On being … subjectively objective

By Ingrid Sapona

It’s funny the insecurities we carry with us. For as long as I can remember, I feel a surge of anxiety anytime someone uses the words subjective or objective. They’re concepts I always worry that I’ll confuse. To this day, I still look them up.

You may have heard about a political scandal brewing here in Canada. At the risk of being accused of leaving out key facts – here’s an abridged version. In 2015 SNC Lavalin, a huge, Quebec-based multinational engineering and construction firm was charged with violating anti-corruption laws for bribing Libyan officials. The trial hasn’t started yet. If found guilty, SNC would be barred from bidding on federal government contracts for 10 years.

Last year Parliament passed a law allowing for deferred prosecution agreements. Under such agreements, the government drops the charges in exchange for the company paying a huge fine and agreeing to conditions. SNC has been actively pursuing such an agreement – in court and by lobbying government officials. The Director of Public Prosecution, who reports to the Attorney General, has denied SNC’s request.

Canada’s Attorney General also wears the hat of Justice Minister. In January, as a result of someone quitting the cabinet, the Prime Minister (PM) shuffled his cabinet and he moved Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Justice Minister/Attorney General, to the Ministry of Veterans Affairs. Politically naïve person that I am, I didn’t see that as a demotion – apparently, many folks did.

Nonetheless, Wilson-Raybould accepted the new appointment and life went on.  That is, until there was a news story from an unattributed source that claimed Wilson-Raybould was removed as Justice Minister because she refused to interfere with the Public Prosecutor’s decision not to grant SNC a deferred prosecution agreement. The Prime Minister denied the allegation, saying that the decision was always Wilson-Raybould’s to make. At the time, because of attorney-client privilege, Wilson-Raybould felt she couldn’t comment about it.

Of course, that didn’t settle the matter. A few days later, after an ethics probe was announced, the PM said he had spoken with Wilson-Raybould about SNC but he thought the fact she remained in his cabinet speaks for itself. The next day, she resigned from cabinet. Ultimately, the PM partially waived attorney-client and cabinet privilege and so she was able to testify before the Justice Committee.

I didn’t have much of an opinion about Wilson-Raybould before this incident. The only things I knew about her was that she’s a lawyer, she’s indigenous, and she was a Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations before she became a Member of Parliament in 2015.

In the days leading up to her testimony, Wilson-Raybould was quoted as saying she was looking forward to “telling my truth”. I found that language – the idea of her having “her truth” – really irritating. It reminded me of Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” idea.

Why couldn’t Wilson-Raybould just say she was looking forward to telling her side of the story? I’ll tell you why: because “my truth” is much more powerful – it rings of truth, after all. I objected to her playing fast and loose with the concept of truth. I’ve always thought of truth as something that’s universal. So referring to something as “my truth” just seems wrong to me.

Wilson-Raybould’s testimony was interesting. Apparently she had made up her mind on the SNC matter back in September. It was – and remains – her legal judgment that it would be improper for the Justice Minister to override the Director of Public Prosecutions on the matter and so she refused to. Furthermore, though she felt she’d made her decision known to the PM, his staff, and others, they continued to press her to reconsider.

She testified that she thought the sustained pressure was inappropriate and amounted to political interference, but she agreed it wasn't illegal. She also said she looked the Prime Minister in the eye and asked him if he was politically interfering with her role and her decision as the Attorney General. In her words, she said the PM said, “No, no, no – we just need to find a solution.” And also, she said that she felt that ultimately, her decision resulted in the Prime Minister moving her to the Veterans Affairs portfolio.

Since Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, other witnesses have given evidence to the Justice Committee on this matter, and the Prime Minister presented his side of the story in a press conference. Many have characterized the whole thing as merely a “he said versus she said” situation. My take on it is that what constitutes undue pressure is – if I’ve got this right – subjective. And, though Wilson-Raybould has her truth about why she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs, others have voiced a different truth on that point.

Honestly, I’m sad by the whole thing. We’ve lost a good Justice Minister and I’d hate for this to end up sinking the PM’s chances in the fall election. But, on a personal note, it’s helped me realize that from now on, it really doesn’t matter whether I keep the difference between subjective and objective straight. After all, it seems that if everyone has their own truth, it’s safe to say that what’s objective is … well … subjective.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … home

By Ingrid Sapona

Funny, the memories we store growing up. Funnier still, the way they come back to us …

Today’s the 30th anniversary of my “landing” in Canada. Odd term, I know. Those old enough to remember the first lunar landing will understand my sister’s tease at the time: “‘the Ingrid has landed’ – it sounds like ‘the Eagle has landed’,” she joked. Anyway, Feb. 28, 1989 was the day I got Landed Immigrant status, which meant I could legally live in Canada and work without restriction.

Being a landed immigrant was also a necessary first step in the process of my becoming a Canadian citizen. In 2004 I wrote an On being … about the 10th anniversary of becoming a citizen. That column was about what citizenship means to me. I talked about the fact that for most people in the western world, citizenship is a birthright that they often don’t think a lot about.

Today’s column, however, is about how – even though I’ve retained my U.S. citizenship – I can’t really see myself returning to live in the U.S. 

This is where my father comes into the picture…

Dad was born in the U.S. but his family returned to Greece when he was two years old. Though he didn’t speak English and didn’t have a job lined up, toward the end of WWII he hopped a ship to the U.S. Other than stints when he was stationed overseas while in the U.S. army, he spent the rest of his life in the U.S. Indeed, he didn’t return to visit Greece until Mom, Dad, and I went in 1975.

Growing up, I remember the odd occasion when someone would ask Dad if he ever thinks about moving back to Greece. I was always surprise by the speed with which he said “no”. Inevitably, he would then be asked why not. I often got the sense people asking expected some sort of stock answer. I imagine they thought he’d say something about there being more opportunities in the U.S. – you know, that old saw about the streets being paved in gold. But, Dad didn’t have a pat answer. Instead, he made vague references to things changing but he never really elaborated.

On our trip in 1975, I wondered whether visiting the old country might stir any dormant thoughts about returning to live there. While there, I couldn’t help but notice his face light up when a relative served him a particular food he loved during his childhood. Or his smile when he reminisced with an old aunt about his boyhood antics while he visited the family farm. Interestingly, though he was delighted to be there and he clearly still fit in, he was nostalgic but not in any way regretful.  

After that trip, he was better able to explain why he didn’t see himself ever moving back. He seemed to have gained clarity and perspective. I think the trip really drove home to him the social and business differences between the countries. Thereafter, when asked, he’d say that going back would require adjustments to things way beyond language and climate.

So, on today’s anniversary of my immigration to Canada, I think I understand how Dad felt about not really being able to return “home”. Over the 30 years, the differences between the nature of Canadians and Americans have become very clear to me. Though we speak the same language and have prospered thanks to many of the same bountiful resources, there are significant differences that can be traced as far back as the documents each country is built on.
The U.S.’s founding principle is that individuals are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In contrast, the founding principle enshrined in Canada’s Constitution Act of 1867 is that Parliament has the power to make laws for “the peace, order, and good government of Canada”.

The stark contrast between the U.S. focus on the rights of the individual versus Canada’s emphasis on the rights of the collective seems to have gotten sharper over the years that I’ve lived here. The whole idea of Trump’s wall – whether it comes to pass as an actual physical barrier or not – is symbolic of the direction the U.S. is going. I see the U.S.’s increasing isolationism as a national symptom of the desire to pursue one’s self-interest. That’s not a goal I share.

Meanwhile, during my years here in Canada I’ve seen first hand the benefits of striving for a collective good. Whether it’s looking for ways to try to tame climate change, or making it possible for at least some of the displaced Syrians and other refugees make a life here, or sending military in support of U.N. peacekeeping activities, Canadians truly seem to believe that we’re all in this together.

Where we come from imprints on our soul in ways we’re often not even aware of. But home is the place you end up as a result of the choices you make. I couldn’t be happier to call Canada home.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … sparked

By Ingrid Sapona

I try to not leave the house with dirty dishes in the sink or an un-made bed. I learned these habits from my mother. Mind you, unlike mothers who tell kids the reason they should always put on clean underwear is in case they’re in an accident, Mom never gave us a reason for why we had to make sure things were neat before we left. But, as an adult, I’ve figured out why I still do this. It has to do with unsettling it is to come home to a place that’s messy. So, most of the time my place looks fairly neat.

But, if you scratch the surface – or open a few drawers – you’ll see some clutter. Like most people, in the kitchen I have a “junk drawer” where things like spare serving spoons, random cookie cutters, and a collection of rubber bands and twist ties end up. But, if you were to have a peak in any of my four kitchen drawers, you might have trouble pointing to just one as the junk drawer. All I can say in my defense is that space is at a premium and I do have a method for what goes in which drawer. As for my clothes drawers, I organize them by category – undies, t-shirts, workout clothes, etc. But, a corner of each drawer also contains random stuff I never found a proper place for.

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with friends and family about decluttering and getting rid of things. One of my sisters’ mantras is “set it free”. This definitely works for her – her house is by far the neatest in our family. My other sister seems to get more motivation from the idea that she’d doing a good deed by donating things. The idea that someone else might make use of things I no longer need is a great motivator for me.

This brings me to Marie Kondo. CP, a good friend of mine, mentioned Kondo a couple years ago after reading her books. CP was enthusiastic about Kondo’s method of going through your things and keeping only items that “spark joy”. Despite CP’s explanation, I didn’t really understand the whole “spark joy” concept. I was also put off by the fact that her method had become a “phenomenon”. So, I didn’t bother looking for her books.

Then recently, my sister and I came across Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. We looked at the descriptions of the episodes and saw that none were about people in our situation – singles living in modest-size condos. But, since retirement is in view for my sister, we chose an episode about a recently retired couple who wanted to declutter, now that they’ve retired. Turns out the woman had a huge collection of Christmas decorations and one room was filled floor-to-ceiling with boxes the husband’s baseball cards. I couldn’t relate to their home, but it was interesting to observe how they both changed through the decluttering process Marie led them through.

We decided to watch a couple more episodes. After a few shows you get the basics of Kondo’s method. She always starts with making the people put all their clothes in a pile – literally all of them. Then they have to pick up each one and decide if it’s something they want to keep. To my surprise, she was lighter on the “sparking joy” stuff than I expected. But, she was quite particular about how the clothes should be folded. To be honest, it seemed to be origami-inspired obsessiveness.

Another surprising thing was that she never talks about decluttering, nor does she tell anyone to get rid of stuff. Instead, she talks about tidying, which is very different. But, by heaping all your stuff – all your decorations, books, toys, or whatever – into one place, you confront how much you have. Then, by actually touching each item you really come to grips with whether you need it all. So, getting rid of at least some of the excess seems inevitable.

Sometimes she did encourage people to assess whether each item sparked joy. For folks who are really into clothes, I did get the sense that they got a special feeling of joy from certain items. (That wouldn’t be the case for me, but…) For others she suggested a different approach. With the retirees, for example, she asked them to decide what they wanted to take with them into their future. That is a decision I could relate to…

Finally, by the sixth episode or so, I understood the spark she’s talking about. For me it’s about creating a tranquil surrounding. It’s about making your home a place that makes you relaxed when you walk in. In other words, creating a place you feel “at home” which, I supposed, is just a long-winded way of saying a place that sparks joy.

If you’ve not checked out the show, I urge you to. It’s inspiring in ways I never imagined. I dare you to try her clothes folding technique too – doing so sparks joy AND I’m sure you’ll find that the clothes take up less space. Who knew?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... that time of year

By Ingrid Sapona

Yes, it’s (finally) that time of year… Time for me to do nothing but enjoy the mojitos and ceviche on the beach.

See you in mid-February ….

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... the hope project

By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was at someone’s house for dinner. The conversation was interesting and wide-ranging. As so often happens, at some point the topic turned to politics and world affairs. I’ll admit, it could well be that I steered the conversation there, since these things are of great interest to me.

Anyway, we were pretty politically aligned and everyone expressed their concern with what’s going on in the U.S. and elsewhere. As the discussion went on, I noticed my anxiety level ratcheting up. After commiserating for awhile, the conversation turned to speculation about how things might be a couple years from now. On this issue, we didn’t agree. 

The big difference was that everyone else thought that, over time, things would return to “normal”. Indeed, they all seemed to have a “this too shall pass” outlook. I didn’t share their optimism and I was curious as to the basis for theirs. They could tell my questioning was coming from a feeling of despair, and they earnestly offered examples of what gives them hope.

I appreciated their effort at pulling me out of my malaise, but it was to no avail. The evening ended shortly after and I went home feeling agitated and sad. I also worried that my inability to contribute to lightening the conversation made me a rather dreary dinner guest. 

The next day I was thinking about my sense of hopelessness toward the world. It’s a feeling I’ve been unable to shake for some time. I decided to reflect on some of the things my friends said that make them hopeful. Though I didn’t buy some of their rationale, there were a few points I found compelling.

For example, one was that just because we hear about all the bad things, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things going on. My first reaction to that was that it may be true, but it’s important for the media to report on Trump’s troubling behaviour and the division he’s fomenting. My friend agreed, but again pointed out how that tends to drown out other news. Another person who’s active with a few charities said she’s hopeful because she sees the positive differences these charities make in peoples’ lives. From these examples both friends were able to extrapolate a basic human goodness that gives them hope for the future.

The next few days, I reflected more on my general hopelessness. Though it’s a very real feeling – and one that might be justified, given the state of the world – I realize it’s neither healthy nor empowering. Put another way, there’s no up side to seeing things as hopeless. With this in mind, I decided it wasn’t too late to make a New Year’s resolution so I came up with “the hope project”.

I think this project’s going to require focus and maybe some help. For starters, I’m going to need to consciously change my reading and viewing behaviour. I’m going to have to stop skipping over, or ignoring, stories that I used to consider fluff. (Note my conscious use of past tense?) Previously, I often passed over human-interest stories. I rationalized doing this because I figured there are only so many hours in a day and there’s so much hard news to get to. As part of the hope project, however, I vow to not skip such stories.

Interestingly, a couple days after starting the project I came across Nickolas Kristof’s annualcolumn where he makes the case for why the world is better now than it’s ever been. Among the examples he cites is that in 2018, on average, around the world about 295,000 people who didn’t have electricity gained access to it each day and 305,000 people gained access to clean drinking water for the first time. Each of the positives he mentioned are worthy of acclaim, though some of their impact is diminished when included in a year-end laundry list. But, as part of the hope project, over the coming year I’m going to actively seek out stories about such transformations.

I’m also going to work on savoring stories about simple acts of kindness. A case in point was a story I saw on the news about a guy who noticed a flat tire on the car parked next to him. He had an air compressor in his trunk and so he filled the tire. He also left the car owner a note saying he filled the tire, but that they may want to have it looked at. The woman whose tire was fixed was so touched by the kindness, she went on social media to find who left the note so she could thank him. When the two met, the guy who fixed the tire said he figured anyone would have done the same. Hear, hear! (Or should I say, “From your lips to God’s ears” sir.)

So, I’ve got at least a couple starting points on my hope project. I am guardedly optimistic that by the end of 2019, my overall outlook will be more upbeat. I’m also hoping I’ll have something a bit more positive to contribute at dinner parties and in other conversations. 

And finally, if you have any ideas or examples of things you think promise a rosy future – please send them along – I’ll need all the inspiration I can get!

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a long, crazy year

By Ingrid Sapona

As I usually do, I started this alpha list early in the year because it’s usually a challenge to find something for every letter. But, given how well Trump manipulates news cycles, the difficulty has been in deciding whether to stick with some of the early stories or go with more recent examples. For the most part, I’ve kept with the originals because they provide perspective on just how crazy things have gotten.

A is for America alone – that’s clearly the path Trump has chosen. I guess being isolated is one way of looking at being first.

B is for “break in” – that’s how Trump characterized the execution of a search warrant on his then lawyer Michael Cohen’s home and office back in April. Clearly it was Trump’s usual bombast (another apt “B” word), but his disregard for legal processes got me riled up back then. Now it’s just another story that’s been eclipsed by more interesting news involving Cohen and other Trump cronies.

C is for conflict of interest – there’s so much Trump family conflict of interest that is yet to be revealed, I think that’ll be the real news story in years to come. But, back in April we got a taste of the Trump family’s methods with a small news story from Panama. Apparently, Trump’s company sent a letter directly to the president of Panama asking him to intercede in a dispute the Trump organization was involved in over control of a luxury hotel on the waterfront in Panama City.

D is for disaster – a word Trump loves and overuses. But did you ever notice that he never uses it when it comes to describing true disasters, like hurricane Maria or the wild fires in California. (Then he opts for another d word: denial.)

E is for eSwatini – the new name of Swaziland, according to its king Mswati III. The King made the announcement on April 18 during celebration of the 50 anniversary of Swazi independence.

F is for forbidden – apparently, women are forbidden from entering a sumo ring in Japan. I first learned this earlier this year when two women – one of whom was a nurse – ran into a sumo ring to start CPR on a male politician who was having a heart attack. The referee told the two to leave because women are forbidden from the ring. Tradition or misogyny? I bet the guy in need of resuscitation might have been willing to break with tradition…

G is for gamification – this is the idea of using video games to teach. For example, interns using video games that simulate situations they may find on medical rounds. Students are finding the better they do in the education games, the better they do in the underlying course.

H if for Hawaii – the 50th state certainly had a noteworthy year. First, there was the notification of an incoming missile threat that the governor was unable to quickly call out as a false alarm because he didn’t know his Twitter password. Then there were those volcanic eruptions that turned paradise into a living nightmare.

I is for inhuman and immoral – yes, the letter I does double duty describing Trump’s policy that separated parents and children at the southern border. It’s actions like that that inflame people throughout the world and help fuel anti-American sentiment.

J is for Jamal Khashoggi – a journalist whose death made very clear that in the human rights equation, one person’s life – not to mention the soul of a nation – is not as valuable as the sale of armaments to other countries.

K is for keys – remember those metal things used in earlier millennia to open and unlock things? Well, guess who has gone back to them? Apparently, to log into their computers, Google employees now have to use USB-based physical keys. The idea is that, in order to gain entry, a hacker would need both the user’s password and the physical key. Is that a Luddite I hear having the last laugh?

L is for lies – my prediction is that by the end of Trump’s time in D.C., the concept of lying will cease to exist.

M is for marijuana – weed is now legal across Canada. Just another reason so many of my U.S. friends are jealous I had the good sense to move up here decades ago!

N is for National Security – that’s Trump’s justification for a variety of proclamations, from trade wars to forcing coal on the U.S. What Trump fails to realize, of course, is the grave harm to National Security he’s wrought by alienating US friends and allies.

O is for overcriminalization – that’s a concept some Republicans have spouted as reason for going easy on Trump’s violation of election laws by paying off Stormy Daniels and the others. The argument goes something like this: a “mere campaign violation” shouldn’t be enough to impeach a president. Why is it that no one ever invokes “overcriminalization” when some guy gets caught under a third strike law and ends up in prison for life for lighting up a joint?

P is for plogging or “plocka upp” – it’s a fad in Sweden that has joggers picking up garbage they pass on their run. As the Toronto Star editorial put it, plogging offers both exercise and environmental activism in a single outing. Let’s hope it’s a trend that catches on …

Q is for Qanon – you may think I made this up just so that I’d have something for the letter Q… if only. Unfortunately, this is a vicious, internet-based conspiracy that’s uniting Trump supporters in ways that further defy explanation.

R is for resigning – the U.S. is not just pulling out of international accords. It’s also leaving all sorts of international organizations, like the UN human rights council. Retiring U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said it’s hypocritical to remain part of a self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights. I guess meeting with, and signing agreements with human rights violators like North Korea isn’t hypocritical.

S is for Sinclair media – a company that owns t.v. stations across the U.S. and that issues to its stations so-called “must run” pieces, which are basically pro-Trump, media bashing editorials disguised as news. Think of them as a 200-station echo chamber...

T is for threats – a Trump specialty. One of the most unbelievable threats he made this year was the threat to withhold funding to California communities after the wildfires. I’ll bet that warmed the hearts of the thousands who lost everything in the fires. And of course, as his supporters will point out – he often makes good on his threats – witness the shutting down of the government.  I guess the president thinks threatening and leading are the same.

U is for unexpected – it seems that Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand decided to one-up Donald Trump in the unexpected (and questionable) behaviour department. During the NHL playoffs Marchand took to licking his opponents.

V is for vitriol – it’s becoming so common, soon we won’t even have a special word for the kind of nasty talk that pervades the airwaves. If you’re not sure what kind of talk I’m referring to, a good example was the comments made by folks like Lindsay Graham and Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

W is for war – war on trade, war on coal… one of Trump’s favourite concepts.

X is for xenophobic – but that’s too obvious. Instead – and if you forgive the play on spelling –  X is for (e)xcruciating – the feeling one gets watching the U.S. toss out all the things it once valued – like justice and equality.

Y is for Yanni – or is it Laurel?

Z is for zero tolerance – the Trump administration’s policy toward immigrants and the exact opposite of his policy toward dictators.

As we head into the New Year, perhaps our best bet is to look back further for inspiration. So, with that in mind, my wish for 2019 is that all of us will take up Mahatma Gandhi’s advice and be the change we wish to see in the world.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a lesson in bah humbug

By Ingrid Sapona

I may as well start by confessing that Baby It’s Cold Outside has always been one of my favourite songs. As a kid growing up in Buffalo, my idea of the best present ever was a snow day on my birthday. First and foremost, I think of the song as an ode to the joy of staying in on a snowy night.

As I got older, my appreciation for the lyrics changed when I understood what was meant by “The neighbors will be suspicious”, or “There’s bound to be talk tomorrow”, and of course, that particularly nasty barb: “my maiden aunt’s mind is vicious”. But, to be honest, those lyrics just make me appreciate how far we’ve come. I hear the lyrics and I think about how lucky I am to have grown up in an age where I’ve never worried about what the neighbors might think, regardless of the time I get home or who I bring home, for that matter.

As for the mild protestations: “I really can’t stay”, “I’d better scurry”, and even: “I ought to say No, No, No” – clearly that’s just playful banter between two folks who are interested in each other. Indeed, surely I’m not the only one who swoons at the idea of having James Taylor sing that he’s been hoping I’d drop in then and tell me to “Put on some records while I pour”, much less hear him say “Gosh your lips are delicious”. But regardless of who the recording is by, I find the song empowering for women. To me, it’s all about the woman deciding to stay…

But now, some folks are saying that in light of the #MeToo movement, the song should be banned because of the predatory nature of the lyrics. One commentator even went so far as to call it a date rape song, pointing to the lyric: “What’s in this drink”? Come on – the song was written in 1944 – I always figured maybe he put some peppermint schnapps in the hot chocolate…

Then there’s Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. The stop motion animated show (the Ranking/Bass Production) is my all-time favourite Christmas television show. Like millions, I watch it every year and can pretty much recite all the lines. Somehow, this year, people have suddenly twigged on the fact that poor Rudolph is ostracized – bullied even. Really? The show was produced in 1964 and they’re just now figuring that out? What part of the lyric: “They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games” didn’t they understand?

The whole show is about being rejected by one’s peers. Poor Rudolph runs away with Hermey, the elf that’s mocked because he wants to be a dentist. And then there’s the Island of Misfit Toys, which is full of unloved and unwanted toys (my favourite being the Charlie in the Box).

But in the end, it’s really a redemption story. Santa comes around and apologizes to Rudolph. Our little red-nosed friend saves Christmas and Santa finds a home for all the misfit toys. Hermey works his dental magic and everyone realizes the Abominable Snow Monster is really a sweetie – he was just miserable because he had a toothache. And, the Head Elf promises to let Hermey open up a dental office the week after Christmas.

I remember seeing Rudolph when I was a small child and I remember feeling sad for Rudolph when his father was embarrassed by him and so he wanted to run away. I also remember empathising with Santa about having to decide whether to “cancel Christmas”. (Ok, maybe when I was really little the nature of my concern about a cancelled Christmas was a bit more selfish, but eventually I saw the businessperson’s dilemma.) I also remember feeling relieved that Rudolph came back and that in the end, everyone appreciated him because of his uniqueness. Those are the messages I took away.

But now, some people want to ban Rudolph because of the bullying aspects. Some also think that it sends the message that you’ll only be accepted if you can do something for someone. Man, how cynical can you get? (I’m surprised no one’s accused Santa of exploiting all the “flying reindeer”!)

There are so many things wrong with the world today… I guess we each pick and choose the things we get exercised about and we pick and choose our reactions. For those who worry that Baby Its’ Cold Outside and Rudolph are a bad influence on their kids, I say why not use them as an opportunity to start a dialog with your kids. And, for the rest of us who think these things are non-issues, I think the appropriate reaction is a simple bah humbug…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a bit of a joy kill

By Ingrid Sapona

Meal kits are one of the hottest trends in the food world. These kits include “pre-proportioned” ingredients for a meal for two. Meal kit services made a splash in our family a couple years ago when my sister Regina’s friend (I’ll call her Sue) offered her a free meal kit box from one of the first meal kit companies. Regina describes herself as “cooking challenged”, so naturally I thought the idea was ridiculous. But, not wanting to seem ungrateful, Regina accepted Sue’s offer.

To our family’s great surprise, she has really enjoyed the meal kits. They’ve opened her to a world of new ingredients and cooking terminology. And, to prove to us – and to herself – that she can do it, very now and then Regina surprises us with a texted photo of something she’s cooked.

As an avid cook and someone who actually enjoys grocery shopping, I’m not exactly the target market for meal kits. And, though my grocery shopping habits don’t qualify me as a locavore, just thinking about the carbon footprint of boxes being shipped far and wide is enough to send me around the bend.

But, as more-and-more meal kit companies have come on the scene, my curiosity has been piqued. So, last month, I gave into temptation when I got a flier from a Canadian meal kit company offering a deal on my first box. Curious, I went on their website to see how much it cost. The regular price for a box with three meals for two is about $70. Too rich for me. But, the special offer was a box for $20, which was more than reasonable for that many meals.

To take advantage of the deal, I had to register on-line and provide a credit card number. Of course, I can cancel any time but if I forget to, boxes are automatically delivered and I’ll be charged for them. In the process of signing up, I had a question so I used their on-line chat support. While chatting with the rep, she offered me an even better deal: $20/box for two boxes. Given that I intended to cancel after trying it, that offer seemed almost too generous to me. So, I didn’t put the order through right then and there because I needed to think about it.

The next day I decided to take the two-box offer. To allay the guilt I felt for getting 12 meals for $40 (three meals for two people/box X two boxes), I decided that unless the ingredients or meals were terrible, thereafter I would spring for a box at full price and THEN I’d cancel. That seemed fair to me.

I did enjoy the meal kits. They introduced me to a few ingredients, which was fun. (The most unusual was a “finger lime”. When you cut the ends off and squeeze it, out pops “lime caviar” little gems that you use as a tasty garnish. Haven’t found them in the store, but I predict they’ll be THE food fad in 2019.)  None of the recipes were particularly noteworthy, but I loved not having to decide or plan anything. Just open the kit, follow the recipe, and – voila – you have a full, well-balanced, portion-controlled meal.

With the second box came an offer for me to give free boxes to three friends. (I suspect Sue got a similar offer that she passed on to Regina.) This offer posed a bit of an ethical dilemma. I have somewhat of a reputation as a foodie, so did I want to be seen as endorsing this company?

After some reflection, I decided to make the offer to friends who I thought might enjoy trying it. I made clear to them the pros and cons I see with the kits AND I told them of my intention to cancel after I pay full price for one box.

My friends’ reactions were interesting. One friend (I’ll call her Anna) said she was tempted, but that she had a nagging feeling of guilt at the prospect of a freebie. I responded to commiserate. I certainly didn’t make any bones about the fact that one reason I decided to offer the “free” boxes was to relieve some guilt about getting 12 meals for $40. I also explained that I relieved guilt about possibly leading my friends on by being 100% honest with them about my experience, what I paid, and my intention to cancel.

A week later the company emailed me saying Anna had signed up for her free box. Remembering our earlier exchange about the guilt of a freebie, I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one who had overcome it. I immediately emailed her, saying I looked forward to comparing notes. She confessed to second thoughts and said she planned to phone to cancel before receiving the box. She cited a variety of reasons, including her concern about all the packaging ending up in landfill. I could certainly relate to that concern, not to mention feel guilty about it!

I’m old enough to have come up with some coping strategies when it comes to dealing with guilt. But, it still surprises me how much of a role guilt plays in my day-to-day decision-making. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with having to struggle with guilt, and I kind of think a bit of guilt can have a positive effect. But sometimes, I gotta say, it’s a bit of a joy kill…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona