On being … the year in review

By Ingrid Sapona

As I’ve done the past few years, I’m ending 2013 with an alphabet-inspired list of thoughts, events, and news items that I’ve reflected on over the past year.

A is for Aleppo  Though for many of us it’s just the name of a city in Syria, it seems appropriate to start a list of reflections on 2013 by thinking about, and praying for, people in Aleppo (and elsewhere) who are suffering as a result of conflict.

B is for beautiful, breathtaking, and Banff  If I were compiling a thesaurus these would be synonyms. My sisters and I experienced the splendor of Banff this past summer. If it’s not on your list of must see places, it should be.

C is for Crack Smoking Mayor – Sadly, this is the phrase that folks around the world have come to associate Toronto with.

D is for doorknobs  Vancouver has amended its building code to prohibit use of doorknobs on all new construction. Doorknobs are considered a partial barrier to entry so lever handles will have to be used on all new city buildings beginning March 2014. Interesting, eh?

E is for Edward Snowden  For me, the biggest surprise was not what Snowden “revealed”, it’s that so many people didn’t realize – or pay attention to  – the fact that, in the name of the war on terror, many laws have been enacted that expand the U.S. government’s powers.

F is for foraging  The slow food movement is so yesterday. Foraging is the next gourmet wave. Mind you, I can’t imagine how well that’ll work out for those of us above the 44th parallel from about November to April.

G is for government  The founding fathers definitely didn’t agree on everything, but they realized that governing is about compromise and working toward the greater good. Why have so many politicians forgotten that? Why do people re-elect people who have forgotten that?

H is for typhoon Haiyan  A few years ago I met a couple (friends of a friend) who had a place on an island in the Philippines. I recently heard that typhoon Haiyan wiped out that whole island – not so much as a palm tree was left standing. I can’t even imagine that.

I is for icewine  I urge anyone who likes icewine but who questions the high price of it to spend a morning picking the frozen gems. The precious nature of the nectar will become obvious.

J is for judging  I’m not Catholic, so I’ve never paid too much attention to what popes have said, but Pope Francis’ “who am I to judge” comment revealed an outlook and way of being that I wish were universal.

K is for just kidding  The recent “tweet heard around the world” by the PR person en route to Africa is a good reminder that inappropriate behavior or comments can’t be explained away with a simple: “just kidding”.

L is for lottery  A commentator from the U.S. had a particularly positive spin on the odd story of the Ontario woman who won $50 million but didn’t know it until provincial lottery investigators tracked her down. The commentator noted that it was refreshing to hear of government employees (whose efforts are usually focused on investigating fraud and denying prize claims) putting equal effort into rewarding an unsuspecting winner.

M is for Mandela  Even for people with seemingly little in common with him, Nelson Mandela provided an example.  

N is for Naheed Nenshie  He’s the mayor of Calgary -- you know, the mayor the rest of Canada wishes it had.

O is for Obamacare  I truly believe that in time it will be remembered for more than just clumsy web design. It will take its place alongside social security and medicare as a program that Americans can’t imagine living without.

P is for puzzles  I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one surprised to hear that crosswords have only been around for 100 years!

Q is for quiet  Something we need more of in our lives. (Especially if the government or airlines are crazy enough to start allowing folks to use their cell phones on airplanes!)

R is for rain – Last summer’s record-breaking flooding in Calgary and Toronto was terrible for many and I can’t help wonder if it’s like the canary in the coal mine – a warning of something – I’m just not sure what…

S is for scandal  As hard as it may be to believe, the crack smoking mayor wasn’t the biggest political scandal to hit the Canadian landscape this year. That dubious honour goes to the senate expense scandal. Though, on the surface, the story was about outrageous housing allowances and travel expenses claimed, some of which has been re-paid, nothing is being done to address the roots of the problem: a sense of entitlement and a lack of accountability.

T is for texting  In the fall I took a road trip through New York State and all along the highway (not just along the Thruway) the rest stops have become “texting stops”. I guess folks don’t need to rest any more…

U is for unlikeliest – The now famous “butt goal” is surely the unlikeliest way a goal has ever been scored in the NHL. The incident happened when a Sabre defenseman – who ultimately was credited with the goal – flipped the puck up and on its way back down it dropped into the pants of the Phoenix Coyote goaltender. When the goalie backed into the net he – and the puck – crossed the goal line, resulting in a goal for the Sabres.

V is for voice – This year I discovered Microsoft Word’s Speak function, which is especially helpful for typo-prone writers like me. You select and highlight text and click on the Speak icon and the program reads the text out loud.

W is for war  Sadly, I know there are wars going on that many of us haven’t even heard of. That’s shameful, as well as tragic. 

X is for xtreme (well, it is if you’re a bad speller)  In so many ways 2013 was a year of extremes. G, H, and R above provide prime examples but, thankfully, so does B.  

Y is for yikes – At over 1000 words, yikes is this column long! Thankfully there’s just one more letter.

Z is for Zen – given that Zen is a type of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation, it seems a fitting word to end this column with, as I hope that over the year one or two On beings … has given you something to think about.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … spontaneous

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t have a particularly scheduled life. Indeed, one of the best things about working for myself is the fact that my days are largely my own. That said, I do have deadlines and occasional meetings, and I generally am in, or near, my home office during normal business hours, so that I can respond to clients.

And, like everyone else, my days get filled with routine things that need to get done that keep me busy: laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, and so on. Social commitments and outings fill in the rest of the time and so before I know it, my calendar ends up as full as everyone else’s.

I’ve been thinking about being busy, in part, because December seems especially busy for many folks. Invariably work projects that have dragged on suddenly need to be finished before year’s end. And for many, the holidays bring stepped up social and family commitments.

But I’ve also been thinking about schedules because of the negative effect they have on spontaneity. I know that sounds obvious, but I’ll bet many of you’ve forgotten that of late. Worse still, you’ve probably forgotten how much fun you miss when you rationalize your way out of being spontaneous.

So, in hopes of inspiring you to let go of your schedule a bit – I thought I’d share a couple unexpected – you might say once-in-a-life-time – experiences I recently enjoyed because I decided to be spontaneous. About a month ago I had driven out to one of my favourite independent grocery stores because I thought they might have something I was looking for.  They did, so I was glad I made the 25 mile (one way) trip.

That day they were offering samples of a brand of yogurt I hadn’t heard of before. I stopped and tried it and chatted with the saleswoman. She explained the dairy’s been in existence for 40 years, but last year they started producing their own products and they opened to the public. I asked what that meant and she said they give tours. I’ve started work on a new app (the Ontario Culinary Trail) and it sounded like something I might want to cover in the new app. I noticed a map on the back of the business card she gave me and I made a mental note to check it out sometime.

Then I thought about it a bit more and I figured I was half way there already and it was a nice day for a ride – so I decided to go there. I found it with no problem but when I went in, I was disappointed to learn that in the winter you have to call ahead for a tour. I explained to the woman about the app and asked if I could look around and take a few photos. Before you know it, she was leading me on a kind of mini tour.

As it happened, that morning a cow had given birth. Next thing I know, she takes me in to see the mother and her newborn. And, as we stood there, the six-hour-old calf took its first tentative steps. Can you believe it? Me either – but I have the photos to prove it. Talk about being richly rewarded for my spontaneity!

Then, just yesterday – because I decided to abandon my previous plans – I had another unique experience. At about 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon I got an e-newsletter from a winery up north. In it they said they were looking for volunteers to help them pick icewine grapes on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. (For those unfamiliar with icewine, it’s a luscious dessert wine that’s quite an Ontario specialty. It’s made from grapes that remain on the vine throughout the fall and into the winter. The grapes are picked and pressed when they’re frozen.)

My immediate thought was that I wanted to do it. But that thought was immediately followed by a list of reasons why I couldn’t go. For starters, the winery is 100 miles (160 kms.) north of here. To get there on time I’d have to leave before 7 a.m. But I’m an early riser, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Then I thought about the weather. The winery newsletter specifically mentioned the wind chill and suggested dressing in layers. Well, I wasn’t worried about that because I know I’ve got the appropriate clothing, though I might have to dig some of it out. 

Then there was the issue of the driving conditions. A winter storm warning was in effect and we were expecting a significant accumulation. But with such a dire forecast, maybe there wouldn’t be so many people on the road, I figured. And then there were the tasks I had planned on doing on Saturday morning. But the truth is, they could wait.

As I sorted through the various excuses for why I shouldn’t go, I realized there would really never be a more convenient time to go icewine picking (or better conditions, given that it has to be cold enough for the grapes to freeze). So I e-mailed the winery and told them that unless the roads were impassable, I’d be there. Well, I went and it was really fun!

Had I not gone, my Saturday would have unfolded in the usual way, which is fine. But I wouldn’t have felt as invigorated or excited or as alive. All the way home I was grateful the opportunity presented itself and pleased that I decided – for a change – to be spontaneous.

I know you can’t plan to be spontaneous, but you can “reason” your way out of being spontaneous, which is a pity. So, next time an unforeseen opportunity presents itself, don’t let your schedule be your excuse. I guarantee the energy you get just by allowing yourself to be spontaneous will make it worthwhile.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona