Monday, April 9, 2018

The Scourge of Home Ownership

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 11, 2018] ©2018

There are times when home ownership feels like the worst idea ever.  Like, for example, when you have a difficult-to-diagnose problem that you just know is going to suck up endless amounts of time and money and still may not get resolved.  Such was the case recently when we noticed smudgy spots on the walls of our little reading room. 

Now the problem with “smudgy spots” is that you can’t go on Home Advisor and search “Fix smudgy spots” especially if you don’t know what the smudgy spots are.  What they looked like were tiny grandchildren palm prints which would have made great sense if they didn’t start at the five foot level of the wall and go to the ceiling. As resourceful as the grandtots are, they don’t yet do ladders. 

Of course, it was the holiday season so we worked diligently at ignoring the smudgy spots which, to be fair, were more obvious in some light than others.  So I tried to be sure not to have the lights on in any way that I could actually see them.  Dedicated Denial is a strategy that many homeowners develop over time, us among them.

I was kind of hoping I was imagining them.  Olof, after all, hadn’t said anything.  So I finally pointed them out hoping Olof would say, “What smudgy spots?” But like me, he had been working overtime not to mention them. It’s one of our many compatibilities.

After the holidays, it was obvious they were getting worse.  It really didn’t seem to be mold.
When your Mr. Clean Magic Eraser doesn’t help, you know you’re in trouble.

Fortunately, our long-ago kitchen contractor was still in business. He felt that there was moisture coming down the back of the wall even though it had not rained a single drop in four months.  He recommended a roofer come out and look at it despite the fact that our roof had been replaced in 2010. 

There are few words that strike more fear in home owners than “roofer.” (OK, toxic mold.) But the roofing guy came out, wandered around for a bit on our roof, and came back down with a slide show he had taken with his cell phone. Flashing had separated from a vent, and there were also several nails holding flashing down that had come up.  Some fresh caulking would be required as well.  His estimate for repairs:  $200. 

Olof and I tried to contain the paroxysms of joy we felt that we might be getting out of this for $200 even though the reading room – and likely the living room since they are really all one big space – would have to be repainted. But with the right lighting, that could be ignored for another two years.

As I’m writing the roofer a check, he mentions that the roof vent next to the flashing has a big hole in it, which is likely letting creatures take up residence in our attic.  We just had all our roof vents replaced with new screening five years ago, but as we know too well, local rodentia are not dissuaded by mere window screens. 

When we got the handyman out to replace the vent screen, we suggested he check all of them.  As it turns out, all but one vent screen around the roof line has been chewed through. 

I felt really annoyed at the rats about this.  Once you’ve chewed through one vent, is it really necessary to chew through all of them?  Are you that lazy that you can’t slither five feet to the left and go into the one you’ve already gnawed?  Or, maybe rats have developed a taste for vinyl-coated fiberglass  (local mutation?) 

As for the one vent screen still intact: Years ago, we had had the vector control/rat slayer people out and while they don’t remediate your rat problem for you, they’re happy to tell you how you can do it yourself.  (You pay for this service on your tax bill.)  One of their suggestions was to put up window screening then spray it with a goopy foam substance so the rats can’t chew through it.  After we did one, my husband Olof had some misgivings about this, pointing out that the reason you have attic vents is so that you can get actual VENTilation in your attic to prevent mold. So for the rest, we just had screening material put up, naively thinking this would slow them down.

$360 later, all ten vents have been replaced with heavy gauge steel mesh which we have no illusions the rats won’t ultimately chew through. But we’re hoping it will give them indigestion. 

But then I had a sudden, terrible thought: “Do you think we might have trapped any rats inside?” I said to Olof.  The color drained from his face: “Do NOT even say that out loud.”

Rodents had chewed through all the vents around our roof line

 Steel gauge mesh will probably only slow them down temporarily
(but we hope it will give them indigestion)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Not Winning Friends Lately

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 4, 2018]  ©2018

Well, I haven’t always been winning friends lately, particularly not among gastroenterologists, environmentalists, and even a few dentists.  To follow up:

I wrote a column recently called “Down in the mouth” about coming in for a routine teeth cleaning to my long-time (40 years!) dentist office and being subjected to a lot of high-pressure sales tactics regarding procedures I should have. My own dentist had recently retired, so this was a new staff.  It was really a dilemma: I would do anything my old dentist suggested but this felt eerily reminiscent of used car shopping at Mossy Toyota. 

A number of people wrote to say, “I know just what practice this is.”  Except it wasn’t! It seems as if retiring family dentists are being replaced with what one reader called Wall Street Dentistry – maximizing dental procedures (particularly the replacement of crowns) whether the patient needs them or not.  One reader wrote:  We had not learned the new dental-speak "code" words.  Deep cleaning, in code, translates to "Bentley payment due" in English.  Routine X-rays?  Code for "air fare for ski trip to Austria" next month.”

Of course, a number of other people correctly guessed my dental group as well, expressing similar sadness that a practice in which they had had such faith for so many years now was apparently owned by a conglomerate in Las Vegas – with all the faith you might expect from that. 

In another recent column entitled “The last parking place in La Jolla” I lamented that La Jolla’s historically easy parking (except during the summer months) now appeared to be a thing of the past.  It wasn’t surprising that I heard from people along the lines of, “Are you kidding? Compared to New York and L.A.? Quit yer whining!”

It was also noted that parking is not easy in any place you’d actually want to live. I’d say that’s probably true of lots of places you DON’T want to live too.  For me, that would include New York and L.A. (and not just because of the parking.)  Couldn’t pay me enough. I have the incredibly good fortune to live here.  To be a La Jollan is to have expectations, and parking was one of them. Or at least used to be. 

Flushing drugs down the toilet….First of all, thank you to all the kind people who sent good wishes to my husband Olof after his January heart attack and the head injury suffered doing a face plant into an armoire en route to our bedroom floor.  I am happy to say he is progressing beautifully, including recovering from the debilitating effects of having been inadvertently inflicted with statins in the hospital. In my column, I mentioned that in my fury at discovering the bottle of statins sent home with him (he’s severely allergic to them), I flushed the pills down the toilet.

I’m not sure whether the worse offense was doing it or mentioning it, because I actually know you’re not supposed to do this as it can affect marine life. And other than this incident, I never do it.  But geesh, you would have thought I’d killed every fish from here to Tokyo.  Instead, I am hoping that local marine life are at least enjoying improved LDL.  And even more that they aren’t suffering the same effects as Olof which would have left them lying on the bottom of the ocean floor writhing in agony.  Jokes aside, the issue is more complicated than that: it can affect our own drinking water as well.  Anyway: I shouldn’t have done it, I apologize for doing it, and I promise to never ever ever do it again!

Colonoscopies…OK, it probably wouldn’t be too surprising that local gastroenterologists are not my biggest fans at the moment.  Several have taken the time to engage me in cordial but dissenting dialogue asserting that the  new DNa  colon cancer test misses too many cancers (although it is an alternative for people who “don’t want to be scoped.”  Does anyone WANT to be scoped?) It was suggested that my really bad experience recently was probably because I have Kaiser and/or didn’t get the anesthetic Propofol.  Nope: I have a top-of-the-line PPO and all my care is through Scripps Health or UCSD.)  And yup, I had Propofol. 

After my first colonoscopy column, I was inundated with colonoscopy horror stories, some of which included genuine harm to patients.  Inflicting so much misery and potential harm on millions of people who have no symptoms and no history of colon cancer seems like a high price to pay.  Just my personal view at this point.  I do, however, want to mention that there is another “colon prep” product that I learned about called Suprep, considered  the “least bad” (damning with faint praise) product on the market.  And now: I promise not to write on the subject again!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Inga's All-Time Favorite Quotes

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 28, 2018] ©2018

Over the years, I’ve been collecting favorite quotes – way too many to list here.  But this week I’d like to share a few, some of which seem truly prescient for their time – especially the first three: 

"In America, anybody can be president. That's one of the risks you take."  - Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965)

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." - Albert Einstein (1879-1955)  (Climate change?)

“We are entitled to our opinions.  We are not entitled to our facts.” - Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003), and others

Other favorite bits of wisdom:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” - Thomas Edison

“Most editors are failed writers.  So are most writers.”  –T.S. Eliot

“My body isn’t me.  I just live here.”  (Magnet on Inga’s refrigerator)

“Things always get worse before they get a lot worse” - Lily Tomlin

 “The road of indecision of is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t decide.”  (Unknown)

“Not having to worry about your hair anymore may be the secret upside of death.”  - Nora Ephron

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Hanlon’s Razor

"God gave men both a penis and a brain, but only enough blood supply to run one at a time." - Late actor Robin Williams, commenting on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair

 “She buffers herself against parental input.” - Neighbors, referring to their teenage daughter

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." -Journalist A.J. Liebling

A scientist friend who was invited to present at a professional meeting in Jakarta observed to the organizer that the schedule, as set, was not being even remotely followed.  The reply:  "You should think of the schedule more as a first draft,” he opined, “of a play that will be given improvisationally.”

“A closed mouth gathers no feet.”  - Inga’s personal motto, poorly followed.

“What you accept, you teach.”  - Inga’s parents’ motto, well followed.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  – George Bernard Shaw

"I've had a wonderful time, but this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx (1895-1977)

“A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked and could only have one book, what would it be?  I always say, ‘How to Build a Boat.’” – Actor Stephen Wright

"I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction." - Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)

“After a failure, there’s always someone who wished there was an opportunity they’d missed.” - Lily Tomlin

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."  - Thomas Watson (1874-1956), Chairman of IBM, 1943

 "I am not young enough to know everything."  - Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

"We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time."  - Vince Lombardi

"There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." - Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)

“Life begins not at conception, but when the child begins sleeping through the night.”  (Inga, and the sentiment of most new parents.)

“The wages of sin are death, but after taxes are taken out, it’s just kind of a tired feeling.” – Paula Poundstone.

"Nothing is wrong with California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure." - Mystery writer Ross MacDonald (1915-1983)

“The chief cause of problems is solutions.” – Journalist Eric Sevareid (1912-1992)  

"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough." - Mario Andretti

"Happiness is good health and a bad memory." - Ingrid Bergman (1917-1982)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

For The Love Of Lily

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 14, 2018] ©2018
When Olof and I were asked to be dog foster parents a year and a half ago, we were clear to the rescue agency that we were not going to have another permanent dog.  We had been utterly flattened for months after the sudden death of our English bulldog, Winston.  He was a total   pain, but we really loved him.
Like most bulldogs, Winston had no end of health problems – severe allergies, breathing issues, constant ear infections, seizures, etc.  In fact, our vet said that when she was in veterinary school, they had a bumper sticker that read, “Buy a bulldog.  Support a vet.”  Before Winston died of a heart attack in our living room, we had invested more than $10,000 in him. 
Even after two years, we still feel his loss tremendously.  I especially miss Olof’s and Winston’s “chats,” Winston in rapt attention as Olof translated Winston’s end of the conversation.  As they watched baseball together one night, I remember Olof’s voice from the other room: "The hell you say, Winston! That guy was OUT!"
Dogs, even sick ones, give you the relationships you can only dream of having with people. For example, they would never roll their eyes at you, especially knowing how totally annoyed it makes you. 
As the Fourth of July weekend approached in 2016, we were contacted by a local rescue agency desperate for temporary homes for the glut of dogs that end up in shelters that time of year.  In retrospect, that rescue agency recognized mushballs when they saw them.  We might as well have been wearing T-shirts that read “Will fall in love with any dog no matter how unsuitable.”
“How soon do you need us to take a dog?” I inquired of the rescue lady on the phone. (Did we really want to do this?)  She replied: “Um, actually, I’m on my way to your house.”
And 20 minutes later, there was Lily. 
You never know what shelter dogs have been through but our first hint was when Lily attacked Olof and began tearing his pant leg.  It became abundantly clear that Lily had not had good experiences with men. Eager to protect his wardrobe, not to mention his limbs, Olof showered the wary Lily with kindness. The fifth morning she was here, he woke up abruptly to find a tongue in his ear. (“And it’s not even Wednesday!” he recalls thinking.) It was Lily, ready to be friends.
Lily had been relinquished to the County shelter ostensibly because of her thoroughly rotten teeth and infected gums. Seriously, this dog’s breath was a 9 on the “ickter” scale. The County’s medical in-take report was all of four words: “Nice dog. Terrible teeth.” 
We also discovered pretty quickly that Lily, like Winston, was allergic to our grass.  A 7-year-old bichon-poodle mix, she was what Olof called a “foo-foo” dog.  Olof was absolutely not interested in a pet that required regular professional grooming.  A selectively-hostile, chronically allergic, high-maintenance dog with bad teeth was definitely not the forever dog for us.  Of course, we had no plans for another forever dog anyway.
But Lily had other ideas. Three weeks into Lily’s foster stay with us, I wandered into our bedroom to find Olof propped up in bed watching a sporting event with Lily sound asleep on his chest - not a sports fan, this animal - his arms wrapped protectively around her. “This dog, he said quietly, “is not going anywhere.” 
I informed our vet that we were adopting another allergy-afflicted dog that also had serious dental issues and that she could go ahead and put down the deposit on that Mercedes.
It’s been a year and a half since we adopted Lily. Her mouth cost us $1,500. She gets an allergy shot every month that really keeps her itching down.  A groomer gives her a trim-and-fluff every four weeks.
We also quickly discovered that if she was introduced in a controlled environment to male persons, preferably ones bearing liver treats, she was their new best friend. She just needed to know they weren’t going to kick her.  The exception was the lawn guy with his leaf blower. No amount of liver treats were going to overcome loud power tools. 
Now that her mouth is fixed and she can eat without pain, we really have to watch her weight. Lily will eat as much food as comes her way, then throw it all up on our duvet. It’s as much a laundry issue as a weight issue to control her intake. 
Two years ago we were absolutely clear we didn’t want another dog. But now we can’t imagine life without Lily. She’s definitely not Winston but she’s Lily, and she’s brought such joy into our household. Last Christmas Olof sent a hefty donation to the rescue organization with this note: “Thank you for letting Lily keep us.” 
Lily checks email
Reading the morning paper with Olof
Hanging around with the grandkids

Best position to watch TV
Fortunately it doesn’t rain very often in San Diego
After a fluff-up at the groomers
Sunday afternoon nap with Olof
Girl fest with the granddaughters