Saturday, June 3, 2023

Miracle Dog

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 5, 2023] ©2023

Against all odds, our beloved dog is still with us.  Cancelling the in-home euthanasia service was one of the happiest moments of our lives.  She is truly a miracle dog.

We’d adopted this then-7-year-old dog back in 2016 after she was placed in our home as a “one week emergency foster” by a rescue agency. They saw us for the mushballs that we were. That dog had us at “arf.”

Her entire mouth was rotten (hence her relinquishment to the pound) so we instantly incurred $1,500 in doggie dental work.  In 2020 and again in 2022, she blew out first her left ACL (knee) and then her right.

By late last fall, she finally seemed fully recovered from the second knee surgery.  But then she suddenly stopped eating.  My husband Olof became a dog food whisperer, sitting on the floor with her trying to entice her to lick homemade mush, or even just warm beef broth, off his fingers.  Her harness hung off her as her weight dropped daily.

A critical diagnostic sign: She stopped barking at the mailman.

She underwent every lab test and scan known to dog, with several genuinely earnest vets. Everything came back normal. One vet said this was the healthiest starving animal she’d ever treated. The dog was treated with multiple anti-nausea shots and pills, probiotics, antacids, all manner of stomach soothers, and expensive special diets. Nothing helped. Not eating.

Puzzlingly, she was also having difficulty standing up, and going up and down our two front steps. Yet spinal x-rays were normal too.

As a last-ditch effort, we took her to an internal medicine specialist.  We were already well into the five figures in vet bills in the last year between her second knee surgery and all the diagnostic tests and treatments.  How much further were we willing to go?

The internist there spent considerable time reviewing the dog’s voluminous records and went through a very long list of all the possibilities for her anorexia, many of them having treatments that would be unacceptable to us.  For example, Cushing’s Disease was a major possibility, but it would be caused by a pituitary tumor which would need brain surgery or radiation. Perhaps she had inflammatory bowel disease, or a fungal GI disease like histoplasmosis (more sophisticated tests would be needed than the parasites she’d already been tested for), or intestinal cancer (her previous abdominal ultrasound should be repeated), maybe low-grade pancreatitis, or a long list of other possibilities, some treatable, others not very. Steroid therapy would have many side effects, especially on her heart, and if she had Cushings, would make that worse.  They would definitely want to do some biopsies. We had been desperately hoping that something obvious would jump out at the doctor that had been missed. 

When they gave us estimate for the first round of diagnostic tests, it was $5,100. 

Alternatively, they could insert an esophageal feeding tube under anesthesia.

We declined both.

Clutching the dog on my lap, I sobbed into her fur all the way home.  I think Olof would have been sobbing too if he hadn't been driving.  Our last hope was gone.  We had already begun researching the in-home euthanasia services. Olof was especially adamant that we weren't going to watch this dog starve to death. But how do you put down a dog for whom you have no diagnosis? 

And then the miracle. By pure serendipity, I was given the name of a retired vet, recently moved to the area, who had practiced integrated veterinary medicine, i.e., both eastern and western approaches. He kindly agreed to see the dog the next day.  Olof thought it was a waste of time.

Two minutes into his exam, the vet noted, “Well, first thing I’m seeing is that her jaw is dislocated.  No wonder she won’t eat.”  Her SI (sacroiliac) joint was also out of place.  He gently manipulated her jaw, and also her spine, followed by acupuncture. She devoured half a bag of soft treats before leaving.

We had been keeping small dishes of food on her mat hoping to entice her to eat.  When I brought her home, she devoured all three. 

It’s been four months since that day. This wonderful man has graciously seen her several times since to check her jaw and SI joint alignment.  He prescribed various herbs as well which we frankly would have rolled our eyes at before all this. Olof has become an ace capsule filler.

The dog will be 14 soon. She’s definitely got old dog issues, a little stiff when she gets up, but no problems with steps. She’s a picky eater but she eats all on her own and has regained all her lost weight. And in the truest sign of recovery, is barking lustily again at what Olof refers to as “Fed Ex charcuterie.” 

So what happened?  Did she have a fall at home that we didn’t see? At the groomers? It will probably always be a mystery. 

We’re been incredibly grateful for every moment that she’s remained in our lives. And beyond grateful to the vet who saved her. 


January, 2023: Olof tries to get Lily to lick food off his fingers

                                   Won't even eat chicken - her formerly favorite treat

                      We leave out a selection of food and treats to tempt her, to no avail

                                                      Not even interested in toys

                   February 15 - Comes home from miracle vet and cleans up her plate

Olof has become a pro at capsule filling of Lily's prescribed herbs

Sunday, May 28, 2023

It Was Not Amazing

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published May 29, 2023] ©2023

 When you think of all the amazing gains in technology, one can only wonder why one of them isn't inventing stickers that are easy to remove from glassware. I mean, we've put a vehicle on Mars.  So you wouldn't think the sticker situation would be that big a problem. 

Believe me, it is.  I'm talking about a company I'll call Glassware Guys. 

Don't get me wrong. Probably 90% of the glassware and acrylicware in my home comes from them.  Great selection. Good prices. Attractive. Durable. 

Frankly, I haven't bought much in the way of beverage ware all that recently since we're in the downsizing rather than accumulating mode of our lives.  But the acrylic glasses are perfect for taking an adult beverage down to watch the sunset in glass-prohibited areas.  Which is pretty much everywhere along the coast, even on cliffs.  Our acrylicware was suffering from Chardonnay fatigue.

Fortunately, the type we like was still in stock.  But my happiness was short lived when both the sides and bottoms had stickers on them that appeared to have been baked into the plastic itself. 

Now, I’m no virgin where it comes to sticker removal.  Over the years, I’ve used hair dryers, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, Goo-Be-Gone, pre-wash spray, 409, baby oil, peanut butter, corn meal, talcum powder, and plain old hot water.

But these suckers, er, stickers, especially the ones on the bottoms, weren’t budging. Especially the sticky residue underneath. 

One has to ask oneself: is there a reason they need to use industrial-strength super glue on glass or plastic ware to attach a sticker that has a 100% probability of needing to be removed?  It’s not like these stickers need to be able to stay stuck into the next millennium for purposes of post-apocalyptic identification. 

So, I decided to see what the “Glassware Guys” themselves might recommend.  In fact, I was sure that when I searched “How to remove stickers from glassware” on their site, the link would pop right up.  But it didn’t.  So, I decided to try Chat.

Here’s a partial transcript of this 30+ minute conversation:

Glassware Guys: Tell us in your own words [who else’s words were they thinking of?] how we can best help you.

7:12 p.m. Inga:  I just got my acrylicware and can’t get the stickers off the sides and bottom. Help?

(7:15) Hi, my name is Jeffrey H., thank you for contacting Glassware Guys! I’ll be happy to assist you! 

(7:16) Inga:  I just received my 15-ounce acrylic glassware and love it but am having trouble removing stickers from both sides and bottom of glasses.  Don’t want to scratch it.

(7:20) Jeffrey H: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that you are having trouble with your amazing glassware.


(7:25) Jeffrey H:  Oh, I’m sorry about this situation. 

(7:27) Jeffrey H: Let me check if I can find useful information for your issue.

(7:27) Inga [getting impatient and surly.  Why is each non-helpful reply taking 4-5 minutes?  Is he playing Fortnite between replies?]  I can’t believe you don’t get this question 100 times per day! 

(7:28) Jeffrey H: Just to confirm, is for the amazing Acrylic Drinkware, correct? 

(7:28) Inga: YES!!!

(7:34) Jeffrey H: I just sent you an email with all the details we have for this amazing item 

(7:34) [Email has full description of the acrylicware, including its construction and dimensions. But nothing about stickers.]

(7:38) Inga:  Just got your email with absolutely no information about how to remove stickers.  Officially giving up.

(7:39) Jeffrey H:  I’m truly and genuine [sic] sorry for this situation. 

(7:40) Jeffrey H: If you want to know how to get sticker residue off plastic, wood, or glass, rubbing alcohol is an effective solvent that’s safe for most surfaces.

(7:40) Inga: That’s what I was asking a half hour ago!  And yes, I’ve tried that!  

(7:41) Jeffrey H: Thanks for chatting, Inga! If you have more questions, please chat again to pick up where we left off.  

(7:45) Inga: Why on God's green earth would I do that?????  Goodnight! Gaaaaahhhhh! 

It was clear to me that “Jeffrey H.” was a bot whose developer had failed AI 101.  So, imagine my surprise to get an email shortly thereafter from Glassware Guys with a smiling photo of Jeffrey H. and his dog.  “Jeffrey is proud to be a part of the Glassware Guys family.  His goal is to always provide a seamless and excellent experience. How satisfied are you with the service you received from Jeffrey H. today?”

Um, needs a new occupation?

Honestly, if I were Glassware Guys, I’d be selling my own brand of sticker removal prominently on the website.  Or I’d be contacting 3M whose amazing but now-deceased chemist Spencer Silver created Post-it Notes (my column June 2, 2021).  These folks know glue. Because no one should have to work that hard to remove stickers from glassware or anything else.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Reversing Roles

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 15, 2023] ©2023

Communication styles are the subject of endless magazine articles and MSN relationship quizzes.  This is a topic that has long fascinated me given that Olof and I have observed that our roles in our first marriages changed dramatically in our second.  Some 180 degrees.

You wouldn’t think this was possible.  It definitely takes some resetting of your self-view to find that your second spouse sees your strengths and weaknesses completely differently from the first one 

For example, Olof’s one misgiving about his first wife was that she came from a background where communication was never done directly.  Trying to figure out what she wanted always felt like a jigsaw puzzle to which he seemed to be perpetually missing the edge pieces, and the big flower piece in the middle as well.  Over time, he learned to read cues, pick up on nuances, and fine tune his intuitive skills. But it was hard work.

After they divorced, he told himself that if he ever married again, it would be with someone with more direct communication skills.

Come back wife with poor communication skills. All is forgiven.

Olof, who is never ever mean, has occasionally suggested in the nicest possible way that he has not a single teeny weeny doubt about how I ever feel about anything, including and especially about him.

As far as Olof is concerned, my TMI filter was broken at birth.  But actually, it just runs in completely different directions than his.  An engineer and a former Air Force pilot, most of his areas of TMI tend to exist in the murky underworld of “feelings.”  A sentence that starts with “I feel” is not ever going to come out of this man’s mouth.

Now, keep in mind that Olof is hardly a curmudgeonly undemonstrative kind of guy.  He’s out-going, universally liked (which I find very annoying), incredibly kind, and has a great sense of humor.  

In Olof’s and my marriage, ironically, I’m usually the one trying to figure what Olof is thinking.  Olof’s view of communication is that couples should be able to talk to each other about anything. So long, he adds, as you never actually do it. 

He will never offer an opinion about anything personal unless asked.  Nay, begged.  No, implored.  Actions, he maintains, speak louder than words.

OK, but as I’ve pointed out to him on more than a few occasions, sometimes words would come in really handy.

At this point in our lives, the only on-going issue we have is about the dishwasher, a topic I’ve addressed several times.  Olof graciously took over the dishes after he retired, although I think it might have been self-defense.  I’m not the worst housekeeper in the world although it has been suggested I’m a contender. (Was he a single working carpooling Cub Scout-leading parent for 12 years??? I think not. 

Housekeeping is definitely a role that has changed 180 degrees for me. Olof says that it is too frightening to imagine that I was considered the neat one in my former marriage.  My ex was, by his own admission, a total slob, although he preferred the word “casual.”  I wrote a column about him packing up three weeks of unwashed dishes when he was moving out of his medical school apartment and storing them for the summer in my parents’ damp New Jersey basement. The smell lingered for a decade.

Olof, the communicative one in his first marriage, confesses he has a hard time seeing himself now as the less communicative one in ours. 

I think from his viewpoint, offering solicited or unsolicited opinions about any aspect of a wife is a mine field to be avoided at all costs.  He can visualize the grenades imploding on the serenity of his personal life, the conflagration of hard-earned husband points. But as for me being the “neat” one in my former marriage, he says if he’d been our cleaning lady, he would have shot himself.

And yet, in spite of numerous conversations, we still can’t agree about the dishwasher.  I won’t belabor my previous columns on this subject, but he runs the dishwasher practically empty.  It makes me nuts.

 “Inga,” I have to say to myself.  “Step AWAY from the dishwasher!  The man is DOING THE DISHES.  If he wants to run it with two friggin’ forks, let him!” 

Those aforementioned self-help articles on MSN recommend using “I” instatements instead of “you” statements to resolve conflict, such as: “I need you to put more than three plates and a coffee cup into the dishwasher before you run it because it annoys the hell out of me.”  Rather than: “Are you aware that our last dishwasher – loaded totally by me – lasted 18 years?  That’s because it actually was full of dishes when I ran it. Do you understand?”

I think it’s all pretty clear.

How Olof runs the dishwasher

How Inga runs the dishwasher



Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Sliderule Rules

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 8, 2023] ©2023 

Amazingly enough, Olof and his six fellow-physics-major college roommates have managed almost yearly reunions for six decades.  Some year’s reunions were related to weddings or milestone birthdays, others for no reason other than the pleasure of getting together.  Who could have predicted the long-term bonding behind force = mass x acceleration?

The pandemic put a bit of a crimp on things so to make for lost time, we hosted a reunion in La Jolla in April. 

Part of our appeal was that the other six couples were coming off cold winters in Boston, Toronto, Minneapolis, Seattle, Eugene, and the Bay area. They were looking for sunshine and warmth. 

On the day that they arrived, it was warmer in every one of those places than La Jolla.  In fact, the couple coming from Woodbury, Minnesota noted that they left a 76-degree day to come to a city with a high of 57 and drizzle. 

Of the four days, we did get one day of sunshine, but the temperature never broke 60.  The day before the four-day reunion was to begin, I emailed everyone to bring jackets.  As in warm ones.

OK, for most of them “warm ones” were anoraks. And they hardly considered a high of 57 to be sub-Arctic.  And was “drizzle” even considered weather? 

But for us Southern Californians, this is unacceptable weather for April.  Especially precipitation in any form.  Plans had to be altered.

Given the circumstances, we decided it behooved us to ramp up the adult beverage selection to a full bar.  That way people might not realize it was actually raining (ok drizzling) outside 

This being a group of physics majors who have all gone on to successful geeky careers, I brought out the slide rule that I gave Olof for Christmas a few years ago which, as you might imagine, brought back a wave of nostalgia as the group giddily relived the calculation of such functions as exponents, roots, logarithms, and whatever else slide rules did.  Good Scotch and a slide rule: do we know how to entertain or what?

A few times over the years, the guys have gone on geek fests by themselves.

One of Olof’s roommates formerly lived in eastern Washington state, and as it turns out, there is no lack of tech-y, physics-y stuff to do there.  Fearing glassy-eyed spouses whining “Is it lunch time yet?” they opted that year to re-une without us.

Up first for the guys was a trip to Hanford for a tour of Reactor B where plutonium was first manufactured as part of the Manhattan Project followed by a day at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) which is a large-scale physics laboratory aimed at directly detecting gravitational waves.  For people with Olof's background, life doesn't get more exciting than this. 

Then it was a drive back across the state to Everett, Washington for a tour of the Boeing factory where airplanes are manufactured. I hear they got misty-eyed. 

En route, a brief somewhat sentimental side trip was taken to visit the nearby potato farm that was one of the roommate's long-ago first investment. In fact, he had tried to entice Olof to move up there to manage a processing plant that would convert all those potatoes into frozen potato products.  Olof's vision for himself at the time didn't include being a spud farmer in eastern Washington. 

"Just think, Olof," I said upon hearing this, "if you'd taken this path, imagine all the life experiences you would have missed, like four years in Riyadh, a year in Dayton, 18 months at the Dallas airport, all those trips to Biloxi, and more than a million miles on an airplane.  You could have just had a quiet life in Yakima churning out French fries!"

Whenever Olof and I have traveled over the years, Olof was always immediately attracted to the technical aspects of whatever we were doing.  When we lived in Sweden and were considering a trip up above the Arctic Circle to Kiruna, friends said, “Why would you go there?  There is nothing there but a huge iron ore mine.”  Olof lit up like a Christmas tree. “There’s a mine?”  (As an engineer, Olof’s heart beats faster at the thought of excavation.)  When he learned that one could take a three-hour mine tour, this trip was sealed in steel.

Another time, we took a large passenger ferry across the Baltic. As soon as the boat started moving, I was clicking away at the scenery and Olof was hanging precariously over the rail studying the ships steering capability and babbling excitedly about vector thrusters.  Engineers are very big on thrusters. (Or is it vectors? 

Well, the weather could have been better for this year’s reunion (in Olof’s and my opinion, at least) but a good time was had by all. And that 2019 eBay-purchased slide rule saw more action than it had in its entire life.




Saturday, April 29, 2023

Trying To Understand Streetlight Math

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 1, 2023] ©2023

There’s been a lot of publicity lately as to whether the city should install 500 “smart” streetlights with cameras to help deter crime.  At this point, we just wish they’d fix the dumb ones. 

We have a particular interest in this problem since one of those less-intelligent streetlights is  right in front of our house and has cast our corner into such darkness that we need flashlights to find our front gate at night.  Even our dog is hesitant to step off the front porch into the abyss. 

Several articles in the Light have recently addressed the issue of the 5,900 (and counting) broken streetlights (out of 57,000 in the city) and the city’s alleged efforts to fix them.  I say “alleged” because I just can’t make the math work.

The way we calculate it, the streetlight on our corner will not be fixed in our lifetimes. Especially, as City Councilman Joe LaCava has noted, “streetlights are failing faster than we can replace them.”

Various statistics have been bandied about as to how long it takes a streetlight to be repaired once it is reported on Get It Done.  The Light reported on March 9 that streetlight repairs now get done “an average of 272 days after a problem is reported.”  In a follow-up piece on April 20, the paper noted that many local citizens reported no repairs “well over a thousand days since their reports were filed.”

A TV news report of a neighborhood in Southeast recently reported that their streetlights had been out for eight years. 

I’m not a mathematician but this would be well over an average of 272 days. 

The city is apparently trying to catch up with the backlog by hiring electricians as independent contractors with the hope of repairing “800 streetlights in the next year.”

Which means that, absent accurate data on how many streetlights are fixed by the city itself, our broken streetlight, posted on Get it Done in early February, could well not be fixed for more than seven years. 

I had originally been encouraged to note when I checked back on our Get It Done request that our streetlight repair had been designated “In process.”  But while watching the news clip of the neighborhood whose streetlights had been out for eight years, theirs said “In process” too.

So what exactly does “in process” mean?  I’m detecting some slippery semantics here.  It is the illusion of in progress without actually being.

Our streetlight repair is further complicated by the fact that, as I have discovered over the decades I’ve lived at my quirky address, neither SD G&E nor the city of San Diego will lay claim to our street light.  Eerily, both insist that there is no street light in front of our house.  

Trying to get a non-existent streetlight repaired is problematical at best.  It has usually taken me at least six months each time (2003 and again in 2012) to prevail upon various parties at both SD G&E and the city to resolve this issue. (It’s the city’s street light.)  I consider the repair of a phantom streetlight not once but twice to be among my top life accomplishments and should be listed in my future obituary. 

But you can’t prevail upon actual humans anymore; it has to be done through Get It Done. I posted photos of the street signs, of the light itself, and even the numbers on the bottom of the light. But I can easily see the city deciding “nope, not our light,” and axing it from the queue.

Honestly, if we could pay someone privately to fix it, we would. Fearful of breaking a hip while taking out the trash at night down our winding front walk, we have installed a string of Edison lights across the eaves in front of our house.  We’ve pondered placing a Craigs List ad for “person with tall ladder and light bulb changing experience.”  (Hint, hint.)

But even with the Edison lights, the street corner in front of the house is still terrifyingly dark.  We regularly hear the screeching of tires as cars barely make the turn at night.  Three times since we’ve lived here, cars have crashed through our front fence, one ending up inches from the house.

We were thinking of those Edison lights as a temporary measure until our “in process” street light repair burbled up to the top of the average-272-day queue but now we’re thinking we’re going to have to light our corner ourselves if we want Amazon to deliver in the dark and speeding cars to keep from ending up in our bedroom. The motion lights over our driveway just don’t each that far.

 Meanwhile, inquiring minds want to know:  who came up with this average-272-day figure?  And do all Get It Done requests automatically get an “in process” designation? Meanwhile, if you’ve got a tall ladder, you could be our new best friend.




Sunday, April 9, 2023

Bad Patient

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 10, 2023] ©2023

Over the years, my friends and I agree that husbands, when sick, tend to fall into one of two categories.  One group reverts to total incapacitation and needs last rites for a head cold.  The other refuses to acknowledge illness at any cost.

My husband is in that latter category.  He has always had a Do Not Feed the Lions approach to health care.  The less you tell them, he maintains, the fewer procedures will be inflicted upon you. 

Please note that this philosophy, while working well at times, has almost killed him at others.

Olof has always been a truly terrible patient, but after his 2018 heart attack and head injury (he did a face plant into our armoire on his way to the floor), I found it exasperating trying to nurse someone back to health who was utterly uncommunicative about how he was feeling.

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I said to Olof at the time, “but only one of us has a degree in nuclear physics. The other one is actually intelligent.  And cannot keep you alive without your verbal participation.”

It was incredibly stressful.

“Surely,” I’d implore, “there has to be some middle ground between denial of discomfort”  - the chest pain he claimed was “heart burn” -  and paramedics resuscitating you?”

Fortunately, he did make a full recovery, thanks to excellent medical care and his sainted wife. (That would be moi.) I even, ultimately, came to be fond of him again.

Such is Olof’s lack of cooperation in his health care that I have felt compelled to observe that if he should develop a long-term malady, I was putting him in a home.  Preferably the type you see on Sixty Minutes.

Here is an example of how it goes when Olof is ailing.  There was an occasion back in 2011 that I noticed him limping. Badly.  But he denied anything was wrong.  Even that he was limping. And even after he fished crutches from a long-ago athletic injury out of the hall closet.  His knee was significantly swollen but he insisted he hadn’t “done” anything to it.  He was wincing painfully and became perilously close to falling on multiple occasions, especially when navigating the two steps down to our bedroom. 

I, of course, suggested Advil and ice and elevation.  Olof was willing to consider elevation but not the Advil or the ice.  Especially not the Advil.  That stuff isn’t good for you, he insisted. 

Neither is falling on your head, I rejoined.

Olof’s theory is that if you take pharmaceuticals or other amelioratives (ice) then you don’t know when you’re better. 

“Actually, Olof,” I countered, “when the Advil wears off in eight hours and the pain returns, you’ll have a pretty good idea.  And you will have suffered less in the meantime, never mind reduced a lot of potentially-joint-harming inflammation.”  (I used to be married to a doctor. 

But Olof was stoically refusing all treatment, including and especially a trip to Urgent Care.

He was immune to threats.  “Just so we’re clear,” I announced to him on Day 5.  “I do not respond to medical emergencies after 9 p.m.  So if you fall after that time, I am merely putting a blanket over you – a scratchy one if it’s between 1 and 4 a.m. – and leaving you until morning.”

As Olof pointed out, he had had a similar affliction several years earlier although this time with his ankle.  He’d been worked up by our draconian primary care doctor at the time, Dr. No (as in no alcohol, no sugar, no starches.) She had a particular vendetta against pasta.  Olof loved pasta.

Dr. No sent Olof for x-rays and labs, citing a preliminary diagnosis of gout.  If so, she informed Olof, he would have to start eating a diet rich in low purine foods like coffee, bread, rice and…pasta.

Olof could barely believe his ears.  Did the “p” word actually across Dr. No’s rabidly carb-averse lips?  (We were so glad when she retired. 

Until the test results came back, Olof said, could I start making pasta every night?  Maybe lunch too?  Which, by the way, only he can have?  “You want pasta,” he added, “you’ve got to have your own gout.” 

Olof was suddenly one happy guy. This wasn’t a bad trade-off.  He loses a foot but gains pasta.

But three linguine-filled days later, it was determined that whatever was ailing Olof’s ankle was not gout.

Both Olof’s ankle and later the swollen knee resolved untreated and diagnosed within ten days.  Olof insisted his medical philosophy had once again been vindicated.  If you just leave things long enough, they will either get better or kill you.  Either of which is preferable to seeing a doctor.  Never mind that the “kill you” option very nearly happened several years later with the heart attack.

And as always, he recovered far sooner from his various afflictions than his wife did.




Sunday, April 2, 2023

10,000 Letters And Counting

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 3, 2023] ©2023

I am having a hard time believing that, God willing and the creek don’t rise (well any more than it has already risen in this incredibly wet winter), I will be posting my 500th “Let Inga Tell You” column in a few months 

Even my sons are a tad puzzled as to what I’ve found to write about over the last 14 years given that, as they put it, “you have no life.”

Of course, among the topics I’ve often written about is them.  Especially my older son Rory who has given me several life times of material. Most recently, I detailed the term paper he wrote about me for his college Abnormal Psychology class in his quest to understand how I was quite possibly the worst mother in the history of the world.

But this is the thing about writing: (almost) everything is fodder. 

Mostly I like to write about topics that I think will resonate with La Jolla readers.  I think I’ve lived here long enough to have a pretty good pulse on the community.  And while writing may not put much food in my refrigerator, it definitely feeds my soul.

People have asked me if I ever have writer’s block. (They might be the same people who wish I’d develop writer’s block.) 

But honestly, never. 

I should mention that my sum total formal writing training was freshman composition in college, the only C of my college career.  The professor hated everything I wrote, gracing the top of every composition with “Ha ha.  You think you’re so funny.  C+” 

Fortunately, I had a mother who encouraged my writing from the time I could hold a pencil.  She always had nothing but praise for the (godawful) little stories and poems I wrote.  She never ever corrected any grammar or spelling.  As she said later, she just wanted me to feel the joy of writing.  Someone else could correct the grammar and spelling later. (They did.)

In a way to subtly encourage me, however, she would ask to buy the more promising stuff for a nickel or dime.  When she died, I found a whole file folder of these Early Ingas.  If this was the best stuff, she obviously had a vision only a mother could have. 

One possible advantage for my so-called writing career was that when I was growing up, phone calls were prohibitively expensive and there was no internet.  So if you wanted to communicate with people, it was by letter. 

I wrote – no kidding – thousands of letters.  In fact, it was how Olof and I kept in touch after we returned from our (high school) senior year abroad in Brazil which is how we met. Olof and I knew even after the first three weeks in Brazil as 17-year-olds that we would be lifelong friends.  He – somewhat surprising for a (future) Air Force pilot and then an engineer – was an avid letter writer too.

Given that there were no correctible apparati in Olof’s and my communication years, we just wrote on manual (later electric) typewriters or even yellow lined paper. 

First draft was the last.  No editing. We both love story telling. We just wrote about whatever happened to be going on in our lives at the moment, relishing regaling the other with detailed sagas about the most mundane of events. All these years later, the “mundane events” columns are my favorite ones to write. 

When I say “mundane,” I’m really not kidding.  Far too few of our letters still exist (we both moved a lot). But I still wish I had a copy of the missive I wrote Olof about my first husband and I deciding to save $125 by acid washing our kidney-shaped pool ourselves, sliding around in make-shift attire (rubber raincoats, rubber boots, old jeans) on the sloping sides of that pool with sloshing buckets of acid.  OK, so the second degree burns weren’t that funny.

Still, it may have been the finest thing I’ve ever written. 

So that’s the long answer to why I’ve never had writer’s block.  I just pretend each column is a letter to someone, minus the “dear so-and-so” line. 

And now, all those decades of letter writing have segued into 14 years of wantonly publishing often-ill-considered personal stories in my local paper. 

Of course, certain themes (other than my older son) have been recurring over the last 14 years of this column, particularly my total frustration with technology.  Olof, the neighbors, and parking in La Jolla have had plenty of play too.  What the other 450 have been about, I’m trying to remember.  But there are four 3-inch binders of Inga columns on the shelf behind me, so I should take a look sometime. 

When my book came out, I was tempted to send a copy to my Freshman Composition professor. But then I realized that this would only have vindicated his position.  “Thank GOD I did not encourage that woman!”  It still would have been a C+.

Or lower.