Monday, November 27, 2017

Inga's Guide to Holiday Gift Giving

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Nov. 30, 2017] ©2017
I was frankly concerned about being labeled Grammy Cheapskate for getting my young grandchildren tax deductible gifts for Christmas, but last year they turned out to be the best gifts ever.
 Now I think we’d all agree that just making a donation in a child’s name to a wildlife organization would get you the reputation you’d deserve. But adopting an elephant from the Elephant Sanctuary in my 7-year-old granddaughter’s name was a huge hit. The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee houses retired – or rescued – circus and zoo elephants on 2,700 acres. You can watch them online on the Ele-Cam – video cameras hidden in trees around the property - which my 7-year-old granddaughter and her classmates did on the class computer with great fascination.  The only problem was that then everyone wanted their own elephant.
Please be assured that my $75 donation probably fed this elephant exactly one breakfast.  But my granddaughter is bonded with it as “her” elephant and has its 8x10 glossy photo (from the Sanctuary) and adoption certificate posted prominently on her wall.
For a grandson, I sponsored an abused kitty (a look-alike to their own) that was waiting for a forever home from Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. I got him a child’s T-short from the organization to go with it, and wrote up a summary of animal rights issues that the organization addresses, including working toward the abolition of puppy mills. You can choose to sponsor a dog, cat, horse, pig, goat or other animal in need. They’ll send you a special printed card about the sponsored animal that you can give to the giftee.
This year, another grandson is getting a bat from Bat World Sanctuary.  Like the Elephant Sanctuary, you get a glossy photo, adoption certificate, and history of your specific bat. (In years past, I adopted Cleobatra.) My aunt was a biologist who was a leading authority on Myotis Lucifigus, the North American Little Brown Bat. While bats have the worst press ever, they are vital for ecosystems; up to 98% of all rainforest regrowth comes from seeds that have been spread by fruit bats.  They are the ultimate natural pest control, consuming up to 2,000 mosquitos each per night never mind many of the worst agricultural pests. 
For elementary school-age kids, symbolically adopting a specific animal with a name and getting a photo, history, and adoption certificate has definite benefits.  Let me be clear that you are one of hundreds (hopefully thousands) adopting that animal but it really allows a child to connect with both the species and its cause never mind the animal itself. 
There are a number of other organizations like Defenders of Wildlife and World Wildlife Fund that let you adopt a species (rather than a specific animal) and will send a child-oriented adoption certification and information about that species.
And now, here’s a few kiddie Christmas gifts that were not a huge success, at least with my own kids.  The first is a rock tumbler/polisher which as the name suggests polishes rocks. My son Rory asked Santa for one when he was 10. Now, I’m told that quieter versions are made now but don’t buy this item unless you have a sound-proof detached garage in which to put it. Because those rocks have to be polished for days. In my small garage-less house, the noise was constant and deafening. Worst gift EVER.
The second was a chemistry set, also on Rory’s list.  Now actually a chemistry set can be a really terrific educational gift unless you have an 11-year-old whose idea of “chemistry” is ignoring the booklet of suggested experiments and randomly mixing the chemicals together to see what happens.  Let me tell you:  a LOT happens. Stuff that you really don’t want to happen. So if you have a Rory, the chemistry set needs to be kept under lock and key.
Of course, the worst all-time gift you can give young kids is a drum set. Well, unless you truly hate their mother in which case it can be considered a terrific gift.  Fortunately, no one ever gave my kids a drum set.  I was still recovering from the rock polisher anyway.
I’ve covered kid gifts but I would be remiss in not mentioning another gift that was a huge hit last year at Christmas.  Both our family and my daughter-in-law’s family congregate at my younger son Henry’s house in L.A. Noting last year that it was the 50th anniversary of the lava lamp, I procured one for my daughter-in-law’s parents (veterans, like us, of the late 60’s college era) along with some high quality cannabis procured from a neighborhood youth I’ve known forever.  I would like to say it was my first cannabis buy ever but the young man generously gave it to me for free, hand-rolled and ready for action. A lava lamp by itself is just, well, a lava lamp.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Are Gadgets Getting Smarter Or Are We Just Getting Dumber?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Nov. 15, 2017] ©2017
Every time I see an ad for another “smart” household gadget, the only thing that comforts me is the thought that I am old and will probably die soon.  It’s all gotten too complicated.
I came to this conclusion while having dinner at the home of friends and couldn’t operate their toilet - no handle in sight.  It turns out that to flush it you have to wave your hand over a sensor on top of the toilet tank which was allegedly identified by a little sticker of a waving hand glued on top of the toilet tank but which their 3-three-year old peeled off (and probably ate). Not that the decal would have even helped; it would never have occurred to me to wave at a toilet.  “There are so many germs on those flush handles,” explained our hostess when I tiptoed out and discreetly asked how to flush her commode.  “This is so much more hygienic!” Actually, probably not all that hygienic if you can’t flush the thing.  It’s apparently all part of a new line of “intelligent toilets.”
“Intelligent” and “toilet” are two words that should never appear together.  I want my toilets to be dumb as rocks.  If you have one of those $5,000 programmable Japanese toilets, please do not even think of inviting me to your house.
A few weeks ago I wrote about smart appliances. As anyone who has ever read a single one of my columns knows, I have the technical skills of a fruit fly. So it is truly dismaying to me that the market has been inundated with alleged time-saver gadgets that can be synced to your phone or other devices. My single device – a smart phone - drives me crazy all on its own.
The gadgets may have become smart but have we become stupid?
In the “Really?” category, the $49 Egg Minder is a battery-operated egg carton that will keep track of up to 14 eggs and, using LED lights and the companion app, will alert you as to which ones are the oldest and ought to be used first.  Apparently you can further modify it so that “if you run out of eggs, it will play “I am the Walrus” on Spotify.  (Note: What is Spotify?) Personally, I always just put questionable eggs in a bowl of water and the ones that floated to the top were deemed to have gone to the Big Egg Farm in the Sky. Besides, I always assumed that the eggs in my little cardboard supermarket carton were probably all plucked on the same day.
I was intrigued by the $79 HAPIfork, a smart fork that communicates to a downloaded app via USB or Bluetooth and measures how many mouthfuls you consume. It buzzes and flashes if you’re scarfing your food too quickly.  There’s a dashboard for you to analyze your meal-time “performance” (intervals between forkfuls, forkfuls per minute, total forkfuls) after the fact. This fork would drive me bat-s—t crazy. Since it only measures forkfuls and time, I know I’d enjoy trying to game the thing by seeing how much food I could pile on a single fork load. I used to be able to get half a jar of Nutella onto my single-allotted daily tablespoon. (It’s all in the wrist.)
The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator ($3,499), among its waaaay-too-many features, has three cameras inside to take pictures of your food which you can access from your Smart phone so you can see if you need to pick up more milk on your way home. This feature puzzles me. Milk that I buy is all in opaque containers. So, do little arms come out and shake the carton?
The $150 Geni-Can is a barcode scanner that clips to your kitchen garbage can so you can scan the barcode of items you’re throwing away and add them to your shopping list. If it doesn’t sense a barcode it queries “What may I add to your list?”  Sorry.  When I think my trash can is talking to me, I’ll be concerned that I’m one step from the kids putting me in a Home.  I’m sticking with the list I keep on my kitchen counter. 
The overachieving  voice-controlled Amazon Echo Dot ($50) can  wake you up with your day’s schedule. I’d kill the effing thing.  Nobody talks to me before I’ve had coffee. 
The iSommelier Smart Decanter ($1,499, yes, really) is sort of like a microwave for wine aeration, speeding up the progress. But overall, I think I could probably get by in life without an “aeration progress bar.” Does a little light flash and a voice scream: “I’ve reached my peak! Quick! Drink me before I turn to vinegar!”? 
Of course, you have to actually learn how to use all these gadgets.  That’s the part that would really put me over the edge.
As my husband Olof points out, these gadgets are not targeted to my demographic. It just scares me to think they’re targeted for anybody’s.


Monday, November 6, 2017

West Side (Of L.A.) Story

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Nov. 8, 2017] ©2017
My son and daughter-in-law really thought their extensive kitchen remodel would be done when they booked us four months in advance to babysit our three-, six-, and 8-year-old grandkids in L.A. for six days while they went on a tenth wedding anniversary trip.
As the time of their trip approached, it became clear that the kitchen would not be fully operational.  By “not fully operational,” I mean there was no kitchen whatsoever.  For two long months already, they had been in full survival mode using a small windowless basement room with a table stacked with plastic ware, paper plates, a microwave, a toaster oven, lots of cereal, and a five gallon bottle of water. The fridge and freezer were marooned on the far side of the attached garage.
The question was: could two 70-year-olds manage in this situation? 
It was the stairs that concerned me. We have a one story home. And 70-year-old knees.  But we couldn’t bear to have them cancel their trip. (They offered.)
Further, the three kids went to three different schools, and the two older ones had a full schedule of sports practices and games. Some excerpts from my journal:
Friday, 12 noon: Got there just in time to go with sitter to pick up 3-year-old at preschool. Our dog Lily pooped all over swanky school’s front lawn. In haste to get there on time, forgot poop bags. Grandson’s academic career could be over before it begins. 
Friday, 1 p.m.: Yup, definitely no kitchen here! Skill saws, power tools, and mariachi music going full blast. 
Friday night: 5 p.m. Decided to go pick up Mexican food for dinner, 3.9 miles from house. Took 45 minutes EACH WAY. That averages 5.2 miles per hour.  Babysitter said that sounded about right for L.A.
Friday night: Babysitter showed Olof how to set the house alarm before she left. “Do NOT go outside once you set it,” she admonished.  So once the kids were finally asleep, I tiptoed downstairs to get a much-needed glass of chardonnay from the refrigerator in the garage only to set the alarm off, waking up the kids. How was I to know that a garage connected to a house is “outside”?  Needed second glass of chardonnay for medicinal purposes.
Saturday morning, 7:30 a.m.:  Construction guys showed up, unscheduled. I asked them to turn down the music but they said that then they couldn’t hear it over the power saw.
Sunday: No construction  today!  But, of course, we weren’t home either. Had three soccer practices (including 3-year-old’s Soccer Skills class) and a baseball game. At soccer practice we were busted for “illegal chairs.”  Only folding chairs with round silver frames were allowed as any others might dent the artificial turf.  Field Gestapo demanded that we fold up chairs immediately and stand. Baseball game fortunately had actual grass, suitable for all chair types.
Piled by the front door are three school back packs, three soccer bags, and 1 baseball bag. Before leaving the house for practices and games, we inquire, does everybody have shin guards? Ball? Cleats? Water?  They’d always say yes.  In point of fact, at least one item for each kid will be missing. Kids now required to physically produce all items. We are slow learners, but trainable.
Sunday night: Trying to get three kids up, dressed, and fed in non-kitchen, ready to leave by 7:15, is going to be a challenge. 
Monday morning: The only source of running water on the basement and main floor levels is the tiny powder room sink in the foyer. It’s amazing how few actual dishes you can use under those circumstances.
Monday night: The bedrooms are all on the second floor. Or really third floor to us since a significant amount of our time seemed to be trekking up and down from dungeon kitchen to main floor to bedrooms. Whatever you need is always on a floor where you are not.  This is the ultimate StairMaster workout. 
Monday:  How on earth have my son and daughter-in-law survived this for two months already?
My admiration for them grows by the minute.
Tuesday 8 a.m.: When the kids’ rides leave at 7:15 every morning, there always seems to be one lunch still sitting on the dining room table.  Uh-oh.
Tuesday, 9 p.m.:  We make sure all adult beverages have been consumed before setting the alarm since ice is in the garage. 
Wednesday:  There is truly no escaping the deafening construction noise.  This morning, Olof went out to the patio to read only to have the gardener show up with his leaf blower.
Wednesday:  It’s been a long time since I watched kids’ TV. Going into Octonauts overload.
Thursday: Adore the grandkids and loved the time with them but have definitely felt our age.  Meanwhile, I’m betting that the best meal my son and daughter-in-law ever eat is the first one they make in a working kitchen. 
Olof sorts out Sunday morning breakfast in the basement “kitchen”

The living room lacked use-ability

The source of much – and continuous - noise
Amid the boxes, Olof entertains grandkids with a karaoke concert

Weekend schedule posted on front door
Three-year-old grandson at soccer skills practice
Only source of running water on basement and main levels is powder room sink
Olof escapes power saw noise in house only to be assailed by leaf-blowing gardener