Friday, June 23, 2023

The Over-Amenitized House

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 26, 2023] ©2023

I realize we’re talking La Jolla here, but I’ve concluded it’s possible for a home to be over-amenitized. 

Friends of ours were able to get a great deal on a 4,000 square foot showplace that had risen out of the proverbial ashes of a former fixer.  A spec house, it boasted “every amenity”.

Sometimes, even in La Jolla, there can be too much of a good thing.

Ironically, our friends were less interested in amenities than in the great location, the spaciousness of the house, and the proximity to schools.  What they are finding is that there is a fine line between a builder who installs “every amenity” and one who has had a psychotic break.  Our friends spend pretty much all their time reading amenity manuals.

When I visited the new digs after they moved in, my friend asked if I might consult on her refrigerator.   Near as I can tell, this refrigerator would also do her laundry if she asked it to but its built-in digital thermometer was reading 50 degrees. (My refrigerator thermometer came from the baking aisle at Gelson’s.)  Did I agree, she asked, that this seemed a tad warm?  I did, and the repair service that she called moments later agreed as well, but alas, it being a Friday, they could not possibly come until Monday afternoon. 

Not to worry, I told her.  I was sure I could find enough space in my own fridge for her perishables over the weekend.

“You know,” she replied somewhat sheepishly, “that’s incredibly nice of you.  But I think there may actually be some more refrigerators around here.” 

I was stopped dead in my tracks.  The mere idea that there could be refrigerators lying around that one didn’t know about put my imagination into overdrive.  I fantasized Olof coming home from a walk to our 1,600 square foot (including former garage) cottage one night and saying, “So how was your day?” and my replying, “Well, I was looking for my set of Jane Austen’s and guess what I found – a refrigerator!”

Now, the friends hadn’t lived in their new home very long at the time, but lo and behold, a brief search turned up a second refrigerator in the pasta cooking station and even another fridge – with freezer - in the wet bar.  There was a fridgelet tucked into the master bath for those champagne bubble bath occasions and one on the grill patio. One would certainly be required on the roof deck.  And in a pinch, one could always appropriate the wine fridge.

So thanks, she said, but it appeared she had alternate cooling resources.  In fact, probably enough to back up Vons.

The contractor on this spec-flip (see “psychotic break”, above) had decided that there should be every possible lighting opportunity. Hence, there are not less than seven sets of light switch units each with three individual switches in the very large “great room,” which collectively control the myriad ceiling lights.  To date, they have not succeeded in turning off all the lights in their great room at the same time, but have put sticky notes next to each switch unit indicating what combination of lights it seems to control.  Their first upgrade, they note, is to hire an electrician to do a major light switch reduction. Because it is driving them completely, totally bats--t crazy. 

The downside of amenities, of course, is that they break – even brand-new allegedly still under warranty amenities.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the garbage disposal in the auxiliary prep sink stopped working as well. My friend had a repairman out to look at it and he agreed it was under warranty and also that the same problem was likely to recur.  However, he added, it was more economical for the warrantors to keep fixing it than replacing it. 

Huh? I said, as my friend related the story.  Every disposal I’ve ever had cost $100. 

No, she said, turns out that this is the Lamborghini of disposals.  According to the repair guy, it could “do a small dog”.  Olof heard this and said if it were him, he’d upgrade to one that does a medium dog.  I’m guessing you could probably also do a husband if you cut him in dog-sized pieces first.  (See imagination overdrive, above.) 

In fact, I was about to suggest to the friend that this house could be the site of the perfect crime.  The industrial-grade mega-hertz central vac system would easily suck up even the minutest husband fragments and the disposal would make sure he was thoroughly chummed long before he hit the treatment plant. CSI wouldn’t stand a chance.

But then it occurred to me that those husband fragments could be friend fragments.  Note to self:  keep mouth shut.



Monday, June 12, 2023

The Family Worrier: World's Most Thankless Task

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 12, 2023] ©2023

Every family needs a family worrier - a person who worries about everything from world peace to whether we’re out of lunch meat.  Someone, after all, has to worry about whether the house will get robbed, sea level is rising, or one of you will get sick the day before you leave on vacation. I have always been the worrier in my family.

Being a family worrier is an extremely demanding job. Not only do you have to worry about the likely things that can go wrong, but the unlikely things as well.  Of course, in my view, there is no “unlikely.”

To be a successful family worrier, one must subscribe to two fundamental principles.  The first and most crucial is that no matter what anybody else tells you, nature abhors a confident person. The second: Let one disastrous possibility go unworried about and you can just about guarantee it will happen. 

For example, I never worried about Covid.  I rest my case.  You can be sure that global pandemics are now on my regular worry list. I personally apologize to the world for this lack of foresight.

I also never worried that the failure of the city to maintain sewer lines after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1976 would result five years later, on January 7, 1981, in a trunk line sewer block in front of our house that routed the entire neighborhoods sewage through our home for almost two hours. Or that the day before Thanksgiving in 2015, hours before the family was descending on us for the holiday meal, a possum would die under my kitchen creating an odor not unlike a barrel of rotting barracuda.

Both of those are now also regular worries.

Anxiety disorders run in my family. That’s why I was interested in an article in the San Diego U-T 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.


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!

Another recent article about anxiety in the U-T recommends “motivational self-talk” like “I can do it!”, or “I’ll be fine!” to give yourself the whole ridiculous illusion that we actually have some control in unexpectedly anxiety-provoking situations. I don’t think this therapist travels on airplanes where they make it abundantly clear you have the power of a gnat.

So herein lies the problem.  There’s just too much to worry about these days, and we’re not even counting, well, everything.

From time to time Olof has tried to convince me that the worrying itself was not the reason an event went well but my thorough (some have unkindly called it massively obsessive) planning. But then, what does he know?

May I add that being the family worrier is a thankless job.  There you are worrying your little heart out for people, and are they the least bit grateful?

“Olof,” I said, “I’d like for you to start doing some of the worrying for a change.”

“But I’m not worried,” insisted Olof. Olof says he doesn’t have to worry about anything, not that he’s inclined to anyway. He knows I’ve got everything more than covered.

“That’s exactly my point.  Of course, I’ll still take charge of the global worrying and the prevention of major disasters.”  I wasn’t sure I’d trust Olof to worry enough to keep the post-earthquake tsunami from dragging our house out to sea anyway.  “But I do think you could take over some of the routine worries, like whether the airport will be fogged in, the stove will crump in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner, or another possum will die in the crawl space.”

“Really,” he insisted, “what are the odds the possum thing would ever happen a second time?”

And that, of course, is exactly the kind of thinking that guarantees deceased marsupials under your house.




Saturday, June 3, 2023

Miracle Dog

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 5, 2023] ©2023

Against all odds, our beloved dog is still with us.  Cancelling the in-home euthanasia service was one of the happiest moments of our lives.  She is truly a miracle dog.

We’d adopted this then-7-year-old dog back in 2016 after she was placed in our home as a “one week emergency foster” by a rescue agency. They saw us for the mushballs that we were. That dog had us at “arf.”

Her entire mouth was rotten (hence her relinquishment to the pound) so we instantly incurred $1,500 in doggie dental work.  In 2020 and again in 2022, she blew out first her left ACL (knee) and then her right.

By late last fall, she finally seemed fully recovered from the second knee surgery.  But then she suddenly stopped eating.  My husband Olof became a dog food whisperer, sitting on the floor with her trying to entice her to lick homemade mush, or even just warm beef broth, off his fingers.  Her harness hung off her as her weight dropped daily.

A critical diagnostic sign: She stopped barking at the mailman.

She underwent every lab test and scan known to dog, with several genuinely earnest vets. Everything came back normal. One vet said this was the healthiest starving animal she’d ever treated. The dog was treated with multiple anti-nausea shots and pills, probiotics, antacids, all manner of stomach soothers, and expensive special diets. Nothing helped. Not eating.

Puzzlingly, she was also having difficulty standing up, and going up and down our two front steps. Yet spinal x-rays were normal too.

As a last-ditch effort, we took her to an internal medicine specialist.  We were already well into the five figures in vet bills in the last year between her second knee surgery and all the diagnostic tests and treatments.  How much further were we willing to go?

The internist there spent considerable time reviewing the dog’s voluminous records and went through a very long list of all the possibilities for her anorexia, many of them having treatments that would be unacceptable to us.  For example, Cushing’s Disease was a major possibility, but it would be caused by a pituitary tumor which would need brain surgery or radiation. Perhaps she had inflammatory bowel disease, or a fungal GI disease like histoplasmosis (more sophisticated tests would be needed than the parasites she’d already been tested for), or intestinal cancer (her previous abdominal ultrasound should be repeated), maybe low-grade pancreatitis, or a long list of other possibilities, some treatable, others not very. Steroid therapy would have many side effects, especially on her heart, and if she had Cushings, would make that worse.  They would definitely want to do some biopsies. We had been desperately hoping that something obvious would jump out at the doctor that had been missed. 

When they gave us estimate for the first round of diagnostic tests, it was $5,100. 

Alternatively, they could insert an esophageal feeding tube under anesthesia.

We declined both.

Clutching the dog on my lap, I sobbed into her fur all the way home.  I think Olof would have been sobbing too if he hadn't been driving.  Our last hope was gone.  We had already begun researching the in-home euthanasia services. Olof was especially adamant that we weren't going to watch this dog starve to death. But how do you put down a dog for whom you have no diagnosis? 

And then the miracle. By pure serendipity, I was given the name of a retired vet, recently moved to the area, who had practiced integrated veterinary medicine, i.e., both eastern and western approaches. He kindly agreed to see the dog the next day.  Olof thought it was a waste of time.

Two minutes into his exam, the vet noted, “Well, first thing I’m seeing is that her jaw is dislocated.  No wonder she won’t eat.”  Her SI (sacroiliac) joint was also out of place.  He gently manipulated her jaw, and also her spine, followed by acupuncture. She devoured half a bag of soft treats before leaving.

We had been keeping small dishes of food on her mat hoping to entice her to eat.  When I brought her home, she devoured all three. 

It’s been four months since that day. This wonderful man has graciously seen her several times since to check her jaw and SI joint alignment.  He prescribed various herbs as well which we frankly would have rolled our eyes at before all this. Olof has become an ace capsule filler.

The dog will be 14 soon. She’s definitely got old dog issues, a little stiff when she gets up, but no problems with steps. She’s a picky eater but she eats all on her own and has regained all her lost weight. And in the truest sign of recovery, is barking lustily again at what Olof refers to as “Fed Ex charcuterie.” 

So what happened?  Did she have a fall at home that we didn’t see? At the groomers? It will probably always be a mystery. 

We’re been incredibly grateful for every moment that she’s remained in our lives. And beyond grateful to the vet who saved her. 


January, 2023: Olof tries to get Lily to lick food off his fingers

                                   Won't even eat chicken - her formerly favorite treat

                      We leave out a selection of food and treats to tempt her, to no avail

                                                      Not even interested in toys

                   February 15 - Comes home from miracle vet and cleans up her plate

Olof has become a pro at capsule filling of Lily's prescribed herbs