best friends.

Having said that, there are certain responsibilities that you take on when getting a dog that many people don’t even consider. But you owe it to a dog to think about these things before you bring it home. Its very life will be in your hands. That’s a big deal.

First of all, if you are someone who likes to go out for coffee with friends after work, you can forget about that. If you own a dog, you’ll have to go straight home and let him out to pee. In fact, your whole world will revolve around your dog’s pee schedule. And the smaller the dog, the smaller his or her bladder will be. So forget about sleeping in on a Sunday morning. If you don’t have a safely fenced yard, you will be walking this dog, rain or shine, cold weather or warm, several times a day, for the rest of its life. If you don’t see this as a pleasure, you may not be a dog person.

There are also the expenses to consider. Dog food isn’t cheap. (And don’t you DARE go for that Walmart Rob Roy stuff. It has no nutritional value, and it is the doggy equivalent of torture by food.) Vet bills aren’t cheap either, and you’ll have those at least once a year when you get their annual shots. And if they wind up with a chronic, not life threatening, ailment, that can cost a fortune, too. Then there are city licenses, pet rental deposits, the occasional toy or treat, and if you want to travel without your dog, kennel expenses or dog sitters can cost nearly as much as your hotel bill.

And expect to have increased housework. More sweeping, mopping, and carpet shampooing. And a dog needs a bath now and then, and its nails will need clipping. And I guarantee you that at least once in your dog’s life, you’re going to come home to find garbage strewn all over the house. It seems to be some sort of rite of passage. And if you think they’re going to keep their muddy paws off your furniture, think again. In fact, you can forget about having nice furniture.

If you’re a renter, your landlord won’t like you anymore. He’ll be worried that the dog is destroying the dwelling and/or infesting it with fleas, and he’ll make you pay through the nose for that. And your neighbors will complain when the dog barks. Count on it. The majority of people won’t rent to you at all. Full stop.

Oh, and fleas. Don’t even get me started. Fleas, ticks, dead animals, rolling in cat poo (the dog, not you)… all these things will become a part of your life.

But believe it or not, I’m not trying to talk you out of owning a dog. In fact, I highly recommend it. I just want you to think it through and know what you’re getting yourself into. Knowledge is power.

So many dogs need good and loving homes. And if you get one, I hope you’ll consider a rescue, and never buy from a pet shop. They just encourage puppy mills.

Remember, too, that dogs are social creatures. So if you leave your dog all alone, tied up in your back yard, I may just have to hunt you down and force feed you a 25 pound bag of dried kibble. And for heaven’s sake, please spay or neuter your pet. It’s the right thing to do.

(These are my boys. The photos were taken by me, and then artistically enhanced via Photoshop by my friend Martin. Thanks, man!)

serenity-pup-2a serenity-pup-1

Making Myself at Home

I moved to Seattle from Florida at the end of August, and I still have a ton of boxes that I haven’t gotten around to unpacking. My focus has been elsewhere. I’ve been trying to learn my way around this city. I’ve been trying to fit in at work. I’ve been coping with tendonitis and therefore navigating the health care system.

The other day it occurred to me that I haven’t hung a single thing on my walls. Everything in this house is functional, but it isn’t particularly personal. It’s time to make this house a home.

I do feel a certain gut resistance to this process. This is, after all, a rental, and I’ll move out eventually. Why go through the hassle of putting up pictures? But in this outrageous housing market, it’s quite likely that I’ll always be a renter. I may as well settle in. Life is what happens while you’re puttering around in your environment, whether it’s a sterile one or a cozy one.

So today I hung one of my Turkish tapestries and put up my wall mounted key box that I’ve used for decades, and tried to get the broken shards of lightbulb base out of my stained glass lamp so it could light up again. I put a scented candle on the table. Maybe I’ll even get around to cleaning the table off.

Building one’s nest is a process. It’s about time I got started.


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