Sunday, December 20, 2020

Gifts That Keep On Giving

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published December 21, 2020] ©2020

My children never got to know my parents so I’m always trying to think of ways to pass down their legacy. My folks were in one sense the ultimate odd couple – he a conservative Catholic and she a liberal feminist Protestant.  But their values were remarkably aligned in key areas: kids, community, education.  Both were scout leaders and school volunteers. Dad was chairman of the area United Fund campaign, my mother was Red Cross Disaster chairman. Mom taught ESL, helping her immigrant students get driver’s licenses and jobs, and taught American History to men at the nearby penitentiary.  In a move that probably didn’t make my father terribly happy, she once went door to door soliciting for the Bobby Seale Bail Fund. 

I don’t get to see my five grandchildren nearly as much as I’d like since none of them lives in town.  So I’ve tried to find ways I can connect with them for a greater good.

At Thanksgiving, which we didn’t get to have together this year, I always sit down with the grandkids to help them research what charities they want me to contribute to in their names.  This year we had to do it remotely. 

Ryder, age five, who previously was all horses all the time, has moved on to whales this year.  Fortunately WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) has lots of child-friendly contribution options including various humpbacks and orcas with specific names, photos, and histories that can be selected by the child and about which the child will receive an adoption certificate and the whale’s personal history.  I have found over the years that the charities that have this option are perfect for engaging elementary-school-age children in the issues of a particular endangered or compromised animal. 

In fact, probably the best gift I’ve ever given a child was to adopt for my granddaughter an Asian elephant named Shirley from the wonderful Elephant Sanctuary which rescues circus and zoo elephants and allows them to spend their golden years on 2,700 acres of idyllic land in Hohenwald, Tennessee. My granddaughter is devoted to Shirley.

While the elephants are deliberately not put on display, you can watch them on Ele-Cams set in trees around the property. When my husband had his heart attack in early 2018, my granddaughter informed me that both she and Shirley were praying for him.  When you’ve got an elephant praying for you, you know you’re going to be all right.

My granddaughter recently noted from literature that the Elephant Sanctuary sends her that Shirley and I are exactly the same age.  She was careful not to add “and weight.”  This year, she wanted to add donations to the ASPCA and Best Friends Animal Society to her list as well. 

Anyway, my 5-year-old grandson opted to adopt a humpback whale named Mars.  I sent WDC the contribution and notified my son and daughter-in-law to have a 50,000-gallon tank ready on their patio by Wednesday.

My grandson Brooks texted me his charity pick:

Brooks:  Horses horses horses, horses and more horses.  Do you love horses as much as I do?

Me:  Thanks, Brooks! Let me research some options for you to pick from!  (I sent some links to charities that target retired race horses, wild horses, and general equine rescue to his parents to help him review.)

Brooks (next day): Mormor, can you pleeeeeeeease adopt Zippy from Falcon Ridge Equine Rescue?  [Please note this would require taking possession of an actual horse rather than a symbolic adoption.]  You have such a big front yard that would be perfect.  You would be my absalute [sic] favorite person in the entire world so please can you adopt us Zippy she would be a great horse. I have wanted a horse like that ever since I knew what a horse was.  [He is nine.]  (64 heart emojis followed.)

Me: Hi Brooks – I would love to adopt you a horse. But alas we are zoned (ask Daddy) against livestock (which includes horses).  Go figure!  Would you like me to make a donation to Falcon Ridge for you in Zippy’s name?

Brooks: (unhappy face emoji)  Zippy is soooo beautiful though. Pleeeeease?

I was just trying to imagine the postal carriers and Amazon folks negotiating a horse between our gate and the front porch. Like we don’t have enough trouble with the dog.

Now, there have been some suggestions that all this largesse on my part has some benefit to me as well.  Still, my sons and daughters-in-law are careful only to refer to me as “Grammy Tax Deduction” behind my back. 

So at this point, we’ve contributed to quite a few animal (and even a few people) charities and are now on every mailing list for pretty much everything.  But it’s been a wonderful antidote to otherwise trying times and I know it would make my parents truly happy too.  I’m just hoping Zippy doesn’t actually show up at my front door.



                                         [Black Panther] Bobby Seale (c. 1974)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Just Fed Up With Everything

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published December 15, 2020] ©2020

As we all know, sometimes the only thing you can control in life is your attitude.

At the moment, my attitude sucks. Completely. Totally.

I really do try to count my blessings. If anyone has little reason to complain about the impacts of Covid-19, it’s me.  I don’t have to keep a business afloat or Zoom school kids or pay $50,000 in tuition for a college kid to be sitting at home.  I’m not food insecure (what was wrong with “hungry”?) or living on unemployment.  So far, Olof and I are healthy. Ninety-nine percent  of Americans would probably covet my life.

So why do I feel like standing on my fire-hazard wood shake roof and screaming? 

OK, election fatigue is a heavy contributor, a huge stress no matter what side of the partisan fence you’re on. In the past, the reward for enduring a year of robocalls, toxic television commercials, and a forest’s worth of mailers is that somebody actually gets elected and it all stops.  Not anymore. Or possibly ever again.

When we moved abroad for several years, we had to go to absentee ballots.  Best thing since sliced bread (which, by the way, revolutionized commercial baking in 1928. All those nice even pieces!)  Now when we watch the news on election day, we wonder why anyone who has the option of an absentee ballot stands in line for up to six hours. Instead, you could be sitting in your comfy reading chair with good light and a nice glass (or two) of chardonnay pondering the pros and cons of the various candidates and ballot measures.  I confess I often can’t remember how I voted on some of those measures after G.

Maybe people just lose their resilience as they get older. The prospect of being dead before the next election is giving me reason to live.

I remind myself that the nation has endured much worse and for far longer than we are enduring now.  Those poor folks in the Spanish Flu pandemic had just survived a brutal world war.  My mother was born November 1, 1918, the week of the highest number of deaths in that pandemic (55,000).  My grandmother nearly died of that flu. Fifty million people worldwide were estimated to have perished from it.

My parents grew up in the Great Depression, later serving in World War II.  They’d probably look at the current situation and say, “And you’re whining?”

Yup, I’m whining.  I constantly run all these facts through my head – my blessings, the lack of wars, the hope for January 20.  I remind myself to get a grip.

Sorry.  Done with grips. Strictly gripes now.

Normally I love this season. But this year:

Halloween:  cancelled.

Thanksgiving: cancelled.

Birthday festivities the first week of December:  cancelled.

Hanukkah festivities the week after:  cancelled.

Christmas (absolutely totally favorite holiday of the year): cancelled.

I’ve barely seen the grandkids. I haven’t had a dinner guest since February. Instead, I’ve gained the Covid 19.  I just can’t seem to socially distance myself from my refrigerator.

With hair salons closed again, I’ll be reverting to my springtime “Nouveau Lion King” look. Massage places can stay open because their services are considered “therapeutic.” Personally, I consider not looking like a muppet very therapeutic. Maybe hair salons need to think outside the blow dryer. Rebrand themselves as lice control?

Every day has started to feel like Groundhog’s Day.  I’m getting up later and later, hoping if I stay in bed long enough it will be tomorrow. I can’t bear to turn on my computer and be assaulted with the latest election craziness, the climate crisis du jour, and the newest Covid restrictions from some elected official I increasingly hate. 

I still talk to my parents (yes, I’m aware they’re dead) and ask them for their advice.  They’re inclined to tell me that maybe I have it too good. Maybe I need that failing business or Zoom-schooled child to get me up and moving and to stop wallowing in abject crabbiness.

It was certainly true when I divorced in 1983.  I had two preschoolers, a minimum wage job, and was eligible for earned income credit for women below the poverty line the first year I was single, thanks to my ex-husband’s vicious barracuda lawyer.  (In my first post-divorce will, I left a bequest to the two heroin addicts at Wind n’ Sea beach who were alleged to break anyone’s kneecaps for $500.)

In that era, I wasn’t worried about happiness.  I was worried about surviving.  And kids are really good about getting you out of bed in the morning, as is providing a roof over one’s head.

But no, I’m not wishing mayhem on myself just to kick start a better attitude.

Like most people, I’m just trying to have hope for 2021. I would never dare suggest that it surely couldn’t be worse than 2020. They might hear you.

                                              Social calendar for December 2020

                                      Still holding on to a good attitude last spring 


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Thanksgiving Home and Abroad

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Dec. 9, 2020] ©2020

Like lots of families, it was Thanksgiving for Two at our house this year.

We could have eaten out. No wait, we couldn’t, unless we wanted to eat outside. Plus, Olof is really into the leftovers.

We needed a whole turkey since I like the white meat but Olof is a dark meat/drumstick guy. But this could mean more turkey sandwiches than even Olof would ever be able to eat.  (It did.)

When the meat department guy said he could order me an “8-10 pound” turkey, I was deliriously happy.  

“Olof,” I said when I got home.  “I may be able to get an 8-pound turkey!”

“Yes,” said Olof, “it’s called a chicken.” 

When I picked up the bird (10 pounds), the butcher said that they normally never had a single order for turkeys that small.  This year it was 90%.

While consuming our turklet, Olof and I opted not to dwell on the twin demons of Covid and electile dysfunction but to reminisce about the Thanksgivings we had spent in Stockholm when we lived in Sweden in 2005 and 2006. 

Swedes are not all that familiar with turkey or even enthusiastic as to why an entire nation would consume a large carcass of basically dried-out meat.  Sort of like their reaction to baseball: “So the fun is the food?” they ask with puzzlement after attending a game.  This from people whose national sport is curling.  When we were there for the 2006 Olympics the government TV stations (all we had access to in our sublet) carried every last second of curling and not one second of figure skating.

One year, we were actually able to be part of a largely-authentic Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of an American friend, Susan, married to a Swede. Susan had spent an entire week doggedly combing Stockholm for a turkey - very expensive and not easy to come by – especially one that would serve ten.  A side of moose would have been easier but it's not really in the pilgrim spirit.  I brought the "cranberry sauce" (made with lingonberries).

Usually if ex-pats are going to have a Thanksgiving dinner, they import the ingredients during a summer visit to the U.S.: stuffing mix, ingredients for pumpkin and pecan pies, cranberry sauce etc.  We ended up with a currant pie instead which was, well, interesting.  So it takes a little improvising to have Thanksgiving in Sweden, not the least of which was that everyone’s traditional recipes were in U.S. measures in Fahrenheit being prepared with deciliter measuring cups in small centigrade ovens. 

Another American friend that year reported that she had invited 14 people to her apartment for Thanksgiving and had ordered up a 10-kilo turkey from a trendy Östermalm food store. That morning, she sent her husband and their baby in the stroller to pick up the turkey.  But when they got there, the trendy food store said, oops, all we have are two 5-kilo turkeys or one 16-kilo turkey.  Well, only having one small oven, they couldn't cook two turkeys, so the wife instructed the husband to get the 16-kilo turkey instead.  However, we're now talking the difference between a 22-pound turkey and a 35-pound turkey, and the husband couldn't fit the turkey and the kid in the stroller, especially as the turkey outweighed the kid by considerable.  So the wife had to come down herself to carry the baby while the turkey rode home in style. 

Despite her careful measurements that the turkey would just baaaarrreeeely fit in the oven, it didn't.  Big crisis.  So she finally called the trendy food store back, buried them in invective, and demanded that they cook the turkey for her.  This being such a decidedly un-Swedish move, they actually acquiesced.  So the husband was assigned to load the now-stuffed turkey back into the stroller and lug it over to the food store, and ultimately to cart the fully-cooked version back to the apartment.  That turkey probably saw more of Stockholm than most tourists. 

The U.S. Embassy in Stockholm always hosted an annual Thanksgiving feast for the American Women’s Club the week before Thanksgiving. The U.S. Consul told us that his last assignment had been in Afghanistan, and, wanting to host a Thanksgiving dinner for his staff there, he requisitioned a turkey.  When it showed up, it had a string around its neck and was running around in circles.  Ultimately, they ended up shooting it.

The Consul's wife, meanwhile, was German and so didn't grow up with Thanksgiving.  The Consul reported that after taking the bird out of the oven, he went to make the gravy not realizing that his wife had already put dish washing liquid in the pan full of drippings. She was incredulous that he was actually going to do anything with them.

Ja, Thanksgiving abroad. Great memories, and next year, hopefully family here again. Some Swedes would be really good too.

Susan and Barbara making gravy, Stockholm, 2006

                       Swedish friend Erik (Susan's husband) posing with turkey

Olof taking on official carving duties
(that's my lingonberry cranberry sauce on the table)


Monday, November 23, 2020

It Just Ain't So

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 25, 2020] ©2020

Given the national despair over both election ugliness and the ever-worsening pandemic, I’ve tried to steer clear of both topics recently.  But now that the election is over, I couldn’t help but be even more dismayed by the warp speed the misinformation superhighway seems to be traveling these days.

At this point, politicians seem to be confident that they are preaching to a nation of sheep – and I say that with apologies to ovines everywhere.

Is curiosity dead? How hard is it to run information you read or hear through a quick mental filter of “Does this make sense?” “Does this ring true?”

It’s just so easy to check the veracity of information – for example, on the website  So why don’t more people do it? 

I wish the entire nation could get a Ph.D. in skepticism.  This whole year was a bottomless slough of disingenuous, invidious, dissembling, specious, obfuscating, fallacious perfidy and prevarication.  On top of that, there was a lot of lying.

I think the only thing that saved me from locking myself in a bunker and having my meals delivered by Uber Eats is that I’m not on social media. That would have pushed me over the edge. Still, I’ve received so many disheartening email internet rants – political and otherwise – from people whose intelligence I would normally respect but who seem inexorably committed to believe – and pass on – whatever shows up in their in-baskets.

Some time ago, I wrote a column called “Please don’t send anything to everyone you know” about the internet screeds that the wingnuts of the world forward to everyone in their address book without passing them through the most rudimentary filter of credibility.

One example: An otherwise-intelligent acquaintance from La Jolla had sent me (and about a hundred other of his closest friends) an email entitled “REFUSE NEW COINS!”  The all-caps subject line is usually a good tip off that it’s either an urban legend or some mass hysteria among the conspiracy set, which was only confirmed by the three-inch-high exhortation to ‘SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!!”  That always seals the deal for me.

In this particular tirade, “true Americans” (Strike 3) were implored not to accept the “new” dollar coins that were intentionally missing the words “In God We Trust.”  In doing so, the email rants on, “Together we can force them out of circulation.”

Actually, that won’t be necessary.  They were already out of circulation since they constituted some 50,000 incorrectly imprinted coins out of a batch of three million that the U.S. Mint struck in early 2007, and instantly became collectibles.  You should be so lucky to get one. I ascertained this in approximately three seconds by typing the words “US coins without in god we trust” into my browser and getting pages of articles about the error – and the ongoing annoyance of the U.S. Mint plagued by the dingdongs who have persisted in circulating this conspiracy story.

As the oft-quoted saying goes, “We are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts.” Or we used to be, anyway.  Apparently we are now entitled to our own facts. Alternative facts. Or, in fact, any “facts” that anyone cares to dream up and post.

So, here’s Inga’s short guide on how to recognized informational insanity:

1. Did the writer finish third grade?

2. If the bells going off in your head sound like klaxons, maybe it’s not true.

3. If there is even a single phrase in capital letters accompanied by more than one exclamation mark (“TOGETHER WE CAN STOP THIS!!!”, YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED.

4. Has the sender sent it to 150 of his or her closest friends?

5. If the conversation starts with “I heard,” stop listening.

6. Consider the source. The text of a hilariously clueless speech several years back that was attributed to Mitt Romney quoted him as saying that he could relate to black people because his ancestors owned slaves.  (They didn’t.) The “speech” was from a spoof article on the satirical website which, incidentally, proclaimed prominently at the top that is a satirical website and they were just funning you.  I guess they need to be clearer what the word “satire” means, as in, “We make up everything we put on this website for entertainment purposes and you should not believe any of it.”  But would that even be enough anymore?

As for the chronically-overused and abused Forward button, I think it should be programmed to give you three sequential prompts before it will actually allow your screed to contaminate the ether.  As in:

1. C’mon, really?

2. Are you SURE some yahoo didn’t send you this?

3. Do you want people to think you are a yahoo too?

It won’t help.  But I’ve done my best.



Monday, November 16, 2020

Never A Dull Moment

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 18, 2020] ©2020

 A few months ago, I wrote two columns regaling my readers with stories about how my older son, Rory, managed to terrorize me repeatedly by re-enacting scenes from horror movies he’d been allowed to watch at his father’s.  (I personally think my ex hoped I would suffer a heart attack and die, thereby absolving him from further child support payments.  He denies this.)

 Multiple readers asked, “How did you not kill this child?” Well you should ask.  

 Rory was a diabolically creative child.  There was nothing he liked better than an audience so he looked for – and invariably found – public places to create excitement.  He was adopted so I was hoping to live long enough to meet the woman who had spawned him. Mysteriously, when I finally met her 10 years ago, she turned out to be totally normal.  So…Dad?

 Rory cut his creative eyeteeth at the supermarket as a toddler maneuvering half gallon glass jars of apple juice over the side of grocery carts. He graduated to punching holes in an entire display of off-season tomatoes with a caramel apple stick. Buried his three-year-old brother under a five- foot display tower of stuffing mix by pulling out the bottom box. Pasted “100% pure beef” stickers from hamburger packages on my rear end. (I was always suspicious when everyone was smiling at me.)

Restaurants were another favorite place.  At his 10th birthday celebration at the Reuben E. Lee sternwheeler restaurant, a waitress carrying a huge tray of dinners over her head somehow encountered Rory’s foot. At the Mandarin House restaurant on La Jolla Boulevard, Rory managed to surreptitiously grease the water glasses with pot sticker oil so that they slipped out of the waiter’s hand and splashed all over the table.

 If I sent Rory to his room, he’d open up both his windows and whack on his bed with a tennis racket screaming “Please don’t beat me, Mommy!”  Or worse:  “No, no, don’t touch me there!”  (Those stranger awareness classes in grade school were perfect fodder for someone of Rory’s imagination.)

 His hand-made Mother’s Day card the year he was 10 read:  “You’ve been like a mother to me.” 

 My car radio stations were perpetually changed to Mexican polka music with the volume turned up high so that it would scare the bejesus out of me when I turned on the ignition. 

 Over the years, he evolved into more sophisticated but always unpredictable pursuits, even after he left home. In college he wrote his Abnormal Psychology term paper about me. And sent me a copy.

 In 2009, during a weekend visit, Rory appropriated my 14-digit library card number sticky-noted to my computer and ordered me up a long list of books including The Book of the Penis (it came with an 8-inch ruler along the binding); The whole lesbian sex book: a passionate guide for all of us; and Coping with Your Colitis, Hemorrhoids and Related Disorders. He was aided and abetted by the public library website’s then-policy of announcing “your password is the last four digits of your phone number,” a policy now changed, presumably at the behest of other mothers with prankster sons. But once these titles were on the reserve shelf with my name on them, there was nothing to do but take them home and read them.  And write Rory a book report on what I had learned from each of them. 

Soon after my 65th birthday, a woman called our home from an agency called A Place for Mom which services the severely memory-impaired.  She asked for my husband Olof, and when told he was at work, was greatly dismayed to learn that I had been left unattended. Puzzlingly, she seemed to have a great deal of information about me. When I adamantly insisted “I do not need institutional care!” soothed, “You seem to be having one of your good days, dear.” I don’t know why I didn’t suspect Rory immediately.

But it’s only fair to note that Rory can also channel his creativity into forces for good. Once when we were traveling to a family reunion on the east coast, our bags were lost when we arrived in Philadelphia. The baggage lady expressed total ennui until 11-year-old Rory, who had been entertaining himself wheeling around the baggage area in a wheelchair, rolled up to the counter, and feigning a pronounced facial tic, whined “Mommmmmmmy, I left my medicine in my suitcase.” The baggage lady’s eyes suddenly got big and she began typing faster and faster. Rory, thrilled with his success, began flailing in the wheelchair, finally falling out of it completely onto the floor. Our bags were quickly located and we had  passes to the VIP lounge while we waited. 

So what does Rory do now, you ask?  He’s a therapist in private practice with a waiting list a mile long. And it’s exactly the right job for him. 



Monday, November 9, 2020

Worst Patient Ever

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 11, 2020] ©2020

What is it with men, anyway?

No, don’t even try to answer that. It’s just one of life’s imponderables. But obviously some anomaly in the Y (Why???????) chromosome.

Over the last 11 years I’ve written countless columns about my wonderful husband Olof who is the easiest guy on the planet to get along with. Well, until he is sick or injured.  Then he becomes the worst patient ever

This was definitely true after his heart attack in 2018.  We were 12 hours away from leaving for a trip by airplane when I noticed with concern that Olof appeared to be in considerable pain. Not, of course, that Olof would ever admit that he was minutes away from a massive near-fatal cardiac episode because that would make it far too easy for anyone, like his soon-to-be-formerly adoring wife, to actually help him.

When queried, he maintained he’d eaten a restaurant lunch that was giving him heartburn (he had never had heartburn in his life) and would I please not make a big deal out of it!  He was fine!

To prove this point, he then decided to stand up (very very bad move) and promptly keeled over, doing a full-force face plant into an armoire, sustaining a serious brain injury in the process. For the first time ever, I wished I’d had a shorter husband than my 6’3” spouse who would have had less momentum on his way to the ground.

The irony is that that brain bleed and facial and neck injuries took far longer to heal than the heart attack.

I confess that by the time he was fully recovered, I hated him. Yes, I know that sounds mean.

His neurosurgeon had only released him home if I would be constantly monitoring him for a specific list of danger signs that could indicate impending stroke or seizure. Or death.  Trying to nurse someone back to health who is utterly uncommunicative about their physical condition is exasperating.  In Olof-Land, if you don’t admit it, it’s not happening. 

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I said to Olof at the time, “but only one of us has a degree in nuclear physics. The other one is actually intelligent. And cannot keep you alive without your verbal participation.”

It was incredibly stressful.

“Surely,” I’d implore, “there is some middle ground between denial of discomfort, and paramedics resuscitating you?” 

Fortunately, he did make a full recovery, thanks to excellent medical care and his sainted wife. (That would be moi.)   I even, ultimately, came to be fond of him again.

But I did feel compelled to observe to him that he was such an impossible patient, if he should develop a long-term malady, I was putting him in a home. And not necessarily a nice one.

Fast forward to October, 2020.  Olof is limping. Badly. But he denies anything is wrong.  The next day Olof has fished the crutches from a long-ago sprained ankle out of the hall closet and is using them.  He is wincing painfully and becomes perilously close to falling on multiple occasions, especially when navigating the steps down to our bedroom. His knee is significantly swollen. But he is “fine.” 

No, he insists, he didn’t actually “do” anything to it. (Do I believe this?)  It just got sorer and sorer.  He’s sure it will be fine in a few days. 

I, of course, suggest Advil and ice and elevation.  Olof is willing to consider elevation, but not the Advil or the ice.  Especially not the Advil.  That stuff isn’t good for you, he insists.  Neither is falling on your recently-healed head, I rejoin. 

Olof’s theory is that if you take pharmaceuticals or other amelioratives (ice) then you won’t know when you’re better.

“Actually, Olof,” I countered, “when the Advil wears off in eight hours and the pain returns, you’ll have a pretty good idea.  And you will have suffered less in the meantime, never mind reduced a lot of potentially-joint-harming inflammation.”  (My first husband was a doctor.)

But Olof was stoically refusing all treatment, including and especially a trip to Urgent Care.

“Just so we’re clear,” I announced to him on Day 5, “I do not respond to medical emergencies after 9 p.m.  So if you fall after that time, I am merely putting a blanket over you – a scratchy one if it’s between 1 and 4 a.m. – and leaving you until morning.”

After a week, Olof’s knee started to get better and after ten days it was pretty much fine.  During this time he had never ingested a pharmaceutical or seen an ice cube. In his view, this was perfect vindication for his “do not feed the lions” “it will heal on its own” approach to medical care.  Don’t ask, don’t tell, and whatever you do, don’t admit pain. 

OK, not my philosophy. But from now on, you’re calling your own paramedics.


If you think you are about to have a heart attack, do NOT stand up.


Monday, October 26, 2020

Married To Spider Man

[“Let Inga Tell You,”  La Jolla Light, October 28, 2020] ©2020

 If it’s fall in La Jolla, there are spider webs everywhere.  They seem to be especially fond of my house.

 I’m not particular 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 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’s 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 a fall evening than sitting outside at dusk watching the spiders go to work.  Me, I’m always rooting for the flies.

 In the decades 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 into the cleanout pipe. My list of lifetime goals includes never doing it again. 

Interestingly, spiders seem to be able to learn. If I forget to turn off our fountain before it gets dark and have to go outside to get to the switch, I wave my arms 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 at Big Sur years ago when I breathlessly reported that our room had black widow spiders. The front desk counter-culture kid replied with barely disguised ennui that the spiders had just as much right to life 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 minimally agricultural-intensive, although if spiders were willing to consume whatever pest chomps on my basil plants, my opinion of them could change considerably.

Olof, meanwhile, loves to wax awestruck about spiders. Who, he marvels, programmed the brains of these amazing creatures with such sophistication as to be able to create such complicated webs night after night?  How could anyone not be impressed, nay, dazzled?

Every web begins with a single thread, he explains, which are a 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 released a length of thread into the wind. With any luck, the free end of the thread will catch on to 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 gray Suburu in the driveway?  I think they're friendlier."  It was the best I could do. 


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dogs With Bad Knees

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 21, 2020] ©2020

 It’s been my observation over 11 years and nearly 400 columns that I always get the most response when I write about dogs or my husband, Olof. Olof is trying not take this personally.

 The dog sagas have spanned our gradual acquisition of our granddog, Winston, who came to stay with us for longer and longer times until he never went back home again. We were utterly bereft (and still are) when he died suddenly of a heart attack in our living room at age eight but not before we had invested some $10,000 in his well-chronicled multitude of medical maladies.

 Such was our heartbreak about Winston that we vowed to never have another dog.  Then a cunning rescue agency, recognizing mushballs when they saw them, persuaded us to take a “one-week” emergency foster, Lily, our dog today. She’s a 19-pound bichon-poodle mix, a breed Olof always disparagingly referred to as a “foo-foo dog,” 

 “I would never be seen in public with one of those dogs,” he once scoffed, in Winston days. 

 That 6’3” former Air Force pilot that you see around town with the little white fluffy dog?  That’s Olof.  It took Lily all of three days to worm her way into Olof’s anti-foo-foo heart. He is besotted over this animal.

 When Olof and I adopted Lily, it was clear she was going to need extensive dental work. She had actually been relinquished to the County shelter for this reason.  The County’s medical in-take report was all of four words: “Nice dog. Terrible teeth.” 

 But by this time, after Winston, we already had come to grips with being a canine social service agency. So we alerted our vet that she could go ahead and put a down payment on that new Mercedes as we were adopting another dog. 

 Now you’d think that anybody who has spent this much money on canine medical care would have pet insurance. In fact, we originally did for Winston.  I don’t know if it was just a terrible company but they never paid for anything, insisting that the insurance didn’t cover issues that were endemic to the breed.  With English bulldogs, everything is endemic to the breed.  They are the unhealthiest dogs on the planet. In fact, our vet said that in veterinary school they used to have a bumper sticker that read, “Buy a bulldog.  Support a vet.”

 But maybe we should have revisited the possibility of pet insurance for Lily.  Hindsight is 20-20.  So is stupidity.  Other than allergies and bad teeth, Lily, now 11, has been a pretty healthy dog.  That was until she was running around our front yard in early May chasing an imaginary squirrel and ruptured her cruciate ligament.  She basically blew out her knee. 

 Given all the restrictions of Covid at the time, orthopedic vets were only taking emergency cases. The earliest surgery date we could get for her was weeks away, on June 1, and we were lucky to get it. But her emergency after-hours vet visit, a new knee, x-rays, medications, reactions to the medication, and follow-up care ran to $5,000.

 We were told that once you rupture one knee, there is a 60% chance you will rupture the other.  So maybe time to revisit pet insurance.

 There are cautionary tales out there.  We have friends whose dog has now had THREE of these ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgeries. First the dog blew out the left rear knee, then six months later the right one.  Just as the dog was almost recovered from the second surgery, she decided to jump up on a bed, fell off, and had to have the surgery all over again followed by in-home canine physical therapy. The poor animal had by this time become addicted to pain killers requiring the equivalent of Doggie Betty Ford as well. 

We have been very clear that we did not want this scenario for Lily. Our vet said not to let her reinjure herself. But try reasoning with a dog.

Alas, all my calls to pet insurance companies yielded a version of "Do we look like we were born yesterday?"  ACL problems are considered bilateral and it is not a secret to pet insurers that if you do this once, you can easily do it again - in fact, will likely do it again - on the other leg. And this time, they said, you want us to pay? Dream on, sister!

So future ACL surgeries are permanently excluded from coverage for her. 

Ditto her allergy treatments (her immunotherapy shots and Apoquel) which were variously excluded as "pre-existing conditions" or "incurable."  They only cover curable conditions. Well, that are not knees.

And alas, none of the pet insurance companies pay for psychotherapy for the owners after the dog needs ACL surgery. For that alone, I'd sign up. It was really stressful. For maybe time to start a health savings account for the dog. 

                       Extremely unhappy post-op dog

Monday, October 12, 2020

Living On Through The Master List

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 14, 2020] ©2020

 My sons have teased me for years that I’ve spent my life “rehearsing for death.” But just wait til I’m actually dead and they need to get the streetlight out front fixed.  Actually, it won’t be the kids’ problem since they no longer live in town but my husband Olof is clear that all he’ll ever need after my untimely demise is a file on my desktop (and a copy printed by the phone) called Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About This House.

 This document has been my (adult) life’s work.  As much as I’ve complained about technology, this information all used to be kept on 3x5 cards in a little metal box.  It was a laborious way to keep – or find – information.

 As for that phantom streetlight, which I’ve written about before not only in my Light column but in a story for San Diego Magazine, both SD G&E and the City insist that there IS no streetlight in front of our home. It doesn’t show on their maps and therefore isn’t their problem if the light is broken.  You can only imagine how hard it is to get a non-existent streetlight fixed. 

 But this saga and its resolution is now saved for posterity in my EYEWTKATH document.

 For years, I had probably the best collection of San Diego City phone numbers in the entire county: Numbers related to trash problems, tree roots, tree trimming, postal issues, water meters, rat control, parking problems, sidewalk repairs, and yes, dead streetlights.  These were numbers that people actually answered as opposed to the ones that were listed in the phone book for such services which rang in perpetuity and never picked up.  In fact, I fantasied that those city numbers actually forwarded to a deserted bunker in Montana. 

 You knew you had a good number when someone answered with “HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER?” But getting those numbers required considerable guile and cunning, never mind Herculean persistence. I possessed all of those.

 Decades of complaints from the populace about the failure of anyone in the city entrusted with fixing city problems ever answering city phones (never mind fixing any problems) has finally led to the admirable Get It Done app on the city’s website which, remarkably, often really does get it done.  So my list of actual city service numbers is becoming obsolete.

 But my desktop file is so much more.  It lists info you rarely need until you do, like your SD G&E Circuit and Block numbers. Your postal route number. Endless customer codes and security codes that on-line customer service people hope to stump you with and therefore use as an excuse to not help you.  Medical record numbers for multiple institutions.  Our interior and exterior paint colors. The name of pretty much every doctor we’ve seen in the last 20 years. Newspaper account numbers and the personal cell number of our newspaper delivery guy.  Never ever throw out a phone number.

 One of the longer sections of my document lists vendors we’ve used for every possible service. Writing down who you used before saves a lot of time wracking your brain trying to remember the name of that great carpet cleaner or hardwood floor repairer or HVAC person you used three years ago. I often add people recommended on Next Door for services I don’t need now but may well in the future. 

 I will fully admit that this file could be a lot shorter if I could avoid the editorial comments that as a writer I feel compelled to add.  In fact, am incapable of not adding. So instead of just noting: “use again” or “don’t use again,” my file reads:

 About a recent locksmith: “Very competent.  Also very chatty. Is a conspiracy theorist and insisted on giving me literature about (a) The Rapture (it’s imminent) and (b) the government is planning to use the Covid vaccine as a ruse to implant microchips to control people’s minds. Didn’t ask how they get the microchip in that little tiny needle. But front door lock now works perfectly!”

 Painter: “After he painted bathroom and laundry room – great job! – he re-hooked up the washer but switched the water lines which boiled my cold-wash-only stuff into munchkin size. Definitely use again but leave the rest to a plumber.”

 City Dead Animal Recovery: “They will NOT remove a dead possum from private property! Don rubber gloves and get enough momentum to heave possum over fence into street.  Call back and deny being previous caller about dead possum in that location.” 

 So kids (and Olof), long after I’m gone, you’ll never have to wonder who we use – and especially don’t use – for dozens of services. So if you hire that pool filter-cleaning guy who left the filter apart overnight allowing heavily chlorinated water to pump out and kill an entire lawn, it’s on you.  


Monday, September 21, 2020

The Little Ficus That Could - And Did

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 23, 2020] ©2020

 Over the nearly 12 years I’ve been writing “Let Inga Tell You,” the many trees on my property have been an ongoing topic. It is well known to readers that I have a tendency to anthropomorphize trees so having to dispense with one, even a 40-foot kaffir plum that is so dead it is imminently about to crash through my roof in a strong wind killing all within, causes me acute pain.  In my defense, that kaffir plum had lovingly supported innumerable tree forts and rope bridges over the years and was probably the back drop for every family picture ever taken.  So saying goodbye to it was heartbreaking.

 There was, however, the time I came home from work to find that a new friend of my then-13-year-old son Rory had managed to fall out of that tree and break his leg.  The friend – first time ever at our house – had similar instructions from his teacher-mother that Rory had from me: you don’t call Mom at work unless someone has lost a pint of blood or is not breathing. Those instructions had to be modified afterwards to include compound fractures and severe pain when I learned that the boys had splinted the kid’s leg with his skateboard and carefully counted down the 62 minutes until school was out. #lawsuitwaitingtohappen

 Olof (my second husband) and I decided after the kaffir plum’s sad demise that our front yard really needed a new tree in that spot, and replaced it with a 15-foot Chinese Elm, fondly named Alma (meaning “soul”).  We won’t live to see the tree be 40 feet like its predecessor but it’s not for my lack of verbally encouraging her, er, it.

 My on-going efforts to keep the local rat population from turning my orange tree into a citrus Shangri-La are familiar to many readers. 

 That same orange tree, however, was used as a clothes line substitute on which I hung rosaries in hopes of ensuring good weather for Rory’s wedding in 2001. A co-worker who grew up in Michigan swore that hanging a rosary on a clothesline before nuptials ensured sunny skies. Since the weather forecast for the day was dismal and the wedding was outside, I was desperate.  My collection of rosaries from my semi-Catholic childhood (one set of grandparents were Catholic) included ones dedicated to various saints but since I wasn’t sure who had the best connections, I hung them all.  The gardening guys who were just arriving looked at me a little nervously.  But they did adhere to my admonitions to PLEASE watch the leaf blowers! And by the way, the weather was gorgeous.

 My sons at the ages of 8 and 10 had their first entrepreneurial experience wholesaling the organic lemons from our then-prolific lemon tree to a local health food store. They learned quality control and invoicing, supply and demand, and also that people will cheat little kids. Ultimately, the lemon tree died (the victim of a new irrigation system) and the health food store (deservedly) went under.  Which is when they learned another valuable concept of fledgling businesses:  don’t quit the day job.

 As I’ve covered before, my first husband always liked to get a small live $10 tree for Christmas then plant it after Christmas  in our front yard.  By the time we divorced ten years later, our yard looked like a Christmas tree farm. The house now felt like a cave, and the constant plumbing bills for tree root problems cost a fortune, but nothing close to the nearly $4,000 it ran me to have all those $10 trees – one of them 30 feet high - removed.  Revenge against your ex-wife comes in all forms.

 I’ve written several times about my often-exasperating efforts to set up a Christmas tree in my first years post-divorce. Single with two little kids, I went for the six-foot Douglas fir simply because they were the cheapest. I’d be on my stomach trying to screw the trunk into the stand while six-year-old Rory was holding up the tree. Three-year-old Henry was supposed to tell me when it was straight.  I crawled out from under the tree to discover that it was listing 45 degrees. Irrefutably demonstrating the principle of gravitational vector forces, it promptly fell over.

 And now for my latest tree saga, the Ficus.  For years it was a struggling house plant trying to hold on to its two leaves. Finally realizing that it just wasn’t going to make it, and hating to just throw it in the trash (I can anthropomorphize house plants too),  I took it outside and planted it in my back yard, wishing it luck.  It is now 25 feet tall and uprooting my back gate and destroying my irrigation system.  This $5 Ficus will probably put me back $2,000 in fence and sprinkler repairs.  And this is one, alas, where the rosaries aren’t going to fix it. (But if anyone knows who the patron saint of tree roots is…)


Location, location, location: Now 25 feet

The Ficus never flourished in my living room and when it was down to 2 leaves it was planted in the back yard to live out what I thought were it's last days in nature


Monday, September 14, 2020

Never Taking Anything For Granted Again

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 16, 2020] ©2020

It’s commonly known that we often don’t appreciate what we have until we don’t have it.  By the time the pandemic crisis is over, we’ll all have a list a mile long.  I, for example, would never have believed that the highlight of my week would be access to a shampoo bowl at a hair salon.  For the first time in months, I didn’t have to show up with pre-washed hair and sit in a deck chair in a parking spot breathing car fumes just to have my hair cut.

I confess I’m puzzled as to why hair salons weren’t allowed to have, say, one customer inside at a time just to get their hair washed. The lack of shampooing capability precluded every kind of color or chemical services for months. By the time you got home to wash out chemicals yourself your hair would have either turned orange or fallen out. Probably both.

One aspect of covid control I will appreciate not having to do anymore are constant temperature checks, a good idea that often fails in the execution. Four different times I’ve been told “75 – you’re good!” 

“Um,” I’ve replied, not sure I really want to feed the lions but feeling morally obligated to speak up, “I think the batteries in that thing may be dead.” 

They look at their unit with puzzlement. “Hmm.  I have had a lot of people with temperatures of 75 this week.”

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I feel compelled to add, “but if your temperature is actually 75, you’d have a lot worse problems than Covid-19.”

Then, of course, there’s the public library, a beloved institution that I will never take for granted again.  I always have my reserve queue maxed out so when they closed down on March 16, it was like a Luddite Fall of Saigon as we non-e-readers stormed the local branches to stock up for what we naively thought was two weeks.  Now, of course, some of the local branch libraries have opened up with a system that has set library science back 200 years. 

You still can’t go inside, but if a book on your reserve list becomes available – rather of a miracle since it’s been only recently that you could actually return any of the 40 allowed tomes from March 15 that had been joy riding around in your trunk for four months – you need to call the library from your car, read them your FOURTEEN DIGIT library card number, tell them the books you’re picking up, and then wait for someone to bring them outside and put them on a table on the patio in front of the library which your masked self then collects.  It often takes a week for the books you return (through a book drop) to go through quarantine and be available again. 

The irony of all this is that the previous system to check out books was virtually touchless.  You put your books in a single pile on the scanner and waved your library card in front of it. The only time you ever touched the machine was to tap the screen with your pinkie if you wanted a receipt. 

Meanwhile, I thought that The Current Thinking was that covid doesn’t really hang out much on surfaces.  Even more exciting than communing with a shampoo bowl will be the thrill of actually browsing library books inside again.

While I have yet to succumb to being an e-reader, I have been forced, against my will, to up my techno skills.  If you want to eat at most local restaurants, the menu is only accessible via a 3-D barcode taped to the table.  I had my third restaurant lunch in six months recently and was hoping to look at the menu while waiting for my friend. 

“We made it really easy,” said the nice server who seated me. “Anybody can do it.”

 He had to come back five times.

“Yes, I see you have your phone on but it has to be on camera mode.”

“Um, you need to actually point the phone at the bar code.”

“No, you’re in selfie mode.”

“You have to tap that bar at the top of the screen.”

“No, in the middle of the bar.”

But when my friend showed up for lunch, however, I forgot all my problems listening to her saga of sorting out her son’s schedule at his private school. The kids are sorted into the Red Team and the Gold Team as to which days they go to school and for which hours, which has also messed royally with the school’s bus schedule. Meanwhile the parents are all on the Psychosis Team along with the Start Drinking at 3 p.m. Team.  

So I guess I should just be grateful that I don’t have kids at home, I can at least get some access to my library books again, and my temperature isn’t really 75.

My car trunk, June, 2020:  Library books I can't return, printer cartridges I can't recycle, and shopping bags I can't use