5/15/2015

On being … a problem?



By Ingrid Sapona

Recently I was leafing through a catalogue at a friend’s house. It was for an American company I had never heard of. From the cover photo, it looked like it was from a ladies’ clothing company, but the company’s name sounded more like it had to do with home furnishings.

Turns out the company sells women’s clothing, accessories, and home furnishings. Seems an odd combination to me, but apparently there’s a “common denominator” to their products. The underlying theme of the store is softness. Virtually all items in the catalogue had a softness rating of from one (“so soft”) to three (“ultimate softness”). The only items that weren’t rated were the shoes and cosmetics.

As I turned the pages, one heading really caught my eye: Good-bye vertical lip lines! My first thought was, “what the heck are vertical lip lines?” Lucky for me, toward the bottom of the description of the (miracle) product was a before and after close-up of lips.

Well, sure enough, I saw what vertical lip lines are. But wait, I thought… “Wouldn’t a little Botox take care of that?” Clearly I’m pulling your leg… I couldn’t help wonder who is concerned about vertical lip lines – and who is shelling out $49 for 0.5 fl. oz. of cream to combat them?

Then, a few weeks later came word of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a new drug called Kybella. You probably heard the news about this miracle (or maybe just the angels’ trumpets heralding the news) – it’s a non-surgical way of getting rid of double chins. I know what you’re thinking: FINALLY!

But before you get too excited about this “double chin melter”, as some have described it, the treatment is not (pardon the pun) a one-shot deal. It involves monthly injections over six months. Mind you, it’s not one injection a month for six months – it’s multiple injections each month. One physician on CBS News said it could be as many as 50 injections in a month. And of course, as we all know from having heard the innocuous voice overs on various commercials for different prescription medications, there could be side effects (like difficulty swallowing, but never mind).

Besides the fact that I never considered having a double chin a “condition”, as one physician described it in an article about the treatment, I couldn’t help wonder if the scientific brain power and research (not to mention money) that went into coming up with this drug couldn’t have been better employed. Aren’t there diseases or illnesses those scientists could have been working on curing?

I know, in years to come, researchers will probably apply something learned from how Kybella works to some other treatment that is, shall we say, more medically necessary. But still, at this point, the idea of medical research and dollars going to melting double chins seems unreal to me.

I got quite bothered by the idea of both these products. I find it truly ridiculous that vertical lip lines and double chins are even considered a problem than anyone cares about, much less thinks they need to correct. I just can’t imagine who would pay for a cream to cure or hide lip lines, much less go through an arduous medical procedure to get rid of a double chin.

The more I thought about these products, the angrier I felt because it really seems to come down to the idea of how we define beauty and the lengths people go to fit into that definition. But then I realized it’s not just a societal obsession with beauty – there’s a healthy dose of vanity involved if you’re worried about such things.

Maybe for some readers, vanity’s role in all this was the first thing to come to mind. Honestly, it wasn’t mine because, to me, vertical lip lines and double chins always just seemed a natural part of aging – rather like crow’s-feet and gray hair. Hmm… grey hair… You know, I don’t have any. It’s true… I wash mine away about every six weeks. In fact, I spent some time doing just that this morning before I sat down to work on this column.

Alright, alright… now that I’ve come down off my high horse and thought more about these products, I understand that problems (especially those that fall squarely within the definition of “first world problems”) are – like beauty – in the eye of the beholder.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona

4/30/2015

On being … a work in progress



By Ingrid Sapona

One of the reasons I continue doing this column is because – even after all these years of introspection – rarely a week goes by that I don’t catch myself in a behavior or with a thought that, if left unchecked, can subvert my happiness or contentment. As I’m sure you guessed, the past week was no exception…

The complex my condo is in has two 12-story towers with a central connecting foyer at the bottom. Each floor has a long internal corridor with units along the edges. There is natural light at one end of each floor. The hallways were getting a bit run-down so a couple of years ago we began making plans for re-doing them.

The condo association struck a committee to work on the redecoration. The committee chose a design firm, and at the annual meeting the designer explained his ideas and vision. Then, late last year we were presented two choices and asked to vote for our favourite. I was impressed the way they presented it – it wasn’t just small samples of wallpaper and paint chips – they did an actual mock-up by one suite.

The choices were similar and both were nice and, by majority vote, one scheme was chosen. The work began in March. Initially we were told they’d complete one floor at a time, but at the last minute they told us they would be doing the whole building at once. I wasn’t sure how that would work, but one day a crew arrived and things just started happening. 

One morning as I headed down to the gym, for example, I saw that all the light fixtures down the hall had been taken off, leaving just the lightbulbs.  Another day they tore out the moulding around the door frames. A few days later up went new moulding. One morning when I came back from the gym all the wallpaper was down. I was only gone 65 minutes and it’s a long hallway. They were amazingly fast and efficient.

It’s also been interesting to see the progress made on other floors. Every time the elevator doors open on a floor I look around to see the progress on that floor versus on my floor.

After the reno began, a friend was over and I took her to see the mock-up. Though it had only been up for about four months, both of us noticed the paint around the doorframe had a fair number of minor chips. I knew what caused them because the same thing happened to the pre-reno paint around my door. The chips are caused by keys dangling from a keychain as you insert your door key. The chips are particularly noticeable with the new paint, however, because it’s a very dark (almost black) charcoal gray. I made a note to myself that I’d have to be super careful with my keys from now on.

A few days later, when they painted the stainless steel elevator frames and doors the same dark charcoal, I sent an e-mail to the committee about my concern that chips and dings to the paint will be particularly noticeable. I suggested they ask the designer if there will be any varnish or protective overcoat. They said they’d look into the matter, which is about all they can do, I figure.

Then, one day last week I came home mid-afternoon and the hallway looked rather dark. It was an overcast day, but even the end with the window seemed darker than it should have been. I looked more closely and saw that they had taped up a thin plastic drop-cloth over the window, but it was not opaque by any means, so why was the hall so dark?

Ten seconds or so later I realized why the hall looked so different. My heart started pounding as I noticed that the ceiling, which was white when I left, is now dark charcoal. Yup, the same colour as the doorframes! In case you’re wondering, no – the ceiling by the mock-up was not painted, nor was there any mention of it being painted.

I tell you, I was in shock. My first thought was that the crew must have made a mistake. The very next thought I had was that even if it was a mistake, it’s so dark, there sure as hell is no going back. The dark ceiling made the long hall look like a lane in a bowling alley. The bare lightbulbs dotting the corridor walls didn’t help either!

Actually, it was the glare of bare lightbulbs that helped calm me. It was when I thought about the lights that I realized that the hall (and ceiling) will look completely different when proper light fixtures are up. In other words, I realized the project is still very much a work in progress and, as such, it’s not very useful to be concerned about individual details.

There you have it. What can I say? I’m a work in progress too…

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona

4/15/2015

On being … better than Barbie



By Ingrid Sapona

Like most girls, growing up I played with dolls. And of course, I had a Barbie. I don’t think they had themed Barbies back then, as they do now (no Lifeguard Barbie, Surgeon Barbie, Surfer Barbie, and so on). I guess I’d call mine the standard issue Barbie. 

Though I’m sure I enjoyed endless hours with Barbie and her friends, they weren’t my all-time favourite toys. That honour goes to a Mattel toy called Tog’ls, which were building blocks that were kind of a variation on Legos. I loved creating things with Tog’ls. Because I liked them so much, over time my parents bought me additional sets, which greatly expanded the scope of things I could build. I remembered feeling that the possibilities were endless…

Flash forward to a recent news report about Hello Barbie – a new doll that’s set to debut later this year. According to the news story, what’s new about this Barbie is she’ll be “interactive”. That description struck me as odd, since I kind of figure all toys interactive. Well, at least those that children actually play with are…  But, turns out, the 21st century definition of an interactive toy is a little more finely honed than the type of interactive toy I played with.

According to the news story in the Toronto Star, Hello Barbie uses WiFi and voice recognition technology, which means she can record conversation and talk back. Because of the technology, she can mimic a conversation between friends. The CEO of the company that created the technology used in the doll describes Hello Barbie as a “highly controlled experience”.

Though Hello Barbie isn’t yet available, the reason she’s been in the news already is because more than 5,000 folks have signed a petition asking the toymaker to “yank the toy”.  Their concern – like the technology that is Hello Barbie’s DNA – is very 21st century. It’s about privacy, basically. These folks (presumably parents) are concerned about the fact that the doll records, stores, and relays things said to the doll.

As the clever opening line of the article implied – this Barbie’s abilities could make her – well, basically – a spy. How might the children’s intimate conversations with the doll be used? And what about things parents and others say around the doll? Might those conversations also be transmitted? And to whom?

To reassure parents, the toymaker has pointed out that the dolls will not have a GPS chip (whew – one less worry – theoretically they won’t be able to find your kid), and the doll won’t ask personal questions or collect personal information. Also, the toymaker promises not to use the info they collect for advertising, marketing, or publicity. How will parents know this? Well, it’ll all be in the consent e-mail that parents will have to send. That’s right – parents will have to consent to kids playing with the Barbie! Jeesh… now the company will have the parents’ e-mail addresses too...

And, if all these “features” don’t make you wonder whether Hello Barbie is a spy – here’s one other feature that I think lends credibility to that notion: like any spy, she can be turned – made into a double agent, if you will. Seems that parents will be able to access (and delete) the comments their children make to Barbie. They’ll need a password do so, but still – an interesting possibility, for those who wonder what their children are telling Barbie.

I’m sure the toymaker realized that Hello Barbie would cause a stir. So, other than the fact that a bunch of tech folks must have thought it would be cool to make such a doll, why would the company bother, I wondered. Well, according to a company, the number one request they get from girls is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie.

In thinking back to playing with my dolls, I probably did want to have conversations with them. But the thing is, I am sure I had conversations with Barbie. How else would I have known what to serve her during tea parties, or what she wanted to wear to the prom? So what that Barbie couldn’t really tell me these things – I didn’t need to actually hear her answers to know! Mind you, growing up I also had an imaginary friend named Rosie. Well, strictly speaking, Rosie wasn’t a friend – she was my (imaginary) maid. And oh did I have some intimate conversations with Rosie! She was both someone I could complain to about the injustices of having to make my bed or clean my room and someone I could blame for getting me in trouble when she didn’t do such chores for me.

So, I guess my issues with Hello Barbie aren’t so much related to what the doll can do – it’s more a concern about whether playing with such clever toys might stifle children’s imaginations.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona

3/30/2015

On being … about time



By Ingrid Sapona
                        
I periodically cull through things. I don’t really like doing it, but I generally feel good when I’m done. What I find most frustrating about it is that even when I know I’ve gotten rid of lots of stuff, someone walking in afterward might not notice much of a difference.

This time around was a more thorough de-clutter than usual. I went through the freezer (yup – got rid of that year-old chopped red pepper and a freezer-burned hamburger bun, among other things), a “junk drawer” that had old maps and an unusual assortment of telephone cords (I find it hard to believe I ever owned that many phones), a drawer that was full of VHS tapes, my wardrobe accessories drawer, and my office.

De-clutter gurus all have rules of thumb they suggest applying. For example, when it comes to clothing, a common one seems to be that you should get rid of things more than two years old (or maybe it’s two seasons – I’m not sure). Personally, I’ve never found such suggestions helpful – if I’ve hung on to something for any length of time, it’s because I’ve got some sentimental attachment to it. And, when that’s the case, no arbitrary rule really matters.

Of course, some things are easier to get rid of than other things. Getting rid of the phone cords was a no-brainer. Old maps – well, they carry memories of past trips. This time I let myself linger over the memories for a few minutes and then put the maps into the recycle pile. VHS tapes – another easy call, since I don’t even have a tape player any more.

There were two categories of things I had trepidation about even going through: jewelry and the books. These were things I’ve given myself a pass on culling through for a LONG time. And, given my history of hanging on to these items, I knew I was going to have to come up with some pretty good self-rationalization for parting with them.

Since the jewelry was in my accessories drawer, which was on my must tackle list, it came before the books. I wouldn’t characterize the jewelry as “costume” (which I tend to think of as big and glitzy). It was the kind of thing you wear to work. Some of it was mass produced, but most of it was handmade stuff from craft shows. The idea of the pieces being sold for 50¢/each at the local charity thrift shop just didn’t feel right.

As I was looking through the jewelry, the perfect place to donate it came to mind: Dress for Success. It’s a charity that provides “gently used” suits and professional clothing for disadvantaged people who need them for job hunting. A quick check of their website confirmed that they take jewelry. Perfect! As soon as I realized the jewelry would be put to good use, sorting through it and carefully pairing all the earrings was actually fun. After dropping the jewelry off, I was energized and so I started contemplating the bookshelf.

Over the years I’ve gotten rid of many books, but I still had three full shelves – in fact, a couple of them have books hidden behind books. Of the remaining volumes, the most troublesome tomes, fell into two categories: philosophy and classics from university; and cookbooks.

There were a number of reasons I still had these particular books from university. It was no accident that the ones I kept were attractively bound and impressive – a reminder of a rich, rigorous liberal arts education. But who am I trying to impress, I finally asked myself. Good point, but, on its own, not a compelling enough reason to get rid of them – after all, I reminded myself, these are important reference sources. (You never know when you’ll need to cite Plato’s discussion of shadows, right?) So what if I haven’t opened any of them in over 30 years – reference books are like that – until you need them, they just sit there.

Then, just as I muttered that last sentence, the big Ah-ha hit me. I do a fair bit of research for work, but these days it’s all on-line. “Looking things up” no longer involves opening up a book – it involves the Internet. In fact, that rationale applied to the cookbooks too. If there’s something I want to make and I don’t have a recipe for it, I’m way more likely to look on-line than I am to leaf through the cookbooks on my shelf. (The cookbooks in the kitchen are a whole other story – those I do look through for inspiration.) 

As I was driving over to the thrift shop with the four bags of books, I was thinking about my decision to finally get rid of them. I chuckled at the idea that I had held them prisoner for so long. Indeed, I felt by donating them, I was sort of doing them a service – now they can be read, enjoyed, and perhaps kept as a reference by someone else.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona
 

3/15/2015

On being … model behaviour


By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was in Buffalo visiting my octogenarian mother. It’s tax time and a library near her hosts an AARP tax clinic two mornings a week. The service is free and they do a terrific job. So, about this time every year I phone the library to find out what days the clinic runs and then make a point of getting to Buffalo to get Mom’s taxes done.

The clinic is popular and they sometimes have to turn people away. But, they’ve got a system that’s pretty fair, if somewhat unusual. It’s basically first-come, first-served, but there’s a bit of a twist.  Though the clinic starts at 10 a.m. (when the library opens for the day), on mornings that the clinic is held, someone puts up a sign-up sheet on the library door at 8 a.m. The trick is to get there early and get your name on that sheet, which has space on it for about 20 names. Then, when the clinic opens, if your name’s on the list they do their best to get to you before they close at 1:30 p.m.

Monday morning was cool – 27°F – but sunny. The roads were dry, but driving was a bit tricky because it was hard to see around all the huge piles of snow along the edges of the roads and at corners. (Buffalo had a rough winter even by Buffalo standards!)  My plan was to get there at about 7:45 a.m. On my way to the library I stopped and bought a coffee, figuring I’d sip it in the warm car while I waited for the sheet to go up.

Well, when I pulled up at 7:50 the parking lot was nearly full. I wasn’t surprised others were there before me, but I couldn’t believe all the seniors were waiting out in the freezing cold! I figured we’d all sit in wait in the warmth of our cars. I parked and went to join the line.

As I zipped my jacket up, the woman in front of me in line smiled and commented about how lovely a day it was. I mentioned that I was surprised there was already quite a lineup and she pointed out that it’s because that morning was the first nice morning they’ve had this winter and folks are probably anxious to get their taxes done. The senior in front of her voiced his agreement. 

As others arrived, I couldn’t help notice how many said good morning and welcomed people to the line. There was a definite social aspect to the whole thing and no one seemed the least bit put out about waiting in the cold. She then told me that last week she was there for her return but when she got home she noticed her address was wrong so she was there just to get it corrected. When I commented that I bet she felt frustrated, she laughed and said it was ok. In fact, she hoped the guy who prepared her return last week was there again because she was going to tease him and say that she figured he made the mistake just so he could see her again! How cute is that? And what a positive way of looking at the inconvenience of standing in line in the cold.

Since I was 13th on the list, I returned to the clinic at about 10:45. There were six volunteers – all seniors – sitting behind laptop computers, each with another senior (the person whose return they were preparing) sitting across from them. As they worked, they focused on what they were doing, but they also cheerfully chatted with the person they were helping and with fellow volunteers.

All of the volunteers were old enough to have grown up with typewriters and carbon paper rather than computers and printers, and they were a bit slow on the data-entry front, but no one seemed to mind. If one of them had a problem printing, or got an error message, another volunteer would help and the two of them would figure it out.

I couldn’t help notice how good humoured everyone was and how patient. No one was in a rush. No one was chatting on a phone. None of them had even brought the newspaper or a book to read while they waited. Instead, they just made small talk about this and that with others who were waiting. As I sat there, watching how calm everyone was, I could actually feel my normal fidgetiness ebb.

The rest of that day I thought about those seniors and their behaviour. They seemed to notice and appreciate so much more than many of us do. It was a cold day, but they saw it as warmer and sunnier than it had been for weeks. And they didn’t mind lining up – they were just grateful that the clinic existed and that they could get to it. And rather than seeing the clinic volunteers as being there to carry out a task, they saw them as folks they might make a connection with and have a conversation with.

As children, we look to our parents and their friends as role models. But, as they become seniors and we start to help them with more things, we often think we don’t have anything more to learn from their behaviour. That morning helped me realize what a mistake that is. Those seniors were wonderful role models. They demonstrated hardiness (getting up early and braving the cold), patience, sociability, and gratitude – qualities many of us should work on.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona