Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Great Refrigerator Delivery Water Valve Scam

[ "Let Inga Tell You,"  La Jolla Light, published December 11, 2023] 2023

I recently wrote about how much poorer the quality of kitchen appliances has become, the compensation being a lot of useless features that many people (that would be me) don't even want. This column inspired surprising numbers of emails from readers, some volunteering that their washers or dryers actually play annoying little ditties when the load is done. Frankly, I would probably have destroyed the thing with a sledge hammer the first week. I will not be sung to by appliances.

But one topic I didn't get to address in that column was the Great Refrigerator Delivery Water Valve Scam. AARP definitely needs to add this one to their list.

Refrigerator deliveries in my home have, alas, always been fraught with peril. When my first husband and I bought our 1947 home in the 1970s, the kitchen still featured the original ugly Formica-afflicted 1947 kitchen except for the appliances.

It never occurred to us that refrigerators back in 1947 might be smaller than those made in the 1970s. Let me assure you that they were.

The delivery guys managed to wrangle the fridge into our small kitchen only to discover that it wouldn't fit under the cabinet. So they just plugged it in - the cord was barely long enough - and abandoned it in the middle of our kitchen floor. After some pondering, my husband got out a hacksaw and sawed off the bottom of the cheap pine 1947 cabinet just enough so that we could push the refrigerator underneath it.

And that's how it stayed until we remodeled the kitchen in 1999. Desperate to see the end of gray linoleum (the evil twin of gray Formica), we (I was on my second husband by then) had decided to match the red oak floors from the rest of the house into the kitchen. They came out beautifully. Sanded, Urethaned, and gleaming, they were ready for the delivery of our new refrigerator under its custom cabinet designed to make sure we wouldn't have any height problems again. Not making that mistake twice!

What we didn't count on was the appliance delivery guys not having a strong enough dolly, and hence putting a six-foot-long gouge right across our brand-new floors. The floors had to be completely re-sanded and finished.

As I described in my previous column, that refrigerator, the last of the 1999 remodel appliances, crossed the chill-chest rainbow bridge over Labor Day weekend. Refrigerators have gotten bigger and deeper since 1999 and finding something that would fit into our very defined space and be able to make it through our dining area into the kitchen was problematical at best. We measured our little hearts out and knew this was going to be a matter of under an inch for it to make it. I wasn't sure what we were going to do if it didn't.

The appliance guys showed up, did their own measurements, and declared that we had a full half-inch to spare. Whew! Home free!

BUT as the appliance guys go to move the old fridge from the wall, one of them says, "Hmmm, not going to be able to deliver today, folks. The water valve [for the ice maker] is frozen and I can't turn it off.  You re going to have to call a plumber and have them replace it."

And, pfft! They were gone, our new fridge still on the truck. I was beyond annoyed. Did we truly have such terrible refrigerator karma that three out of three deliveries failed?

Our plumber graciously came right over and immediately declared, "This is such a scam. I see it all the time. This valve turns just fine."   He shows me. "They just wanted to go home early."

I tried to see if I could get the delivery guys back since our refrigerator was still on their truck, but they said they had already re-scheduled us for three days - and a different crew, notably not them - later.

The few days was a Friday afternoon definitely prime time for wanting to go home early so I was fully rehearsed and ready to pre-empt any delaying scripts the new crew might have. I explained the previous delivery situation and emphasized, politely but firmly, with just a slight homicidal air, that this refrigerator would be installed today. And it was.

But here s the interesting part. I mentioned this story to a friend who has multiple rental properties and she said that both times she had had refrigerators delivered, she'd gotten the water valve story too. Have to get a plumber, they'd told her. See ya!

Regaling my physical therapy guy with this story a day later, he suddenly stopped and said, "We had a new refrigerator delivered last month and they did that to us too!"

So, this my public service message. If you re getting a refrigerator delivered and it has an ice maker (which, alas, almost all of them do), try turning that valve yourself before the miscreants come. The thought of thwarting the miserable buggers would warm my heart.




Monday, November 27, 2023

Chocolates Are Good But A Hose Caddy Is Forever

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 27, 2023] ©2023

In December, my birth month, I can’t help but reflect that birthday gifts from spouses can be fraught with peril. 

Not to speak ill of the dead, but my first husband was notorious for getting me gifts that he wanted me to have rather than anything I actually wanted.  We moved to Colorado early in our marriage, close to weekend skiing, and he was sure that if I gave skiing a chance, I’d love it.  Because he loved it. Given that I hated both cold weather and heights, loving it was optimistic.  But this didn’t prevent him from buying me a complete set of ski equipment for my birthday, including skis, poles, and boots.  Did I mention it was all on sale, and non-returnable? And that we were really poor at the time and this was a really big investment that he knew I couldn’t let go to waste? (OK, now I’m speaking ill of the dead.)  Please, he implored, would I just go five times now that I owned all this equipment that I never wanted in the first place?  And to my credit, I did.  And the next day, it was all listed on a ski re-sale board.

Meanwhile, several years ago, when my second husband, Olof, asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I didn’t hesitate to request a top-of-the-line sewer auger.

Now, this might suggest that the romance has gone out of the relationship or worse, could be considered a dismal metaphorical condemnation of our union.

But no, I really really wanted my very own sewer auger.

We live in a house that was built by the lowest bidder after the war with all non-square corners and apparently without benefit of building materials that had become scarce during The Conflict.  It is our only explanation for the shoddy construction.  An abundance of pipe-invading trees and shrubs had kept us on speed dial to our local plumber. 

But often the problem was our kitchen sink which could be cleared ourselves (that’s the royal “ourselves”) with a good sewer auger, which just happened to belong to our neighbors.  They were very nice about lending it to us as needed but after a certain point, I began to fantasize about the luxury of having our own.

You’d think Olof (the “ourselves” mentioned above) would have been deliriously happy with this idea but was instead horrified.  He did not feel that a birthday auger augured well for our marriage. 

“Not a snowball’s chance,” he replied. “Besides, aren’t you the one who complained that your first husband got you stuff for your birthday that was really for him?” he said.

“Yup,” I said, “Skis, and box seats to a Chargers games.

“And what happened?” he continued.

“I’m now married to you,” I said.

“Exactly.  It is against the Code of Husbands to get a wife a sewer auger for her birthday,” he maintained. 

“But not if that’s what I want,” I said.  “I didn’t ski and I hated football.”

 “I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head.  “This wife birthday thing is a mine field. There’s nothing more terrifying to a guy except Valentine’s Day.”

“But I’m serious,” I said.  “It would warm my heart the next time the sink backs up on a Saturday night” – it’s always a Saturday night – “that ‘we’ could just wheel in our Ferrari-of-sewer-augers and have at it.”

“This is a second marriage for both of us,” Olof reminded me.  “I like to think I’ve learned something.  Buying a wife a sewer auger for her birthday would be a classic rookie husband mistake.  I once bought my first wife a really expensive vacuum cleaner for her birthday.”

“And what happened?” I said.

“I’m now married to you.”

“Well, I’d consider a vacuum cleaner grounds for divorce too.”

“OK,” said Olof, “I’m willing to buy you the sewer auger of your dreams but you can’t have it within even two months of your birthday.  So you’re going to have to think of something else.”

“I also really want a hose caddy.” I suggested.  “The kind that’s mounted on the house that I can just crank up.  The hose in the back is making me crazy.”

“Inga,” he said, exasperated.  “I can’t get you a hose caddy for your birthday any more than I can get you a sewer auger.”

“Well, I really do need a new salad spinner too. “

“No! NOTHING PRACTICAL!  It’s your birthday!  I have no desire to be married a third time.”

“The hose caddy could be for Christmas,” I suggested.  “Remember, it includes installation.”

“Surely there is something totally frivolous with no practical value that you want?” he implored. 

And that’s how I got a two-pound box of Godiva chocolates for my birthday.  And magically, a deluxe sewer auger, a hose caddy, and a salad spinner appeared from an anonymous donor a few weeks later.  I couldn’t have been happier. 




Saturday, November 18, 2023

500th Column: Inga vs. Chatgpt. Will AI Put Me Out Of Business?

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 20, 2023] 2023

For my 500th Let Inga Tell You column (yes, it really is), I had to ask myself: could I have saved a lot of time if the AI bot Chatgpt had come out sooner? Inquiring minds (mine) really wanted to know.

So I thought I'd give us the same topic - in this case, being the family worrier - and ask Chatgpt to write 300 words on being the family worrier in the style of Let Inga Tell You. I mean, Chat only had 490+ examples of my style to work from including one on this exact topic.

So here s Chat's version of me:

Oh, let me tell you all about being the family worrier. You see, I was born with the uncanny ability to take any situation and twist it into a potential catastrophe. It's not a title I asked for, mind you, but it's one I wear with a certain degree of pride. You might call me Inga, but around these parts, they call me the Worrier-in-Chief.

From the moment I wake up to the moment I close my eyes at night, my mind is a whirlwind of anxious thoughts and fretful pondering.

My family, bless their hearts, has learned to take my worrisome tendencies in stride. They've developed a sort of Worrier-to-English dictionary to decipher my cryptic statements. When I say, "I heard a strange noise outside," they know it means, "The apocalypse is imminent, and we should start stockpiling canned goods." And when I ask, "Do you think the dog looks a little lethargic today?" they understand that it translates to, "We must rush Fido to the vet immediately before he contracts a rare and deadly canine disease."

In many ways, being the family worrier is a heavy burden to bear. My sleepless nights and racing thoughts can be exhausting, and I often feel like a one-woman anxiety factory. But there's a silver lining in all of this, you know. My penchant for worrying has made me the most prepared person you'll ever meet. I've got a first-aid kit that could rival a small hospital, a pantry stocked to survive the next ice age, and a network of emergency contacts that would put a superhero's rolodex to shame.

So, while my family might roll their eyes and chuckle at my constant state of worry, they also know that when the chips are down, I'll be the one with a plan, a flashlight, and a stash of chocolate bars to get us through any crisis. And for that, they're grateful even if they have to endure my never-ending fretting along the way.

Here, meanwhile, is a segment from my June 15, 2023 Let Inga Tell You column entitled "The family worrier":

Anxiety disorders run in my family. That's why I was interested in an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune a while back entitled "Mulling the worst: One therapist's anxiety fix."  Her solution for combating anxiety is to imagine the worst that could happen and then, she's decided in her inexplicably delusional way, you will realize that even the worst isn't that bad.

Um, seriously?

I'm sure this therapist is a very nice lady but I can only assume she s been out of graduate school for a matter of days. We worriers are world-class catastrophic thinkers. In all modesty, it's where we excel.

For example, she says, if your kid is anxious about missing the soccer ball during a game, you should sit down with him and ask, would that so terrible?

Hell yes! The other kids on the team will probably never let him forget it, teasing him about it in perpetuity. If they lose the game, it will be his fault. His teammates will nickname him Klutzoid, a moniker that will stick with him into his octogenarian years. The coach will stop playing him, and any hope he will ever have at playing up to the next level is permanently shot. Someone will post it on Facebook where it will be immortalized forever and played at his wedding. So, not so bad ? Hah! I don t think so!

From time to time my husband Olof has tried to convince me that the worrying itself was not the reason an event went well but my thorough planning. But then, what does he know?

OK, there s some admittedly catchy phrases in Chat s version. But seriously, this is how Chatgpt thinks I sound? I'm a tad offended. Chat's version seemed a tad bland. Sort of like, well, a bot wrote it.

And in the 400,000 words of my oeuvre that Chat had to model me from, did I ever once use the word fret ? I do not fret. I whine. There is a big difference.

So, am I in danger of being put out of business by Chatgpt? You tell me.

 My own conclusion: Find your own voice, AI. This one s mine.



Saturday, November 11, 2023

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published November 13, 2023] 2023

In 1999 we remodeled our tiny 1947 kitchen. It was a huge boon to have more than a single 100-watt light bulb, to have a dishwasher that you didn't have to roll over to the sink, and to be forever rid of gray Formica.

What we didn't realize is that whatever appliances we installed in that space would forever determine the ones we could replace them with. Now, 24 years later, the last of those appliances has crumped, and we were once again faced with the reality that few of the world s now-preferred appliances will fit in our allowable space. You can't shave a half-inch off a granite counter top.

It has not helped that the quality of appliances seems to have really tanked in the intervening years. And in its place, they're loaded with annoying features that we don't even want.

Our new microwave, for example, is the exact same manufacturer and size as its predecessor but weighs only half as much and literally slides around when you push its cheap little buttons. (We had to anchor it down.) Its flimsy glass plate keeps falling off the rotation wheels. But worst is its Perpetual Perseveration feature, tragically common in new appliances, that will beep in perpetuity once that cup of instant coffee is heated up. It's like it's having a giant snit: "You made me nuke this and now I'm going to annoy the sh-t out of you until you come and get it!"

I wrote a while back about our friends dryer that had an auto "wrinkle control" feature that fluffed up a load of dried clothes every 30 seconds until the door was opened. The friends went on vacation to Europe having put clothes in the dryer before they left. It was still fluffing when they returned six weeks later. My new-ish dryer, alas, does that too.

And then there s my three-year-old washing machine which made it into its allotted space in our small garage-less house by literally an eighth of an inch. Over-zealous sensors that have proliferated on washing machines are in a category all their own. My machine wants to self-balance (unlike my previous machines whose self-balancer was me) but if there is anything in there heavier than underwear, it is scientifically designed to shift everything to one side then sound like it is agitating a bowling ball. The machine literally flails around like a mechanical bull with a broken speed control. Unsupervised, the machine could end up in our bedroom. Seriously, the only individual more scared of this machine than the dog is me. 

Additionally, if you wash sheets in it, it has a built-in Self-Tangle feature that knots them up into a tight poly-cotton rope requiring serious untangling before you can move them to the dryer.

The dryer, meanwhile, has its own feature, Auto-Clump, that will wrap every individually-separated item in a load of bedding into in a large ball inside the bottom sheet. The bottom sheet itself will be dry but its entire contents will be completely sodden. I had the same dryer for 44 years and it never did that once.

When our kitchen range failed during the pandemic, we were stuck with the only 30-inch white slide-in gas range available west of the Mississippi (maybe east of it too). It had a thousand dollars of features we didn't want and would never use, including consuming most of the cooktop real estate with a grill that advertised that it could hold "six grilled cheese sandwiches!"  Which is six more than we'd ever make. 

Right before Labor Day weekend, in keeping with the Universal Perversity Postulate that states that critical appliances only break right before major holiday weekends when you have guests coming, our 24-year refrigerator, the last of our 1999 remodel appliances, crossed the chill-chest rainbow bridge. It turned out there were exactly three choices for a white "counter-depth" refrigerator that would fit in our very defined space. Mysteriously, the new fridge has only half the freezer space as its identically-sized predecessor, but only partly because of a door dispenser that we didn't want but were stuck with. On the fridge side, there is a single dim light at the very top, which, alas, cannot be upgraded to something with actual wattage, and which blocks light to everything below it as soon as you put something on the top shelf. Nobody should need a flashlight to find the mayo. And did I mention that I have managed to live into my golden years without a door alarm that won't shut up before you've even put half your groceries away?

With every one of our replacement appliances, you need to close them ever so gently so their entire tinny selves won't shake. You're afraid the doors will fall off their chintzy chassis.

So here s the career that I'd like to see: an appliance person who specializes in disabling all the stupid features on appliances. Bowling Ball-rebalancing and Malicious Snits. Forever Fluff and Robo-Beep. Self-Tangle and Auto-Clump. Underwhelming Wattage and Door Alarm Dingers.

They wouldn't be able to keep up with demand.

Our dryer's Auto-Clump feature stuffs an entire load of bedding inside the bottom sheet where it remains wet


Sunday, October 29, 2023

A Trip Down Bank Robbery Memory Lane

[Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published October 30, 2023] 2023 

The downside of living in the same house for decades is that you never do the aggressive culling of your belongings that moving generally requires. But it also gives you the opportunity to serendipitously stumble across memorabilia like this photo from 1978 that evoked a lot of memories, most of which had nothing to do with the subject of the photo itself.

The photo is of a bank robber who held up State Mutual Savings at gun point on La Jolla Boulevard in April of 1978. I was the only customer in the bank at the time and have never been within two feet of a 45-calibre blue steel automatic before or since. And I am very, very glad for that. The FBI gave me a copy of the security camera photo as a souvenir noting that it was a good thing the robber didn't shoot me, as this is not a weapon you want fired at you at close range.

So that's the first memory, of course. Pure terror. As I was transacting with the single teller, the robber burst through the bank door and yelled at everyone to get their heads down as he hurled a bag at the teller to fill with cash. He was screaming at her to hurry up, and she was begging him not to "hurt anyone". Seeing this gun in such proximity to my body being held by someone who seemed so nervous and jittery made me absolutely concur with the teller's entreaties.

In probably a much shorter time than it seemed, the robber was gone. The doors were locked awaiting the FBI. One of the two banker managers sitting at their desks had tripped the alarm. I don't remember how much money the robber got away with. But I do remember that the teller quit that same day.

Of course, one other memory that this photo immediately evokes for me is the IBM Selectric typewriter in the background with which the teller would type in your deposit or withdrawal into your passbook in the pre-online (or even telephone) banking days. In that era, people used to go to the bank a lot to get cash, deposit checks, get travelers checks, etc.

And, in fact, that was what I was there for that day: to get travelers checks for a trip we were to leave on the next day. For those who don t know what those are, or were, they were checks issued by banks in specific denominations on which you signed your name when you bought them, then signed them again when you used them during your travels. The whole idea was not to have to carry a lot of cash. Credit cards weren't nearly in as wide usage then as they are now.

Which leads me to the next memory about that photo. Normally I always had Rory, my then-10-month-old baby, with me when I went to the bank. If I was sitting, I sometimes let him play on the floor next to me with a toy if I had a lot of transactions, or if I were standing, I d be holding him. If he d been with me, he would have crawled over to the bank robber's pant leg and tried to pull himself up, or if I d been holding him, would have tried to reach for the nice shiny gun. I was so incredibly glad he was home with a sitter.

Which brings me to my next memory from this photo. I had the sitter because I was going to meet my physician husband for a quick (and rare) lunch near his office at one of our favorite restaurants on Herschel. He had a tight schedule.

Obviously, no cell phones then. The bank wouldn't let me leave until the FBI had taken my statement. It became rapidly apparent that I was not going to get to the restaurant on time and my husband was already waiting for me. I could just imagine him getting more and more annoyed. He had to be back at his office by 1:00. When the FBI guy was finally done with me, I realized that by the time I used the bank's phone to have my husband's answering service page him, I could just get in my car and be at the restaurant in seven minutes. Because here's an even stronger memory: I d be able to easily park in downtown La Jolla, almost certainly on the same block as the restaurant. Maybe in front.

Should I say that again? Park easily in downtown La Jolla? Not have to allow an extra 15-20 minutes to look for a parking place that could well be four blocks away?

Anyway, I rushed into the restaurant some 40 minutes late, apologizing profusely.

"Where have you been?"  he inquired testily.

And I got to deliver a line both figuratively and literally for the only time in my life:

"I was held up."

Souvenir bank robber photo from security camera


Saturday, October 21, 2023

Making College Essays Fun

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 23, 2023] ©2023 

If it’s fall, it’s time for pumpkin spice overload, an invasion of spider webs, lots of soccer games, and if you’re a high school senior, the dread college application process.  Friends whose daughter is in the midst of applying to schools were bemoaning the process to us, knowing we have lived through it ourselves.  It’s been quite a few years since our sons applied and I was curious to know if the essay topics had improved in the interim. 

In a word:  no.

Colleges always maintain that they want to know the “real” candidate but then hit them up with eye-glazing topics that are pretty much guaranteed to produce prose like "Team sports has taught me self-discipline and how to work with others" and "My trip to Europe made me realize that we are all one."

Of course, the Common Application has streamlined a lot of the work but it’s the essays that are still the biggest hurdle.

I remember my younger son, Henry, who applied to a lot of essay-intensive schools, approaching his step-father, a reactor physics graduate from Cal Tech, hoping someone of Olof’s erudite background could provide some retrospective insights into "What do you hope to achieve in your four years of college?" My husband pondered the question for a moment before offering, "Grow facial hair and get laid?" Henry perked up immediately at the prospect.  But didn’t dare use it.

If college admissions officers want to get to know the “real” candidate, they’ve got to ask the right questions. Topics that kids can really become impassioned about and which might also give college essay readers a reason to live.  Here’s a few I might suggest:

(1) Analyze the debris field on your bedroom floor.  How does it reveal the real you?

(2)  Agree or disagree:  There is absolutely nothing new anyone can say about The Great Gatsby.

 (3)  Why texting, tweeting and other electronic communication should be allowed during class time, especially if the class is like, totally lame.

 (4) My night in a Tijuana jail:  A lesson in economics.

 (5) What things do you do that drive your parents craziest?  Describe how you've fine-tuned them over the years.

 (6) Relate an incident where you were blamed for something that was so not your fault.

(7) Influences that shaped your life:  were there any?

(8)  Describe an evening with your favorite non-porn-star fictional character.

 (9) The top three excuses parents are likely to believe.

(10) In 250 words or less, agree or disagree with this statement: people over 40 should not be allowed on social media.

(11)  Curfew:  why I am so over it.

(12) How ADHD explains my transcript, and that felony egging incident.

(13)  College:  Is it over-rated?

(14)  Despite what they say, my parents really were born yesterday. 

(15) What are the nicknames you and your siblings have for each other when no grownups are around?   Regale us with the symbolism behind them.

(16) How to survive a totally bad hair day.

(17)  iPhone apps I’d really like to see.

(18)  Why I will totally be a better parent than mine are.

(19)  Pole dancing as a varsity sport?  Make your best case.

(20)  Should watching the movie be an acceptable alternative to reading the assigned book so long as the ending is kind of the same?

(21)  My favorite pharmaceutical and why.

(22)  Compare and contrast your favorite awards shows.

(23)  Like, whatever.

Olof, however, points out that like everyone else, college admission folks have to be careful what they wish for.  Because if they ask any of these questions, they will surely get it.


Saturday, October 14, 2023

Olof Doing What He Does Best

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published October 16, 2023] 2023

Some years back, I won a First Place prize in the annual San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards for a column entitled :How an engineer makes cookies."   It chronicled an unprecedented attack of nostalgia by my husband, Olof, who had never baked anything in his life, deciding he wanted to replicate the family Christmas cookie recipes and send a selection to assorted relatives around the country.

One problem: the recipes did not indicate a yield. But nothing, my techno hubby concluded, that couldn't be solved with a simple application of undergraduate quantitative analysis.

Astonishingly (to me but not to him), his calculations were spot on. Which I was really glad about since those calculations had generated a master shopping list that included 17.5 cups of flour and 13 sticks of butter. We would still be eating butter if he'd been wrong.

I was utterly dazzled watching the entire production, titled "2013 Christmas Cookie Plan", which involved five spreadsheets, multiple flow charts, and headings like "Integration of Components". The nice thing about not having baked before is that you re not constrained by actual baking terms, like, say "mix". 

Each shipment included descriptions of the five cookie types produced, revealing a charmingly whimsical side of my engineer husband I had never seen, never mind even imagined.  The cherry-topped cookies, for example, were described as "sweet, flaky, and surprisingly suggestive".

But more recently, Olof decided to venture into pizza dough making as a way to use up the part of his two custom-developed-over-a-year sour dough starters that he has to pour off each week when adding new flour. As must be clear, Olof never does anything half way. In a solemn ritual every Sunday, both jars are removed from the fridge and precisely 100 grams of starter is removed, replaced with 50 grams each of flour and water. The little yeasty microbes constantly need new flour to feed off of if they are to produce the dazzling sourdough products Olof is now renowned for.

But the waste of perfectly good starter offended him. What is starter for if not to start something? Sour dough starter, I can assure you, is a lifetime commitment. 

For a while he was using the weekly sour dough discard to make crackers. But there are only so many crackers any human (and their neighbors, and total strangers who found bags of them on their doorsteps) can eat. But a little research determined that it could also be used for pizza dough.

Olof s friend, Jim, mentioned he would like to join Olof in making a pizza at our house and offered a recipe for a 14-inch pizza he had previously used. But since we didn't have a pizza stone to cook a pizza on, Olof had discovered that a good substitute was a cast iron pan, which we fortuitously already owned.

Now some of us (that would be moi), would acquire a glob of commercial pizza dough from a pizza place (some are very accommodating) or even the grocery store, and stretch it to fit the cast iron pan.

But where's the fun in that when you could have an opportunity to calculate your little heart out and use up sour dough starter?

Hence this email to Jim:

Jim -

I've done a little research on our pizza dough making project for next week.

1. Dough Weight

I have no clue how much dough you need to make a pizza, so I Googled: "How much dough for a 12-inch pizza".  Not surprisingly I got a LOT of hits, so I picked twenty values; the largest of which was 340 grams (11 oz) and the smallest was (227 grams (7.5 oz). The mean was 277 grams (9 oz) and the standard deviation was 34 grams (1.1 oz).  I think we're better off with too much dough than not enough so statistically 70% of the weight estimates will be at the mean plus 1 standard deviation or 277 + 34 = 311 grams (~10 oz).

2. Scaling

A. You reckon that the recipe you have is for a 14-inch pizza, so to scale up the 12-inch weight we need to multiply 311 grams by (14/12) squared.  That result is 422 grams (just under 14 oz).

B. However, I'd like to try making a small pizza in a cast iron frying pan.  We have one and I measured it to be 11 inches across.  So to scale down from 12 inches, we'd need 311 grams x (11/12) squared, or 262 grams (8.5 oz)

Of course, the calculations didn't stop there. Subsequent headings under Pizza Dough Apportionment included a dizzying selection of mathematical formulas involving V (volume), D (diameter), T (thickness) and appropriately enough, pi.

And yes, a pizza in a cast iron fry pan was indeed produced, and was, in fact, delicious. And it succeeded in using up the leftover sourdough starter. And illustrated, once again, why Olof is an engineer and I'm not.

Weekly ritual: precision feeding of sourdough starter


Saturday, September 30, 2023

Floating Away

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published October 2, 2023] 2023

I remember reading in some long-ago anthropology class that some Eskimo cultures, not wishing to waste precious food resources on non-productive elders, set them adrift on an ice floe, and waved bye-bye.

Inquiring minds, particularly retired, aged minds, wanted to know: did this really happen? Did the oldies actually end up as polar bear brunch? Froze to death? Landed in Tahiti and started a new life? Regardless, it would have been two more places at Christmas dinner for the folks back home.

The ice floe thing obviously worked better in cold climates than, say, the Kalahari Desert, where the equivalent was probably tying a tying a slab of raw meat around mom and dad and leaving them on the savannah. Depending on the folks mobility, they didn't even need the slab of meat.

Those same retired aged minds are asking: am I in danger?

Well, not of ice floes specifically which are fortuitously scarce in this area, but certainly their symbolic version. I'll be genuinely worried if my husband, Olof, goes first. My sons and daughters-in-law have demanding careers and don't even live anywhere close to me. Most of the nursing homes I researched for a relative a few years ago made the whole ice floe thing (or even the slab of meat) sound like the better deal. Well, maybe not immediately but at least somebody would be having a good day. 

As it turns out, the dispensing of what were known as "useless eaters"  (i.e., elderly folks who were no longer able to physically contribute to the economy of a society) weren't unheard of, especially in times of famine. The ancient Keians, for example, attempting to preserve a dwindling food supply, decided to vote everyone over 60 off the island. One suspects that the people over 60 didn't get a vote. You can see it now: "All in favor of dispensing with the sexagenarian set say 'aye'. Oh, look, it s unanimous! See ya, folks!"  The geezers apparently got a hemlock mojito for dinner.

There are a worrisome number of terms to describe deleting the oldies from the family circle: senicide, senilicide, geronticide, senio-euthenasia, and even the ever-popular modern version, "granny dumping". How the "useless eaters"  were dispatched was, of course, largely dependent on the geography involved. In one alleged method among long-ago Eskimos, the whole village would pick up and move during the night while the oldies slept. (The origin of "ghosting". )

Grandpa wakes up and says, "Hey, where did everybody go? I could swear there was a village here yesterday."   Apparently, this method allowed the abandonee to either find his way back to the group thus proving his continued value, or succumb back at home when he realizes they also took his walker. Frankly, this method seems particularly low to me. You may need the food but you don t have to be mean about it.

I guess there's no nice way to say, "Sorry Mom and dad, but you've had your last meal. In fact, you're about to be one."   And the folks are thinking, "Just as I always feared. There is no gratitude."

While some societies have traditionally revered their elders (well, at least while there was plenty of food on the table), recent articles have suggested that modern societies are questioning the value of the old. This is not news to the old.

In January of 2011, the first Baby Boomers turned 65, and have added another 10,000 per day to these ranks every since. By 2030, at least 18% of the population will be in that group. So this whole ice floe thing is a pretty big topic, at least among those of us in the ice floe demographic. 

(BTW, will global warming reduce the number of available ice floes? Somebody needs to be looking into this.  In this one more thing we oldies will have to compete for - the ice floe that doesn't melt underneath you before the polar bear even shows up?) 

 For us boomers, it might not be so much an issue of food insecurity, but care giving shortages.  Diapers are much cuter on infants.  Having been heavily involved in the final years of a close relative who was both physically and mentally disabled, I can attest that they're not all that fun to be around, not to mention seriously labor-intensive.  And did I mention expensive?  

Increasingly, among people I know, it's the oldies looking for the ice floe opportunities themselves rather than waiting for the kids to set them adrift. No one wants to be a burden, financially or otherwise.  And maybe those old folks are/were ready to go. I fantasize them floating off to sea saying the equivalent of, "Don't tell the kids but we just so sick of trying to get reliable Wi-fi in the igloo. They couldn't upgrade to a better cable provider? Hey - is that a polar bear over there?"



Saturday, September 23, 2023

Taking Your Own Advice

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published September 25, 2023] 2023

I've often reflected while reading the morning paper that it's a good thing I have my current gig with the La Jolla Light because I would make an absolutely terrible advice columnist. My answer to about 95% of the letters would be, all caps, IS THIS EVEN A QUESTION???

I'd be fired the first day.

I mean, I like to think I m a compassionate person (unless we re talking about my former stepmother, Fang, for whom I wish nothing but the worst possible suffering). But you have to wonder whether the folks who submit these even read their own letters because the answer would - should -  is often abundantly obvious. In fact, I've often found it a useful tactic in solving my own problems. Write yourself a letter.

Alas, a disproportionate number of letters to syndicated advice columnists seem to be written by women who are in abysmal relationships. This makes me incredibly sad.

A common denominator in so many of the most despairing epistles is that they are written by women who seem to have a profound deficit of self-worth. As my friend Jill has often observed, "If it weren't for women with low self-esteem, there s a lot of guys who'd never get laid."   I couldn t agree more.

Alas, a lack of economic resources often seems to be playing a role in many a letter writer's dilemmas as well. Hence, the question they re posing at the end of a truly depressing tale is not the one you'd hope for, like "help me get out of this horrible situation" but "how do I get him to marry me?"   Gah! More gah! Very (very) disheartening indeed.

Here are some composites of letters I've saved in recent years and how I would reply to them were they written to me.

Dear Inga,

I met a man on line who, after a week, invited me to move across country to where he lives. I do believe in love at first sight, and no man has ever made me feel this way before. At first everything was really cool, but lately he keeps having to go on these extended business trips for weeks on end, leaving me along at his rural house to care for his six dogs, five goats, and two donkeys. They are a lot more work than you might think, especially the donkeys. I am starting to get suspicious that these business trips might include more than business although he denies it and maintains that that s why is first six marriages didn t work, because his wives were these total b----s who always thought the worst. But he leaves so little money for me when he goes out of town that I have been reduced to eating dog food which I don't particularly like but is tastier than the donkey food. I am tempted to give him an ultimatum: either he marries me the next time he comes home or I'm moving into the barn. Is this the right plan? Signed, YOLO in Idaho

Inga replies: Next time he's out of town, sell the livestock and buy yourself a one-way ticket out of town leaving no forwarding address. Take the dogs. They deserve better.

Dear Inga,

I ve divorced my husband twice because he cheated on me constantly, and also beat me. Now he says he has gone to anger management and wants us to get married a third time. He is currently living with another woman (my 17-year-old sister, actually) but says he will break up with her and move back in with me if I say yes. I am concerned that he doesn't have a job and is also very racist. I have always loved him with all my heart even during the time he was in prison. Should I remarry him if he promises for sure to quit beating me and stops his promiscuous behavior? Signed, Love conquers all?

Inga replies: Sweetheart, you need a lobotomy. At minimum. If you are even considering this, you need to be under conservatorship.

I m thinking the Dear Abbys and Ask Carolines of the world must need a really stiff drink at the end of the day. As a fourth-generation feminist, I just can't bear reading about women making incredibly bad relationship choices. Not, of course, that I haven t edged up on some questionable choices myself which were delineated in the post-divorce Dates from Hell section of my book. For example, going out with the criminal lawyer with a cocaine habit and herpes. Such a learning curve! He seemed so nice! But was such a creep! Fortunately, he was just one (really really) bad date, not a long-term life choice.

But that date was a Dear Inga moment. My future dating choices were faaaar more selective. Oftentimes the best advice you'll ever get is not from someone else, but the advice that's already circulating in your own head. Listen to it.



Monday, September 4, 2023

Why Letting Your Kids Suffer The Consequences Is A Really Good Idea

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published September 4, 2023] 2023

I failed in a hundred ways with my kids. If you asked them what my worst mistakes were, they d reply, "Alphabetically or chronologically?" But the one thing I feel I did right a legacy of my own parents was to make them take responsibility and consequences for their actions.

The felony murder rule applied in my house: if you were there, you were guilty. No I was there but I was just watching defense that I heard endlessly the day after Halloween from kids who I recognized who had vandalized my street. Their parents assured me that they believed the kid's version of events, and if he wasn't actually doing anything, (believe me, he was), he was innocent. It still makes me incredulous.

For years, I could count on having to wash the egg off my car (no garage) before going to work (it really messes with the paint job), sweeping up my dumped-out trash from the street, and hoping the paint from paint pellet guns would eventually wear off my siding.

I know: it s just kids being kids. And I m fine with kids being kids on Halloween if they or their parents want to come clean it up afterwards. But intrinsic in that phrase, someone other than the fun-loving kid gets to deal with it.

I always felt really lucky that, unlike other neighbors, my car windows weren't broken, my brick retaining wall hadn't been pushed over, and nobody had spray-painted black graffiti on $40,000 worth of custom cabinets recently installed on a nearby house being remodeled. Such little devils!

I confess that my childhood sense of justice was honed on a steady diet of Nancy Drew books. The whole River Heights Police Department sprang into action when Nancy s rosebushes were stolen. When she called the authorities, not only did they quickly apprehend the bad guys, but they locked them up forever. No habeas corpus, but you can t have everything.

But damage or theft or outright aggressive behavior from teens seems to be happening not only daily, but becoming increasingly egregious.

I am finding it truly dismaying to see kids who are still minors having no consequences for their actions. On my neighborhood social media, people with Ring cameras post pictures of kids who have actually broken into homes and aren't even trying to hide their faces. (Adorable!)

A recent social media post showed teens pulling green bins out into the middle of the street at 1:30 in the morning where they could easily be hit by cars. (What fun!)

Then there was the group of teens who were skateboarding (one of the most grating noises on the planet) on the garage ramp of a local condo complex at midnight night after night right under someone s unit and who simply flipped off the residents when asked to leave. (Those little scamps!)

Another recent post reported tweens throwing rocks at a homeless person behind Rite Aid.

In the early days of the pandemic, I was dismayed to witness on several occasions groups of local teens rushing into my local CVS, grabbing all the alcohol they could carry, and rushing out again. (Those imps!) People wanted to say that those kids must have been from out of the area, but unless that area was Rancho Santa Fe, I m guessing that the late-model Range Rover they climbed into at the curb probably came from La Jolla.

What dismays me is that the comments posted under these stories always include way too many comments along the lines of Oh, stop being such a curmudgeon. It's just kids being kids.

Even worse, when clear photos are shown of the kids faces (usually from homeowners wanting the miscreants to be identified so the kids themselves or their parents can be held accountable), they ll be a backlash of people insisting that minors should not be identified on social media.

Um, excuse me. They were committing a crime. Please identify them. Let there be at least some hope that their parents will care enough.

That's the thing. No one s looking to incarcerate these kids. But before your 18th birthday is a really good time to learn that laws (at least theoretically) apply to you. Not learning this, as some kids on my block later learned, means you might do some serious time in an adult penal institution, where kids are not being kids.

Please, if your teen gets apprehended for some infraction, don't make your first step be to call a lawyer. Let them do community service. Hopefully a lot of community service. It s the biggest gift you can give them.

Halloween is approaching. Fortunately, our neighborhood now has a strong police presence on that night so the outright destruction is way down. But it still happens. So if you're going to send me an email insisting it s just kids being kids, could you include your phone number so my neighbors and I can call you to come clean up?




Saturday, August 26, 2023

Torture By Telephone

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published August 28, 2023] 2023

I would rather get a root canal and a colonoscopy simultaneously than get a new cell phone. And no, I am not kidding.

I had genuinely hoped I would die before my phone did. But the phone decided to force the issue.

IOS just wasn't reliably supporting my iPhone 7 anymore. Even upgrading to the latest version something I only do when the phone pretty much ceases to work wasn't helping. In fact, it seemed to be making it worse.

I am a person with genuine talents. But even people who love me would agree I am not just techno-challenged but deeply, profoundly, techno-disabled. Whatever synapses were involved in techno skills failed to survive my gestation. It does not help that I have a frustration tolerance of a gnat.

Was it time for a Jitterbug the phone heavily advertised in AARP Magazine for techno-inept oldies? Or did I still have one more iPhone in me?

I went with the iPhone partly because I really enjoy FaceTiming with the grandkids, but because I was also under the (extremely false) illusion that I already knew how to use one.

Unfortunately, the operation of the iPhone 14 is totally different from the iPhone 7. They're as alike as cousins twice removed who were adopted at birth. My old phone had a little Home button at the bottom that was heavily involved in the operation of the phone. It's gone! (The SE still has a Home button for iPhone Luddites but it's too small for me.)

Now you have to swipe, but just so. It s definitely all in the wrist.

At the phone store, I was fobbed off on a nice young commission-oriented kid who was probably as unenthusiastic about dealing with me as I was with dealing with him.

We were speaking completely different languages.

How many gigs did I usually use, he inquired. (No idea.)

How much do I use Apple Pay? (Don't even know what that is.)

Do I need a hot spot? (Not unless he means a jacuzzi.)

I really need to switch to AutoPay if I want a better deal. (Not happening.)

Was I sure my husband wouldn't be willing to get a new phone too? (Nope and stop asking.)

The kid was pushing the iPhone 14 Plus Pro which has three cameras. I could take cinema-quality movies! (Um, do I look like Steven Spielberg?)

Things were going downhill fast. Rather than slash my wrists with a plastic screen cover, I gathered up my stuff, thanked him for his time, and walked out the door.

Fortunately, the young woman who I had hoped to work with came running after me. She said if I would return, she would swap her current customers with the young kid since she was almost finished.

This young woman was basically an iPhone therapist, skilled at dealing with the aged techno-terrified.

So, she says, soothingly, what is the most important feature to you on a phone?

That I can use it, I said.

How about the second most important feature?

Maximum screen size.

So it's easier to read? She queries 

Yup, and so I can post the most directions on the back of it. I showed her the back of my phone. A brief frown flashed across her brow.

We determined fairly quickly that the right phone for me was going to be the iPhone 14Plus with two cameras (not the cinema-quality Pro variation that the kid was pushing). And she was confident that with practice, I could learn to swipe. (Sounds faintly larcenous.)

While not a natural swiper, I am slowly getting the hang of it, although several times I have found myself unable to get out of a screen. Even turning the phone off doesn't help; when you turn it back on, the same annoying screen is still there. Banging the phone on a granite counter top doesn't help either. (Just kidding).

Alas, the new phone had some immediate glitches when I got it home wouldn't send or receive calls (major flaws in a phone), and was sending text messages to people's email. My husband (see frustration tolerance, above) had odds that this phone was going to end up in the pool.

In lieu of this, trips back to the store were required.

Guess what fixed the calling problems? Turning the phone to airplane mode then turning it off again. How are ordinary humans supposed to figure that out??? When those Apple people (or my engineer husband) refer to cell phones as intuitive, I want to smite them.

I will concede that it has one sort of cool feature (I am only willing to concede one.) It has facial recognition in lieu of typing in your passcode. But then I fantasized my care givers in the dementia facility being able to hold the phone up to my face and stealing all my data.

But I definitely don t have enough emotional bandwidth to ever do this again. And I truly mean ever.


Maximum screen size important
to be able to cram in the most instructions possible



Friday, August 18, 2023

Worst Summer Jobs Ever (Olof wins)

[Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published August 21, 2023] 2023

Both Olof s and my parents were such proponents of child labor that it is probably a good thing there were no coal mines within commuting distance to our homes. There was pretty much no employment they considered beneath us.

 Olof and I used to like to play "Who had the worst summer jobs?"  Physically, I'd have to concede that Olof won. A native of Walnut Creek (CA), he spent the summer after his freshman year of college as a roofer in the East Bay's brutal 100-degree summer heat in a perpetual knee-crippling crouch position pounding nails hour after hour.  The only shade, he recalls dramatically, was a flying bird.

So the next summer, desperate to get out of the blazing sun, and hoping for a pay raise, he managed to snag a job in the Pittsburgh (California, and yes, there is one) US Steel Mill. It was a union job as summer relief help for which he was required to purchase both a hard hat and steel-toed boots even though his actual job was cleaning the toilets and changing rooms. But hey union wages! Huge step up.

It would not be too surprising that neither of our sons got too much sympathy from Olof about their summer employment. A summer job cleaning toilets in an un-airconditioned steel mill in the East Bay pretty much trumps everything.

I definitely can t compete in the physical labor department, but when my sister and I were seven and eight, our mother got us our first jobs: stuffing (seven inserts) and licking 1,000 envelopes for a local agency. At a penny apiece, it was far faster to lick the envelopes than use a wet sponge. It s amazing we didn t end up with brain damage from all that glue. I distinctly remember our little tongues desperately trying to produce saliva after the first hour. 

Over the years, I did the standard summer jobs: babysitting, retailing, and waitressing ($.53 an hour before taxes, $.45 after, gold nylon uniform $20).

I spent one summer as a clerk-typist for Scholastic Magazines in their book division in the pre-word processor days typing endless clean copies (with eight carbons) of a book called No Hitter about all the no-hitter baseball games up to that point.  (It's on Amazon for $.01, and no, don't send me a copy.  I've read it.  Eleven times.)  Every typo had to be corrected on all eight carbons with White-Out, a toxic substance probably responsible for more brain damage in persons of my generation than glue sniffing.

I hate to start comments with the words "kids today" but truly, kids today have no idea what a boon to humanity the word processor is.  Space travel and penicillin have nothing on it. I can say with some conviction that a world without carbon paper is truly a better place. 

But my worst summer job by far was proofreading telephone books.  And yes, this was a job. People really depended on phone books and got very touchy if their name or address or particularly, phone number was listed incorrectly because it would be a full year before the next phone book was going to come out. So some human - that would be moi - sat there cross-checking the typewritten list with the microscopically-printed galleys line by line. I could only surmise that the people I was replacing had been committed to a home for the numerically insane and were being taught Braille.

I've observed over the years that school guidance counselors don't list 90% of jobs that people actually end up doing.  I'm trying to imagine, for example, some perky high school student's yearbook listing:  "Future goal: career in the phone book proofreading industry."

Of course, there is no requirement that summer jobs have to be ill-paid and boring even if many of them are. 

For both sets of our parents, summer employment provided cash for the expenses we were expected to pay, but I think they regarded it as character building as well.  Not that I was ever inclined to be rude to waiters or sales clerks, but working in those fields gives you a new respect for the job. Forget mandatory military service.  Everyone should be required to work retail.

I mention all this because I often her parents say at this time of the year that they don't think it's worth having their kids take a $10 an hour menial job when they could be doing something educational. Both Olof's and my parents would have said that it's all how you define educational.

So, are we better or even different people for our summer job experience? Different, certainly. Both Olof and I would agree that most of our summer jobs were excellent incentives to pursue higher education in the hope of never ever doing any of these jobs again. Just as important as know what you want to do in life is knowing what you really, really don't.

Waitressing at the Jersey Shore, summer 1966
($.53/hr - $.45 after taxes.  Gold nylon uniform: $20)