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)