Saturday, January 21, 2023

Saving The House From A Toddler Attack

[”Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 23, 2023] ©2023

In previous years, it was always our hope to have the company of our four preschool grandchildren over the holidays. And after they left, it was always our hope to someday get all of our electronics working again.  For all of you who had tiny grandchildren visiting at Christmas, this is for you.

There is something about tiny persons and LCD panels that is just irresistible. In our home, alas, the electronics all seemed to be located at perfect toddler eye level.  I always taped covers over the CD player, amplifier, and DVD player (don’t judge; we’re old) but for the tots this just acted like a flashing neon beacon that there was something Really Neat underneath.  Pretty much everything we listened to on our CD player for weeks after they left was really heavy on the bass. 

As for the remotes, even Olof, who is an engineer, was sometimes hard put to get them to ever operate a TV again if they’d been left unattended. (So many buttons!  So little time!)  The living room light timer was perpetually ten hours off when the tots were in residence casting us into darkness at inopportune times and lighting up the house like a Christmas tree at 3 a.m.

Tragically for us, the electronic touch screen panel on our KitchenAid range was on the front rather than the top.  Exquisitely accessible to someone of the pre-school persuasion was the Options button, which when combined with any single digit between one and seven suddenly made something that worked before cease to.  For example, Option + 2 turned off the timer bell so that one could, for example, discover that they’ve had one of the back yard sprinkler valves running for seven hours 

Option + 4, which turned off the Cooking Completion Time bell, was a serious bummer as well. 

Fortunately, you could put the oven control panel in Child Lock mode so that they couldn’t use it. But you couldn’t either.  More problematic was the fact that two Thanksgivings in a row, a grandchild took it upon herself to turn off the oven while the turkey was cooking. You walked into the kitchen and instead of the comforting hum of the oven there is an eerie silence and the heart-stopping Black Screen of Death on the touch screen panel.  Had the oven taken this extremely inopportune time to crump?  Or was it a stealth toddler operation?  I pressed the On button and the panel (and oven) blessedly sprang to life.  But how long had it been off?  Ten minutes?  Oy, an hour?

Deciding the dishwasher was suddenly on the fritz, I discovered that tiny fingers had simply re-set it to “Rinse and hold.” 

The really odd thing is that we never actually saw them do it.  And it’s not like they’re roaming around our small house unattended.   But toddlers seem to have radar for Unattended Electronics upon which they engage in covert attacks.  The Navy Seals could take lessons. 

One year, realizing three days after the Toddler Invasion had decamped that we had no phone service, we discovered with our phone company’s help that we didn’t have three phones but four:  the last one was the small handset on our little-used fax machine that was ever so slightly off the hook.

My computer was in the guest room and should I accidentally leave it up after I’d checked email, I’d find that all my desktop icons have been rearranged, my font settings mysteriously microscopic (I’d love to know how they did this since I couldn’t change my desktop fonts if I tried) and the speakers had been cranked up to 150 decibels.  I could only wonder what they’d ordered on Amazon.  

My desk and desk chair, meanwhile, were elaborately reupholstered with an entire package of Post-It Notes, some with personal “wuv” messages (the author informed me) in the form of Hi-Liter scribbles.  All electronic transgressions were immediately forgiven. 

Ironically, all the grandkids over a year old could actually operate iPhones (to watch videos) and phone cameras.   At four, our budding-portraitist grandson would shoot away, review his photos, and delete the ones he didn’t want.  Given his size, it is not surprising that most of his shots were of people’s nether regions. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to tape anything over any more.  The kids have all moved on to iPads.  And they continue to leave us in the technological dust. 

During one visit, the grandkids were anticipating a Wild Animal Park excursion and were debating whether a lion could eat a giraffe.  The three-year-old, a giraffe devotee, was horrified. “Lions ‘non’t eat ‘raffes!” he insisted.  So I said, “well, let's look it up.”  I hadn’t taken two steps toward my computer before my eight-year-old granddaughter picked up her iPad and said to it, "Do lions eat giraffes?" and it replied, "The only animal that would eat a giraffe is a lion." 

Who knew typing was so last decade. 

 


 

 

 

 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

When The Dog Becomes A Part Time Job

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 16, 2023] 2023

It was not auspicious that 11 hours into the new year in 2022, our dog blew out her right knee. 

When she blew out the left one in 2020, we were told that there was a 60% chance that it would happen with the other.  We were desperately hoping to be in the lucky 40% but that does not seem to be God’s plan for us. God’s plan for us is to be a canine social service agency.

Unfortunately, both knees (ACLs) were ruptures that could only be fixed with surgery.

I’ve written before about our beloved dog who came into our home in 2016 as a “one-week  foster.”  Utterly heartbroken, we had insisted that we would never have another dog after the sudden demise of our equally beloved English bulldog Winston, who, after generating over $10,000 in medical bills for his multitude of bulldog-related afflictions, had a heart attack in our living room. 

But of course, within three days we had fallen totally in love with the foster dog, even after being warned that her rotten mouth (the reason for her relinquishment to the pound) was likely to set us back $2,000.  (It did.)  We just had “mushballs” written all over us. 

The doggy orthopedist had warned us after the dog’s surgery in February that if she re-injured the knee while it was healing that we’d have to start all over – including payment – and the second repair never heals as well as the first.

We had a friend whose dog injured a healing knee after they forgot to put the gate across their stairs to the second floor.  A whole new surgery, in-home PT, and pain medicines ensued.  The dog became addicted to the pain meds and ended up doing doggie Betty Ford. We elected to have custom padded ramps built in every room of our house and even on the front steps to preclude this scenario.

But only a month or two after our dog’s plastic knee seemed to be finally healed, she suddenly stopped eating.  As I set her bowl down in the morning, she was now sniffing it and walking away. 

We changed her diet and even tempted her with foods that she would normally inhale: tuna, ground beef, shredded chicken, cheddar cheese, canned post-surgical food.  Not interested.

There is no test or procedure for a human that you can’t also do for a dog.  In this case, minus any insurance. After the first ACL surgery, I looked into pet insurance.  But it excluded ACL surgeries and pretty much most of the care she ended up having this year. 

Of course, there was that initial big expense for the new knee. In the quest to find out what was ailing our beloved pet, she underwent scans, every lab test known to canine, a virtual pharmacy of meds, and pricey special diets at $6 per teeny weeny can. With physical therapy and ramps, our dog-related expenses for the year came to $17,000. 

Tumors, cancer, stomach blockages, metabolic disorders (like diabetes), heart issues and parasites were slowly eliminated.  The one thing that did become apparent – and we were sure this was going to cure it – was that she had a massive infection in her mouth and sinuses. But even after we were $1,600 poorer and she had eight fewer teeth, she still wasn’t eating.

Multiple appetite stimulants, antacids, antibiotics, Chinese herbs, probiotics, pain meds, and even steroids were introduced but failed. 

Ultimately, it was concluded that as a now-13-year-old dog, she seems to have mild chronic gastritis and some chronic hepatitis (somewhat elevated liver enzymes).  But she is still uninterested in eating. 

Getting food into her is literally a part time job for both Olof and me.  If you just put it out there and leave it, it will sit there forever. 

The few items she will even consider eating need to be warmed to a specific temperature and hand fed to her off our fingers. 

At one point the vet staff suggested a thought that had occurred even to us:  Do you think your dog is working you?  But no, a dog that rejects hamburger and tuna is a dog with issues.

My personal theory at this point, now that we’ve eliminated everything else, is that she has lost her sense of smell.  For dogs, smell is everything.  It’s how they understand their world, and certainly decide whether they want to eat something or not. 

But the good news is:  she’s still with us, something we seriously doubted even three months ago.

And other than the eating issues, she’s mostly her same old self, chasing her squeaky pups and doing her Cujo act at the front gate when other dogs come by.  But it’s pretty clear to us at this point that the current feeding regimen is how it’s going to be.

As we’ve alerted friends, every visitor is required to take one stint feeding the dog.  Allow 30 minutes and bring an apron.


Building ramps in every room for Lily to get up and down was waay cheaper...
than having to repeat the surgery if she re-injured herself...
and waaaay preferable to a stint at Doggie Betty Ford (and yes, there is one)




 

 

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Thinking Of Never Flying Again

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 9, 2023] ☺2023

Thank you, Southwest Airlines.  You have convinced me to never travel by air again.

No, I wasn’t even flying during the Christmas holidays (fortunately).  But merely watching the debacle unfolding inside Lindbergh Field and at the airport’s rental car counter was so stressful that I think I have PTSD by proxy. 

I cannot even imagine the reality of actually being there.  Especially for people traveling with infants and young kids. 

I’ve been plagued with plantar fasciitis for some months now so the possibility of standing in those long lines would have been, well, an impossibility.  But worse, my head would have just exploded with the stress of it all.  As I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for chaos and ineptitude has dwindled to pretty much zero. 

I couldn’t help but reflect while watching these poor people be held hostage by Southwest that if their captors were terrorists, there would at least be someone negotiating for their release. And there would be food.

The CEO of Southwest appeared on the evening news saying he was “sorry.”  Sorry???? 

If it were up to me, the CEO of Southwest would be sentenced to …what? No, there really isn’t enough punishment to compensate for the level of misery – and expense - Southwest inflicted on thousands upon thousands of people.  Awarding cancelled passengers 25,000 frequent flier points toward future travel doesn’t cut it – unless it’s for another airline.

My grandchildren will never know what it was like for airline travel to be fun. But we oldies do.  Below is Auntie Inga’s unapologetically jaded review of How Airline Travel has Devolved into the Prisoner of War Model.  This is how I remember it, anyway.

In the golden days before airline fare deregulation in 1978, airlines actually wanted to make you happy. If your airplane left late, the airline felt so bad about it that they insisted on serving free champagne for the entire flight.  If your flight was late or cancelled, you could run over to a different airline and they were deliriously happy to take your ticket. No change fees, no hassle, and plenty of seats.   In fact, you could often have an empty seat next to you. 

When prices were set (and yes, they used to be), the way the airlines could compete was by providing service, like fluffy pillows, full meals, and actually being really nice to the passengers.  But once prices were not set, the airlines competed only by fares. 

I think everyone thought that deregulation would mean everything would be the same, only cheaper.  Never has the phrase “there is no free lunch” been truer.  Those fluffy pillows were now inflatables and cost $8, a “sandwich” consisting of two thick slices of stale bread and a thin sliver of turkey cost $10, and the airline personnel, who used to be so nice, had been replaced by graduates of the Evil Troll Travel School.

Airlines now think nothing of leaving passengers sitting on the tarmac for nine hours without food, water, or working bathrooms.  It’s OK to drag people off airplanes by their feet or eject families who couldn’t make a two-year-old wear a mask.

In recent years, airlines seem to be cancelling lots of flights citing “weather.”  Global warming aside, there suddenly appeared to be a lot more weather than there used to be.  All the airplanes are flying full so that if your airplane gets cancelled due to “weather,” or its evil and often imaginary siblings “mechanical problems,” techno difficulties” or “air traffic control glitches” there are no seats for three days unless you camp at the airline gate with your bags and try (usually futilely) for standby.   I think my business traveler husband Olof got Marriott Gold status on Houston strandings alone.

Of course, it would make sense to go non-stop so you wouldn’t have to spend three days in Houston but the airline people also implemented the “hub and spoke” model not coincidentally styled after a torture device popular in the Middle Ages.  

Trying to reach an airline during the pandemic got you a recording like this: “You have reached Lying Weasel Airlines. No one works here at the moment, except Fred.  He’s on his lunch break. Till tomorrow. Rather than remain on hold, you can leave your number for a callback by Fred.  In 2024. Please be prepared for the fact that if you ever reach Fred to reschedule your flight, you can expect that it will be cancelled yet again. Which means you’ll have to call back and start this process all over. The next available agent has 450 people ahead of you.”

Now, when friends return from a trip, the first question is not about their destination but how their flights went. Awe is expressed if they actually went without a hitch.

 You’ve convinced me, Southwest.  I’m too old and too decrepit. And too nostalgic for the era – there actually used to be one – when your call really was important to a business and airlines actually had the slightest concern for the passengers.

 

 

Monday, January 2, 2023

I Just Want To Write A Check

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 2, 2023] ☺2023 

In my perfect world, there would be no bill that could not be paid by check. 

Unfortunately for us check-writing Luddites, the check option has run into obstacles in the form of the post-pandemic paucity of people on the other end to actually process that check once it arrives.  The US Postal Service’s new (slower) delivery estimates aren’t helping.

I have written on several occasions about the dozens (feels like hundreds) of hours it has taken to straighten out the mess earlier this year when the Franchise Tax Board failed to cash our 2021-year tax check even four weeks after it was mailed.  It sat in a pile somewhere uncredited well after the tax deadline.

A similar thing happened with our automobile insurance check, which was mailed May 30 but still hadn’t been processed by its due date on July 1 generating a letter of cancellation for non-payment.  I immediately called and paid it again on a credit card only to have the original check cashed on July 15 – six weeks after it was mailed.  It was another two months to get a refund from them. (They cited “staffing problems.”)

Those same companies that are lacking people to actually work in their offices still manage to have computers that are fully capable of cancelling insurance or making you a tax deadbeat. 

On-line bill paying through our bank’s website works well for bills that can be paid that way. But for sites where I can’t, they make you change your password to some never-previously-used password every idiotic 90 days. 

Don’t even get me going on some of those “I am not a robot” things that are completely indecipherable and clearly created by robots. 

The dual-verification thing where they have to send a text to your phone with a code is very effective in keeping people out of your account.  Those people would be us.  Invariably, the person with that phone is not home when you need to get the code 

But you can often use your email address instead.  Better idea, yes?  Well, no. Those codes are only good for 10 minutes and they sometimes don’t show up in our in-box until hours later. 

We techno-challenged people are now being thwarted at every turn.  When I last had to renew my driver’s license, pre-pandemic, they required people of a certain age to show up in person to take the written driver’s exam.  Personally, I think they just wanted Proof of Life.  To my dismay, they sent me over to a bank of computer terminals where I was forced to take the test on a computer screen that would only give me the test in Vietnamese. 

Fortunately, there was a nice helper guy who was busy trying to assist the techno-frustrated persons in my demographic. I had to wait a half hour for him.  I could have finished a written test in 15 minutes.

I have often said in this column that no technology should be released onto the general public without being tested on me and a selection of my techno-disabled peers.  Every time my engineer husband mentions the word “intuitive,” I want to smite him.

Which brings me to another harder-with-technology innovation: the self-service supermarket scanner.  I don’t shop frequently at the market that has them but their lines are long so if I have just a few items, I try to use the self-check scanner.  I really am trying to embrace technology even though I think it is mostly evil except for FaceTime with the grandkids, which is truly a great invention.

One of the three items I was buying that day, besides a custom birthday cake, was a single bakery kaiser roll. (Just shut up. This is how the elderly shop.) So the scanner directions said that for stuff without a scanner label thingy to type in the name of the product.  So I type in “kaiser roll” and it says there’s no such thing.  Just like the DMV, there was a helper person on site to help the techno-stymied. This lady was beyond burnt out on this job and fed up with people who were complete morons who could not, in her obvious opinion, follow simple directions. 

She rolled her eyes. “You have to type in “roll” then the types of rolls come up and you select the picture labeled “kaiser roll” and then how many you want. In your case, one. Then “enter”.” She was trying very hard not to say, “Like, duh! And who buys a single frickin’ kaiser roll???” She was just so annoyed.

Sorry, lady. If you tell people to type in the name of the item, they are going to type in the name of the item.  (See “beta testing on seniors” and “smiting people who use the word ‘intuitive’” above).

But for everything else, I would just like to write a check – two minutes max! – plunk it in a mailbox and have the Post Office actually deliver it to people who are sitting at their desks waiting to credit it to my account. 

And see if I’ll ever buy another kaiser roll again.

 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Slide Rule Finally Finds A Loving Home

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published December 19, 2022] ©2022

It becomes harder and harder to find really special gifts for Olof at Christmas, especially when he has everything he wants, buys it himself if he doesn’t, and we’re always trying to downsize.  But in 2018, I hit the jackpot: a slide rule.

Let me be clear that there aren’t that many people left who even know what a slide rule is, much less covet one.  Or know how to use one.  Or wouldn’t rather just calculate on their Apple Watch 8. 

Olof remembers hovering over the slide rule case in the Cal Tech bookstore orgasmically ogling the higher end models.  It was as close to sex, he recalls, as he was likely to get in that era.

In Olof’s and my youth (see “Mesolithic era”) there were, astonishingly, no handheld electronic calculators.  The really geeky guys (they were always guys) had slide rules which are mechanical analog computers, a phrase that I’m sure helps you as little as it did me.  (By “computers”, we mean a device that helps you make computations rather than something you plug into a power circuit.)  Sliding the little bar thingey (not its technical name) back and forth, you could do multiplication and division and also functions such as exponents, roots, logarithms, and trigonometry if you knew or cared what those were.  Olof informs me it was accurate to three places. 

Now, one would think that there would be a ton of cheap slide rules available out there for the mathematically sentimental, until you then realize that those two terms are mutually exclusive.  What was astonishing as I began my search was that searching “slide rule” on Amazon usually just got you pictures of slide rules on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and even wall paper. 

Suffice to say, the better source was eBay, and not surprisingly, every option was labeled “pre-owned.”  If you own stock in a company that claims to make new slide rules, you should sell.   A technologically-savvy neighbor helped me weed through the choices and ultimately found one that, while pre-owned, appeared to be new.  The seller apologetically noted that the case was engraved in gold with the name “William G. Vande Logt” presumably making it less valuable (unless your name was William G. Vande Logt). 

I was sold the second I saw it.  A slide rule with a back story! Does life get better than that? 

When it came, the leather case and carry strap (if you wanted to wear it on your belt to look super-geeky), were still in its original box. The documentation underneath it was literally crumbling and didn’t appear to have ever been removed.

William Vande Logt appeared to have been underwhelmed with this gift. 

I immediately Googled his obligingly-unusual name and found the obituary notice of his death on May 10, 2012 at the age of 81.  He had been employed for 50 years in the Chicago area, was an avid golfer, had no children, was pre-deceased by his wife, beloved by nieces and nephews, and greatly mourned by his dog Breezy. 

But apparently not a slide rule guy. 

So, I’m thinking a slide rule like this was likely given as a high school graduation present, which in Mr. Vande Logt’s case would have been 1949.  But who gave it to him? And was there a message there?  A father who dreamed of his son going into some prestigious engineering career?  Was this a sore subject?

One thing for sure:  this slide rule had never been slid.

It took a certain amount of brute force to move the middle bar which Olof notes will require an overdue application of lube, or at least some occasional use. 

I’m imagining Bill Van de Logt eagerly opening what he thinks is going to be whatever the hot new gadget was in 1949 and finding…a slide rule.  I can see the long face even now.  But why didn’t it end up in the nearest Salvation Army bin? OK, maybe because it had his name on it. 

So, what has this slide rule been up to since it was presented to Mr. Vande Logt?  Well, besides nothing for at least 63 years until his passing in 2012.  Mr. Vande Logt had no children to whom he could inflict this long-ago excoriated gift.  And what about the next six years after that until it was apologetically (given the personalization on the case) put on the eBay auction block? 

Inquiring minds would love to know. 

Our grandkids were quickly bored with Olof’s Christmas morning gift since it didn’t actually do anything.  We explained to them that a slide rule was not the same as an abacus (one of them had heard of this) which pre-dated us by at least a decade. Our then-four-year-old grandson asked if we could put it down and help him sync his new remote-controlled tank to his iPad. 

Well, Bill, your slide rule has waited a long time for the loving home it has always deserved.  And if that’s not a warm fuzzy spirit-of-Christmas story, I don’t know what is. 



Saturday, December 10, 2022

Celebrating A Millstone, er, Milestone Birthday

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published December 12, 2022] ©2022

I had a milestone birthday last week and I’m trying not to feel downright old.  The problem is, I am downright old. I was lunching with a friend to celebrate this occasion and we were both commenting that the bar on our concept of “old” kept sliding forward as we approached the ages we formerly thought of as ancient. 

I can’t help but notice that a lot of people in the obits are younger than me. And worse, I actually know, er, knew some of them. I even wrote one of those obits.

Olof and I are five months apart in age, so for five months a year, I get to be a trophy wife.  When we have milestone birthdays, we tend to celebrate them together on Olof’s July birthday with barbecues and outdoor festivities.  Otherwise, my birthday would hardly be recognized at all. 

That’s because anyone with a December birthday will tell you, it’s a total rip-off.  Babies just shouldn’t be allowed to be born between November 30 and January 1. Family and friends are already swamped during December so a birthday that month is just another obligation, and the weather is usually too sucky no matter where you live to do some nice al fresco event. And need I mention that there is a special place in hell for the people who give you what they call a “combined birthday and Christmas gift.” 

We aren’t fooled.  And just so you know, we keep track.  When your May birthday rolls around, we’re so tempted to give you a combined Christmas and birthday gift.  I’ve never actually done it but the fantasy is delicious.

As it turns out, by the time my actual birthday rolled around last week, I’d already had two birthday cakes with my name (along with Olof’s) on them from celebrations last July. But I still insisted on getting my own cake with just my name for my birthday last week. (I bought it myself.)

Milestone birthdays are often marked by rites of passage.  At 21 you can finally drink without a one of those two-left-eared fake IDs. At 30, you have to rethink all that stuff about never trusting someone over 30. At 40, it’s time for a serious mid-life crisis.

On your 50th birthday, you open your mailbox to find an AARP card and an appointment for a screening colonoscopy.  Congratulations! You’re old! And you may have cancer of the pooper!

As my 60th birthday approached, both sons wanted to know what I might like.  Seizing the opportunity, I said that what would make me happiest would be if they would each write a short letter relating three happy memories they had of me.  I hated to beg, but I wasn’t getting any younger.  Rory, predictably, quickly negotiated down to one.  For his part, Henry replied, “Can’t I just buy you something?”

On your 65th birthday – as soon as that Medicare card is laminated and tucked into your wallet -  the dementia anxiety attacks – and jokes – begin. We laugh, of course, to hide the fact that we’re completely terrified. Watching the 11 o’clock news about the elderly person who has wandered off from his facility truly puts fear in your heart. You can’t help but super-impose your face on the screen. And you just know your hair would look like hell.

It didn’t help that soon after my 65th birthday, my older son, the perpetual prankster Rory, saw an ad on TV for a placement service for the severely memory-impaired. Several days later, a very sympathetic woman called and asked for my husband Olof, and when told he was at work, was dismayed to learn that I had been left unattended. She seemed to have a great deal of information about me and when I adamantly insisted “I do not need institutional care!” soothed, “You seem to be having one of your good days, dear.” 

As part of our joint 70th birthday festivities, I put together a 400-slide show of Olof and me to show during a celebratory dinner with the kids. Afterwards, there were wonderful toasts made - Henry gave a four-hanky tribute to both of us.  I gave a toast to Olof, commenting on how different this evening would have been had Olof not come into our lives.  Both kids simultaneously chimed, "200 fewer slides?" 

 The kids, of course, accuse both of us of spending too much time doing what they call “rehearsing for death.” But Olof is the first man in his family to ever live to 65 (brutal familial cancer gene, fortunately diagnosed in time for him to be treated) while my mother died at 54 and my grandmother at 48. Actuarial tables? Bwahahahaha. It’s hard not to feel like we’re on borrowed time. Every birthday, we do our little happy dance around the table singing “Woo-hoo! Against all odds! We’re still here!” We honestly can’t believe we are still here.

We just really wish the cremation people would stop sending us mail.



 

Saturday, November 26, 2022

I Have No Idea How I Did It

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 28, 2022] ©2022

Even though Olof and I have been married for 27 years, I still find myself locked in the mindset of the twelve years between my two marriages when I lived a truly penurious existence.

During that time, nothing got repaired unless I could fix it with duct tape, picture wire, or hair scrunchies (a grossly under-rated tool) and nothing got replaced until it absolutely disintegrated. 

Some months after Olof and I married, he put his arm around my shoulder as he was leaving for work one morning and queried plaintively, “Dear, if the market goes up another ten percent, could we get a new bath mat?” 

My younger son, Henry, now 42, recalls growing up in poverty. Yes, here in La Jolla. Upon hearing this, Olof, never one to miss an opportunity to affectionately ride me about what he felt were my marginal housekeeping skills, replied, “No, you didn’t grow up in poverty.  But you did grow up in squalor.” 

Excuse me, but there are only so many hours in the day when you’re a working single mom of two carpool-intensive kids. I managed youth sports teams and was Pack Committee Chairman of La Jolla Cub Scouts in an era where all communication was by handouts or extremely inefficient “phone trees.”  (Does anyone even know what those are anymore?) I am insanely envious of team managers who can just post maps to game locations on a website.  I, meanwhile, did quite a few Cub Scout mailings in stop-and-go traffic on Torrey Pines Road on my way home from work.

An avid journal keeper and chronicler throughout my life, I sometimes consult my journals to check recollections for columns.  Recently, I came upon this except from a conversation with Henry, almost 10, dated March 9, 1990.  Rollerblades were the new fad toy and Henry was convinced he was the only kid who didn’t own a pair. He sat glumly in the back seat as we drove home from school.   

"What's the matter, sweetheart?" I asked.

"Everybody we know is richer than we are," said Henry.

"Well, you got that right," I said. We rode silently for a while.

"Henry," I said finally, "what you need to understand is that we are not poor.  We just don't have any money." 

Henry rolled his eyes. "So what's the difference?"

"Well, we own our own home. OK, several financial institutions own our home. But that's a big deal these days.  What we don't have is cash."

"Jamie's pool is bigger than our whole house," said Henry.  "And they go to Hawaii every Christmas and skiing every Thanksgiving. And they have a phone in their car. And he get five dollars for every A." 

"Sweetheart, no matter where you go, someone is going to have more than you.  And even if Donald Trump [yes, I really wrote that!] proposed to me tomorrow, you'd still have to do chores.  Richness is relative." 

"Only poor people say that."  

"OK, then. We could move to the barrio.  Then we'd be 'rich'."

"Yeah, but they shoot at you there."

"Hey, you wanna be rich or not?" 

Everything that went wrong with the house was on me.  A friend astutely observed soon after I took over ownership, “You need a lover who likes gardening and pool maintenance.”

I had traded every asset of the marriage plus taken out a second mortgage (co-signed by my wonderful father after banks laughed in my face) to buy my ex out of our house.  It was the best financial decision I’ve ever made but my entry level job and child support didn’t begin to cover the costs of living here 

The house just got shabbier and shabbier until Olof married me and undertook some serious self-preserving improvements.  Like central heat, and an upgrade to our 50-amp fuse box.  He was tired of the kids using the toaster oven and blowing him off his computer.

I recently wrote a column about loving to sit outside on fall evenings listening to the Zen sound of crickets chirping.  I observed that communing with nature like this made up for all the years when the only thing I communed with was my watch. 

I remember nights back then when I would have gotten the laundry done and piled it on the bed at 11 p.m., only to fall asleep on top of it soon after.  I didn’t even read one book a year.  If I had ten spare minutes between car pools, I took a combat nap 

I just feel tired even thinking back on it.  I guess you just do what is required at the time.  I certainly wasn’t spending a lot of time pondering the meaning of life.

And, yes, we did get a new bath mat, although, frankly, I felt the old one still had life in it.  I could have kept its ratty self going for at least another year.