Saturday, July 29, 2023

Aging Out

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 31, 2023] ©2023

The good news, our primary care physician informed us, is that we have officially aged out of early-onset afflictions.

As you get older, one less thing you can die of is good news indeed.

But there are plenty of other things we can’t decide if we’ve aged out of or not.  One of them is pets, specifically dogs, and birds for our outdoor aviary.  Fortunately, our beloved dog Lily is still with us, but she’s 14 and came perilously close to dying earlier this year. 

Actually, we’d decided not to get another dog after our beloved English bulldog, Winston, inherited from our younger son Henry, died suddenly in 2016.  Nothing to do with age; we couldn’t bear losing another dog.  Winston was a total pain but we really loved him.

But then a rescue agency asked us to do a “one week maximum” foster of a dog waiting for her next forever home.  They saw us for the mushballs that we were.  Three days into seven-year-old Lily’s stay, we’d fallen in love. 

Our aviary birds have been a more imminent issue.  My older son Rory began breeding cockatiels when he was nine.  He’s now 45 and married to a cat person in Santa Cruz.  Like many sucker parents the world over, we ended up inheriting the cockatiels who can easily live to be over 20.  But we grew fond of the little guys and were sad when the last of them finally died.

Olof and I agree that we have definitely aged out of cockatiels. Not, however, of the multitude of parakeets we also accumulated over the years, often neighbor kids’ ill-considered bird buys supplemented by grandkids’ fondness for pet store excursions.  Somehow we’ve ended up becoming an avian social service agency.

But our parakeet numbers have been dwindling.

Parakeets have varying life spans but the ones in our outdoor aviary tend to live up seven years. Are we good for seven more years of cage cleaning?  It’s a really nasty job and not one you can easily hire someone for. The cage is built into our back porch so that it is sheltered on two sides from sun and wind.  At night, a pull-down cover keeps the myriad fauna that populate our back yard from annoying them.

Olof, in a heroic act that earned him about a bazillion husband points, took over aviary maintenance from me about three years ago.  I don’t even want to calculate how many bird cages that I have cleaned over thirty-three years. I might be a contender for an Olympic medal in bird poop shoveling. 

To be honest, I’m over it.

Even Olof began saying that cleaning the aviary was getting a little hard on him physically.  We agreed that as much as we enjoy the birds cheerful chirping, we were officially declaring ourselves aged out of birds.  We don’t like to take on any pets we can’t expect to outlast, or in this case, whose maintenance we can’t expect to be able to physically manage.

So it was all decided. I thought.

Earlier this spring, we were down to two birds. You can always tell which birds were acquired - and therefore named – during grandkid pet store excursions (String Bean (green) and Banana (yellow)) and which were neighbor donations, re-named by Olof for Tolkien characters.  It’s culturally a very mixed group. Interestingly, they seem to know it.

But then suddenly we were down to one bird (Banana).  Were we going to let her fly around all by herself until it was time to flit to the great beyond? Or do we bring her inside to a cage where she can have more interaction with us but be unable to fly freely?  To me it was one or the other.

But apparently not to Olof.

I came home from an appointment last week and heard what sounded like very forest-y noises coming from our back porch.  They could not all be Banana.  And sure enough, they weren’t.

Several more parakeets had joined Banana and were zipping happily around the aviary, obviously pleased to have been liberated from the cramped confines of PetSmart. 

Olof looked sheepish.  “I know you were ready to be done with birds, but I wasn’t,” he conceded.  He got three more so there would be even numbers.  Birds, like kindergarteners, tend to pair up and ignore the odd one out.  Gandalf, Galadriel, and Frodo seem very happy with their new digs, and especially being in a flight cage. 

I told Olof he better be keeping himself in tiptop bird poop-shoveling shape for at least the next seven years.  He’s got something to live for now.

Our friends say that there is an easy answer to all this: leave any pets to the kids in our will. After thirty years of birds (inherited from Rory) and one problematic bulldog (inherited from Henry) they wouldn’t dare say no. (Would they?) 




Monday, July 24, 2023

[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published July 24, 2023] ©2023

Just when you think the city parents can’t make any worse decisions (SB 10, anyone?), they propose a law shifting a backlog of 37,000 sidewalk repairs (and the estimated $183 million to fix them) onto San Diego property owners. Such a law is called a “liability ordinance.”

As a property owner with a corner lot, and therefore a whole lot of sidewalk, this didn’t strike fear in our hearts.  It was abject terror.

Apparently, part of the motivation for this shift is the millions the city is paying out in trip-and-fall claims from people injured on damaged sidewalks. This liability would now be shifted to homeowners unless the city is directly responsible for the sidewalk defects.  How that will be determined seems destined to keep a lot of law firms in perpetual prosperity.

Some years ago, pre-Get It Done, I filed a repair quest on what was then the appropriate reporting vehicle for a root-ruptured sidewalk caused by a city-owned tree.  The sidewalk continued to rise and become more hazardous year by year, especially in the dark.  There were a number of trip-and-falls. I know this because I was the tripper and fallee. 

Seven years later, a repair crew came out…and repaired a much smaller sidewalk issue on the next door neighbor’s property.  Fortunately, I was able to accost them and get them to repair my sidewalk as well.

The city parents propose to soften the blow of shifting sidewalk repairs to property owners by reducing the permit fee for repairs from $2,200 to $100.  Wait.  We need a permit? Before we even do any repairs?

Forgive me if I’m not grateful. Or softened.  And with all due respect, city parents, have you applied for a permit to do anything in this city recently?  With pandemic backlogs, it takes years.

Once permitted, we’d be stuck paying whatever the city sidewalk repair contractor charges (no competitive bids) which according to a story in the Light on June 29 could cost as much as $5,000.  Which means that actual humans could do it for $500.

What scares me even more is that my street corner has become very dark ever since the streetlight in front of our house went out in February of this year.  The backlog of broken streetlights at the time was 5,900 (now 6,100) but some streetlight repair requests have been backlogged eight years.  I concluded in a La Jolla Light column (Trying to understand streetlight math, May 4, 2023) that our streetlight, according to the city's current rate of repair, would not be fixed in our lifetimes.  

Once our street light went out, even our dog was terrified to step off the front porch into the suddenly black abyss.  So we’ve improvised with solar lights hoping to be able to find our front gate.

But that has done nothing to make our large corner safely lit at night.  And now, if the liability for that expanse of sidewalk has shifted to us, I don’t know what we would do.

Well, my husband Olof has a few ideas.  He says if we’re responsible for injuries on our sidewalk, then we should charge to walk on it.  A little toll gate on either end.  We’d even be willing to learn how to use Venmo.

Alternatively, he suggests, we could resurface our sidewalk with a layer of synthetic rubber like they use for high school tracks so that if people fall, they would bounce right up.  Of course, we would have to do this in the dead of night. Increasingly (see recent La Jolla Light articles), locals have taken it upon themselves to do city improvements like paint railings at Wind n’ Sea, or re-landscape tiny Hermosa Park in Bird Rock.

If this proposal truly passes (please say it is just a bad joke), a whole cottage industry of rogue sidewalk repairs will, in my guess, spring up. No way are people getting sucked into the black hole of city permits and non-bid repairs.

I also can’t help but observe that some of the trip-and-falls in downtown La Jolla, an area with lots of foot traffic, were on sidewalks so badly damaged they were practically begging people to fall on them. Is there no priority system? 

On the positive side, an article in the San Diego U-T on July 10 reported that the city plans to prioritize fixing those 6,100-and-counting broken streetlights.  The plan is to address broken streetlight complaints from “about eight months” (see “streetlight math,” above) to just three days.  It’s a wonderful thought, and I would love to move to the planet where that is going to happen.

But if we could at least get the streetlight in front of our house working again, we hope it would greatly reduce the number of potential sidewalk accidents that the city parents want to stick us for. 

Meanwhile, my engineer husband is tinkering in the back yard with rolls of spongy synthetics. If this liability ordinance passes, we’ll be ready.



Saturday, July 8, 2023

An Early Education In The Art Of Spin

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 10, 2023] ©2023

Now that all the local high schools have graduated, I can safely tell the saga of a friend’s teenage daughter who has a serious future in spin.  In fact, if I were a political organization, I’d be signing her up now.

I happened to be visiting her mother when the daughter arrived home in a panic at five o’clock after a sports practice to announce that a project she thought was due in “a few months” was in fact due the next day.  The assignment was to make either a diorama or a flat board depiction of “my ideal life.” But daughter also had a “super important” history test the next day. Please, Mom, she says, can you help me?  Both parties were clear what “help” meant. 

Let me interject here that there is not a mom in America who has not been put in this position in some form or another, even if it’s the 10 p.m. announcement that three dozen cookies are required for the school bake sale the next day.  Fortunately, my friend was a pro at school projects, to the envy (and abject jealousy) of all her friends, including me.  The Plaster of Paris topography map of central Asia was to scale, the science fair board sparkled in glitter paper wonder, the Christmas diorama sported a battery-operated fireplace and a yuletide sound track, and the oral report on Colonial America was delivered via two hand-made museum-quality puppets of George and Martha Washington.  Fortuitously, my friend had a virtual warehouse of her kids’ former projects carefully stored in the garage. A local gallery should do a retrospective.

Surveying the arsenal of possibilities, she asked her daughter a question that in my mind should be immortalized: “So, do you care what your ideal life looks like?”  And daughter says “nope.”  Mom pulls out a board that one of her sons did in the second grade, exact topic no longer obvious.  But it had a bunch of Styrofoam igloos glued to a board with a lot of white snow around them. 

Hard to imagine that a La Jolla born-and-bred child’s ideal life would include living in an igloo and eating whale blubber with no Burger Lounge in sight.  Daughter has to admit that the accompanying paragraph – yes! they did actually have to create prose! - was going to be a tough sell. 

So she suggested that Mom could maybe scrape off the snow in one corner and add some sand for a beach.  She ponders this a bit more and adds brightly, “I could say that I like contrasts!  My ideal life is about contrasts!”  As I said, the young lady definitely has a future in politics.

While daughter went upstairs to wax one paragraph’s worth of poetic about contrasts, Mom dutifully set about making little palm trees out of pipe cleaners and green construction paper to stick into the sand to make it look appropriately beachy.  Et voilĂ !  Or not.

Just in time, Mom notices that in large block letters on the bottom of the board is the name of her older son and the notation “Grade 2.”  Mom set a land speed record to get a can of black spray paint at Meanley’s in the ten minutes before they closed.  

 I like to think that any teacher worth her salt would have been a tad suspicious about the remarkable coincidence of the “second grade” ID on the bottom in combination with the igloos.  But then, this was a teacher who assigned dioramas as a term project for a high school Advanced English class. 

The mere thought of this makes me crazy.

My sons had some terrific and inspiring English teachers along the way, but also a few who pretty much abdicated the position.  Rory’s eighth grade English teacher never corrected spelling or grammar on assignments, maintaining the important thing was to “get your message across.”  One day I looked at a paper Rory was about to hand in and observed, “Unfortunately, the message here is that you’re illiterate.” 

I tried to convey to both of my kids that poor grammar, spelling and punctuation totally distract from the message, never mind undermine your credibility.  Unfortunately, by the end of the year, the teacher was allowing – nay, encouraging - students to do a video or art project in lieu of writing.

Ironically, the project my friend and her daughter ended up doing would have made an excellent assignment:  Take a previous project and give it an entirely different conclusion.  Anymore, we live in a world of spin.  Never too early to develop the skill.  

By the way:  grade on the igloo project?  B+.  One of the highest grades in the class.  The teacher also gave her an excellent recommendation for college.  Where, I’m hoping, the diorama and flat board projects are in the daughter’s academic past.  But if not, there’s a garage at home just waiting for her.



Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Curse of Sensors

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 3, 2023] ©2023

 On the bulletin board next to my desk is a sign that says, “The chief cause of problems is solutions.”  Among those solutions that are frequently the cause of problems are the proliferation of sensors which theoretically alert you that something in your home or vehicle is about to go wrong. 

But in my experience, what’s often broken are the sensors themselves.  Sensors lie.  A lot. But not before terrifying you when you’re 20 miles from the nearest exit on the freeway that your engine is imminently out of oil and if you drive even ten more feet, your engine will freeze into a blocksicle from which it can never be thawed. 

Cars are especially prone to flaky sensors. There was a lot of exchange on the neighborhood social media recently about tire pressure sensors that are prone to flash even when the tire pressure is fine.  Which the owner only finds out when they take time out of a busy life to take it to a service station. 

Apparently, it costs (at least) $60 to have your defective tire sensor light replaced, not to mention leaving the car there for a half day.

A local friend with a very very high-end car whose make I will not mention paid $700 for her faulty tire pressure sensor light to be fixed. 

While I would personally covet a sensor that will beep when you’re about to hit the numnut who walks behind your car as you're backing out of your space at Gelson’s, I didn’t want to mention to my friend that I have managed to live my whole life without a dashboard tire pressure sensor.  My 2005 Toyota Corolla has a more manual version of a tire pressure gauge which was activated recently when I drove over to the nail-prone Tourmaline parking lot to walk on the beach, heard a sudden loud hiss and felt my car list to starboard.  “I think I have lost tire pressure,” I said to myself. 

Car ignition sensors seem to be a source of peril as well. While getting gas one evening, a friend had her purse stolen including house keys, car ignition sensor, driver’s license, etc.

 Worse, since the perps now had the automatic ignition sensor, she had no way to start the car to get home. The fancy computer-programed ignition sensor was $496 and took a week to replace. Worse, for the first night, since the thieves had both the ignition sensor and her address from her driver’s license, they could have stolen her SUV right out of her driveway. I confess my little Corolla with its low-tech keys was looking better and better. (And in my case, I would have hoped they’d steal it.)

Over-zealous sensors that have proliferated on washing machines are in a category all their own. Balance sensors seems to be a particular problem across many brands (probably not all that surprising since one repair guy maintained they’re all made in the same factory in China).  My machine wants to “self-balance” (unlike my previous machines whose balance setter was me) but if there is anything in there heavier than underwear (God forbid you should want to wash towels), it is scientifically designed to shift everything to one side then sound like it is agitating a bowling ball. 

The only person more scared of this machine than the dog is me.  I can’t leave the house when it is running as I have to be prepared to race in and stop a machine that is literally flailing around like a mechanical bull with a broken speed control. Unsupervised, the machine could end up in our bedroom. 

Multiple calls to the warranty service people have ended with them suggesting that I “not wash anything heavy.”  These would be the same heavy objects I have been washing in its predecessors for 40 years.  I did finally find one semi-solution which is to over-ride the auto water level sensor and wash everything on “deep water wash” thereby obviating all the ecological advantages this useless machine was supposed to have.

My tech-loving engineer husband and I have debated the merits of technology, including sensors, on many occasions.  He maintains that well-designed technology should be intuitive. You play with it, you figure it out, you don’t need a manual.  Every time Olof mentions the word “intuitive,” I want to smite him.

From time to time, we techno-hostile people actually prevail.  Olof and I like to sit outside on summer evenings and read, he on his iPad, and me with a library book.  Occasionally, Olof will have to go in early because the iPad’s low battery sensor is flashing. I try to look sympathetic but it’s all I can do to stifle a maniacal cackle.  I never have to worry about the battery on my library book getting too low. 

“You don’t have to look so smug,” my techno-husband will say, heading indoors.  

“Oh,” I reply, “but I really do.”