3/30/2018

On being ... dramatic

By Ingrid Sapona

There were lots of things I thought commendable about Barak Obama’s time in the White House. But, what I found most exemplary was the “No-drama Obama” approach. Indeed, throughout my adult life, that’s a way of being that I’ve striven toward and that’s something I look for in friends. The way I see it, dialing back the drama frees up energy you can apply to something productive.

Given Trump’s preference for high dudgeon, you probably think this topic’s been on my mind because of some tweet or comment he’s put out. But, Trump’s behavior isn’t what’s inspired today’s column. Instead, the behaviour of a woman I’m working with (I’ll call her Stephanie) is what’s caused me to reflect on self-induced drama.

By many standards, Stephanie has a charmed life. But, I sometimes wonder how she makes it through the daily drama. A simple example will give you a sense of what I’m talking about. She’s a mere 25 and, with her parents’ help, she just bought a condo. Before moving in, she decided she needed shelving for the bedroom closet. She found what she wanted at IKEA. As you might guess, some assembly was required. Not being the do-it-yourself type, she paid extra to have someone install it.

Having just moved in, her condo building’s directory hadn’t been updated to include her name and number. So, when the installers arrived but couldn’t find her name, they left. The morning after, we all heard about the “unbelievable” jerks IKEA sent who didn’t think to phone her cell. As expected, the appointment had to be rescheduled.

The day after the eventual installation, we heard all about how unbelievably rude the workers were. After showing them to the room where the closet was, she left them alone to start. When she returned, she was SHOCKED to see their tool bag on her bed. “If they needed space they could have moved stuff out of their way instead of putting their filthy bags on the bed. Who does that?” she asked incredulously. (I’m guessing workers who are in a hurry…)

She ranted about having to wash all the bed linens as soon as they left. My reaction was: really? All the linens? Surely she must have only needed to clean the bed cover. Oh no, she assured me – she had to wash the sheets too. Not being able to picture how the sheets might have gotten dirty, I asked if they were somehow exposed. She said they weren’t, but the whole idea of anyone putting anything on the bed was just “to disgusting for words”. Something tells me she’s gonna be doing a lot of laundry if that’s how she feels!

Not wanting to prolong the drama, I excused myself and got back to what I was doing. Later, a colleague who heard Stephanie’s rant about the tool-bag-on-the-bed incident confided in me that her mom would have felt the need to wash all the bed linens afterward too. Seems her mom doesn’t like it when stuff that was outside is brought indoors. In fact, she said, her mom’s rule was that they had to change into “indoor clothes” as soon as they got home. I said I could see that because if you’re outside playing you could track dirt and grime in. She calmly explained that the rule applied no matter where they came in from.

Though I find the idea of always changing into indoor clothes as extreme as Stephanie feeling the need to wash everything on the bed if someone puts something on it, I found myself more open to the indoor clothes rule because it was explained in such a matter-of-fact manner. The desire to keep one’s home clean is at the heart of both, I realize. But, Stephanie’s rant was also  about the trauma and effort she had to put into maintaining things as she likes them. My other colleague’s mom, on the other hand, made keeping the inside of their house pristine a straightforward exercise.

I basically don’t like drama because it seems a waste of energy. Just do what you need to do and  don’t make a big deal about it, I say. After all, I think there’s enough drama in life that’s out of our control — why create more?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

3/15/2018

On being … revolutionary


By Ingrid Sapona

Regardless of how old you are, I’m sure you’d agree that many products that were revolutionary in our great grandparents’ day are almost unrecognizable in their current iteration. Take phones, for instance. We all grew up with our own dedicated phone line at home while our great grandparents might not have had a phone, or they might have shared a party line. (My friend Sandy’s parents’ cottage had a party line well into the 1990s, so we’re not talking ancient history here.)

Twenty years ago – in other words, just one generation ago – the idea of a mobile phone seemed like something invented by comedy writers (remember Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone?) or sci-fi enthusiasts. Then all of a sudden, cell phones came on the scene and a mere decade later they morphed into smart phones that are computers more powerful than those used by NASA to send astronauts to the moon.

But it’s not just technology products that have changed dramatically in our lifetime — the revolution is happening in so many areas. Take autos, for example. Automatic transmission and power steering were pretty much the norm by the time I learned to drive, but I clearly remember when cars went from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive, for example. And, of course, the revolution to fully electrical vehicles has already hit and it seems clear that driverless cars are just around the corner. Does that mean that George Jetson’s mode of transportation is on the horizon too? Who knows …

Some changes in the way products are designed are so revolutionary, they amount to almost a definitional change. Take car keys, for example. Nowadays, you don’t need them to enter OR start the car. Instead of a key, you carry an electronic device that sends a signal to a computer in the car that’s programmed to allow the person to get in and to start the car.

This notion about needing to update the definition of something came to mind this past week because of some work that’s being done in my condo building. Last year we found out that Kitec piping was used when the building was built (15 or so years ago). It was a popular piping product in its day, and up to code. But, since then it’s been found to be faulty in that it just bursts — with no warning. Our condo association has decided that having Kitec in the building poses a risk, and so we’re replacing it throughout the building.

So, when I say the word piping, what do you picture? More specifically, does the image in your mind’s eye change if I say “plumbing pipes in a home”? The image that comes to mind for me is rigid copper or some sort of plastic tubing that water flows through. I have this image from the plumbing in the home I grew up in. It was a ranch house and from the basement you could see all the pipes running through the joists. Looking up at the rafters it was clear that, in contrast to wiring that you can bend or twist, with pipes you needed “elbow joints” or other specially made curved bits if you wanted the water to go in a direction other than straight ahead.

Well, it turns out, while those of us not in the plumbing or building trades were busy trying to keep up with the digital revolution, there’s been a revolution in the pipe world too. I found this out this week, as our massive piping replacement project got underway. When the contractor started unloading the supplies, I expected to see long lengths of pipe laying in the hallway, awaiting their installation. Instead, they brought in coiled bundles of stuff that I’d describe as hose.

So, in the 60+ years since the house I grew up in was built, water pipes have been transformed into flexible hoses. In thinking about it, I realized I shouldn’t have been quite so astonished because a few years back I replaced the “line” from the water tank in my boat to my little galley sink and that line was a hose. But still, wouldn’t you think plumbing supplies for a 200+-unit condo building would be different from what you’d use in a 25-foot sailboat?

I know change is all around us (even hidden in our walls!). But sometimes, it’s just so surprising. And, as a person who works with words, I find it particularly frustrating when our vocabulary just doesn’t fit with reality any longer. Keys are not keys, icons are not icons, pipes are not pipes any more.

What about you? What revolutionary change has caught you by surprise recently?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

2/28/2018

On being … vilified


By Ingrid Sapona

News stories related to the Winter Olympics and to the Florida school shooting have left me deeply troubled this week. My concern centers on the propensity to vilify people who behave in a way that others judge – almost immediately – as improper or unacceptable.

The Olympic-related story was about Jocelyn Larocque – she’s the Canadian ice hockey player who removed the silver medal that had just been placed around her neck. After removing it, she kept it clasped in her left hand as she shook hands with the women on the winning U.S. team. While that report describes the physical action Larocque took during the medal presentation, it doesn’t talk about the look of sorrow or anguish on her face. It also doesn’t explain what might be behind her look of utter disappointment. Nope, it doesn’t say anything about Larocque’s team losing the gold as a result of a shootout. But apparently Larocque’s action was enough for many to condemn her as a bad sport, a poor loser, a bad role model, and a “disgusting athlete”.[1]

Yet when I saw the video of the medal being placed around Larocque’s neck, my heart broke for her. Truly. Though I’m no athlete and I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to compete at that level, I can definitely understand the feeling of utter disappointment. Who can’t, I thought? Well, it didn’t take long to learn that many folks can’t. Not only that, they were quick to condemn her.

The vilification of Larocque ranged from the nasty remarks I mentioned earlier, to headlines in major newspapers that claimed she “refused” to wear her silver medal. That’s not how she behaved. She stood there solemnly as it was placed around her neck and then when the medal presenter moved to the next athlete, she quietly slipped it off. I think anyone with any compassion would see what I saw: a drained, tired competitor who had given her all and who was grieving the fact that, in the end, the effort wasn’t enough.

And then there was the horrific – yet sadly not unusual – shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead. Again, an event that I cannot personally relate to at all. Indeed, for people who live outside the U.S., the tragedy of 17 dead as a result of actions of someone who was legally able to by a gun (whether one labelled an “assault” weapon or not) is simply beyond our comprehension.

Of course, even though most Americans seem to willing overlook the obvious cause of such tragedies (guns), that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle to try to make sense of such an event. And so, in the aftermath, we’ve all come to expect talk of things like the signals law enforcement and parents missed or ignored. And these days, finger pointing is especially popular because it’s the favoured diversionary tactic of Trump, the blamer-in-chief. But people vilifying Florida sheriff deputy Scot Peterson for not taking action – in effect making him the scapegoat – is both unfair and cruel.

I can understand it when an angry, scared teenage survivor of the massacre says “shame on him” because she believes Peterson could have saved so many if he’d have gone into the school. That’s a survivor’s emotion talking – perhaps even a survivor’s guilt talking. But Trump calling Peterson a coward for not having the courage to “get in there and do something” was nothing short of disgusting to me. (On the other hand, Trump’s ridiculous statement that he would have gone in there even if he was unarmed is easy to ignore as self-aggrandizing fantasy.)

Why is it that no one seems to care about Peterson’s emotions in the aftermath? He too is a survivor of the terrible incident, yet few people seem willing to try to imagine what he might be going through. Maybe in the wake of such a tragedy, there’s only so much compassion to go around. Well, I feel for Peterson and his family – what an awful thing to have been involved in.  

I realize these stories are very different in scope and gravity. And yet, to me they both reflect an unhealthy a hardening of people’s hearts and an erosion of compassion and empathy. I hope I’m wrong… What do you think?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


2/15/2018

On being ... port-able?


By Ingrid Sapona

In this era of passwords and PIN numbers, it’s a real challenge to remember them all. One number I bet you remember is the phone number at your house growing up. In my case, that phone number has been around for over 50 years and until today, it’s been the one that rang at my Mom’s house.

Phone numbers have been a topic of discussion around here of late. Last year one of my sisters gave me her old cell phone and she added me to her U.S. cell plan. I don’t use that phone a lot – just when I’m in the States. In fact, I use it so seldom, I can never remember the number. That can be embarrassing when I ask someone to call me back, but then I can’t tell them what number to call. Ugh.

When my sister and I initially talked about her adding me to her plan, I assumed I’d get a number with a Texas area code, as that’s where she lives. To my surprise, she ended up getting me a number with a Buffalo area code. She figured that made sense because I’d use the phone mainly when I’m visiting Mom in Buffalo. So, I always think of that phone as my “Buffalo cell”.

I was actually pretty amazed that she could just pick the area code she wanted for the cell. I had never heard of that. I always assumed a phone number has some connection to the billing location. But I guess – at least with cell phones – that’s not necessarily the case any more.

I wasn’t around when phone numbers started with an actual location, but from the song “Pennsylvania 6-5000” I know that they used to. (Apparently Pennsylvania 6-5000 was a phone exchange for the area around Penn Station in New York.) I AM old enough to remember a variation of that name/number convention because people in our neighborhood used to say their phone numbers with letters in the first two places, rather than numbers. So, for example, our phone number started with “NX4”, followed by the last four digits.

At some point I noticed everyone in our neighborhood had a phone number that started with “NX”. After that, I started paying attention to telephone prefixes (that’s what I call the first three numbers after the area code) because I realized they gave you a general idea of where a person or business might be located. In the days before GPS, knowing that was pretty helpful. And, on the flip side, if you knew the prefix for a certain area, it was easier to remember the number of someone you knew who lived in that area.

When I bought my condo in 2007 I was hoping to keep my phone number because it was also my business number. But, I knew I was moving outside the area I always associated with the phone prefix I had. Sadly, when I inquired, I learned I’d be assigned a new number.

Facing loss of the number that had been my business number for over 10 years, I got a little creative. I asked whether my business number, which was a land line, could become my cell phone number. That was doable because, by then, you could “port” an existing number to a cell phone. I was tickled. Sure, it meant the added expense of a cell phone (remember, in 2007 cell phones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today), but it was worth it to me to keep my business number.

Now, back to the Buffalo cell… There are times when it’s come in handy, but with two cells it’s very easy to miss texts and messages because one cell is usually turned off to avoid roaming charges. Believe me, I completely understand Hillary Clinton’s (some would say questionable) decision to use just one cell! Anyway, about a month ago my sister told me she’s planning on switching cell providers. Her new plan will cover North America for calling, text, and data and she’s offered to add the Buffalo cell to the new plan, if I want it. I thanked her for the generous offer, but I asked for some time to consider it.

In thinking about it, I realized much of my ambivalence comes from not liking the Buffalo cell number and having no sense of connection to it. I wondered if I’d use that phone more if it was a number I liked. That’s when I had the idea of porting our long-time family phone number to the Buffalo cell, given that we’d otherwise lose the number when the phone is disconnected prior to the house closing. I mentioned this to my sisters and they both loved the idea of one of us keeping that number “in the family”. Technology being what it is, as of this afternoon, the family phone number is now the number of the Buffalo cell.

I don’t know about you, but I find stuff like “porting” phone numbers and area codes that don’t necessarily relate to a specific area strange, albeit kinda cool. Of course, to make the most of what’s possible you have to think outside the conventions and norms you grew up with AND you have to be willing to ask.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

1/30/2018

On being … of use

By Ingrid Sapona

The late comedian George Carlin had a great routine about “stuff”. If you aren’t familiar with it – or if you haven’t seen it for awhile (it goes back more than 30 years!) – check it out on YouTube. (I bet it’s the funniest five minutes you’ll have today!) 

The most memorable point Carlin made in that bit was the idea that each of us see our “stuff” as things of value, but we see other peoples’ stuff as junk. That thought echoes in my head whenever I begin going through my things with an eye toward donating stuff I no longer need.

Of course, a little self-censorship when deciding what to pass along and what to put in the garbage bin is a good thing. After all, no charity wants that oven mitt with the hole in the thumb, or the half-full tubes of acrylic paint from that art class you took a couple years ago – that stuff is junk. But what about the half-used rolls of Christmas wrap, or the dozens of Altoids tins you’ve got floating around in a desk drawer? Many would see those things as junk, but a crafter may have some use for them.

Over the past year I wrote about clearing out my Mom’s house in preparation for selling it. If all goes well, the closing will happen in February. So, I’ve been reflecting on the work that’s led up to this happy/sad point. Most of the work related to dealing with the 50+ years worth of “stuff” in the house and my efforts to minimize what went to landfill. Or, as I preferred to think of it – finding the right place for all our stuff.

Some of it was easy. For example, two dozen boxes of books went to a charity book sale. A refugee resettlement group got lots of the home furnishing. We also did kind of an estate sale (basically an up-scale garage sale that someone else runs for you). Boxes of crafting odds and ends went to an elementary school art teacher we knew, and so on. But, in the end, there was stuff that ended up going into the recycle bin or the trash.

There was one outlet for getting rid of stuff a friend told me about that I didn’t get a chance to use, but that I have been fascinated about since – it’s called freecycling. Trash Nothing is a freecycle network that has groups all over the place. Members of the group post messages describing items they’re giving away (offers) or stuff they’re looking for (wants). No selling or trading is allowed – all items must be offered free. Members contact each other directly and the person who wants what someone is offering arranges to pick it up.  

You have to be a member of the group to post, and membership is usually limited to folks who live in the same area. I joined a Trash Nothing group where Mom’s house is. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up using it because it would have been hard to arrange for folks to pick up stuff I might offer, since I live out-of-town. But, I love the idea behind Trash Nothing so much, I’ve continued getting emails about “wants” and “offers”.

I’m intrigued by the things people offer, and humbled by the things people are seeking. This week, for example, someone posted this offer: “Hundreds of used (cassette) tapes – metaphysics and self improvement tapes which can be taped over”. Most of the offers include quite down-to-earth comments, like that suggestion about being able to tape over the cassettes. Here’s another one: “Parting with this Coffee pot because we switched over to Keurig and it's been sitting around taking up precious counter space. It's in Great working condition, clean, could probably use a new water filter...” Sounds like she’s gonna miss that coffeemaker, doesn’t it? I’m sometimes struck by the seemingly trifling things people offer – things that others might unceremoniously toss into the garbage. Here’s an example of what I mean: “I have many (well over 30) recipe cards from various meal delivery services. Some from my own deliveries and most from someone else who gave them to me. I’ve scanned those I'm using, the originals can go to a new home.”

As for “want” posts, they’re often quite moving, like this recent one: “Looking for beds, futon, or air mattress for my children. We are all sleeping on the floor and aren't sleeping too well. We still need dressers, shelving, table and chairs. Beds are most important. Thanks”. Here’s another: “Mom of 4 starting over from scratch. In need of everything. 3 year old girl, 11 year old boy, teen girls in need of toys, storage, kitchenware, pots and pans. Beds, dressers, we literally need everything again. Very grateful for help. …”

And then there are some very practical, straightforward requests, like this: “I am looking for a medium sized dog crate for a mini-border collie/Australian shepherd puppy I will be getting soon. I can pick up anywhere (in the area of the network). Thanks!” I’d never think to ask strangers for this kind of thing, but I’m sure there are folks whose dogs have outgrown their crate, so why not let them know you need one.

The Trash Nothing posts are a great reminder that just because something – some stuff – is no longer of use to you, it doesn’t mean it’s junk. I don’t think folks who participate in Trash Nothing networks are necessarily out to prove George Carlin wrong, but …

So, if you’ve ever doubted that anyone else might have a use for junk – er, stuff – you no longer want, there’s an easy way to find out: just offer it on a freecycle network. I bet there’s someone out there who’d find a use for the stuff.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


1/15/2018

On being … avoidance behavior

By Ingrid Sapona

Baby it’s cold out side…

So, rather than burrowing under the covers and risk Vitamin D deficiency, I decided to avoid the cold and head south. Way south… (Mexico, to be exact.)

I’ll be back at the at the end of the month, so stay tuned.

And by all means – stay warm!

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

12/30/2017

On being … 2017’s year-end retrospective

By Ingrid Sapona

Normally my year-end list is a potpourri of observations about things I found interesting throughout the year. (And it’s usually fairly long, as a result.) This year’s list is thematic, instead. (And because of that – surprisingly short.)

I’m betting most of you won’t have to read too far down the list to pick up on the theme…

A is for alternative facts.
B is for “believe me” and its new synonym: b.s.
C is for Comey.
D is for dangerous.
E is for echo chamber – perfect for someone who loves their own voice – bad for democracy.
F is for feckless.
G is for all the toady generals (Flynn, Kelly, Mattis, McMaster).
H is for hatemongering.
I is for indictment(s) – or maybe this should be under W – for wishful thinking.
J is for Jarred, or jail (but see P below).
K is for Kelly Ann – see A above.
L is for liar.
M2 is for meanspirited misogynist.
N is for nasty.
O is for obsessed.
P is for post truth – and pardons (but that depends on I above).
Q is for quixotic – “in the name of winning”.
R is for reckless.
S is for Spicer, Scaramucci, self-serving, and scary.
T is for twit who twitters.
U is for unpredictable.
V is for vindictive.
W is for wanton disregard for the truth and for reality.
X is for xenophobic (normally X is the hardest letter… not for 2017!).
Y is for year – hard to believe it’s not even been a full year since we were told it was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”.
Z is for zealot.

Whew – what a year, eh? Sad thing is, I fear 2017 was just a prelude – foreshadowing of things to come. Hope we make it through 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond…

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


12/15/2017

On being … a recipe for happiness

By Ingrid Sapona

If you’re thinking of buying me an Ancestry DNA kit for Christmas, thanks, but there’s no need. I recently found out I’m Danish. Not 100% Danish – I’ve got a some Greek from Dad’s side and some German from Mom’s side – but deep down, I’m predominantly Danish.

I got my first inkling I might be at least part Dane earlier this year from a BBC series called Coast. The series focuses on countries whose geography is dominated by their coast. It was during an episode on Denmark that I first heard about “hygge” (roughly pronounced: whoog-eh).

Besides being a funny sounding word (especially as pronounced by series host Neil Oliver, who has a heavy Scottish accent) I had a visceral connection to the word. As Oliver described it, to Danes, hygge represents a kind of cozy, contented happiness. It reminded me of the German notion of gemütlich – a term my mother often used – and gezellig, a Dutch word. (Funny that all these hard-to-pronounce words – hygge, gemütlich, and gezellig, feature hard g sounds.) But, the way Danes used the word in sentences, hygge clearly looms larger in the Danish culture than the analogous words to for Germans and Dutch.

After learning the word, I tried introducing it to friends one afternoon as we relaxed with a drink and some nibbles after a great day on the lake. My friends listened politely as I explained how the coziness of the cabin, the sharing of food and drink, the camaraderie of the sail, and the relaxed conversation all made for hygge. Despite my efforts, they didn’t embrace the concept the way I did.

Anyway, after that I started hearing references to hygge here and there in the news. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve heard it too, as it’s gotten a fair bit of press this year. One of the reasons non-Danes have been talking about hygge is because of the possible (actually, I’d say likely) connection between hygge and the fact that Denmark consistently ranks among the happiest countries in the world.

So, when I read about The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well, I immediately ordered if from the library. Meik Wiking, the author, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. (Believe it or not, it’s a think tank.) Anyway, the audio book came in last week and – besides enjoying Wiking’s accent – I came to the inescapable conclusion I’ve got Danish blood flowing through me.

Wiking has been looking at whether hygge is “an overlooked ingredient in the Danish recipe for happiness”. It’s fascinating stuff. He compares the meaning and use of hygge to Germans’ use of gemütlich, Dutch use of gezellig, and even to the way Canadian’s use “homey”. One of the most interesting differences is how hygge can be both a noun and a verb. Here’s an example he gives of it used as a verb: “Why don’t you come over and hygge with us tonight?” (Gemutlich, gezellig, homey, and cozy aren’t used as verbs.)

Another thing that really sets hygge apart from similar words is how much Danes talk about – and focus on – hygge. Indeed, they even rate social events in terms of how hyggelige (pronounced: whoo-ge-ly) they are. Wiking’s conclusion is that hygge is a defining feature of Denmark’s cultural identity, much the way having a stiff upper lip is part of British cultural identity, and the way freedom is central to Americans’ identity.

Wiking distilled down the things Danes do to cultivate hygge and they are all things I’ve always tried to pay attention to. Wiking says it’s about creating intimacy and taking pleasure from soothing things. It’s also about being together with loved ones, shielded from the world and able to let your guard down. And, it can also be about being alone and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures, like a cup of tea and some sweets.

The good news is that there’s an art of hygge, which means that with a little effort, you can bring hygge into your life. Wiking suggests starting by creating a soothing atmosphere with some candles in a space that’s a comfortable, cozy refuge from the storms of daily life. Then, invite some friends and family over to make memories. Be sure to take in the moment and focus on gratitude and equality. All these things sound simple, straightforward – perhaps even obvious. But, they’re also things we often let slip from our daily lives as we rush about.

So, my dear friends, as someone who is reconnecting with the Dane inside her, my wish for you this holiday season – and all through the coming year – is that you create some hygge for yourself and for those you care about. Happy Holidays!


© 2017 Ingrid Sapona