Saturday Endurance at IKEA or The Running of the Ikitarod

It seemed the most apt picture for this post. © Copyright Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The Boffin and I spent the morning at IKEA. A Saturday morning. This is something we rarely do for good reasons. He has more patience for the IKEA Saturday crowd than I do. Me? I call some of them IKIDIOTS, an isolated group of shoppers who ruin it for the rest of us.

For people who are not familiar with IKEA, it is a furniture/home store originally started in Sweden but now based in the Netherlands. Its business model is based upon lower cost, modern design furniture that you put together. (My in-laws called this suppository furniture because you put it up yourself. Fantastic!)

IKEA has grown massively worldwide and is a staple in Europe and in U.S. metro areas. So, the reason IKEA is especially crowded on the weekends in the States is because that is when those who live further afield have the time to get to the stores. I understand that, and I make allowances for people who do not know how IKEA works normally.

But some people are just…um…yeah.

Saturday, Sunday, and holidays are when the IKIDIOTS commence the race that I call The Ikitarod.

Like any endurance race, The Ikitarod has several phases.

  1. Revolving Door Obstruction – The IKIDIOTS always manage to hamper the sensors of the huge revolving door at the entrance causing it to stop. Then they just look around and not actually move their bodies in order to deactivate the sensors. The door actually does not move again until about 5-10 minutes later when the IKIDIOTS figure out they are the cause of the problem.
  2. Atrium Gazing – Once they get past the door, they stare all around at the huge open atrium while standing right at the foot of the escalator, once again, blocking any forward movement. At this miraculous moment is when they realize that they need the pencil, blue product slip, and yellow bag. Then they will go retrieve the items.  Take advantage of your chance to get up the escalator because the IKIDIOTS will return to the same spot to stare at the dining table and six chairs on the floor display.
  3. Sign Search – Upon finishing the ride up the escalator, the IKIDIOTS proceed to look for signs directing them where to go next even though there are arrows on the floor guiding the path. Looking for these signs requires them to stand directly in the middle of thoroughfares, including right at the top of the escalator.
  4. Cart Procurement – Next on the agenda for the IKIDIOT is cart procurement because why block pathways with just their bodies when they can use a portable hunk of metal in an awkward way too? And they only need to push around a pack of napkins, a bag of tealights, their yellow bag, and a dustpan apparently. But don’t worry that is not the end of their purchases because…
  5. Restaurant Stop – The IKIDOTS must stop in the restaurant, having left their carts on the periphery to take up the cause of customer obstruction. They grab the dining tray carts and bash them into your ass when all you want to do is order some meatballs in peace. Then they leave the dining carts around at random while they go off and accidentally grab other people’s shopping carts because everyone else’s has napkins, tealights, yellow bags, and dustpans.
  6. Shopping – Shopping for IKIDIOTS usually means a lot of wandering, trying to figure out tags that give complicated product locations like AISLE and BIN, and wondering what those funny names for those coffee tables actually mean. These activities are very engrossing because…
  7. Sprog Search – Their kids get bored and wander off. They usually end up in the Children’s section on the spinning egg chair.
  8. Large Furniture Pick-Up – Now the fun part comes when the IKIDIOTS either exchange the shopping carts for the flat carts or try to handle both kinds when it comes to picking up the large furniture. They forget how physics really works. At least they forgot how two different kinds of matter cannot occupy the same space, and some things are just too large and dense for certain spaces which leads to…
  9. Customer Injury – They will hit someone as they get that BILLY bookcase off the shelf and/or…
  10. Property Destruction – They will knock over the plants in the nursery section as they look for one last thing even though they have a full HEMNES entertainment center in tow.
  11. Checkout Annoyance – Being too cheap to buy the blue shopping bags, the IKIDIOTS get all butthurt, complain, and try to sneak out of the store with the yellow ones.
  12. Loading– Then they leave the store and come to the realization that the sofa they purchased cannot be adhered to the top of their Volkswagen Passat with twine and Blu-Tack. Then they hog a loading space for an inordinately long time while other people are needing to get in to take care of their purchases.

The cinnamon rolls can wait for mid-week shopping, my friends.

ADHD: It’s Not Just for Boys

In the mental health front, a few weeks ago, I got to play with blocks and rings, an experience I haven’t had since The Sprog was a toddler, and, at the end of that, I had a guy with a bunch of letters at the end of his name tell me I have ADHD.

I know that is a flippant way of presenting this particular bit of information, but I am still wrapping my head around what it means, considering I am now reframing my life up to this point.  The methodology behind my neuropsychological exam was sound, and the psychologist did explain how he came to his conclusion quite thoroughly.  It makes sense.  In summary, the psychologist told me that I used my intelligence to compensate for the fact that I have the attention span of something my cat coughs up.  Although, I am pretty sure he didn’t use that particular phrasing. Maybe he did.  I don’t know.  I have ADHD.  Plausible deniability.

Seriously, lots of people picture ADHD as something belonging to hyperactive boys.  In fact, the diagnosis criteria was based upon clinical evaluation of hyperactive boys, and girls were, and still are oftentimes, lost in the shuffle.  Because, ADHD presents itself differently in girls.  They are more likely to exhibit the inattentive part of the ADHD, and it shows up as being forgetful, disorganized, messy, and introverted. She may also have a propensity to daydream a lot and may take longer to do tasks than other children do.  The hyperactive part presents as talkative and a tendency to interrupt.  And I am only scratching the surface, as far as behavior goes.  So, unless a girl is presenting symptoms closer to what the classic ADHD criteria states, or she is fortunate enough to be around experienced professionals who work with girls with ADHD, she can easily fall through the cracks.

What is also important to note is the effect this can have if girls are undiagnosed and not treated.  Girls with ADHD are at more risk of developing depression, anxiety, and eating disorders than those without.  They are also more prone to self-injury and addiction.  A huge part of it is the self-flagellation that comes with the ADHD territory.  Why can’t I remember things?  What’s wrong with me?  Why did I just say that?  How can everyone else do these simple things, but I can’t?  And if other people are giving them flak on top of it, they are in that cycle of worthlessness that just drives them into the ground like an augur into soil.

I can give an example.  Now I’m 42 and graduated from high school in 1991.  It was about that point that ADHD was started to be diagnosed more because of more parental and clinical awareness and that was in boys, so my parents, teachers, and other people who were close to me would have had no idea what to look for.  And I mastered the art of getting A’s while doing homework for my other classes and taking notes during my lectures.  If I had to put extra work for the tough subjects like calculus, I did, but I would pressure myself to the point of tears and panic.  Not understanding something meant I was dumb because it just reinforced those shortfalls in those other functions in my brain.  I know this now, but when I was a teenager, I couldn’t ask for help because I just expected people to say, “But you are smart.  You should be able to figure this out,” like they did with the other things that were easy for them.

I have read that having ADHD is like being a speeding car careening down a hill or being in a Porsche with no headlights. I can relate to the car analogy, but it is not quite that simple.

Imagine my brain is a Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop 2-Door.

Sweet.  “00-Mini-John-Cooper-Works-2011” by Elmschrat – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

And you are thinking, “Well, it’s just a Mini.” Actually, it’s a Mini (2016 model) that can go from naught to 60 in 6.1 seconds on manual and has 228 bhp under its bonnet. It’s a Mini that lots of people underestimate and is pretty badass.

However, several things can happen when I drive my Mini.

  1.  Everything works.  I’m motoring on the Nürburgring and putting in impressive lap times.  People are saying, “Hey, look at Karen go,” and are asking me to go on tour.  I am panicking because I know I can’t drive like this consistently because…
  2. Sometimes, I think everything works, but I am using my Mini’s onboard, integrated navigation system.  I have complete trust in this GPS, but it is sinister.  It takes me onto a set of railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train, and I wonder how I got there when I just wanted to go the Loop.
  3. And then there are the times when I see where I am going, but the steering has cut out.  Plenty of times, I can use the brakes or the hand brake.  I can get the car into neutral or park, or I can do other things to keep me from falling off the cliff.  Once in a blue moon, I fail.
  4. It feels like I am in the middle of Nebraska on the highway for hundreds of miles with nowhere to turn off, and nothing interesting to do.  That’s when the car just drifts into Magic Happy Bunny Land where I can frolic with my furry friends.
  5. Other times, we are getting into inclement weather.  Blizzard conditions.  It’s nighttime.  The wipers are jacked up on high.  The radio is on blast, and I can’t turn it off.  Minimal visibility.  The car is sliding and slipping everywhere.  The only thing I can do is try not to close my eyes, hang on tight, and hope for the best.
  6. Of course, certain moments, days, whatever, I have no other choice but to park the car.  Out of gas.

But notice I haven’t totaled the car.

Because I have to say, as much as I have been negative this post, there is an upside to being a creative weirdo.  If that is what ADHD gives me, I’ll take it.

So where do I go from here?  I am readapting my lifestyle and looking into treatment options, including medication.  The same thing anyone else does when they get a diagnosis, and that is to find a way to manage it when you know there is no cure.

But I am learning to enjoy the drive while I do it.

Those Who Can’t Draw, Take Heart.

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
Pablo Picasso

I am sure Pablo would have made an exception upon meeting me when I was a kid.  It was bad.  It was awful. Looking back, I shudder.

Things were fine when I could just drag out the crayons and do my own thing.  Then people started with that whole “color in the lines” bullshit, and that’s when life started getting complicated.

All the art talent ended up within Older Brother #1, so I had to lag three years behind the reincarnation of Rembrandt while all I could offer were my lopsided clay pots and tissue paper flowers that barely stuck together with Elmer’s glue. I did go through an interesting art period through most of elementary school called the “Dog with People’s Faces” phase and was teased mercilessly because of it. Who knows if my parents still have any of the originals, but I can replicate my work pretty accurately.

Dog with People Face

So, all mammals’ limbs were basically platypi tails. True story: it was around this time that my elementary school art teacher, Mr. Kelly, quit his job and opened an aerobic dance/exercise studio. To this day, I am firmly convinced it was my artwork that sent him over the edge. You have to admit…a picture like that would make someone crack enough to wear leg warmers. At least, the connection makes sense in my mind.

So message received loud and clear. I sucked at art. I held my nose and pushed my way through the American educational system’s mandatory art classes. I learned to appreciate art as an observer, but not as a participant. Meanwhile, I remained envious of the people who could participate and participate well. I wanted to be like my big brother and still do sometimes.

But something interesting was happening of which I wasn’t aware. If I couldn’t resort to images, I could resort to words. So I would hide in our basement and scribble out my musings in my notebooks. (Hey, Mom and Dad! Now you know what I was doing down there all that time. I was writing.) And I started sharing those words with my group of friends by the time I got to high school. To my shock, they liked them. Whoa.

And what was even better, art was an elective, so I didn’t have invest any more energy into pencil drawings of bottles, so more time could be spent on words. Happy dance!

What I am basically saying is lack of talent in one area only gives you more time to pursue your talents and interests in other areas. It’s not a shortcoming within you, if you can’t do something well after giving it a fair effort. I know have to keep reminding myself of this all the time because I still slip into the envy trap sometimes. However, I get the feeling I am not the only one.

And the best use of Elmer’s glue is to let it dry on your hand, so you can peel it off. Hands down.

How Do You Make Close Friends?

Has anybody cracked the code of making close friends as an adult?

We have plenty of friends in our computer, and we are grateful for modern technology for allowing us to keep up with them so easily. However, the Boffin and I have been here for 4 years, and we really don’t have anyone with whom we have become really close locally. Of course, we have socialized, but it has been scattershot. After moving so much, have we just run out of steam in the friend-making department?

The Sprog? She has friends out the wazoo. It’s so much easier for a kid. They don’t have all the hangups that adults do. She showed up at the first day of first grade and a mutual love of My Little Pony was enough to form everlasting bonds.

I don't think I could pull off something similar.
I don’t think I could pull off something similar. “Bronycon 2014 cosplay contest” by Douglas Muth from Ardmore, PA, USA – DSC_8749. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The standard advice we received when we moved into the area was “Make friends through your kids”. Well, a lot of the kids are into the soccer/Little League/football things. The Sprog wanted nothing to do with them. Girl Scouts? No. Karate? Tried it. She just wanted to kick things, and that’s it. Dance? Not her style. I did make friends with her violin teacher, so that was a good start, but busy schedules and all that…

So school volunteering? Well, I am not PTA material. I managed to torque off one of the Queen Bees by questioning why she would want to ruin Valentine’s Day by giving her husband a relationship quiz that she thought was fun. It was made subtly clear that I was not wanted in any prominent role and will never be invited to any bunco nights.  I am crushed.

Hey, Karen, why don’t you pursue your own interests? Take classes or join a club? There was the running/walking group that was OK until the organizer had other commitments. And there was the knitting class that ended up being ruined by an evil bridge troll. She vocally advocated child abuse, and, long story short, the administration decided she could stay as long as she gave a half-assed apology. I was gone.

To add another layer to it, I have depression, and contrary to what the commercials portray, depressives do not walk around staring out of windows looking like their cats just died. Most of their emotional energy is put into trying to act like normal, functioning human beings. This also means that asking a couple over for dinner or even texting someone to go to Starbucks is especially arduous. It isn’t a case of “Hey, let’s invite the Johnsons over.” and you just text and be done with it. I have to build up the courage to do it and make sure I allow myself enough emotional energy to make sure I can follow through with the plans, so I don’t flake out and put too much burden on the Boffin. Meanwhile, I am trying to remind myself that I am actually a pretty cool person to get to know, even when, deep down, I don’t really believe it. Now, I don’t want anyone to feel guilty or sorry for me, nor do I expect anyone to say yes to my invites because of this admission. All I want is honesty in others’ responses.

But, thanks to therapy, I have someone to tell me that it isn’t completely me. Sorry, Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, you have many things going for you, and I am glad we are living here, but helping newbies assimilate into the area is not one of your strong suits. My therapist has a list of clients who struggle with the same issues. One thing about where I live is that it is a multi-generational area. When people have families and high school chums in the same place, a fair number of them take their social networks for granted, and they don’t think to include the transplants. It is a place where people are very friendly in superficial day-to-day interactions, but it is very hard to crack the shell and get into the club, especially when my ringtone is the Queen repeating the words “psychoactive drugs”.

Of course, I have to take responsibility and the initiative for my own social life. I have to be understanding of other people’s busy schedules, time commitments, scattered brains, and life’s problems too. But it doesn’t make it any less hurtful or lonely when I keep trying and failing.

I can’t stop trying though. I am going to make more of an effort to make the connections I have made deeper. Maybe we can be less of a novelty act at the temple. Maybe there is more I can do through writing. Not all avenues have been exhausted.

So, how do you make close friends? Is Bronycon the answer?

Protests of One

In the midst of the stories of the Fun Stuff She Did at Camp, the Sprog expounded upon a story she told us in one of her letters.  With full permission from her, I am going to share it with you today.

At dinnertime one day, the offering was shepherd’s pie.  Now, if any of you read my recipe post for cottage pie, you would know that is the proper name for the dish because shepherds don’t herd cows.  Shepherd’s pie is supposed to have minced lamb.  Well, we don’t take the Sprog any place that serves American shepherd’s pie because we have yet to find any place that serves good pub grub in the Chicago area.  And preparing a child for camp does not include, “Sweetheart, by the way, they might serve cottage pie, but they are going to call it ‘shepherd’s pie.  Just so you are warned.'”  For some reason, it does not factor in when you are running around trying to find bug wipes.

To continue on with the story, she grabbed her tray of food, sat down to eat, put a forkful in her mouth, slammed down her utensil, and exclaimed, “No! No! No!” Her friends wondered what was wrong, and she explained.  I asked her what they said.  Her response?

“They didn’t care.  They were like, ‘Whatever.’ But I know what beef tastes like.”

This is how I pictured her friends...happily eating their food while my kid was ready to wage war.  "Summer kids eat lunch - Flickr - USDAgov" by U.S. Department of Agriculture - Summer kids eat lunch. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
This is how I pictured her friends…happily eating their food while my kid was ready to wage war. “Summer kids eat lunch – Flickr – USDAgov” by U.S. Department of Agriculture – Summer kids eat lunch. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

She ended up just eating her meal, although she initially wanted to refuse out of protest.  Then she realized she would only punish herself because she would just end up hungry.  We told her she made a good choice, and the American term is just plain wrong.  The best thing we can do is verbally correct people and not make a big deal out of it.

I understand how she felt.  In her mind, the dining hall lied about what they were serving.  She was expecting lamb.  She got beef.  And to have your friends not it get adds insult to injury.  We have all felt this way…the only person who sees the problem.  And when we point it out, we only feel worse when the rest of the group dismisses us.  She got more of a taste of the adult world through just a simple meal.

And this won’t be the last time she will feel this way, especially as an Anglo-American Jew.

But there is one small consolation.   At least our British relatives have proof that the Sprog is not completely Americanized.

Things Not to Say to a Partner of a Widow or Widower

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Big reveal time: The Boffin was a widower at the time I met him. His late wife passed away of what looked like a pulmonary embolism when she was 29.  I came along as a young divorcée when the Boffin was still fairly fresh in his grief.  To get where we are today took a lot of love, hard work, perseverance, and cups of tea.  It also took the love and openness of the Boffin’s late wife’s family who accepted me as one of their own.  It hasn’t been easy, but it has all been worth it.

When I tell people this part about us, it is obvious how uncomfortable they become. The looking away.  The shifting in their seats.  Nobody knows what to say. Nobody wants to acknowledge that people can die, especially young and unexpectedly. And here we are as living proof that not only can people die young and unexpectedly, but people can fall in love and be happy again, only in a different way. The Boffin has never stopped loving his late wife, but that does not mean there was no room for me.  It really goes against the whole One True Love idea that is heavily promoted in society.

I completely understand people’s unease. Death is hard to face.  Naturally, you want to say something, but many times the most awkward, but well-meaning thing comes out.  It intends to express sympathy for the bereaved, but it really negates the partner.  Let me show you by giving examples that I (and others) have heard.

“That poor man/woman” – Yes, the widow/widower went through a period of bereavement, but he or she found happiness and love again.  Happiness and love with someone like me.  Poor thing.  Hope lives.  Focus on the positive, please.

“He or She’s waiting for him/her in Heaven.” – This can go a couple of ways.  If you don’t subscribe to a faith that believes in Heaven or subscribe to a faith at all, this statement is rather pointless.  And if you do, I am sure you are relishing going to Heaven to share your spouse with someone else.  It’s just like Sister Wives for eternity.  Yay.  “Just give him back when the snooker is done, Darlene.”

“At least you don’t have to deal with an ex-wife or ex-husband.” – No, you don’t, but you have to deal with memories and ghosts.  Because people have a tendency to put halos around the dead.  Flaws are overlooked.  Sins are forgiven.  The ugly parts of them are rationalized away.  The Boffin and his late wife’s family do not do this, so this is not my particular problem.  However, many partners live in the shadows of saints and have a hard time measuring up to perfection.  And if the problem does not come from the widow or the widower, it can come from dealing with the friends and family who thought the deceased walked on water.

“He or she would have approved of you.” – This person obviously knew the deceased so well that he or she can speak on the deceased’s behalf.  Well, that is presumptuous.  Anyway, if the deceased were around, the spouse would not be with anybody else.  And nobody susses out backup partners, in case of emergencies, and passes this information on to the besties.  “Hey, Mildred, in case I die, give my nod of approval to someone with a professional degree who is good to the kids and likes Marvel movies.”

“It is so sad that the kids will never know their ‘real’ mother/father.” – Here is the first thing I would ask.  Would you find this an acceptable statement to say to an adoptive mother/father?  No?  Then, why would this be OK to say to a woman/man who is taking on that same role?  Once again, focus on the positive.  Here is person who is becoming a parent to someone else’s children and taking on all the responsibilities and struggles that come with it because of love and commitment.  This is not for the faint of heart by any means.  The family needs support and encouragement, not hand wringing.

“It’s great that he or she isn’t lonely anymore.” or “It’s great that he has you for company.” – These ones are the most insulting of all.  You, the partner, are basically there to provide companionship to the widow or widower like a kitten.  The True Love died.  It is even worse if you are married the former widow or widower because the vows both of you took are treated as secondary.  My name is Karen, and I am not a consolation prize.  I am the Boffin’s wife in every sense of the word.

If there is a way I can summarize my post is that I want people to affirm life when I tell our story.  The point is not about loss.  It is about recovery.  Grief does not leave you the same, but it does not have to leave you miserable.  The Boffin was able to have his dream of a wife and a family again.  It may not have been the original plan, but it still happened.

Just saying how great it is that you managed to find each other and create a good life together is the best statement you can make.

Locality is a Subjective Normality

“Are you local?”

Hard to answer that question.  Local like produce?  Do I live where the regional food is grown and eaten?  That would be yes.  I’m not a Child of the Corn, but I can certainly go that way with the right combination of illegal substances.

Am I originally from the area?  No.  That’s certainly obvious by the way I drive.  You can take the girl out of the Northeast, but you can’t take the Northeast out of the girl.

I miss Boston.  Maybe not the traffic though.
I miss Boston. Maybe not the traffic though.

I have a question in return.  How long do we have to live in the Chicago area to be considered locals?  I mean, I have the luxury of blending in more with my voice, but the Boffin will forever be interrogated with “Where are you from?” for the rest of his life.

The stereotypical Englishman and the Boffin's only chance of becoming an Avenger.
The stereotypical Englishman and the Boffin’s only chance of becoming an Avenger.

I mentioned in my last blog post that many people in my town are from the Chicago area and expect their children to settle close by.  I can understand this way of thinking because I grew up the same way.  Pennsylvania, my home state, is like Illinois in that it retains its native sons and daughters.  So Illinois and Pennsylvania’s definition of local is honed.

A great example I can give is the following.  I was at a gathering at our temple and the subject of locality came up with a group of women I was meeting for the first time.  A lovely young mother talked about how she wasn’t local because she grew up in a town 17 miles away.  The other women accepted this as par for the course.  At first, the snarky part of me internally wondered if this far away town had candy-paved roads and unicorn taxis with the way they were speaking.  But I looked at myself honestly, and I realized I would responded the same way too, if I stayed in my indigenous area.

But I didn’t stay.  I needed more, and I left home.  My world got bigger, and my definition of local became expanded in the process.  I married a man who grew up an ocean away from me.  Now we are willing to drive two hours one way for a good meal.  We travel the same distance as a family to pick blueberries to make our super secret special jam to give to our friends and family during the holidays.  What’s up in Wisconsin?  What’s here in Iowa?  What’s going on around us?   We have to know.  We have to investigate.  A 10-mile radius isn’t good enough.

Britons have different ideas about what is local.  First of all, we are talking about deep rooted regional and national differences based upon thousands of years of history and tradition.  An American may think this is just a country the size of an average state, but this is island of factions, and you have to pick one.  And because the island is so compressed, in a journey of a few miles, you could see factions that distinctly hate each other.  Think Yorkshire v. Lancashire.

Secondly, getting from one place to another is not the easiest of tasks, especially if you are driving.  This is not a country with an open highway system, so a trip of 60 miles can feel like an arduous journey with its stops, starts, roundabouts, and narrow roads to motorways back to narrow roads.  And to the Americans, be grateful for the prices you pay for gasoline (petrol).  Today, the average price is $0.77 per liter in the U.S..  In the U.K., it is $1.83.   So train trips, bike rides, and short car trips are the way to go, and it does alter your thinking about what local is.

The hell that is the Magic Roundabout in Swindon.   I wanted a T-shirt after I did this.
The hell that is the Magic Roundabout in Swindon. I wanted a T-shirt after I did this.

Regardless of where you are, the beauty about it is that there is no right or wrong definition.  Local is what you want it to be and what works for you.

Maybe it isn’t a hard question to answer.

Yes, I am local.  And loca.  And I am very happy to be.

I just won’t end up like this.