Monday, February 18, 2019

Amazingly, It Wasn't A Scam


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 20, 2019] ©2019

When the service garage manager told me my car failed its smog test because I don’t drive on freeways enough, I was sure I was being scammed.  I’d had this experience once before years ago at the now-defunct service station on Pearl and Eads who told me my five-year-old Camry would need $800 in repairs to pass.  Dubious, I took it to another garage and it passed without a hitch. 

This time, the service manager tried to explain to me that their test machine had failed my car on something called OBDII.  As best as I could understand – and frankly, I couldn’t understand it at all – when I’d had my battery replaced 18 months earlier, it had re-set a thingamagiggy (not its technical name) that was now causing this problem. 

The solution, he said, was that I needed to get the car out on the freeway and drive it around for a while (20-100 miles, he guessed) then bring it back in for a re-test. It sounded so ludicrous that I may have said unkind things.  In my mind, I could hear these guys laughing hysterically and saying, “She actually fell for it!”  I made a mental note to AARP: Alert seniors to the new Elder Battery/Smog Test Scam!

A minor detail with this solution is that I do not drive on freeways.  As in ever.  Hence, my car doesn’t either.  I was a reluctant freeway driver even before a seriously impaired driver slammed his Mercedes into our car at 85 miles per hour. A blow-out at 70 miles per hour on I-5 on Christmas Eve in 2015 clinched it.  My 6’3” husband avoids driving my car as well as no matter how low and far back the driver’s seat is set, his head is wedged against the roof.

But Olof looked up this OBDII thing and amazingly, it’s a real thing.  The internet was replete with minutely-detailed instructions on how exactly you should drive your car to fix this problem.  But being the internet, absolutely none of those instructions agreed.   It reminded me a lot of recipes for perfect popovers, none of which agree either. 

But just so you don’t think I’m making this all up, Olof has complied with my request to explain it to us: 

Inga, my understanding of your smog certificate fiasco follows:

As you are well aware, the state of California has grown concerned about smog, particularly in Southern California.  In response they set limits as to the amount of pollutants that a car can emit and still be licensed. Hence the requirement to periodically take your car to an inspection station and have its exhaust analyzed.

However, our government friends determined that these stations could not economically test the car in all operating modes, so they forced car manufacturers to put in sensors that measure pollutants at speeds and operating conditions that the inspection stations can't observe.  These sensors connect to an onboard computer which stores their results; probably average values for a past period of time, or perhaps the latest values.

This computer is an electronic device and needs electrical power to maintain its memory.  Normally that's not a problem as the car's battery provides more than enough power.  But you had the battery replaced which momentarily deprived the computer of power and wiped its memory clean.  This would also not normally be a problem, but the sensors aren't active at all times.  Some apparently only work in specific driving regimes (e.g. speeds above 55 mph).  Still not a problem normally because after a day or so of driving, all of those regimes should have been experienced, the sensors reactivated, and the computer updated with data.  Only neither the State of California, nor the automobile manufacturers, anticipated granny driving during which the car never exceeds 25 MPH (except on La Jolla Boulevard, where speeds have been observed which, by all rights, should have activated the sensors).

The day after you berated the poor service station guys for not being willing to violate state law, I took the car for a spin up Highway 52 and drove it around near Convoy at various speeds. This was apparently sufficient to re-enable all the sensors and cause them to once again report data to the on-board computer. The next morning the car was issued its anti-smog certificate with no problems.

OK, so Olof fixed it.  But on behalf of all the little old ladies and freeway phobics in America, I protest.  Or maybe it’s just on behalf of little old ladies and freeway phobics in California.  As the washer repair guy said about the pathetically low water levels in my new washer, “It’s a California washing machine.” I’ve already written about our California toilets, the mandated low-flow ones you have to flush six times. Now I have a California car which failed its smog test because I don’t drive on freeways enough.

Seriously, California. 



Monday, February 11, 2019

Droning On


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 13, 2019] ©2019

I’ve already written about the slide rule I bought Olof for Christmas that has warmed his geeky heart, and also the birthstone stud earrings I bought for my 8-year-old granddaughter - the first jewelry gift I’ve ever bought for a child or grandchild.  (As previously noted, my sons and nephews weren’t that interested in jewelry gifts.)

But there was one more successful Christmas gift this year.

For his seventh birthday, our grandson had asked his other grandparents for a drone.  Seemed kind of cool and you could do all sorts of fun things with it, like spy on the neighbors.  The other grandparents, being as doting as we, provided one.

Cleverly, the other grandparents live in Connecticut so they merely shipped the drone out to Los Angeles thanking their lucky stars that they wouldn’t have to be the ones to actually read the directions and get the thing airborne.  But I think they also thought:  how hard could it be? 

I am presuming they thought their daughter would be the one to tackle this task as my son, despite more talents than any human being ought to be allowed to have, cannot change a light bulb.  Seriously.  When they first married, we would buy our daughter-in-law new tools that she coveted for her tool box.

But she is a busy woman.  In addition to three young children, she has a YouTube channel that gets 60 million hits a month.  Nope, not a typo.  But it doesn’t leave her a whole lot of time to be assembling drones.

So my son and daughter-in-law hit upon the perfect solution: at Thanksgiving, they brought it down to our house.  Our grandson had had what was turning out to be an expensive paperweight for three months by then and was giving up hope that it would ever see sky.  But his parents assured him that Baba Olof, an engineer, was the man for the job. 

While the drone made it down to our house, the instructions didn’t.  Such was their faith in Olof that I’m sure they thought he didn’t need them. And normally, like most men, and certainly most engineers, Olof eschews directions as the prerogative of men who wear women’s underwear.  But as it turns out, you needed to be a nuclear physicist to operate this drone.

Wait.  Olof IS a nuclear physicist. Well, okay, his degree is in reactor physics. But he quickly realized this was going to take some serious study and practice which wasn’t going to happen before the end of the hectic Thanksgiving weekend.  But it was definitely in the realm of possibility for Christmas up in L.A. 

So he did the only decent thing: he bought the identical drone for himself. It was a sacrifice, but somebody had to do it. 

I would point out that he did not do this for our granddaughter’s Barbie Camper which had totally thwarted him the year before.  He just let Barbie pitch a tent.

Every day in early December, Olof would be checking the steady supply of packages arriving from Amazon.  Is it here yet?  Despite Olof’s altruistic motives, I wasn’t fooled that there wasn’t a element of Engineer-and-Shiny-New-Toy involved here. 

Meanwhile, I was placing bets on how fast it would take the L.A. neighbors to shoot both drones out of the sky.  But Olof was careful to take ours out for practice in suitably unpopulated areas here in San Diego and sent advance notice to our son and daughter-in-law that given their proximity to LAX, they might pre-screen a suitable flying zone.  The Gatwick thing didn’t exactly promote any good will toward small unmanned aircraft. 

And finally, when all systems were go, he sent a missive to our grandson via his parents’ email: 
It looks like we’re all set for drone flying at Christmas. The drone actually flies itself, based on onboard software and sensors.  What you do with the controls is simply tell it where you want it to go.  If you let go of all of the controls, it doesn't crash.  It stops and hovers in mid-air.  I'm confident that if I can learn to do this, a master of video game soccer like yourself will have no problems.  (Your father will no doubt confirm this, having watched me struggle with Nintendo games.  But don't believe his story that he once beat me 135 to 0 in Nintendo Football.  In reality, his team barely broke 100,)

And sure enough, on Christmas Eve day, Olof, our son, and our grandsons went to the designated Suitable For Flying Drones Without Being Blown Out of the Sky by Federal Agents Location, and launched them. It was really fun.  But then came Christmas morning and a new bunch of Exciting New  Toys showed up.  So that may be these drones’ short but exciting lives. Maybe we can see if Amazon is in the market for some like-new delivery vehicles. 




Sunday, February 3, 2019

Tidying: The Inga Method (ja)


[Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published February 6, 2019] ©2019

You can hardly pick up a magazine these days without reading about the Japanese uber-organizer Marie Kondo whose best-selling book about tidying advises only keeping things that “spark joy.” 

Does that include husbands and children?

Now, I’m hugely happy/joyful with my second husband.  And as for the kids, they live out of town.  But should there be a new box on divorce petitions that says, “No longer sparks joy”?

Apparently, Ms. Kondo is also a precision folder of clothes,  creating perfect rectangles that stand up on edge where everything can be easily seen rather than the traditional stacking method.  I’m sure you get faster with practice, but that’s still gotta suck up a lot of time. My bigger concern:

You can fold clothes into perfect rectangles to your OCD-heart’s content. But good luck getting toddlers, teens, and even more problematic, husbands to buy into – and maintain – your work. There was nothing my kids enjoyed more as tots than throwing everything off the shelves of the changing table or sitting in their father’s sock drawer hurling socks in every direction.  If I had just spent an hour precision-folding all that stuff, I might find myself homicidally annoyed. 

In fact, I still remember a day some 40 years ago that I took it upon myself to organize a whole drawer full of miscellaneous nails and screws into a plastic hardware store container with an insertable divider.  When I was done five hours later, I confess that it did spark joy.  Who knew we had so many rubber faucet washers? But if we never needed one again, we’d know just where to find it! Days later, my (now former) husband took out the box looking for a specific size nail, couldn’t get the lid closed, so he pulled out the plastic divider insert.  I mean seriously, if I could have listed that on our divorce application, I would have because I was so profoundly furious.  And that’s when I realized:  Give it up, sister.  If you want order, live alone with your cats.

The number one question that people have about Marie Kondo: does she have kids?  Well, now she does, but not when she wrote the book.  I’m guessing she has a secret folder/tidyer who works after dark.

Ms. Kondo advises that as you get rid of all that joy-less baggage in your home, you should thank it for its service. I agree that would make it emotionally easier to be a ruthless discarder but what about the discardee? “Thanks for the good times! In return, you’re going to a Goodwill bin where you will soon be worn by a homeless person!” I foresee karmic consequences.

I know that thousands (millions?) of people have bought into this whole “tidying” craze and I can definitely see the potential parallels of a tidier closet equaling a tidier mind.  Personally, however, if I met someone whose drawers all looked like the ones Marie Kondo espouses, I’d be worried there were dead people under their house.

But let’s get back to the whole concept of only keeping things, especially clothes, that “spark joy.”   I have several cashmere sweaters that truly bring me joy.  However, I can say as a 70-year-old woman that my underwear definitely does not spark joy.  But I really think I need to keep it anyway.  And even wear it.

It’s not nearly as catchy a slogan as “spark joy” but I think what Ms. Kondo meant was to keep stuff that “sparks joy, or you just plain need it.”  Or “sparks joy, or the IRS will come after you if you didn’t keep it.”  Or even, “sparks joy, or the divorce is just too expensive.” 

As it turns out, this whole fanatic tidying thing has become an international fad.  The Swedes have a similar thing called “Swedish Death Cleaning” a title so characteristic of the ever-practical no-nonsense Swedes that I almost can’t bear it.  In their version, one should start giving away things in middle age not only to simplify one’s life but to not create a burden on one’s kids later. Never too early to get ready for death! 

My tiny garage-less cottage could fit in the living rooms of a lot of La Jolla homes so I try to keep it as uncluttered as possible.  I just don’t have any place to store anything.  Unloading all the stuff that the kids were storing at our place for ten long years after they graduated from college probably reduced our household inventory by 50%.  And let me say, that truly WAS joyful. It was like the ultimate garage sale!  In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how successful Marie Kondo and the Swedish death-cleaning lady have been with their books, just wait for my best seller, “How to Get your Kids to Take their S—t.”  No folding required.

 There's nothing my kids enjoyed more than playing
"dump all the nice folded stuff off the changing table"

Well, except maybe "empty out Dad's sock drawer"

Monday, January 21, 2019

It's A Question of Balance


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 23, 2019] ©2019

It’s a topic I’ve written about before, but “smart” appliances have totally run amok.  Some months ago, I wrote about a friend’s dryer that had an auto “wrinkle control” feature that fluffed up dried clothes every 30 seconds until the door was opened.  The friends went on a trip to Europe having put clothes in the dryer before they left. It was still fluffing when they returned.

I thought that was hilarious until we bought a new washer recently. Now, I know from writing on this topic previously that there are plenty of other people out there who long for the days of simple washers who let you do the thinking.  We had hung on to our previous washer for 16 years on the advice of repair persons who said the newer ones were not nearly as good as this one.  But ultimately the machine’s transmission went bad (a really expensive repair) and we sent it to the big appliance repair yard in the sky.

If I had it to do over again, I’d put in a new transmission.

Our washer options are severely limited by the fact that it has to fit into a very limited space, making even a quarter of an inch a deal breaker.  We bought the simplest washer that would fit.  It was the same brand we had before, so how different could it be?

Oh, let me count the ways.

The first time I turned it on, I knew within seconds that something was terribly wrong. The machine sounded like it was gasping for air, or at least gear engagement.  No properly working machine should ever sound like this one does.  Except, of course, that the first page of the manual, obviously dealing with this issue on a regular basis, assures you under “Normal sounds you should expect” that it does.  Our dog is terrified of it.

Every time it switches from one cycle to the next, the pipes in the whole house reverberate. 

Unlike washers of old (which is to say, good washers), you don’t distribute the items evenly around the agitator but instead drop them in polite clumps and let the washer distribute them as its own faulty idiotic sensors see fit. 
 
When I ran a full load, I was astonished to discover that the water level was barely five inches and hardly covered the clothes.  But the manual notes that “this is normal operation for a high efficiency washer” and “the load will not be completely under water.”  So, are we dry cleaning here?

I have to use a special detergent marked HE (High Efficiency) which apparently is low-sudsing (to go with the non-water level).  Regular detergent will apparently break the machine if used continuously.
 
It tangles up all my sheets into knots. 

The spin cycle is so aggressive that I fully expect the clothes to come flying out the top of the washer. 

And don't even get me going on the "Lid Lock" feature.

But worst of all: all those blankets that I have been washing for years in my old machine throw this one off balance.  And I mean, if I weren’t home to turn it off, that machine would be in our living room.  KA-THUNKA KA-THUNKA. It sounds like it’s spin-cycling a bowling ball.

No matter which cycle I used, how I distributed the blankets, or what other items (or lack of items) I put in with a heavier blanket, this machine will implode. Ultimately, I have to have Olof drag a 90-pound sodden blanket out to the patio and let it drip dry enough to put in the dryer.  Even then, we’re afraid it’s going to break the dryer. 

I read the manual numerous times before calling for a warranty call about the balance issue.  The repair guy who came did say that I should ignore the self-balance instructions with the heavier cotton blankets and drape it around the agitator.  Not that this helped when he himself tried it even using the recommended “bulky items” option. 

His conclusion: “This blanket is too heavy for this machine.”  It’s a COTTON BLANKET.

As for the ridiculously low water levels, he explained that “this is a California washer” and these very low water levels are now mandated. I’m wondering if there’s a black market for, say, Nevada washers.  

But here’s the kicker:  He put the machine through all the diagnostic tests, including checking its struts and making sure the machine is properly balanced, all of which it passed. (It should, it’s a brand-new effing machine!)  But because it passed all its tests, he is supposed to charge me for a service call - even under warranty! – because the problem is considered “customer error.”  But seeing the look on my face, he created a phony error message that he phonily fixed so the call was free. Because he would not want to be run through this machine’s spin cycle. 

This constitutes the "spin cycle" of our new washer:
24 hours dripping on our patio





Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Joy Of Granddaughters


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 16, 2019] ©2019

I wrote last week about finding the ideal Christmas gift for Olof:  a slide rule.  I’d like to report that it is being lovingly slid on a daily basis.  Who knew there were so many reasons to calculate a logarithm?

But this Christmas was special for another milestone: For the first time ever,  I finally got to buy a grandchild a pair of earrings, in this case some sapphire-ish studs, her birthstone, to adorn her newly-pieced eight-year-old ears.

My adult life has included two husbands (I’m still married to one of them), two sons, two nephews, and a dog named Winston.  Nary a girl in sight until two lovely young women deigned to marry my sons (truthfully, we thought the ladies could do better) and produced two granddaughters (as well as three grandsons).  

I adore all five more than life itself.  But boys?  Been there, done that.  My sons were never all that interested in lunch and shopping.  And maybe that’s the good news. 

Hours after my first granddaughter’s birth, my fantasies went wild about all the things that we would do. I fervently hoped she would join a long line of proud feminists and enjoy learning about how her great-great, and great-great-greatgrandmothers were passionate suffragists, dedicated to the right of women to vote. 

It was clear to me when my sons were young that boys and girls were very different beings.  We would be at the home of a friend who had only girls, and my sons would be tearing around the house while the daughters were sitting on the floor dressing Barbies.  Clearly annoyed, the friend would say, “Could you please ask your sons to play quietly?”  And I’d think, “Sure, I can ask, but good luck with that.”  It’s not that they couldn’t be controlled or even compelled to sit, but “playing quietly” was an oxymoron.  It didn’t take too long until we pretty much didn’t have friends who only had girls. Not that girls can’t be holy terrors themselves. 

My two granddaughters (my other son produced a daughter 18 months after his brother did) are polar opposites.  Yet when they come together, they bond like long-lost siblings, perhaps because neither has a sister or even female cousin of her own.  Although both are theoretically Californians, I think they regard each other as exotic foreign exchange students,  each marveling at the dramatically different life of the other.

My older granddaughter lives in the uber-competitive world of West L.A.  She and her brothers all play multiple sports (both of their parents did in their youths as well) starting with Soccer Skills class at 18 months. It’s a rare holiday weekend that doesn’t include at least one tournament.

In a galaxy far far away, my younger granddaughter spends her weekends in Santa Cruz hiking public lands (for which they have annual passes) with her older brother and her parents, and invited friends, picking berries with which they make pies or jams when they get home. They raise chickens in the back yard for fresh eggs, and otherwise lead an unfrenetic life of wholesome organic-ness. 

When both granddaughters were here in July of 2017 for Olof’s and my joint 70th birthday celebration, I regularly fielded queries from one about the other.  West L.A. granddaughter observed in total astonishment, “Mormor, did you know that Molly doesn’t play a single sport?”  West L.A. granddaughter could not even fathom that there were children who didn’t have assorted athletic bags piled up by the front door.

Santa Cruz granddaughter was equally puzzled.  “So, you have to go somewhere after school every single day?”  She could not imagine that this would be a chosen life.

One afternoon when all the grandkids were in the pool, Santa Cruz granddaughter announced that she had to go to the bathroom.  So she jumped out of the pool, went behind the nearest semi-camouflaging philodendron, pulled down her suit, went, pulled it back up, and was back in the pool all within a matter of 30 seconds. 

West L.A. granddaughter was dumbstruck.  “Mormor,” she asked me later, “is that allowed?”
 
“Well,” I said, “it sort of depends on who your parents are.  And where you live.”  I explained that in her cousin’s world, she spends a lot of time hiking around park lands where there are not actual bathrooms, so that’s what you do. 

But the young ladies were a solidly united front hawking cherry tomatoes from our plants at our front gate at exorbitant prices to generous passers-by.  Farmer’s markets were a language they both understood.

When I learned that my older granddaughter had recently had her ears pierced, I was thrilled at the opportunity of a first-ever purchase of earrings for a child or grandchild.  I don’t know who got more pleasure from it, me shopping for them or her wearing them.  But it’s a whole new era. And I’m loving it. 





Monday, January 7, 2019

A Slide Rule Finds Its Forever Home


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 9, 2019] ©2018

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 this year 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 4. 

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 compute 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 by Zenith Electronics Corporation 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 last six years 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 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. 





Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Ghosts Of Christmas Trees Past


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published December 19, 2018] ©2018

A few days ago I went to buy my Christmas tree and couldn’t help but reflect on the ghosts of Christmas trees past.

My first husband always insisted we get a small live tree which we would then plant in the yard in what he considered a charming post-Christmas tradition. Folks: do NOT try this at home!  Little did we realize how much those suckers would grow - one to 40 feet! By the time my husband and I divorced ten years (and Christmas trees) later, anyone driving by would think our place was a tree farm with a driveway.  Meanwhile, the interior of the house descended into a barn-esque gloom since the tree tops had created a rain forest canopy effect. The tree roots made for constant plumbing problems and grass wouldn’t grow under pine needles. Ultimately, it cost me $4,000 to have ten originally-$20 trees removed from the property.  (I knew I should have had a Christmas tree removal reimbursement clause in the divorce decree!)

Now single with two little kids, I went for the six-foot Douglas fir simply because they were the cheapest. I’d be on my stomach trying to screw the trunk into the stand while six-year-old Rory was holding up the tree. Three-year-old Henry was supposed to tell me when it was straight.  I crawled out from under the tree to discover that it was listing 45 degrees. Irrefutably demonstrating the principle of gravitational vector forces, it promptly fell over.

It was several more years at least until we had a Christmas tree that wasn’t leaning precariously. In a brilliant Single Mom Home Repair School solution, I tied a rope midway up the trunk and tethered the other end to a ceiling plant hook.  Miraculously (since I guarantee that butterfly bolts are not rated for Christmas tree stabilization), it stayed vertical.

Some years later, Henry, who was about 11 at the time, and I brought home a bargain supermarket tree. Our tree, alas, had lots of branches right at the base of the trunk which we were attempting to amputate with a rusty jigsaw (left over from Pinewood Derby days) - in the dark in the front yard via flashlight - so that we could get the trunk into the stand.  What’s amazing is that we didn’t sever any digits in the process. I finally ended up calling a neighbor who came over with the appropriate tools and did the job for us. Decision for next year: better saw, or a tree from a Christmas tree lot.

Since I wasn’t all that interested in replicating the experience even with good tools, the next year I did indeed go to a tree lot and got full service branch trimming. The tree lot guys mentioned that they could probably get the tree on top of my little Toyota if I wanted to save the delivery fee. (I think they sensed a cheap tipper.)  I was dubious but they did indeed get the tree tied securely on top of the car by having me open the two front windows and running the rope through the car and around the tree, knotting it on top.

IQ test: What’s wrong with this picture?

Off I went in the early evening darkness driving as slowly as possible through back streets.  I was terrified that a sudden stop would put this tree on the hood of my car, or worse, through the windshield of the car behind me. With enormous relief, I pulled up in front of my darkened house. It was the kids’ night at their dad’s, and Olof was not yet living in San Diego. My plan was to untie the tree, drag it onto the front porch and have the kids help me set it up the following night.

Obviously over-focused on saving the delivery fee and failing to engage even a single synapse, I had not stopped to realize that with the rope threaded through the car windows, the doors couldn’t open. I was trapped in my car. It was well before cell phones. I sat in my car thinking, “Geesh, Inga, it’s amazing you’re allowed to leave the house without a conservator.”  (And also: Would it have killed those tree guys to ask if there would be anybody at home???)

I sat there shivering in my open-windowed car and pondering my options. I didn’t really want to have to go all the way back to the tree lot. But it would probably take all evening to cut through the rope with my car keys. (Note to self: Keep 9-inch Bowie knife in the glove compartment!)

As luck would have it, a neighbor arrived home from work shortly after, and, graciously avoiding voicing what must surely have been his assessment of the situation, extricated me from the car. Why all of my neighbors were not hiding from me after the first year I was single is still a mystery.

But ultimately, I married Olof and we could afford to have not only the Noble fir I had always coveted but have the nice Christmas tree lot people deliver it and set it up to my satisfaction. Personally, I think I’ve earned it.

No, this is not a tree farm.  My house is in there.