Monday, July 8, 2019

An engineer makes sourdough

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 10, 2019] ©2019

There is nothing more fun for me than to watch my engineer husband, Olof, develop a passion for a project.  Six years ago, I won a first place Press Club award for a column entitled “How an engineer makes cookies.”  My husband, who had never baked anything in his life, decided to replicate the family Christmas cookie recipes from his childhood which were a tad vague on the details and did not indicate yields.  Olof wanted to make enough to send to family and to give to neighbors.

I was utterly dazzled watching this entire production, 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.

The yield problem was solved with astonishing accuracy by what Olof referred to as “a simple application of undergraduate quantitative analysis.” Who knew a degree in nuclear physics could have such practical applications?

In recent months, Olof became interested in making sourdough bread, but more specifically in creating the sourdough starter.  Of course, one can buy it off the internet, or even get it from a fellow baker who makes sourdough bread, but where would be the fun in that?  For centuries, sourdough starter was handed down from one generation to the next. Even the early settlers to California hauled it all the way across the country in covered wagons. 

Einstein didn’t put as much energy into developing the theory of relativity as Olof did watching sourdough starter videos.  You would be amazed at how many You Tube videos there are on this subject. I can assure you that Olof has seen them all.

 Of course, guys in general, and engineers in particular, are always looking for excuses to buy “toys”, for example the Ferrari of stand mixers he required for the cookie caper a few years back. (Fortunately, he hasn’t been all that into the meat grinder attachment.)  The sourdough project, however, has required the acquisition of such accoutrements as bannetons (rattan baskets for proofing bread), bread lame (dough cutting tool), precision food scale to measure everything in grams, and even a special heating pad meant for seedlings that Olof uses to control the heat under the starter jars.  (Someone had one on their video so Olof had to have one too.) I predicted it would be the most time-consuming and most expensive loaf of sourdough bread in history. 

Given that there were multiple recipes for sourdough starter, Olof decided it would be necessary to try several and then compare the final results when they were in bread form. One starter had a base of honey, raisins, water and sugar.  Another of pineapple juice.  Every jar is carefully labeled including tare (the weight of the jar itself).  The different starters have to be “fed” at precision schedules with flour and water.  Dinner has been preempted on numerous occasions in favor of feeding the starters rather than ourselves.

Lest there be any confusion as to which recipes prevailed, Olof has created notebooks tracking every single teeny step-let in the creation of each of his starters. They read like the logbooks on the Starship Enterprise. Some excerpts: 

Third Bake Attempt: 24-26 June:  SO [sourdough] traditional loaf and Buzzby Bakes ciabatta (CB)

24 Jun  2110: Fed raisin starter for use with ciabatta dough.

25 Jun  1011: Started SO dough mix.  SO dough mixed with 40gm whole wheat and 330gm bread flour.  Next: Rest till 1040

1040: Mixed ciabatta dough in green bowl.

10:50:  Mix complete.  Next: Autolyse until 1150.

1055: SO dough salt added + 20gm water.  Bulk ferment started,  Next stretch and fold at 1120.

1125: SO dough stretch and fold #1 complete. Next: stretch and fold at 1155.

1205: CB dough ingredients mixed.  Bulk fermentation starts. 

26 Jun 0700: Dough out of refrigerator

0900: Parchment paper cut

0920: Oven and Dutch oven preheating to 480 deg.

1030: CB rolls shaped and resting on parchment paper at 1100.

2:20: CB out and cooling. Maybe over stretched. Too thin in middle and fat at the ends.

While Olof has now done three full bakings of sourdough boules and one of ciabattas, he still has not been able to achieve the nice big bubble holes in the bread that would indicate a truly primo loaf of sourdough.  He is still assessing why. Did he overwork the dough? Was the starter not active enough? Did the flour not absorb the water as well as it should have?  Inquiring minds are definitely going to find out. 

Let me just say that the taste is amazing, regardless. It definitely has a denser more rustic consistency than the light fluffy sourdoughs you buy in the store.  Our refrigerator will likely have a permanent section for sourdough starter jars.

Not to ruin the surprise, but I think everyone in the family can guess what they’re getting for Christmas. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Curing Techno Addiction

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 3, 2019] ©2019

Hardly a day goes by that some on-line platform or even print media doesn’t publish an article about how to deal with digital addiction.  Apparently it now afflicts tens of millions of people who literally are unable to wrest themselves from constant infusions of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, email, and something called streaming. 

Nobody should make fun of other people’s addictions. I have long admitted to a serious addiction to chocolate and have the thighs to prove it.   But no one actually wrenches chocolate out of my hands (even if maybe they should). So I’m trying to be tolerant of the national techno addiction despite the fact that I (mostly) can’t understand the appeal of digital applications in the first place.  And it’s not just because Siri and I have always had a really contentious relationship. 

I say “mostly” because I will confess to following one person on Instagram – my daughter-in-law.  And that is because she posts grandchildren photos and short videos on it.  This is like grandma crack. 

And OK, I love the FaceTime feature on my phone for this reason as well.  My four-year-old grandson will sometimes FaceTime me eight times in a single day.  I’m not sure that he’s all that excited about talking to me but he loves being able to push the FaceTime app on his mom’s phone and then selecting my name or picture.  The fact that I instantly appear is immediately reinforcing, even if his main goal is to hang up and do it again.

But Twitter?  I just don’t get Twitter. Does anyone ever say anything nice on this app? All that bandwidth just to hurl around misspelled vitriol.

I guess that’s my biggest complaint about it all this digitality: it’s just so much noise.  As soon as you order something on-line, you’re inundated with daily emails plugging their products even if you specifically unchecked the box about future emails.  As for “Unsubscribe,” it’s amazing how often clicking “Unsubscribe” doesn’t do that.
As much of a techno moron as I am, I’ve developed excellent skills at using NoMoRobo on Spectrum and at blocking calls on my iPhone from those pesky resort sales people who seem to have at least 400 numbers. Yet I still get inundated with unwanted calls and emails. 

Of course, a lot of the failure to understand digital appeal is a generational thing.  I personally need the comforting crinkle of a newspaper, and the tactile satisfaction of actually turning a page in a book.  I never have to recharge the pile of books on my bedside.  (OK, I do feel bad about the trees.) 

I’m truly dreading the presidential election next year since the robocall rules don’t apply. In preparation for the 2016 election, I changed my affiliation from Democrat to “Decline to State” but was unable to convince Olof to formally ditch the Republicans even though he hasn’t voted for them in years. He still has hope they will return to what he thinks is their former glory. (Hah!) So, in retaliation, I love to play with all the relentless Republican fundraisers who think they’re calling a friendly number only to get me.  “Do you think that marriage should be between one man and one woman?” they’ll query when I pick up the phone. “HELL NO!” I’ll yell before summarily disconnecting.  It’s so satisfying.

That people, even whole families, are now resorting to solutions like “digital Sabbaths” or even “digital detox” is an alarming symptom.  I could help them by having them come to my house where phones are strictly forbidden at the table every day of the week. (I give people on the transplant list a pass.)

I think the phrase that perfectly sums up digital addiction is the ubiquitous “I have to take this” (call).  No, you really don’t.  There’s this amazing modern invention called “voice mail” and it is particularly suited to, say, the symphony, a doctor’s office, and yes, lunch with your formerly-adoring friends. 

I think the most heartbreaking symptom of techno-addiction I see is Moms walking their kids home from school with the child trailing ten feet behind while Mom scrolls on her phone.  It’s all I can do not to say something. Like, YOU HAD ALL DAY! PLEASE TALK TO YOUR KID!

The author Jenny Odell writes in her new book, “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” that there is nothing harder to do than nothing.  Once again, it must be a generational thing. And a cultural thing too.  The Italians have long mastered “L’arte di non fare niente” (the art of doing nothing.)  But definitely not a younger, American thing.

Personally, I can’t understand why anyone wants to live glued to an electronic device.  There’s no doubt that it really is a societal addiction.

But just so we’re clear:  Leave my chocolate alone.

Monday, June 24, 2019

For The Love Of Pets

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 26, 2019] ©2019

For the 12 years I was a divorced working parent, we lived paycheck to paycheck.  It was a good thing that my younger son was allergic to animal dander because we could never have afforded a dog or cat, even to feed them, never mind shots or grooming or God forbid, if the animal got sick.  Instead we had Dinky, a cockatiel.

Birds tend to be low cost pets – just a cage, seed, some toys. Dinky was truly a member of the family, feeding our souls as we all healed from the trauma of divorce. While he had a cage, he was rarely in it unless we weren’t home, instead riding around on someone’s shoulder or head.  He recognized our voices, our footsteps coming up the walk, and the sound of my car engine.  He even ate at the table with us, albeit a little nervously when poultry was served.  We were all hugely attached to this little bird who had so much personality and brought us all so much daily joy.

It was Rory who first noticed that Dinky was listless and not eating, sitting on his perch fluffing up his feathers. I had yet to learn that birds are really hard to save; they have to look good even if they’re ailing to survive in the wild. By the time they look bad, they’re pretty much on their way out.  The kids were absolutely weepy.  (I was too.)  Dinky won’t die, will he Mom? Can we take him to the birdie doctor? 

Few vets treat birds so I was finally referred to a specialty veterinary hospital.  They said that to do diagnostics and treat Dinky would cost $600 up front, regardless of the outcome.  I was distraught.  When you take home $1,500 a month, $600 means a lot of months of spaghetti. I had always been careful not to run up credit card debt. The only alternative was to take Dinky home and pray for a miracle.

From the vet’s office, I called Olof in San Jose with my phone card. We were dating then, in a commuter relationship.  As he listened compassionately, I sobbed into the phone about how this really wasn’t even a choice given my financial situation.  Finally, he said gently, “I think you know what you need to do.”  I blubbered to the affirmative. Not that I did it. Three minutes later I had handed over my credit card for the $600, and the bird, after some pricey blood tests, died in the x-ray machine an hour later.

Not long ago, my younger son Henry, now 39, said, “Do I remember that we ate a lot of spaghetti?” And I replied, “Yeah.  The bird died.” 

The reality is that pets are expensive.  No one ever adopts an animal thinking that they will develop a catastrophic medical condition. 

People might say, “well, you should have gotten medical insurance for your dog or cat.”  Pet insurance isn’t all that cheap either, and we found with Winston, our much-missed English bulldog, that our pet insurance didn’t cover conditions that were endemic to the breed.  Which in bulldogs is pretty much everything.  Our vet said that during her training they had a bumper sticker that read “Buy a bulldog. Support a vet.”  We were fortunate to be able to cover the $7,000 in medical bills for Winston before he died suddenly of a heart attack in our living room at the age of eight. 

Fortunately, there is a local organization that helps people who would have to euthanize a pet with a catastrophic medical condition because of an inability to pay.  It’s called FACE (The Foundation for Animal Care and Education.) Over 2,300 pets have been saved through the program since its inception in 2006. This year’s FACE fundraising event, Paws and Pints, sponsored by La Jolla Veterinary Hospital, already took place on June 6 but it’s never too late to donate to this worthy cause (

The FACE program started decades after Dinky who I think was probably unsavable. But the feeling of being unable to save a beloved fur, er, feathered child because of the cost still sticks with me 30-some years later.  I still cry when I think of Dinky.

While medical care for your pet can really add up, here’s something that isn’t expensive:  a collar and tag. At least a few times a month, I encounter an animal – usually a dog, but sometimes a cat, and occasionally even a chicken – who has escaped from its home. A surprising number have no tags. And, when taken to a local vet, aren’t chipped either. (Can you chip a chicken?) Aside from a fear that these poor animals will be hit by cars in our neighborhood’s fast-moving traffic, I’m afraid those anonymous roaming canines will eat the untaggable escapee chickens.

Don’t let this happen. 

Rory and Dinky, 1988

Monday, June 10, 2019

Just Trying To Keep Enough Synapses Firing In Sequence

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 12, 2019] ©2019

It’s really easy to put your head in the sand about getting old and decrepit until you start hearing about friends’ parents, and even the friends themselves, requiring 24-hour care.  As in forever. 

So Olof and I decided that maybe we should look into long-term care insurance.  Let me sum up the concept: they hope you pay exorbitant premiums for 20 years then die of a heart attack. 

Olof was out of town when the long-term care people called in response to my application and said they were sending a nurse out for a physical exam, including a cognitive evaluation. 

Uh-oh. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day (except Monday; too easy) and read three books a week. But I’m clear that my mind is not as sharp as it once was.  The Light will testify that my proofreading skills have gone to hell.  I mis-use words a lot more.  When I’m writing, I’ll ask myself, “Do I mean ‘propitious’ or “prophetic’?”  I’m not so sure of spelling anymore.  I have to look up grammar rules regularly. 

As we get older, Olof and I are hoping that together, we can maintain one complete brain and one functioning body between us.  Especially one semi-complete long-term memory bank.  We’re always asking each other: What was the name of the actor in… 

What’s scary, however, is that I sometimes temporarily lose a really basic word. 

Inga: “Olof, what’s the word for those things you put on your feet inside your shoes?”

Olof: “Socks?” 

Inga: “Yes! Thanks!”

There was a time when one of us querying the other as to whether they’d remembered to take out the dog or turn down the heat before bed would have suggested a mildly insulting lack of faith in the other’s mental prowess.  But now we’re in total agreement that we have no faith in either our own or the other’s mental prowess.  We’re just trying to keep the dog from peeing on the carpet and the heating bill under control.  We’re grateful for the reminder.

The problem will be when neither of us remembers to either ask or do it.  Or remembers that we even have a dog. Or heat.

Fortunately that day is not here yet. 

But having the long-term health care insurance evaluator come out unnerved me.  I knew I could chug an extra blood pressure pill a few hours before she got there, but what was a “cognitive evaluation” going to actually entail?  If they asked me to count back by 7’s or do a level one (easiest) Sudoku puzzle, I’d be toast. 

I decided to do a little home staging before she came, carelessly strewing around collections of New York Times Saturday crossword puzzles (the really hard ones, NOT the Sunday), a few books in Swedish, an assortment of green teas. I wanted to create a subconscious impression of someone who dwells among the cognitive-scenti, the kind of person for whom an evaluator would say, “Oh, we  obviously don’t need to be testing YOU.”

But she didn’t buy it. The cognitive exam, alas, was even worse than I expected. She told me she was going to tell me ten words and ask me to repeat back as many as I could remember a half hour later.  (Would two be enough?) I explained to the nice lady that I am afflicted with Auditory Processing Disorder (really) and learn better visually. Could I see the words instead? Nope. 

Um, doesn’t this violate the Americans with Disabilities Act?  If people can get more time on their SATs, shouldn’t I be entitled to accommodations on a dementia exam?

After she told me the words, giving me as much time as I needed to try to process them, she chatted it up with me about my current health and level of functioning.  (Inquiring minds want to know: Since when did “toileting” become a verb? Actually, when did it become a word?)

She had been deliberately vague about the costs of the insurance, noting that it would greatly depend on what type of coverage I might choose, and for how long I might want it.  Apparently, long term care can be pretty short term.  When I balked at the cost, she handed me a price sheet showing all the local memory care facilities costing anywhere from $8,000-$12,000 a MONTH.  And no, Medicare doesn’t pay. 

Against all odds, I actually was able to come up with nine of the ten words after the required 30-minute lag. Years ago, I learned that if I can’t write something down, I project it up on a pretend screen in front of me so I can see it. 

By the way, the words were chimney, salt, button, train, harp, meadow, finger, flower, book, and rug.  (The one I couldn’t remember was meadow.) 

Write these down.  You may get the same lady. 

I did a little home staging before the cognitive evaluator
came hoping she would conclude I was not a person in 
need of testing.  (She didn't buy it.) 

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Amazing Secret Life Of Crows

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 5, 2019] ©2019

It’s officially spring if the crows are back. Besides their tail shapes, you can tell they’re crows and not ravens because they travel in groups (as opposed to ravens which travel in pairs) and like to make a lot of noise starting at 5 a.m. I’m tempted to stick my head out the back door and yell, “Excuse me! Do you have any idea what TIME it is?” 

I’m not clear why we have larger crow populations every year now when we used to hardly see them at all.  They enjoy congregating on our power lines. Somehow they’ve figured out the right ones. (The ones who didn’t obviously failed to put their genes forward.) Their fondness for extracting insects from our front lawn suggests that we have inadvertently provided them with an ample food supply.  But it’s not like they’re all that picky.

Crows are reported to eat over 1,000 food items including “carrion, fried chicken, hamburgers, Chinese food, French fries and human vomit.”  I confess I was intrigued by the order on this list. Intentional?  In a study by someone who clearly has too much time (or money) on their hands, crows were found to prefer French fries in a McDonald’s bag over those in a brown paper bag. This is something that McDonalds should work into their advertising. (“More species prefer McDonalds than any other brand!”)

While it sounds like crows are just sitting up in our trees endlessly cawing, crows apparently have a very intricate system of communication, and a wide variety of vocalizations. But what is truly fascinating about them is that they are the only species of bird that is known to make and use tools.  They will select specific types of twigs to burrow into trees to get insects that their beaks can’t reach.

Crows will chase sparrows into buildings to stun them (before making them an avian lunch).  They’ve been known to drop walnuts on the road so that cars will run over them and crack the shells.  I think you’d have to pick your road pretty carefully to find one with enough traffic that you’re not just sitting around on your branch for hours bored out of your beak, but doesn’t have so much traffic that it’ll turn you into road kill when you go to collect it.

Other interesting crow behaviors include moistening hard foods in bird baths or other water sources to soften it. (We see this all the time in our fountain.) Some scientists theorize they’re washing it but as a strictly non-scientist observation, any species that eats carrion and human vomit is probably not all that big on sanitation. 

Crows mate for life but males will cheat. (Is this sounding familiar?) It’s actually pretty amazing considering that male crows have no penis. The male crow’s sperm is transferred from their cloaca (a cavity at the end of the digestive tract) to the female’s cloaca in an act that lasts all of 15 seconds.  Definitely short on the foreplay.

Once crows have mated, they no longer demonstrate courtship displays. Is that sounding familiar too? What’s the point of bringing her a nice piece of cow dung if she’s already committed?

If the male crow is non-fatally injured, his mate won’t leave him, although reproduction apparently drops waaay down. I’m thinking it would be hard to notice the difference if all you ever got was 15 seconds to begin with. Female crows seem to have very low expectations.

Moving right along, the expression “eat crow” – i.e. having to admit to a humiliating mistake – suggests that crows themselves are not good eats. Others say they taste like chicken. (Joke.) Regardless, given that they are scavengers, there is an inherent aversion to essentially eating what the crows themselves have eaten.  One website noted that one crow “will feed two people who don’t know what they’re eating or 12 people who do.” 

Finally, groups of creatures are known by collective nouns, like a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions, an exaltation of larks, a school of fish…and a murder of crows.  Apparently the term came about during an era where groupings of animals had colorful and poetic names.  Scientists, always so unimaginative, apparently just refer to a group of crows as a flock. 

Now that I know more about our seasonal avian friends, I’ve enjoyed observing their behavior. There are a lot of mature trees both on and around our property and it is my observation that these guys are pretty territorial about which branch belongs to whom. Watching this from the safety of my deck chair, groups of crows look like avian F-4s engaged in dog (er, crow) fights. Our cars have been underneath some of these battles, as have our brick walkways. I just try to keep my head from being a target. I’m abundantly clear they’re smart enough to get me if they wanted to.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Fear Of Parking Lots

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 29, 2019] ©2019

OK, let’s settle this parking issue once and for all. 

There have been numerous articles recently citing “consultants” from a local parking lot company maintaining that there is plenty of parking “at all times” in the downtown area of La Jolla, a.k.a The Village. First of all, this guy has never visited La Jolla in August. There is no parking anywhere in the Village even if you wanted to use their extortionist lots.

As for the rest of the year, there are allegations that there are plenty of parking structure and off-street spaces if the local denizens weren’t too cheap to pay for them.  Well, OK, we ARE too cheap to pay for them unless absolutely required, but that’s the least of  it.  (Someone will write to me and point out how much more expensive parking is in other cities.  Please save yourself the trouble.)

So here are the issues.  A lot of people – I would be among them - really hate parking structures. It doesn’t matter what time you get there but if it’s a high rise, like, for example, the one at the Ximed building at Scripps Memorial, there will only be parking on the roof by 9:30 a.m.  If it’s subterranean, like most of the ones in La Jolla, the only spots will be at the very bottom.  Level P4 will be reminiscent of descending into the Fourth Circle of Hell, an image eerily reinforced by the fact that was one is indeed circling ever downward.

Subterranean parking structures are dark, sky-challenged, and creepy, and the stalls are really tight, even for persons such as me who own a compact car. They are populated with large pillars, strategically designed to be backed into. Black SUVS will be parked on either side of you in spaces marked “small cars.”  There is rarely (never?) angled parking. The dim light doesn’t help us oldies, whose depth perception isn’t what it used to be, try to inch out of a space keeping track of both sides of the car AND that pillar behind you.  My last foray into a parking structure ended with my bumper having an encounter of the paint-removing kind. 

Another major problem with parking structures is that they involve machines. If you have trouble operating your cell phone, ticket machines are likely going to present a problem for you, and not just because you have to get out of your car to get the ticket which was maliciously placed 1.5 inches from your farthest reach. (Idea for next elementary school Invention Convention: a little robotic arm that senses the car and delivers the ticket to you no matter how far away you are. My kids would have killed for an idea like this.) 

But the really scary part is that on your way out, after you have finally located your car and fought your way back to Planet Earth from the bowels of P4, you have to deal with that machine again. It wants money. And unlike the old days, there is no human in a booth to take it from you and wish you a nice day. There is always one techno-disabled idiot who cannot figure out how to use the machine and holds up the whole line.  I know this for a fact because I am that idiot. I hate lip-reading people disparaging my mother in my rearview mirror.  It makes me sad.

A friend recently mentioned that she would never risk parking in subterranean lots in case of an earthquake.  Just not willing to play Richter Roulette. 

So I ask you:  Is it unreasonable to want to park on terra firma?

But alas, even the street-level paid lots are fraught with obstacles toward the techno-impaired.  It’s one thing to have to stuff money into a too-small slot that corresponds with your stall number.  But those have mostly disappeared and been replaced with requirements that one text a number or download an app.  Seriously?  You lost me at “app”.  And probably at “text” too.  I text but I don’t keep any financial information on my phone so how am I going to pay for anything with it? And now some of the lots confront you with what appears to be a Rorschach blot on steroids presumably in anticipation of inter-galactic visitors. (My husband says they are called “3-D bar codes.”)

The clincher is that on the lot in the photo, after you do all that texting and apping, they’re charging a flat fee of $10!  Hey, I just wanted to pick up some drain cleaner at Meanley’s!

All those intimidating paid lots just take so much time! And stress! And make you feel stupid! And require your bumper to be repainted!  So if you could park in a nice free angled street spot in visible daylight instead 80 feet above ground or somewhere approaching Middle Earth, which would you pick? 

I’m hoping we’re clear now.

This is what I call an "illusion of parking" lot -
and it's a flat fee of $10!

My bumper had an encounter of the paint-removing kind
in one of the subterranean lots last week

Am assuming this lot is intended for inter-galactic visitors as
I have no idea what that ink blot thing is

Monday, May 13, 2019

We All Have A Diagnosis

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 15, 2019] ©2019

Reading a story in the paper the other day about various psychiatric diagnoses being lobbed at our President, I couldn’t help but concede that the DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hasn’t spared any of us.  We are all diagnoses at this point. In some ways I long for the days when it was okay to be just plain wacko. 

Let me be clear that I am not making fun of mental illness, plenty of which runs in my own family.  I myself come from a long line of chronically overwrought people; there’s definitely an anxiety gene there.  There’s a worrisome smattering of hoarders too, a few of whom would be shoo-ins for that A&E show.  We all seem to be on various spectrums (spectra?) 

Several years ago, I wrote about my concern that every TV program I watch was sponsored by anti-depressants.  Did they know something I don’t?  Is preference for these shows diagnostic?  Is there, for example, a DSM-V classification for people who watch TLC?  Obsessive Fixation on the Excessively Short, Obese, or Progenitive Personality Disorder?

As a parent, I would never suggest that people not have their child evaluated if they are concerned about the child’s behavior.  But be prepared for a diagnosis.  Both Olof and I became concerned some years ago (our kids were already adults) that every male child on our block seemed to have been diagnosed with ADHD – and most were taking medication for it.  Interacting with these kids on a regular basis, Olof had his own diagnosis: boy.  Most of them reminded him a lot of himself.

Even our lawn mowing guy’s 18-year-old assistant introduced himself with, “I’m ADHD and bipolar.” But that’s one case that I would absolutely not argue.  This kid’s style was to turn up his iPod and kind of get into the Zen of gardening.  Unfortunately, whatever garden he was servicing didn’t appear to be in our galaxy.

There was no DSM category system when we were children but Olof didn’t escape a diagnosis even then.  Hardly an academic ball of fire in his early years, he was deemed an “accelerated non-achiever.”  It was a label that puzzled his parents for years. Did this mean he was gifted but not achieving? Or gifted AT non-achieving?  Regardless, he was not achieving. But somewhere along the way, he managed to up his game and ultimately achieved a degree in nuclear physics from Cal Tech. Sighed his mother (age 93), “If only we could have known.”

A friend was telling me recently that her daughter had been diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder.  I’m thinking, yeah, my kids had that too – never listened! But when it was described to me, I realized my life-long difficulty processing material that I hear is what this means. I need to see material visually to learn it.

In an Abnormal Psychology class many years ago, a classmate queried the professor as to what constitutes a “normal” person.  She replied, “Normal people are those we don’t know well enough to know which ways they aren’t.”  We are all in our own ways functionally compromised.

While the DSM-V seems to have no lack of diagnoses, I’d like to suggest some new ones that apply to me that maybe they should add.  I am hoping that this might qualify me for state aid. 

When I think of my total lack of arts and crafts talent (to the dismay of my children when they were in grade school), I definitely suffer from Diorama Deficit Disorder. 

Post-auto accident several years ago, I’m sure I qualify for Freeway Avoidant Syndrome with Mixed High-Speed Surface Street Elements. 

While some people get right back on a horse after falling off, I could definitely be characterized as suffering from Life Aversion Disorder with Equine Metaphoric Phobias. 

My utter inability to embrace technology and my ill-disguised frustration with it would more than justifiably label me as suffering from Severe Techno Disability with Tantrumy Features and Pathological Resistance to Software Upgrades of Any Variety.

At times I wonder if the whole diagnosis thing has gotten out of hand.  If Jesus were to show up for the Second Coming, they’d have him on a 72-hour psych hold before you could say “yeah, and I’m Napoleon.”  There may be a time (is it already here?) when all of our medical and psychiatric diagnosis codes pop up when you input your social security number.

And that I think is a real problem:  if a diagnosis is wrong, or, if you’ve been miraculously cured of say, your Equine Avoidant Personality Disorder, how do you ever get rid of it?  Nope, it will live on in some computer forever.

Sometimes I think we should just simply the system to the three basic categories that seemed to exist in my childhood:
(1) Rarely Attracts Police Attention
(2) Just Doing the Best They Can (Even If Not Very Good)
(3) Batshit Crazy

For a long time, it worked.