On being … a celebration of home

By Ingrid Sapona

I was visiting some friends who live in the wine region along the north shore of Lake Erie, south of the Windsor/Detroit area. It’s the kind of place where people often give the name of the county, rather than the town where they live, because they figure more people have at least heard of the county. It’s primarily an agricultural area, but it’s got more of a small town feel than a rural feel, if you know what I mean.

One of the highlights of the weekend was a special dinner at Oxley Estate Winery. The formal title was: Oxley Celebrates Home. If you guessed they were doing the locavore thing, you’d be right – but with a few added twists.  It so happens their young chef (Aaron Lynn) is a local kid who went away for culinary training and, after honing his craft working in some fancy restos, he returned to the area last year. Lucky for Oxley Estate and for those who have a chance to eat at the winery.

Not only did each of the five courses feature local ingredients, the chef named the dishes after the local purveyors – a nice touch, I thought. So, for example, we dined on Todd’s Perch (named after Todd, the local commercial fisherman the restaurant buys from), Rick’s Lamb, and Farmer Doug’s apples. But that wasn’t all. Before the meal, the chef introduced all of the local suppliers and asked them to stand so we could honour and recognize them as the people responsible for all the good things we were about to enjoy.

And, the celebration of things local didn’t end with the food. Ann, one of the owners of the winery, introduced the musicians who would be entertaining us. Turns out they too were from the area and when they’re not in town, they’re in Nashville working as backup musicians to some well-known country music stars.

During the dinner I was chatting with a woman sitting next to me. She was a local and so I was asking her a bit about the area. We talked about one of the bigger towns in the county and about how much it’s growing. The town’s population is up to about 21,000, which is pretty big, as towns go. And, like many Ontario towns, there’s a definite centre with some small shops, a few restaurants, a couple banks, and a library. But, the pickings were pretty limited in town. I wondered aloud where people go if they have any kind of serious shopping to do. She laughed and said that these days, she can get pretty much anything on-line. But, if there’s something she can’t order, it’s probably available in Windsor, which is “only about 25 miles away”.

Then I asked about grocery shopping. I had noticed that there are two well-known supermarkets, but I’m used to checking the weekly fliers of at least four major chains before I go grocery shopping. She said she didn’t care that other major grocers weren’t around. “I love shopping at those supermarkets. The people that work there are my neighbors and friends – why would I go anywhere else?” I was really struck by her response.

Later in the conversation, the topic of the refugee crisis came up. She mentioned she’s catholic and she said that in the next few weeks her church would be deciding on whether they will take in a refugee family, as the Pope has suggested. She said she’s going to push hard for them to do so.

I hadn’t heard about the Pope’s suggestion that every parish should sponsor one family, but it struck me as being in line with something else I read the Pope said about the current wave of refugees. He urged people to not see the crisis as involving hundreds of thousands because it’s just too overwhelming. Instead, we should respond to them as individual people – just one at a time. Though it’s such a simple idea, it’s about the most concrete, constructive idea I’ve heard from any leader about how to deal with the situation. I smiled at the idea of some refugee family settling down there and eventually calling themselves locals.

After dinner, I was thinking about how the theme of the evening could just as easily have been “the joy of human interaction”. Living in the city has its conveniences, opportunities, and even independence. But, if you’re not careful, city life can also bring with it a loss of connectedness. Fortunately, the condition isn’t irreversible. My weekend in the country reminded me that the best way to feel connected again is to celebrate what each individual brings to your life. If you do that, I think you’ll feel at home wherever you are.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … truly majestic

By Ingrid Sapona

Every now and then, this column is about a milestone of some sort. Usually the milestone involves me or someone in my immediate family. Today, however, I’m writing about one that has nothing to do with me or my family – and yet it has captured my attention to a degree that, frankly, I can’t help but write about it. The milestone I’m talking about is the fact that Queen Elizabeth is now Britain’s oldest serving monarch. This past week she surpassed Queen Victoria who reigned for 63 years and 216 days.

I’m not what you’d call a monarchist. (I realize that’s not a term that comes up much in the States. Trust me, here in Canada it does.) I don’t really care one way or the other whether the queen is officially Canada’s head of state or not. To me it’s just a fact – much like the fact that Toronto is on the shore of Lake Ontario. Indeed, most of what has me so in awe doesn’t really have much to do with her as queen – it’s more about the qualities of her as an individual.

First of all, I can’t imagine doing any job for 63 years, much less one you didn’t choose. Of course, I understand she’s got the ultimate job security – but it’s not about her ability to hold on to a job. It’s about her being willing to do it for so long. I suppose, like any job, some aspects of it have evolved a bit over time, but probably not as much as most jobs. And, there’s absolutely no room for her to reinvent herself, as so many of us want to do – if not at mid-life, then in retirement.

It seems that whenever people talk about the fact that she’s been on the throne so long they simply chalk it up to her sense of duty. But where does that sense of duty come from? And, how remarkable that she would put duty above all else – from a very young age and for so very long. Her uncle Edward, after all, wasn’t willing to put duty first. I’m not sure many of us would. In a world where we’re taught we can have it all, to the extent we have a sense of duty, it usually is just one among many factors influencing our actions.

The other thing that I find particularly remarkable is how she keeps her thoughts, opinions, and moods to herself. Despite her title, she is human and so she must have opinions about people and events. She also must have days when she’s irritated or grumpy about something. You’d think that in more than 60 years of being in the public eye, someone would have reported seeing her in a bad mood or heard her say something disparaging about someone or something. Hell, in the digital era, it’s even more surprising that there’s no photo or tape of her saying or doing anything that might raise an eyebrow. (The same cannot be said of her children and grandchildren, that’s for sure!)

Mind you, not everyone finds it admirable that the queen keeps her opinions to herself. One commentator I heard this week criticised the queen as being a bad role model for girls because the behaviour she models is simply to show up and keep your mouth shut. Hmmm… I don’t really see it that way. I see her as behaving with dignity and aplomb in whatever situation she’s in. Those are qualities I think are worth emulating, regardless of gender.

It’s so easy to see the queen as being some figure from a fairy tale, rather than as a real person. And, though as a little girl I may have fantasized about being a princess – and maybe even a queen – somewhere along the way I got over that. Now I see her title, and even her wealth and status, more as a burden than benefit and I wouldn’t change places with her for anything.

Just think about how much the world has changed in the 63 years she’s been on the throne. She has had to strike a balance between the need to uphold traditions of the monarchy with the need to ensure it evolves to fit the times. If you think you have a hard time coping with the pace of change in today’s world, imagine how much harder it would be if you bore the weight of hundreds of years of history on your shoulder. 

Though I have nothing in common with the queen in terms of her lifestyle or stature, I admire her immensely. To me she exemplifies equanimity, graciousness, and steadfastness – qualities that I think we could all use more of.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … 's wonderful

By Ingrid Sapona

Do you remember the band America? They were one of my favourite groups back in junior high. Though it seems strange to me now, though I liked them a lot, I never knew who made up the group. Of course, that wasn’t so unusual back then – just think of Chicago, Three Dog Night, even the Eagles – it wasn’t until Don Henley and Glenn Frey did solo albums that I found out they were part of the Eagles.

Anyway, last week America was playing at the band shell at the Canadian National Exhibition, which is basically a two-week long fair. I was quite surprised to see them on the schedule, as I didn’t realize they were still together and touring. Though it’s terrible to admit, I wondered whether it might just be a cover band that plays America songs. But, since band shell concerts are included with the price of admission to the fair, the price was right. So, a girlfriend and I decided to check it out.

After walking the midway and grabbing a bite, we strolled over to the band shell area. As expected, demographically we fit right in – the crowd looked like it was transplanted from my junior high, give or take 40 years. After the opening act and a brief intermission, the MC introduced the band. A moment later we heard an unmistakeable downbeat and before you could say Name That Tune, the crowd was singing along to Tin Man – one of their hits. Very quickly it was clear they were the real thing, not a cover band.

Throughout the show the crowd swayed to the music, (more-or-less) silently singing along. It wasn’t until the encore that the band did what bands often do at concerts: they continued playing the music but turned over the singing duties to the crowd. And, as is also always the case, the crowd didn’t disappoint. In unison, we joyously belted out the song.

I love when that happens. Besides just being fun to be singing alongside hundreds of others who know and love the song as much as you do, I always think about the songwriter. What a rush it must be to think that something you’ve written has moved so many people. I’m not talking about fame – after all, in the case of America, I still couldn’t tell you who wrote the songs – or residuals, which must be nice too. I’m talking about just knowing you created something that lives on in peoples’ hearts and memories for their lifetime, if not longer. That must be ‘s wonderful, don’t you think?
© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … in the picture

By Ingrid Sapona

I was leafing through a magazine a while ago and as I turned a page, I noticed a full-page photo of a wide, inviting country road. While there was no one clearly visible on the road, there was the shadow of a hiker near the bottom. Anyway, it wasn’t really the picture that caught my eye so much as the heading on it, which I soon realized was the title of the article that started on the next page.

The title read:

The Road Ahead
These Outstanding Seniors are Setting Out for Futures in TV Comedy, Basketball Beat
Writing, Solar Cell Creating, Civil Rights Law, Global Health and More.

My attention switched gears as soon as I read the phrase: seniors setting out… No, the switch wasn’t an attempt to stifle a groan at the less than subtle connection between the image of the shadowy hiker and the words. What I was thinking about was something more like this: “Now why on earth would a senior want to try writing comedy?” and, “Isn’t it a bit too late to start law school when you’re a senior?”

Then, having ruled out the retirement pursuits of the seniors the article was obviously going to be about, I gazed at the now forlorn looking country road and wondered about my path in retirement. What new activities might I take up in retirement?  (I know, it’s still many years away, but if the past is anything to go by, it’ll be here quicker than I’d like!)

After a few minutes immersed in thoughts about my life path, my focus returned to the magazine and I turned the page to have a look at the article. When I saw a smaller photo floating on the page the article started on, I did a bit of a double take. That photo showed five smiling 20-somethings. It took me a moment to figure it out, but when I did, I laughed out loud. The seniors the article was about were university students, not senior citizens. Then I realized I was looking at my alumni magazine! Boy did I feel stupid…

But, that got me thinking about my subconscious mind and how quickly it made a “connection” between my life and what I thought was the subject of the article. Though I realized the connection was misplaced, I wondered how often my subconscious grinds away, making connections – right or wrong – that I’m unaware of. 

That brought to mind something I had read in a guide for writers and photographers working in the tourism industry. The guide said that photos for tourism destinations should include people because that helps people picture themselves there. When I read that, I disagreed because when it comes to travel photos, I’ve always been more attracted to the panoramic vistas – the iconic photo of snow-capped Mount Fuji off in the distance, ocean swells pounding a rugged coastal cliff, and so on.

As is often the case when something’s specifically pointed out to me, since then I notice people in all sorts of tourism-related photos. Whenever I do, I silently ask myself whether seeing them has made me want to be there. Generally, I don’t find that it does. That’s not to say, however, that such photos don’t touch me on a deeper level. Often they do, but not necessarily in the way the tourism folks intended. Sometimes seeing people in a photo turns me off because they make me think I wouldn’t fit in there!

Anyway, back to the headline about those seniors. Though my mind clearly went somewhere far from the topic the article was about, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that the headline immediately connected with something in me and got me thinking is a reward in itself. The way I see it, my seeming disconnect wasn’t a disconnect at all. After all, I did have an immediate connection, which is what every editor hopes when they choose a photo or write a headline.

Believe it or not, the episode reminded me of my goal with On being… For you see, though each column purports to be about some quirky incident or event in my life, I don’t really expect you to relate to the actual incidents. Instead, my hope is that every so often something I’ve written tickles something in your subconscious, causing you to reflect on your life. In other words, regardless of the picture I might paint with On being … it’s really just meant to provide you with a backdrop to project your own reflections on...
© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … in uncharted territory

By Ingrid Sapona

Maybe it’s because I write, but I’ve always been interested in adages. You know, those old sayings that have been around, it seems, forever. Because the general truth is usually pretty obvious (or uncontroversial), it’s easy to trivialize adages and sayings. But, if you’re like me, every now and then something happens in your own life that makes an adage come to life in a way that vividly reminds you of the underlying wisdom. For example, if you’ve ever pulled the one right (wrong?) thread on a machine-stitched hem, causing a long stretch of it to come down before your eyes, you gained first-hand experience of the adage “a stitch in time, saves nine”. 

I recently spent a week sailing with some friends to ports I’d never been to on Lake Ontario. Though I’ve sailed for a long time, this was the longest cruise I’d ever taken. When you’re out on the water for hours on end, it’s impossible not to reflect on sailing. As with most things, technology and innovation has transformed sailing. We have conveniences that make sailing safer and more pleasurable. Auto helm is an excellent example. Not only does it free up your hands, it steers a straighter line than most skippers can for extended periods.

One of the topics of conversation that seems inevitable when you’re spending a week on a boat is the combination of courage and naïveté people must have had hundreds of years ago to board a ship for the New World. I can’t imagine the physical conditions of life on such a boat. I couldn’t help wrinkle my nose at the smell of a leaf of lettuce or a piece of fruit that had started to turn in our cooler. I don’t even want to think of what live animals on board must have smelled like!

Besides comparing the physical conditions those on long voyages endured, naturally there’s also the question of navigation. Thanks to our GPS, we didn’t even need to uncover the boat’s compass. Imagine relying on celestial navigation to cross oceans!

Modern day sailors have GPS that you can program to get you from waypoint to waypoint, and there are charts and guides that tell you what buoys to sail between and what on-shore landmarks to watch for as you approach a harbour. Because some of the places we were sailing were known to have shallow areas, we dutifully put on our depth sounder – something we normally only think to put on if we’re approaching a marina we’re not familiar with.

Though we were never out of binocular view of the shore, we wouldn’t have dreamt of setting out without a well-known reference book that covers all the ports on the lake. It has great aerial shots of different clubs and marinas. It also details what to look for (buoys and landmarks) and describes spots where it’s shallow. That book became our bible, and there were many sections we reread to make sure we knew where to pay particular attention.

But, the book was not a nautical chart. That became very clear on day two, as we came upon what looked like outcroppings branching off a few small islands that were not mentioned in the book. A nearby larger island and the markings and depths around it were described in some detail, but not the smaller ones. We confidently continued forward, figuring our trusty guide would have mentioned any shoals or reasons not to proceed between the islands. We also figured our depth sounder would have alerted us to shallow waters. And, just to be safe, one person was on the bow, keeping an eye out for rocks ahead.

At about the time we noticed that our depth sounder had stopped working, we felt a bit of a bump. Then, before we could hit reverse, we felt a bit more of a jolt and we were stuck. Lucky for us, the bottom was kind of soft. It took about an hour, and a bit of ingenuity, but we managed to get the boat off the shoal.

We were never in any danger and the boat was not damaged, which are really the only things that mattered. But, after more than a bit of blaming the book for not mentioning the shallow water, we knew the fault was our own. The book, however useful, isn’t a substitute for a navigational chart, which would have provided enough details about the depth that even if our depth sounder had been working, we clearly would not have gone that way.

When we were safely in deeper waters, I couldn’t help smile about the fact that I now had first hand experience of what it means to be in uncharted territory. Or at least of what can happen when you don’t have a chart, which (though it isn’t quite the same in terms of responsibility) can lead to the same outcome!

You know, I have a feeling that if you live long enough you’ll have first-hand experience of the wisdom of many adages…

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona