Monday, May 13, 2019

We All Have A Diagnosis

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 15, 2019] ©2019

Reading a story in the paper the other day about various psychiatric diagnoses being lobbed at our President, I couldn’t help but concede that the DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hasn’t spared any of us.  We are all diagnoses at this point. In some ways I long for the days when it was okay to be just plain wacko. 

Let me be clear that I am not making fun of mental illness, plenty of which runs in my own family.  I myself come from a long line of chronically overwrought people; there’s definitely an anxiety gene there.  There’s a worrisome smattering of hoarders too, a few of whom would be shoo-ins for that A&E show.  We all seem to be on various spectrums (spectra?) 

Several years ago, I wrote about my concern that every TV program I watch was sponsored by anti-depressants.  Did they know something I don’t?  Is preference for these shows diagnostic?  Is there, for example, a DSM-V classification for people who watch TLC?  Obsessive Fixation on the Excessively Short, Obese, or Progenitive Personality Disorder?

As a parent, I would never suggest that people not have their child evaluated if they are concerned about the child’s behavior.  But be prepared for a diagnosis.  Both Olof and I became concerned some years ago (our kids were already adults) that every male child on our block seemed to have been diagnosed with ADHD – and most were taking medication for it.  Interacting with these kids on a regular basis, Olof had his own diagnosis: boy.  Most of them reminded him a lot of himself.

Even our lawn mowing guy’s 18-year-old assistant introduced himself with, “I’m ADHD and bipolar.” But that’s one case that I would absolutely not argue.  This kid’s style was to turn up his iPod and kind of get into the Zen of gardening.  Unfortunately, whatever garden he was servicing didn’t appear to be in our galaxy.

There was no DSM category system when we were children but Olof didn’t escape a diagnosis even then.  Hardly an academic ball of fire in his early years, he was deemed an “accelerated non-achiever.”  It was a label that puzzled his parents for years. Did this mean he was gifted but not achieving? Or gifted AT non-achieving?  Regardless, he was not achieving. But somewhere along the way, he managed to up his game and ultimately achieved a degree in nuclear physics from Cal Tech. Sighed his mother (age 93), “If only we could have known.”

A friend was telling me recently that her daughter had been diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder.  I’m thinking, yeah, my kids had that too – never listened! But when it was described to me, I realized my life-long difficulty processing material that I hear is what this means. I need to see material visually to learn it.

In an Abnormal Psychology class many years ago, a classmate queried the professor as to what constitutes a “normal” person.  She replied, “Normal people are those we don’t know well enough to know which ways they aren’t.”  We are all in our own ways functionally compromised.

While the DSM-V seems to have no lack of diagnoses, I’d like to suggest some new ones that apply to me that maybe they should add.  I am hoping that this might qualify me for state aid. 

When I think of my total lack of arts and crafts talent (to the dismay of my children when they were in grade school), I definitely suffer from Diorama Deficit Disorder. 

Post-auto accident several years ago, I’m sure I qualify for Freeway Avoidant Syndrome with Mixed High-Speed Surface Street Elements. 

While some people get right back on a horse after falling off, I could definitely be characterized as suffering from Life Aversion Disorder with Equine Metaphoric Phobias. 

My utter inability to embrace technology and my ill-disguised frustration with it would more than justifiably label me as suffering from Severe Techno Disability with Tantrumy Features and Pathological Resistance to Software Upgrades of Any Variety.

At times I wonder if the whole diagnosis thing has gotten out of hand.  If Jesus were to show up for the Second Coming, they’d have him on a 72-hour psych hold before you could say “yeah, and I’m Napoleon.”  There may be a time (is it already here?) when all of our medical and psychiatric diagnosis codes pop up when you input your social security number.

And that I think is a real problem:  if a diagnosis is wrong, or, if you’ve been miraculously cured of say, your Equine Avoidant Personality Disorder, how do you ever get rid of it?  Nope, it will live on in some computer forever.

Sometimes I think we should just simply the system to the three basic categories that seemed to exist in my childhood:
(1) Rarely Attracts Police Attention
(2) Just Doing the Best They Can (Even If Not Very Good)
(3) Batshit Crazy

For a long time, it worked.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Calendar Shaming

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 8, 2019] ©2019

Techno shaming is nothing new to me.  Fortunately, I am impervious to it.

Every few months, I meet former co-workers for happy hour, usually to celebrate one of our birthdays. At the end of each, we generally try to schedule the next one.  This is when everyone but me takes out their phones and calls up their calendar app. 

Although I have my phone with me, it remains buried in my purse. Instead I pull out a teeny spiral notebook on which I will note the date and location of the next event which I will write in my paper month-at-a-glance calendar at home.

But, they counter, how do you know your schedule?  Easy: I have no life. Olof and I are strict adherents to this way of living. We both lived over-scheduled lives for decades. But no more. Our kids refer to us as “terminally inertial.”  And we couldn’t be prouder.
 I like looking at my month-at-a-glance calendar and seeing everything right there.  Apparently you can do that with your phone calendar app too. But I’d have to turn on my phone and find it. And need a microscope to read it. 

I confess that I did in fact try using the calendar app in a moment of deranged techno bravery.  But then Apple tricked me into upgrading my phone to the next version and it ate all my appointments. Maliciously.  I have never forgiven it. 

I know some people who can’t wait to upgrade their cell phones when a new version comes out. Personally, I’d rather eat my own organs.  Unsolicited updates and undesired upgrades are the curse of the modern world. They guarantee that whatever worked before will never work again.

When the phone ate my calendar, the kids said, well, you should have backed up your phone.  Why?  I don’t need to back up my paper month-at-a-glance calendar.  The only way that data gets lost is if the house burns down. 

My month-at-a-glance calendar sits right next to my land line which all by itself gets a lot of flak. I admit our land line is being used increasingly less.  People try to tell me that I could change that number to be my cell phone number.  Nope.  I don’t want to change my cell phone number either.  In fact, I don’t want to change ANYTHING. No good comes from it.   My landline number is my CVS number and my number of record for pretty much everything, including our financial accounts, credit cards and utilities. When I call, a disembodied voice says, “I see you are calling from a number in your profile.”  Yup, I sure am!  I am NOT messing with it.

We like our land line. There is a lot to be said for a phone that can be used without a manual. You can’t drop it in the toilet.  It automatically recharges. It doesn’t try to trick me into upgrades.  Besides, it's been my number for decades (even if the area code has changed about six times.)  I'm hoping it will be able to be transferred to the Alzheimer's facility with me because it will probably be the only thing I'll still remember.

Our land line phone is attached to an answering machine that blinks.  I know how to listen to messages and to erase them when I’m done and you will have to pry that machine out of my cold dead hands.  This is in contrast to the terror I feel when I’ve missed a call on my cell phone and it has gone to the dreaded Voice Mail which I am then forced to try to access.  Usually I end up inadvertently deleting the message instead. It’s probably for the best.

I recently cut out a cartoon strip where a daughter is trying to teach her elderly father how to use a phone app which he refuses to try.  She concludes, “I guess it’s never too late to stop learning.”  As far as techno stuff goes, I couldn’t agree more.  It just causes me stress.
As for not mastering the calendar app on my cell phone, it probably helps that I have a phenomenal memory for dates.  I still remember all my childhood friends’ birthdays.  It’s like a little pop-up thing in my brain.  From time to time people have said to me, “You must keep phenomenal records to know that date” and I say, “nope, I just remember dates.”  Sure wish I could have figured out a way to monetize it. 

So even though I’m writing down the date of the next happy hour, I don’t really need to.  I’ll remember it.  But what I don’t have a phenomenal memory for is locations.  Hence the little spiral notebook. 

I’m happy to let my co-workers scroll their calendar apps to their little hearts’ content. I’ll just wait patiently.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

More Than You May Want To Know?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 1, 2019] ©2019

I didn’t jump on the ancestry band wagon right away since both my mother’s and father’s families kept good genealogical records back many generations – even centuries.  But I was definitely curious about the carrier status, health predispositions, wellness predictions, and traits data that was now available. 

My sister, a year younger, decided against it. “I don’t want any bad news,” she maintained.

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I replied, “but we’re SEVENTY. How much bad news could there be? We’ve already aged out of Early Onset Dementia!”  But she is unmoved. 

23andme is careful to inform you that with each of the afflictions they test your genes for, they are only testing for specific variants and just because you don’t test positive for those variants doesn’t mean you’re home free on this disease. 

They emphasize that there are all manner of life style and “other factors” that could contribute to your succumbing to these maladies besides your DNA.  Still, I confess it’s comforting to know that if I crump from one of these, it’s my own fault and not my genes’. 

I was especially happy to discover that the variants they tested for me did not detect the variants for BRCA1/BCRA2 (breast cancer), Late-Onset Alzheimers and Parkinsons. 

I did, however, test positive for one of the two variants they tested for Age-related Macular Degeneration.  Apparently, it’s pretty common in people of European descent. 

I was genuinely pleased that “variant not detected” came up on all 44 Carrier traits they tested, even though I had no idea what most of them are.  I am not, for example, a carrier of the gene for Hereditary Fructose Intolerance, MCAD Deficiency, Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata Type 1, Usher Syndrome Type 1F, or Dihydrolipoamide Dehydrogenase Deficiency.  None of them sound like a good time.

The actually fun parts of 23andme were in the Traits sections which predicted whether you were or less likely to have certain qualities related to appearance, weight, food preferences, sleep patterns, and general wellness. 

23andme correctly predicted that I was “likely to have blue or green eyes” (blue; I’m Northern European); “more likely than average to be afraid of heights” (utterly deathly afraid of heights over three feet); “likely lighter skin” (Northern European thing again); “less likely to be able to match a musical pitch” (and then some: I’m totally tone deaf), “likely lactose tolerant” (yup); “likely no unibrow” (correct, but seriously??); “less likely to get dandruff” (true, but see “seriously??” above); “likely no cleft chin or dimples; and “likely to experience hair photobleaching” (i.e. hair lightens after long exposure to the sun).  My hair always lightened multiple shades if I sat out in the sun which I don’t any more after having malignant melanoma, an affliction, by the way, that is not tested.  Personally, I think it had everything to do with all those youth baseball and soccer tournaments in the blazing sun rather than genetics anyway.

 But 23andme totally struck out on other traits: “likely a lot of freckles” (nary a one); “less likely to have lots of baby hair at birth” (born with a full head of hair); “less likely to have thick hair” (I STILL get my hair thinned every three weeks or it’s like a mattress on my head); “slightly higher odds of disliking cilantro” (I adore cilantro and consider it one of the basic four food groups); “likely to have a muscle composition common in elite power athletes” (I’m still laughing); and “likely to consume more caffeine” (definitely not so since I inherited my mother’s severe sensitivity to caffeine). 

23andme predicted I preferred “sweet over salty” which may technically be true but I’ve never met a potato chip I didn’t like. 

Where they really struck out was in the “Sleep and Wakeup Time” category.  According to them “based on your genetics, you’re likely to move about an average amount during sleep” which they note would be about 12 times an hour.  As a sufferer of Restless Leg Syndrome (which sounds so innocuous but is utterly brutal), I move about 12 times a minute.  Interestingly, this can be a hereditary ailment which I’m sincerely hoping for my younger son’s sake is not.  (My older son, noting the afflictions that have plagued his aging parents, is increasingly grateful he’s adopted.) 

Where 23andme struck out the most, however (besides the elite athletes thing) is the prediction that I am “likely to wake up around 6:42 a.m.”  As far as I’m concerned, anything before 10 a.m. is still the night before. It predicted that I am a morning person which I have never ever ever been in my whole life.

Still, it’s been a fun exercise and there are always new reports coming out. So far no really bad news and if some comes out, how hard is it to hit “Delete”?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Dishwasher Wars Revisited

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 17, 2019] ©2019

A while back, I wrote about how Olof and I were engaged in dishwasher wars now that he had taken over this chore in retirement.  Three-plus years later, after considerable discussion and negotiation, I would like to report that…nothing has changed. 

As I noted when I first wrote about this issue, it goes against my feminist sensibilities to stand in the way of a man loading a dishwasher.  But it makes me crazy that he runs it half full. I could easily get three more days’ dishes in there.  As you might guess, our definitions of “half full” vary considerably.

I think we’d all agree that if a family member – particularly a husband family member – takes over a household chore that one has to step back and let them do it their way.  Even if their way is TOTALLY WRONG.  It annoys me to waste so much water, so much energy, and so much wear and tear on the dishwasher.  As much as women want household help from their husbands, it is very hard for a wife to ignore what her husband might unwarrantedly call her “inner control freak.”

Now, it might be easy to wonder about Olof and me: “Do these people need a hobby?” 

Another issue is that for reasons known best to Olof, the dishes are so clean by the time they’re loaded they probably don’t need to be run at all. Since I’m still the dishwasher unloader, I couldn’t help but comment that if you can’t tell whether the dishes are clean or dirty, some of us could give them the benefit of the doubt. The only way I know the dishwasher has been run is that Olof puts a Swedish moose magnet on the front when he pushes “Start.” 

Olof has always maintained that he picked after-dinner clean-up as his retirement chore partly because he read that, in recorded history, no man has ever been shot by his wife while doing the dishes.  He never said so out loud but he was also apparently never all that happy with the job I did with them either. (We can put someone on the moon but we can’t invent a machine that cleans the counters, stove top, and sink too?)

As I frequently noted to him in our dating years, life is all about priorities. The kids seemed to be turning out well. So if the dishes got a little furry sometimes during warmer weather, so be it. That’s what the fur, er, superwash cycle on the dishwasher is for. Astonishingly, Olof married me anyway since Olof is not a furry dishes kind of guy.

Now, you’d think that four years into the dishes gig, he’d have this down to a pretty quick routine.  But he spends at least a half hour doing the dishes just for the two of us. A champion power-loader during my 12 years as a divorced working mom, I always had that sucker loaded up in four minutes flat.

I truly feel that spending a half hour on kitchen cleanup is time that could be used far more wisely. Like reading War and Peace with a snifter of Laphroaig. Or in my case, People with a glass of chardonnay.

When Olof is done, the stove top is spotless, the granite counter tops positively sparkle, and you could be blinded by the shine in our stainless-steel sink. And then – listen to this - he sweeps the kitchen floor. Whether it needs it or not. As you might guess, our definitions of  “needing” vary as much as our definitions of “full.”  Olof will sweep whether you can see a single crumb on the floor.  “Part of the job,” he says. 

In my defense, it’s not like I never sweep.  Just recently I dropped a box of breakfast cereal on the floor which was more than I thought the dog could – or should – eat.  As I was sweeping it up, Olof happened to wander into the kitchen.  “Whoa!” he said, in mock astonishment.  “I didn’t know you knew how to use that thing!”  (He doesn’t know that he’s getting a brand-new broom for his birthday.)

Recently our 18-year-old Bosch dishwasher finally went to the Big Appliance Warehouse in the Sky.  Now we can probably thank the Bosch company at least somewhat for the longevity of this machine, but I contend there is another good reason why it lasted so long.  I only ran it when it was full.  Very very full.  Full being defined as you couldn’t see the bottom of the dishwasher anywhere (or even the racks.) 

Ultimately, we went with another Bosch which Olof is still waaay underloading and which I am still biting my tongue as I unload.  But after four years, I might have to concede that this might not be a winning battle. Might.

Olof pre-washes the dishes so thoroughly that unless he puts the 
Swedish moose magnet on the front of the dishwasher, I have no idea 
whether he ran the machine or not. 
One might ask: does it matter?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

College Admissions Thoughts (Censored)

[“Let Inga Tell You,” should have been published by the La Jolla Light tomorrow (April 3) but they notified me this afternoon it was being pulled as “too controversial” and “potentially offending,” so just a blog post this week.] ©2019

The recent college admissions scandal actually didn’t surprise me all that much. 

When I applied to colleges in the fall of 1964, I think I was aware that the really rich and politically connected weren’t worrying about where they were going to college. They were already going to the right elite prep schools and their names alone made SAT scores moot.
At the same time, I felt that there were still plenty of spots, and if I didn’t get in some place, it was because there were more qualified candidates than me.

But by the time my own kids were applying to colleges thirty-some years later, the playing field had changed in really disheartening ways.  The mother of one of my son’s friends re-registered all of her kids as Hispanic maintaining that the family “identified” with her maternal grandmother who was allegedly Hispanic.  Never mind that their last name was so ethnically British Isles as to conjure up images of grain-based spirits. I don’t remember much in the way of Cinco de Mayo parties over there either. At the time, if you maintained you were even 1% of an ethnicity, you could claim it, not that anyone was checking.  You were what you said you were.

And that was probably why a quarter of the graduating class suddenly seemed to be Native American. I think now they at least make you identify the tribe. Not that it matters.  If the goal is to get people off the reservation and improve the prospects of future generations, admitting kids for whom the only reservation they’ve ever known was for dinner at the Beach and Tennis Club, what societal goal are they really fulfilling?

The easiest way at the time to game the system seemed to be ethnicity. And yet, astonishingly, college admissions staff seemed to fall for it.  In my younger son’s year, “Native Americans” and ersatz Hispanics who were way down the academic food chain were being admitted to highly selective schools while kids with far better credentials were turned away. 

If colleges were looking for stats, they got them. Otherwise, what would make an already-privileged applicant who may or may not possess some long-diluted American Indian DNA be a more desirable candidate?  

Crooked college coaches seem to be generating a lot of news lately which reminded me of a memorable encounter in the produce aisle of my local market. Another mom was querying where my son was applying to school and then volunteered that her son was going to Berkeley.  I expressed surprise since acceptances weren’t out yet, and also because this kid hadn’t been able to play high school sports for two semesters because he didn’t have the requisite 2.0 GPA. She explained that his uncle was a coach at the school and could get her son in as a recruited athlete.  He wasn’t even going to play the sport. And lo and behold, the kid did indeed go to Berkeley.

But some deserving kid didn’t.

Given that the shared last name of both coach and recruit weren’t particularly common, you’d think Berkeley should have been on to this. 

The multitude of articles about this scandal in recent weeks have proffered all manner of theories as to how this came about. Have parents lost faith that if you don’t game the system, your kid has no chance? Is gaming the system now considered fair game?  As more applicants vie for fewer places, is this a natural, nay expected, economic solution?  How many other Rick Singers are out there plying “side door” admissions?  Sadly, I’m guessing he’s the tip of the iceberg.

I was watching a talk show shortly after this story broke in which the guest maintained that in some selective schools, up to 80% of the spots are taken by recruited athletes, affirmative action, and legacies.  I know that most schools (and alumni) are really big on football and basketball, but I remain baffled why the excellent scholastic opportunities at top academic institutions with admission rates under 10% should go to academically-underachieving water polo and lacrosse players who would have no chance of admission otherwise. Ditto fake Indians and deadbeat alumni offspring.  While colleges strive to have a variety of students on their campuses, can this selection criteria really be improving the culture and quality of the school?

 It would seem that in the internet age, it wouldn’t be hard to identify the legitimate minorities who truly are the first generation in their families to go to college.

And as for the legacies, has this become academic incest (albeit endowment-building)? It sounds like a lot of  schools could use some new blood, the subsequent generations lacking the stand-out qualities that their parents or grandparents demonstrated to gain admission in the first place.

I really hope this is an opportunity for colleges to re-examine their admissions policies.  

Meanwhile, next up: financial aid scams.  Don’t get me started.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


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

It’s ironic that only two weeks ago I wrote a column that included the saga of the death of a friend’s pet white rat, Snowball.  When I wrote about the loss of our beloved bull dog, Winston, in 2016 there was an outpouring of support from readers who had been equally flattened by the loss of a fur family member, canine or feline. 

One reader lamented, however, that she felt that no one seemed to understand her grief at the passing of her iguana, Ziggy Marley.  And certainly my friend was not being overwhelmed with the condolence cards over Snowball.  Some types of pets simply resonate more than others. We’ve noticed this with our birds as well.

Our avian saga started when my older son, Rory, then nine, talked me into a cockatiel. It was such a simple request. Sure, I said blithely, you can have a cockatiel. Who knew what far reaching ramifications that simple line would have. What I didn’t know I was really saying was, “Sure. I’d be glad to clean bird cages for the next TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS.”

A few years back when I wrote about our birds, I cautioned that one should never let kids get a pet with a longer life expectancy than yours.

Rory is now 41 and married to a cat person in Santa Cruz.  While cockatiels can live to 30 years (and ours seemed destined to), it’s the children and grandchildren of the originals who hung in there with us over the years. We also became an inadvertent avian social service agency for parakeets as neighborhood kids bought them as pets then quickly became bored with them. It was not unheard of to find an abandoned cage with a bird – no note – on our front doorstep.

With a burgeoning bird population, we had a 4’ x 4’ by 6’ high cage built into our protected back porch and moved the birds outside one summer so they had time to acclimate to the weather. The nice thing about an outdoor aviary is that it didn’t have to be cleaned daily. Still, they could cover a cage floor pretty fast. 

When he retired, Olof took over cleaning the aviary on Sunday mornings.  Even he conceded that after 27 years of cleaning bird cages, I probably deserved a break.

Our young grandkids love the aviary and our granddaughter especially loves naming the birds when new ones show up. By 2015, all the cockatiels had passed away and we were down to two pairs of parakeets, Banana and Green Bean (who were, not surprisingly, yellow and green respectively), and two blue ones, Elizabeth and Oreo.  We never quite got what inspired our granddaughter to name a blue bird for a brown and white cookie, but hey, her choice.

As with all our birds over the years, we are hugely fond of the little guys. They’re truly family. We enjoy listening to their morning chirp-a-thon. They recognize our voices, and even our footsteps and car engines. They flock to the front of the cage in the morning when Olof comes out to uncover them and feed them. And we have mourned the loss of every one of them.

Grieving a beloved pet more than some human family members is not unusual, whether the pet is a white rat, an iguana, or a bird. Frankly, I have several relatives I would have happily traded in for Winston.

This past week, Olof found himself having to report some very sad news to our granddaughter:

Dear Avery -

I'm saddened to report that Oreo, the beautiful blue parakeet in our cage, has gone from this world, flying over the rainbow to wherever birds go.  This morning, I found the blue feather shirt, beak, and claws he left behind still and quiet at the bottom of the cage.

Oreo was the oldest bird in the aviary.  He came to us at the same time as Elizabeth and they were a pair.  When she died many months ago, poor old Oreo was set adrift.  Green Bean and Banana tolerated him, but he was always a little outside their orbit.

This time of year is the hardest for our birds.  It's cold in the cage and it's colder yet for an old bird forced to huddle by himself on a branch.  He had begun to look a little scruffy, a sure sign of a bird wearing down.  Every morning, when I uncovered the cage, he would hop to the front to find a little piece of sun to warm himself in.  Last night it was just a little too long between cold dark and warm(er) morning.

Today I imagined him in a warm, green jungle, flush with food, but devoid of cats and hawks, strutting around like his old self, squawking defiantly at everyone within range.  I hope you will too.


Olof cleans the aviary on Sunday mornings
while Lily supervises

Monday, March 11, 2019

Social Media For Dogs

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

When we take Lily out for a walk, there are certain places she sniffs and others where she sniffs but also pees.  It took me a while, but I’ve now broken the code: this is social media for dogs. 

Each time she stops and sniffs, she’s reading the messages left by her canine counterparts.  And sometimes she feels compelled to, er, post a reply. 

Should we be honored that every dog who walks by pees in front of our gate?  Does this mean Lily has 400 SnoutFace friends? 

It’s really gotten to be a problem.  We are serious dog people but stepping over a lake of dog effluvia every morning can be dismaying.  It is ever more dismaying when we actually step IN it.  So a non-toxic but unpleasant (to dogs) spray was recommended to us to discourage this practice. 

Now that I understand the whole social media aspect of it, I’m feeling bad about using that spray.  Is this like unfriending her canine pals?  If she could speak, would she be saying, “Mom! Dad! You’re, like, ruining my life!  Now Woofgang Etzler and Fluffy Feinbaum ignore me on the bike path! And who knows what they’re posting about me on the agapanthus in front of the Hinkelmans?

That dogs have social circles is no secret.  I live in a very dog friendly neighborhood.  I often see the same groups of people congregating around 5 p.m. chatting with each other as their dogs socialize as well, happily sniffing each other’s tushies. “Oh, Puddles! It’s you! I didn’t recognize your scent at first!  You must have just been to the groomer!  Or the vet! Don’t you just hate that anal gland treatment? Changes your scent for a week!”

Alas, Lily is not usually part of these charming gatherings.  Lily is leash aggressive.  Which is to say that as soon as you exit the yard with her on a leash, she comes Cujo in the presence of other dogs.  Yet as soon as another dog is in our yard and there’s no leashes, she and the visitor are new best friends.  It is so odd for a dog who is otherwise calm and sociable.  When we have guests, she makes the rounds of everyone’s laps. 

Occasionally she seems really interested in interacting with another dog while on a walk, and pulls on her leash toward them, her tail going at 100 wags a minute. If the other owner agrees, I’ll let Lily cautiously approach the other dog who is usually one of those mild-mannered animals who must do the doggy version of transcendental meditation; it is quintessentially calm.  Those interactions always go well.  Everybody sniffs then you can see the other dog going, “Oh, it’s you, Lily.  So about that nasty stuff your parents spray in front of your gate…”

I am truly fascinated not only with canine communication skills with each other but their skills with humans. Dogs truly excel at conveying their emotions. Would that people were so easy to read.  A friend sent a photo of her dog Ingy who had just had ACL surgery. The dog was plotzed on the sofa, one leg thoroughly bandaged, and definitely benched for the foreseeable future. That face! Who needs words?

Indeed, anyone who has ever had a dog as a family member is impressed with how truly evolved dogs are.  Then they go and roll in their own poop and, well, you just have to deduct a few points.

Lily, like all dogs, has her own repertoire of faces.  The ears-folded-back plaintive look that says “You’re really going to eat that burger in front of me?”  The ears-straight-up full-attention look when our new washing machine is running (we’re both terrified of it).  The cartwheels she does when we walk in the door. She’s never lost her shelter dog abandonment issues. If we go out for a half hour, you’d think we’d abandoned her for weeks.  She leaps into my lap and slathers my face in a frenzied doggie saliva facial. “You’re back! I thought you were gone forever! Never do that to me again!” 

When Olof was in the hospital last year, she pooped on the floor until he came back. How much clearer can you get?

And let’s not forget “dogar.” A dog can hear the sound of the fridge opening and the crinkle of a package of cheddar cheese no matter where she is in the house or how loud the TV is.

Well, now that I understand the whole social media aspect of sniffing and selectively peeing, I’m probably going to cut back on that spray stuff by the gate.  Maybe give Lily a little time to build up her friend base again. See if Atilla and Sparkles and Hairy Pawter and Orville Redenbarker will start leaving her messages again.  I just hope she appreciates our sacrifice.

 Really hard to imagine this dog as Cujo

Neighborhood dogs love to post messages for Lily
around our front gate

Monday, March 4, 2019

Thwarting Bruce

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 6, 2019] ©2019

The hysterical call came in at 9:30 one night.  A care giver at the home of a disabled friend was on the other end, so distressed that I could only assume that her client had shuffled off this mortal coil.  But it was worse than that.

There was a rat in the kitchen.

Now let me just say that I can provide no corroborating evidence that this creature was, in fact, a rat and not, say, a field mouse. In every description of the sum-total two (alleged) sightings of this animal, his dimensions have increased, currently assuming the size of a small dog.

Hoping to defuse the situation and to allow us to discuss the situation without using the inflammatory “r” word, I named him Bruce.

Now, I know that most people are not terribly fond of rodents. The exception would be my dear friend Carol who had a beloved white rat named Snowball.  When Carol went through a horrible divorce, Snowball would lick the tears off her face at night as she sobbed into her pillow. One can never underestimate the power of pets to sustain people in times of sorrow.

One night last year, I opened my door to find Carol at my doorstep in abject distress. Snowball had been diagnosed with breast cancer. We’ll leave aside the obvious questions as to who treats pet rats (I have enough trouble finding vets for our birds) and how this diagnosis might have been made.  Routine mammogram? Self-exam?

As anyone with a pet knows, there is virtually no medical treatment for a human that cannot now be done for an animal.  So the rodent vet had offered a comprehensive treatment plan. It wouldn’t be cheap. But none of that matters to those of us who are faced with losing a beloved family pet.

Bruce, of course, was not a pet.  More in the “scourge” category.  My personal theory was that Bruce had been looking for a warm dry place to come in out of the week’s torrential rains and had been pleased to find a ready-made fruit bowl banquet on the kitchen counter.

Alas, it looked like the care givers might actually quit over Bruce. They had barricaded the kitchen closed from both sides, stuffing towels under the doors, refusing to enter, and were ordering take-out.

My first suggestion, of course, was to remove the Bruce Buffet from the counter and put it in the fridge.  The next morning – Valentine’s Day – I braved the record-breaking deluge through flooded streets and broken traffic lights to acquire kid-and-pet-safe bait traps at the hardware store and deliver them to our friend’s home.  I then called six different pest control places, none of whom could come until the next week and none of whom were willing to just trap one creature.

The care giver thought that Bruce might have entered through a hole in a cabinet vent which she maintained should be immediately plugged up by someone other than her. She then thankfully ended her shift and fled the house. But her replacement was even more rodent phobic than she.  Not gonna work in a house with a rat.

Given that Bruce’s demise had to be hurried along, I called Olof who came over with our should-be-patented kit we’ve affectionately dubbed Furry Varmint Demise: finger-breaking rat spring traps, peanut butter (rat food of choice), cheese cloth (to wrap the peanut butter in), and Brillo pads to stuff in places where you think the rats might be entering (Single Woman Home Repair School hint).

We carefully slid the baited spring traps underneath shelves where they would be heard but not seen if they went off.  We advised the care givers that we did not provide Deceased Rodential Retrieval Services between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. 

 I also acquired some sealed plastic containers that could store food items that needed to be left on the counter to ripen.  I failed to mention that any self-respecting rat could chew through them if sufficiently motivated.  Sometimes illusion is as important as reality.  Getting the care givers back in the kitchen was imperative. 

Days went by and no more signs of Bruce. Tentative activity resumed in our friend’s kitchen. Olof and I began to wonder if this could be a new retiree cottage industry for us. 

As for Snowball, I was at the grocery store one afternoon some months ago when I got a call from Carol.  She weepily reported she was in the vet’s waiting room waiting to have Snowball put down.  The treatment plan would likely cause Snowball considerable discomfort with no guarantee of appreciably extending her life. A rat’s average life span is only two years and Snowball’s date of birth was unknown.

We cried over a memorial bottle of wine later that evening. And yes, it was really sad.

Sorry, Bruce.  It all comes down to being invited.

Care givers keep interior doors closed and 
towels underneath to keep from being attacked by Bruce

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"