Monday, October 15, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 17, 2018] ©2018
It was no accident that the other wives and I were not invited to Olof’s college roommate reunion in the Pacific Northwest. This was the ultimate Geek Tour.
It’s actually fairly amazing that these six physics majors, now 70, have managed to stay in such close contact all these years. Reunions are pretty much yearly, some related to weddings or milestone birthdays, others for no reason other than the pleasure of getting together.
Olof still likes to recall his first exposure to freshman physics professor and by-then Nobelist Richard Feynman as an undergraduate at Cal Tech. It involved a heavy steel ball attached by a cable to the lecture hall ceiling which was intentionally hurled at considerable velocity at the professor’s face, and, by not killing him, demonstrated some extremely important law of physics. It definitely got his students’ attention.
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?)
Two of Olof’s college roommates live in 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 “Are we done yet?” they opted this year to reune without us. We wives imagined them geeking out by day, and hanging out at a local bar at night, lamenting the demise of the slide rule.
Up first for the guys was a trip to Hanford in the southeast corner of Washington for a tour of Reactor B where plutonium was first manufactured as part of the Manhattan Project. (Please ignore all errors; I truly have no idea what I’m talking about.) Clean-up is still underway all these years later to make sure that all the reactor fuel is truly, safely “cocooned.” Afterwards they went for lunch to what Olof described as a “nearby winery.”
“How nearby?” I inquired. “Were the grapes the size of baseballs? Did the wine glow in the dark?” Apparently not that nearby.
The next day they were off to LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) which is a large-scale physics laboratory aimed at directly detecting gravitational waves. As I understand it (and believe me, I really don’t understand it), gravitational waves were predicted to exist by Einstein based on his theory of general relativity, but he apparently didn’t think it could be proven. But the detectors at LIGO were able to detect gravitational waves from two colliding black holes. For people with Olof’s background, life doesn’t get more exciting than this.
A brief somewhat sentimental (such as these guys get sentimental) side trip was taken to visit the nearby potato farm that was one of the roommates’ first investments. In fact, he had tried to entice Olof to move up there and use his technical skills 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 potato 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 a project at the Dallas airport, all those trips to Biloxi, more than a million miles on an airplane. You could have just had a quiet life in Yakima churning out French fries!”
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.
It goes without saying that a hugely good time was had by all. They’re already planning next year’s trip and their top contender is to visit the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva. It was built to detect the Higgs Boson particle and for physics guys who actually understand muons and quarks and leptons, this would truly be a dream. I have to admit it does sound sort of cool if I could acquire enough knowledge between now and then to have even the teeniest understanding of it all. Is there a “Particle Physics for Dummies?” Maybe a children’s tour?
Monday, October 8, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 10, 2018] ©2018
At my granddaughter’s first birthday, her mother tore off a small piece of the baby-sized chocolate cake and gave it to her. My granddaughter ignored it, picked up the cake itself, and buried her face in it. I knew at that moment that my genes had been thrown forward.
Over the nine years I’ve been writing this column, chocolate has been a frequent topic. I’ve written about research studies (undoubtedly paid for by Nestles) that extol the health benefits of chocolate, particularly one that maintains that chocolate increases brain function. I have this study framed on my wall.
I have reported that, unknown to any but the most dedicated wrapper-reading chocoholics, one can supply ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of one’s daily calcium, riboflavin, protein AND fiber requirements (never mind a whopping 50% of your daily iron) with only twenty-five vending machine-size packages of M&Ms – all with no trans-fats and staying WELL within your daily sodium and cholesterol allotments.
In a column about Nutella – a divinely rich chocolate-and-hazelnut heroin – I revealed my should-be-patented method for getting a half of a large tub of Nutella out in one tablespoon. (It involves burying the spoon into the Nutella jar about five inches up the handle. Then with dedicated practice (it’s all in the wrist), one twists the spoon until a giganto glob of Nutella at least three inches in diameter is wrapped around it.) In Inga’s world, this still counts as restricting oneself to one tablespoon of Nutella per day.
I’ve attributed my inability to lose weight to the Lindor Truffles commercial: “Do you dream in chocolate?” You betcha. That’s what sabotaging my dietary efforts: it’s all that chocolate I consume in my sleep. My ever-skeptical primary care physician suggested I should consider eating less chocolate in my sleep and while I’m at it, start exercising in my sleep as well. She just never lets up.
I have been promised that at my funeral, some seriously unflattering (actually downright vicious) chocolate stories will abound. Which, of course, is why I’ve tried hard to get my own versions of the chocolate stories in print while I’m still above the grass. (Leaping upon my startled ten-year-old and shoving my fist half way down his esophagus to retrieve my Mrs. Field’s cookie was a reasonable act. He already ate his. That was MY COOKIE!)
The kids will relate how I had them hide the Halloween candy from me but then rifled their rooms for it when they were at their Dad’s. Or when they went out Trick o’ Treating, I had them stop by the house from time to time to dump out their bags so I could poach the Mini Mounds Bars.
Anyway…when the grandkids are here, it is already an inviolable tradition that in the morning, Baba (that would be Olof) gets up early with them and makes Baba Pancakes – a choice of chocolate chip or blueberry. Suffice to say, my granddaughter only ever wants chocolate chip.
Over Labor Day, I stupidly bought the chocolate chips a week early somehow deluding myself that I wouldn’t eat them. I truly do not keep chocolate in the house, because it calls out to me. Really loudly. In fact, it refuses to shut up.
As the Labor Day weekend approached, Olof couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be fewer chocolate chips in the bag. He left a note one morning: “Inga – Rats have gotten into the chocolate chips again. Better call Pest Control or there aren’t going to be any left for the kids!”
So, I did the only reasonable thing. I finished off that bag and bought another one, penitently handing it over to Olof with instructions to hide it.
One thing Olof was clear about: I wasn’t the only one from whom he had to hide chocolate chips. Our eight-year-old granddaughter is a mini-me where chocolate is concerned. As I was tucking her in one night, she whispered conspiratorially that she knew where Olof put the chocolate chips but couldn’t reach them. But, she added, I could. We could split the stash 50-50, leaving enough for breakfast.
As tempting as this was, even I was loath to corrupt the morals of a minor. I advised that we wait until after the last breakfast then tear the house apart if necessary.
I told this story a few minutes later to Olof, mentioning that I hadn’t gone for the granddaughter’s plan, however tempting. The chocolate chips were safe. Olof laughed. “Of course they are,” he said. “I’m on to you two.” He had already moved them from the hiding place my granddaughter had seen, assuring me with a satisfied smirk that we would never find them. And we didn’t.
But Thanksgiving is coming and grandkids will be back. Olof may THINK there’s a place in this house where chocolate chips cannot be found. We will prove him wrong.
Monday, September 24, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 26, 2018] ©2018
I can’t believe that after nine years and 300 columns I’ve never written about toilets. Well, actually I did but it was about these new high-tech ones that have no obvious flush mechanism, like, say, a handle. In my view, they should be BANNED from guest bathrooms.
But today we’re addressing low-flow toilets, a topic near and dear to all Californians’ hearts since we have the strictest flush laws in the country. All toilets sold in California have to meet low-flow efficiency standards requiring they use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush.
Of course, given California’s perennial drought problems, water conservation has almost become a religion. So, well before the plumbing police officially invaded our bathrooms, people – nice people like Olof and me – converted two of their three toilets to low-flow when they remodeled those bathrooms 15 years ago. Let me say that we have been underwhelmed with the results. As Olof points out, toilets that have to be flushed four times to “achieve clearance” are NOT water-saving. We make sure the Ferraris of plungers are standing by in both of those bathrooms. You can get a good aerobic workout from plunging. But it isn’t our preferred exercise.
Lately, however, we have learned that there is hope. Neighbors of ours remodeled their guest bath at around the same time we did and put in a low-flow toilet that, astonishingly, performed even less well their ours. Fortunately, that bathroom didn’t see much action in the way of overnight guests – just polite after-dinner pee-ers - until their young grandchildren, now six and eight, started coming more frequently for overnights. The neighbors were constantly plunging the toilet. And no, this wasn’t young kids deciding to see what would happen if they flushed toy rocket parts and stuffed animals, a phenomenon I know waaaaay too well. (A 2010 column led with the line: “My husband has always maintained that I married him for his skills with a sewer augur, but that’s only partially true.”)
But no, this was stuff that was intended to be flushed. And these kids are tiny – 50 and 60 pounds respectively. And picky eaters to boot. Seriously, how much poop could they produce?
My friends were considering posting a sign over the commode along the lines of: Please do not poop in this toilet! But it seemed a tad inhospitable. And definitely a dilemma for overnight guests since the only other commode was in the master bedroom.
They reported that they even considered a different sign, “Flush early and flush often!” But they really couldn’t count on compliance. Especially from a 6-year-old who could not yet read.
They finally decided that just as there was incentive to Build a Better Mouse Trap, there must be a sufficient mass of other unhappy low-flow toilet users that someone was inspired to build a better toilet trap. So off they went to a local plumbing fixtures emporium.
May I help you? asked the nice sales lady.
Husband: Our toilet has been outgunned by the grandkids.
Saleslady: I’m guessing you bought this toilet 10-15 years ago. [They said yes.] Well, she continues, leading the way to the sales floor, there are MUCH better options now. Far improved technology from the first ones that just used the same mechanism with less water.
She points to an American Standard toilet and says, “I sold this model to a family with three teenage water polo players whose Dad is a Navy Seal. They’re very happy with it.”
The neighbors are still trying to make the connection between water polo player kids/Seal dad and performance. But it invokes an image of athletic persons who presumably eat a lot and therefore…. Definitely not 6-year-old picky-eater poopers. Marketing is everything.
So they bought it. And couldn’t be happier. One of the reasons it apparently works better is that it simply has a bigger hole for effluvia to leave the premises. No, er, bottlenecks, so to speak.
The other improvement is that it simply has more “gusto,” as my neighbor says. You flush that handle and it clearly means business. Business with your business. No “now if you’ll all please move to the sewer pipe” politeness. This one completes a flush in 1.5 seconds (scientifically timed by the husband) versus a full four seconds by the old one. Same amount of water in the tank but definitely more velocity.
They’ve nicknamed it The Terminator. And it has improved their lives immeasurably.
We still have the original industrial-strength toilet in our master bathroom and up to now, Olof has always maintained that they will have to pry it out of his cold dead hands. (Kind of a mixed metaphor there but you get the idea.)
I’m definitely getting the name and model number of the neighbor’s new commode to replace at least our two low-performing low-flow toilets. It would be the best Christmas present ever to retire from the plunging business.
Monday, September 17, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 19, 2018] ©2018
You can always test whether someone is a serious cruciverbalist (crossword puzzle person) if they know the answer to the clue “Bambi’s aunt.” Also if they do the puzzle in ink.
Of course there is a huge practice effect with crosswords. I initially started doing them because they were touted to ward off brain decline. Then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that maintained that the only effect crosswords have on your brain is to make you better at crosswords. I was crushed. But by that time, also hooked.
Sudoku just makes my head hurt but there is nothing more relaxing to me than a nice hard puzzle. (OK, chardonnay works too. Chardonnay in combination with a puzzle is even better.) It can’t be so hard that I can’t do it but if it’s too easy, it just annoys me.
I have to say if I had a preference, there would be a NYT puzzle version that was sports-free. If the answer is three letters, I know it has to be Els, Orr, or Ott, but I can never remember which one is the hockey player.
I fortunately have my nuclear-physics-trained husband to help me with the physics clues, of which there are a surprising number. He’s pretty good on those annoying Tolkien answers too which you’d think I’d know having been subjected to all three deadly Lord of the Rings movies, but which I’ve totally suppressed.
I would also ban puzzles that have obscure foreign names as both down and across clues so you never know if you got it right.
Just like recipe ingredients in the New York Times Sunday magazine, there seem to be words in the English language that are never used except in New York Times puzzles.
Quaint, British expressions that I don’t think even the British use any more are regular answers, particularly the word “egad(s).” The clue will be “By Jove!” or “Good gravy!” or “Heavens to Murgatroyd.” (Who the heck is Murgatroyd?)
Other annoyingly-antiquated Britishism clues and their answers are “nifty!” (neato), “fiddlesticks!” (pooh), “tommyrot” (bah), “toodle-o” (cheerio), “dagnabbit” (nerts), “balderdash” (horsehockey), “Did you see that?” (ohsnap), “I declare” (gracious me), and “oh nonsense!” (pish). I don’t think I have used any of those words in my 70 years. Seriously, “pish”?
Alleged British slang tends to creep in regularly as well, as in “rough bed” (doss), “play hob with” (do mischief to), and “simpletons” (geese).
It was early in my crossword puzzle career that I was totally stymied by the clue “Philadelphia sewer.” Now, I read this as referring to a series of plumbing pipes under the city of Philadelphia and couldn’t get it at all, only to discover that the answer was “Ross” (as in Betsy) who sewed our first flag.
But once on to them, I wasn’t fooled by “Castle with famous steps” (Irene), “Flying Solo” (Han), and “Field work” (Norma Rae).
The NYT puzzle just loves those sneaky clues and I have been brought down by more than few, for example, “One whose 60-something” (Dstudent), “sticky foods” (kebabs), “iPhone8” (TUV), “Jolly ‘Roger’” (Ihearya), “snaky character” (ess), “heat shields” (badges), “homey” (dawgs), “something the Netherlands has but Belgium does not” (capitaln), “maker of thousands of cars annually” (Otis), “very basic things” (lyes), and “took out the junk” (sailed).
They also got me with “appropriate game” (poach), “spend time on-line” (dries), “evening result” (tie), and “baby shower” (sonogram). Groaners all.
OK, I admit I have a fairly concrete mind. But sometimes I think that the NYT just makes up words. For example: “Visibly stunned” (agasp), “really angry” (ireful), “running slowly” (seepy), “visibly embarrassed” (ablush), “mounted” (ahorse), “one who avoids being touched” (epeeist), “like paradise” (edenic), “venomous biting” (aspish), “echo” (revoice), “board near a gate” (enplane), “embiggen” (enlarge), “making bubbles as an ocean wave” (spumed), “treat as a saint” (enhalo), and “uhhhhh…” (erm). Erm?
There are some clues I find ridiculously obscure and that’s when I start writing really vicious letters in my head to the NYT puzzle editor, Will Short. For example, “peddler of religious literature” (colporteur), Korean War soldier” (ROK – Republic of Korea), “PV=k” (Boyles Law), “gladly, old style” (life, as in “he would as life eat rocks as….), “gloss” (annotate), “fancify” (doup), “waterfall” (cataract), “enlightened sort” (arhat), “cabbage or kale” (doremi - apparently a slang and somewhat dated term for money), “Spartan serf” (helot), and “what a mobius strip lacks” (end). Like, regular human beings would know these?
Some clues just come under the heading of just plain stupid such as “Improved place to hang a hat” (antler).
As much practice as I’ve had at the New York Times puzzle at this point, I can safely say I will never achieve the status of people who do them in ink.
Monday, September 10, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 12, 2018] ©2018
If it’s early fall in La Jolla, there are spider webs everywhere. They seem to be especially fond of my house.
I’m not particularly bug-phobic. But I’ve never managed to make friends with spiders.
However, my husband, Mr. Spider, is probably their biggest fan. The other night he went to take the garbage bag outside to the black bin but was back again still carrying it. “There was a huge spider web right next to it,” he explained reverently. “I didn’t want to disturb it.”
I keep several old brooms around the outside of the house for the specific purpose of disturbing spider webs. The alternative is that I don’t see them, especially at night, and walk right into them. Not only is the feeling of being engulfed in web one of my least favorite feelings in the world, but you have to wonder: Where the spider?
If it had been me bringing out the trash, I would have said, “Sorry, cowboy, dinner’s over. This is a loading zone.”
My husband considers spiders to be fellow engineers and has only the utmost respect – almost a veneration – of their talent. There is nothing he enjoys more on an early fall evening than sitting outside at dusk watching the spiders go to work. Me, I’m always rooting for the flies.
In the 45 years I’ve been in my house, I know where spiders’ favorite places are: Across our wrought iron gate to the pool area. Across the walkway to our back gate. Between our cars in the driveway. Across the steps of our front porch. Silhouetted in the trees. Under the house. Especially under the house.
At various times in my 12 years of chronically-broke single momdom, I was forced to crawl under the house – a heavily-populated arthropodal Xanadu (never mind my personal vision of Hell) – to pour muriatic acid in the cleanout pipe. My list of lifetime goals includes never doing it again.
Interestingly, spiers seem to be able to learn. If I forget to turn off our small garden fountain before it gets dark and have to go out the wrought iron gate to the back yard to turn off the switch, I wave my warms in front of me so I won’t get a spider web in my face. I notice that the next night, they build their web higher up. (Thank you.)
I realize that arachnids are just trying to make a living like everyone else. I remember first being informed of this at a workshop at Esalen Institute in the Big Sur years ago when I breathlessly reported that our room had black widow spiders. The front desk counter-culturalist replied with barely disguised ennui that the spiders had just as much right to live as I did. (I chose to squash them.)
I’ve spotted both black widows and brown recluses on my property at times. Fortunately, not often. The preponderance of our fall spider population are (alleged) non-biters.
It goes without saying that any spider that has the nerve to actually enter my home is considered to have a death wish which I am happy to accommodate.
My arachnophiliac husband points out that spiders are good for the environment, eating disease-carrying and crop-destroying insects among others. I have pointed out to him that our little chunk of La Jolla heaven is probably really low on those, although if they were willing to consume whatever pest chomps on my basil plants, I could reconsider.
Who, he continues, waxing awestruck, programmed the brains of the little marvels with such sophistication as to be able to create these complicated webs night after night? How could anyone not be impressed, nay, dazzled?
Every web begins with a single thread, he explains, which are silk produced from the spinneret glands located in the spider’s stomach. The spider climbs to a suitable starting point (my porch light, for example, which has the added benefit of enticing light-attracted insects) and releases a length of thread into the wind. With any luck, the free end of the thread will catch onto something else, like my hanging vinca basket. And then he’s off and running. Or in this case, spinning.
If there were a product called Arachnid Death, I wouldn’t mind spraying it around outside the house when my husband wasn’t looking. But Olof would be bereft. Olof is aware that this time of year, I’m offing spiders pretty regularly. It’s one of those marital “don’t ask, don’t tell” things.
He, however, would never slay a fellow engineer.
After all these years of his influence, I’m surprised to admit that I am actually developing empathy for spiders. Well, to a point. Just before I whacked a web across my front porch, I said to the spider, “See that tan house across the street with the gold Subaru in the driveway? I think they’re friendlier.” It was the best I could do.
Monday, August 27, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 29, 2018] ©2018
Recently I noticed a recipe in AARP Magazine for Kimchi Stew which I cut out for Olof. I noted that Kimchi Stew combined his two least favorite foods – kimchi (popular with his first wife) and tofu – into what would be his Ultimate Worst Meal.
OK, maybe penultimate worst meal. When we lived in Sweden, we were determined to try everything, including a sour fermented herring called surströmming. I think the best approximation of the smell would be rotting corpses awash in a massive sewer backup. The recipe is as follows: “This dish is prepared from the small Baltic herring, which is salted and set aside for a rather long time. When the souring process (a process of controlled rotting or fermentation) has got under way, the fish is put up in hermetically sealed tins, which are distinctly swollen by the time they are ready for sale. A pungent aroma – delectable to some, repulsive to others – fills the room whenever a can is opened. By ordinance, the year’s supply of sour herring may begin to be sold on the third Thursday in August, and this signals the start of festivities.”
OK, so already you’re wondering where the words “delectable” and “festivities” come into this. Putting a sales embargo on this year’s “crop” until the third Thursday in August is a brilliant feat of marketing.
While it is not polite to make fun of another country’s semi-national dish, surströmming is not a universally loved food even among the Swedes, who, as the description above suggests, either love it or hate it.
American neighbors had purchased a can of surströmming at the local fisk hallen which had been residing in their fridge just waiting to be shared with guests they hoped would leave. Er, no, with equally adventurous friends. So one Sunday night, we opened the can at our house.
One thing became very clear: this is truly raw fish. Efforts to think of it as simply Sushi Gone Bad were in vain. But we were all determined to go through with it, buoyed by the knowledge that Swedes had been eating it for centuries, and that we had a reservation at an Italian restaurant at 8:00. To eat surströmming, Americans have to suspend all previous knowledge and instinct, along with several millennia of good sense. It goes against everything we know to eat stuff from an (a) bulging can that (b) screams botulism and is (c) both raw AND rotten and that (d) smells like a global plumbing disaster, and (e) is really slimy, never mind has an (f) high risk of explosion, and that (g) - despite (a) through (f) - we should embrace as a delicacy.
Eating it right off a cracker with a dab of onion and a bit of sour cream as the purists do (and we did as well) apparently takes years of training, and quite possibly Swedish genes. One can also bury it in a casserole of potatoes (proportions something along the lines of 200 to 1).
Surströmming is definitely an acquired taste which neither Olof nor I acquired while in Sweden. But we hadn’t been big fans of herring in general when we arrived and came to love non-surströmming varieties.
We discussed over the table what the history of surströmming might be. It’s obviously been around a long time (literally and figuratively). It would definitely have been the ultimate economical olden times party food. (One can feeds 50 because the other 49 aren’t eating it.) Herring is certainly plentiful so even in times of famine, there’s always going to be fish. In fact, that is Olof’s personal theory about it all: that during the long harsh Swedish winters when food was scarce, this was the fall-back food. It was eat this or eat your children. (In my view, it must have been a hard decision.)
We could imagine what life was like during those times: “Hey, kids! We’re having surströmming again tonight! (And for breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow.) Hmmm, isn’t this just totally yummy? Oooh, and this batch tastes particularly rotten – just the way mommy likes it!” Apparently salt (for curing) wasn’t widely available and the production of this stuff required only a small amount of the then-precious mineral which allegedly slows down the actual rotting process in favor of fermentation.
Because the cans are fermented and bulging, they cannot be taken on a commercial airliner in carry-on luggage as the cans could explode if the cabin lost pressure. (Some airlines have apparently classified it in the same category as shoe bombs, an act that Swedish aficionados of this raw fish grenade term “culturally illiterate”). If a pilot thought he had problems with cabin pressure, it would be nothing compared to the passengers throwing open the emergency exits and bailing out of the plane at 35,000 feet.
Monday, August 20, 2018
["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 22, 2018] ©2018
If there is one thing we can observe about our five young beloved grandchildren – fondly referred to by my husband as “the destroyers of peace” - it is that they have just as much energy as they have ever had, but we have way less.
If there is one thing we can observe about our five young beloved grandchildren – fondly referred to by my husband as “the destroyers of peace” - it is that they have just as much energy as they have ever had, but we have way less.
We recently had them for a three-day weekend with their dads. Our daughters-in-law were supposed to come too but one daughter-in-law, a teacher, had just been promoted to principal of her school so her work year started early. The other daughter-in-law had just returned from a fun but exhausting two-week family vacation to the east coast. She said she hoped I wouldn’t be offended but there was nothing that would make her happier than three days Home Alone. I wasn’t offended at all. I remembered the feeling well.
Now what was different about this visit was that without the organizing influence of the two moms, things got a tad chaotic. The kids’ rooms at our house looked like cyclones had hit them. We have a pool, which was a godsend in the stifling heat, but beds and floors were a sea of clothes, shoes, and wet towels. There were probably more red solo cups strewn around than the morning after a fraternity kegger.
I’ve long since learned to only buy the smallest size water bottles. Every evening I did a sweep around the house to collect the two dozen or more containers that had been opened, had two sips taken out of them, then abandoned. My potted plants were really grateful.
And then there was the issue of everything in the living room ending up on the floor. We have a really small house, just one small living room, no family room. The sofa has throw pillows, some chenille throw blankets, and our assorted stuffed Swedish moose collection. But still plenty of room for people. Within 30 minutes of the grandkids arriving, every single item on the sofas is on the floor.
The upside, however, was huge. There was a lot of brother love between my sons, never mind some serious cousin bonding. This is the age those bonds need to be made. My sons spent a lot of time in their youth making adventure movies with our very low-end movie camera, and it was heartwarming to watch the cousins filming similar movies with their iPads. They had some amazing special effects in theirs. I asked one of my grandsons how he had done one of them and he said, “Easy. With a green screen.” I have absolutely no idea what that means. Elementary school kids know this?
During down time, I played a DVD of my kids’ old movies which I had managed to save and have transferred from VHS. The grandkids loved seeing their fathers, not much older than they are now, making movies in the exact same backdrop.
There were definitely some visible changes in the times. Right after breakfast, three of the kids were glued to their iPads listening to…I have no idea.
I had saved some of the toys that my sons used the most and love seeing them get a second life with the grandkids. Wood blocks. Lincoln logs. Matchbox cars and a floor mat to run them on. And small toy guns.
When I was a child, I can remember my toy pistol-toting brother and his friends playing “cowboys and Indians.” I can assure you that cowboys and Indians would now be profoundly politically incorrect. In fact, school children the nation over no longer sit “Indian style” on the floor but sit “cross cross applesauce.” No idea what applesauce has to do with it other than it rhymes with cross cross.
All of my kids’ toy guns were former cap guns. I can remember all manner of shoot-em-up games going on in the front yard with the neighborhood kids, sometimes just using thumb and fore finger instead of actual toy guns. But given the epidemic of shootings in this country in recent years, the guns suddenly took on a really bad vibe to me. They’re now in our trash bin. An era that needed ending.
After three really fun but utterly exhausting days, the assorted families packed up and departed amidst a lot of hugs, final movie edits, snuggles with our dog Lily, and weepy goodbyes, leaving Olof and I to survey the debris field of our home which we elected to ignore in favor of falling face down on top of our bed for a serious nap.
When I pulled back the covers later that night, I was delighted to find a note written on two paper napkins from my eight-year-old granddaughter: “When will you come to L.A.? I miss you. Avery.” She drew lots of hearts on it too.
You can overlook a lot of wet towels, goldfish crackers, and Solo cups for that kind of gratitude.
Kids' room debris field
The best reward of all