6/30/2022

On being … just what we were both looking for

By Ingrid Sapona

The past five or six summers (maybe longer) I haven’t made much use of my sail boat because I usually sail with friends on their boat. I inherited the boat from my dad in 2001 and the club where I keep it isn’t that expensive. That said, given how infrequently I’ve gotten out on it the past many seasons, on a per sail basis, each outing is probably more than the most expensive day spa you’d ever find! 

This year, after launching her I discovered a part of the furler broke. It was really unusual, but maybe water got in and froze over the winter, causing the metal to split. Ugh. The boat can be sailed, but I knew I’d have to do something about it and I imagined it’d be expensive.   

As I was looking into options related to the furler, I started to think maybe this was a “sign”. Was this the universe (or my late father) tapping me on the shoulder, urging me to focus on the underlying question of whether it’s time to sell the boat. At first, I put that idea out of my head, thinking I was just frustrated at the unexpected expense. When I found out the fix was only a few hundred, it was clear that the cost wouldn’t be a deciding factor. So, I started to try to honestly assess the question of whether it was time to let her go. 

The boat’s been in our family 40 years and my sentimental attachment to it weighed heavy in the equation of pros and cons. The only way I could bare the thought of parting with it is if I thought it was going to someone who’d enjoy it (dare I say love it?) as I had. But how do I find that person? 

As 49-year-old boats go, I think she’s in pretty good shape, but she’s not turning any heads any more. I’ve maintained her, but I’ve not poured money into new sails or fancy electronics. And, at 25 feet, she’s almost small by today’s standards. So, hard to say if anyone would be interested in her at all. 

After much soul searching, I decided I’d try to sell the boat. I figured if I didn’t find the right person, then next spring before launch I’d replace the furler and I’d enjoy her for another season. Though I think I had reasonable expectations, I had a pit in my stomach all the same. 

I put up a “for sale” notice on the bulletin board of my club and a few other nearby clubs. I also mentioned it to friends, asking them to help spread the word. A couple folks suggested Facebook marketplace, which I’d never heard of. But, I found a boat buying/selling Facebook group that seemed promising and I submitted the listing for approval. 

A few days passed before I logged back into Facebook. When I did, I found messages from two people. One person just had a question. The other person (Magnus, rather like a character from A Little Night Music) had sent me three messages. His first was that he’s a willing buyer with cash and a dock at a nearby club. His second was that he could come look at the boat any time. His third was, “Why are you ignoring my messages?” I wrote him back and assured him I wasn’t ignoring him – I just don’t check Facebook too often. I gave him my number and within an hour he called. He wanted to come see it later that day. I wasn’t ready to move that fast, so I stalled, agreeing to show him the boat later in the week. 

Meanwhile, before I placed the Facebook notice, someone I used to work with expressed an interest. She and her husband and daughter were coming to see it the day after Magnus’ viewing. 

Magnus was on time and enthusiastic. We chatted about how long the boat’s been in the family and he seemed to “get” my attachment to it. He walked around on the boat, thumping the deck here and there to hear how solid it sounded (I guess). I showed him the furler problem and I told him the costs I’d been quoted for fixing or replacing it and that didn’t seem to phase him. He kept saying what great condition it was in and how solid this vintage was. A few minutes later he sat down in the cockpit and said, “I really want your boat. I have cash with me. Let’s sign something and close the deal.” 

I was definitely flustered at the thought – it was moving quicker than I could handle. I told him I needed to think about it. He cheerily said, “But this is exactly what I’m looking for. Come on – First Dibs!” Though that struck me as kind of a guy thing to say, it was endearing. I told him he didn’t actually have first dibs because someone else was coming to look and they were in touch with me before him. Besides, I was going to have to think about it in any event. I said I’d phone him in four days to let him know my decision. He said he’d continue looking in the meanwhile, and I assured him that was fine and I wished him luck with that. 

The next day he texted to thank me and to say he appreciated my resolve. He also apologized for nagging and said he looked forward to hearing my decision. Two days later he texted to let me again, this time to let me know he did not buy the other boat he went to look at. I must admit, I was relieved to hear that, as the more I thought about it, the more I felt that same tapping on my shoulder, telling me Magnus was the one. 

The next morning, I phoned him and told him if he promised to take good care of her, he could have the boat. Magnus promised and we made arrangements to meet that afternoon to sign the deal. He paid the asking price with no qualms or haggling and we talked about the logistics of him sailing it away. After we parted, he texted me to thank me again and he said he’d be happy to take me for a sail if I wanted to visit her. 

I won’t lie… I feel sad closing this chapter, but I’m happy the ending I had hoped for came to pass. I think she’s in good hands and will be well loved… 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

6/15/2022

On being … undaunted

By Ingrid Sapona                  

There’s a British show I’m obsessed with: Escape to the Chateau DIY. It’s the sequel to Escape to the Chateau (EtC), which was one of my mother’s favourite shows in her last few years. EtC featured a quirky British couple (Dick and Angel Strawbridge) who bought a 45-room dilapidated French chateau. EtC focused on their transformation of the chateau into a one-of-a-kind wedding/event venue. 

Angel is incredibly creative and imaginative. She can take scraps of material or odds and ends and create wall coverings that have to be seen to be appreciated. I used to love listening to my mother try to explain to me what Angel made or created each week. (Back then, the show wasn’t high on my list of things to watch. Besides, it was almost more fun for me to hear Mom’s descriptions and to try to picture what Angel had made.) 

Anyway, recently I noticed the initials DIY on the TV listings for EtC. Given that Dick and Angel’s rehab of their chateau was very much a “Do It Yourself” adventure, I wasn’t sure if that was the name of the show all along. One evening I decided to tune in and see what projects Dick and Angel were up to. To my surprise, the DIY show – though narrated by Dick – features other middle-aged Brits who have also bought French chateaus. 

The past couple months the CBC has been running EtC DIY weekday afternoons. So, I’ve kind of been binge watching it. The premise is similar – it features mainly couples (there are a few brave – crazy? – single women) who have always dreamed of owning a French chateau. The series features a mix of folks at various stages of their chateau journey. Some segments feature couples shopping for a chateau. It’s interesting to watch them as they consider just what level of dilapidation (in some cases it’s really dereliction) they’re willing to take on. Though the chateaus are magnificent – especially from the outside – many have not been inhabited for decades. 

True to its title, each episode features chateau owners tackling renovation projects. It might be something seemingly simple, like converting an empty room into a luxurious guest bedroom and bath. But even those simple-sounding projects can be huge challenges, given the age of the buildings and scale of the rooms. Indeed, I have a new appreciation for the usefulness of scaffolding and cherry pickers. 

Projects are often inspired by some item found in an unused room or at a flea market. For example, one couple found an old, cast-iron claw foot tub and they decided to make it the centerpiece of a new guest suite. A few chips and cracks? No problem – seems there’s paint that works wonders to cover such flaws. And while they were at it, they add some bling by gold-leafing the outside. And if the refurbishment wasn’t impressive enough, when the tub was ready, they had to move it into its new place on the second floor. I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer holding my breath as they hoisted it up through the second story window using their cherry picker! 

But it’s not just living quarters that they’re re-doing. Chateau owners often discover some original feature that was covered over that they decide to bring back to life. When an owner discovered a brick bread oven that had been sealed off behind a wall for over 100 years, she decided to restore it for use. When she realized the flue was sealed about half way up the chimney, she came up with a work-around. She knocked out a hole in the brick flue wall and ran a pipe up into an adjoining fireplace flue one floor above. She managed to bring that bread oven, which used to be used by a baker that served 10 farms in the early 1800s, back to life. 

What I find most amazing is the chateau owners’ “can do” attitude toward everything. Centuries old stonework needs re-pointing? No problem! Hire a mason to teach you how to do it, and then get to it. One couple decided to turn an out building that housed the chateau’s huge, defunct water tank into a cinema lounge. The first order of business was getting rid of the old metal tank. No problem: get a special metal-cutting blade for your hand-held circular saw, don heavy duty protective clothing and what looks like welder’s goggles, and cut away. After that work, carting off the heavy pieces of metal seemed like child’s play. 

The chateau owners’ willingness to tackle repairs has lit a bit of a fire in me. So last week I decided to try to replace a few broken cam cleats on my boat. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say it turned out easier than I feared. The only tricky part was finding someone to help hold the screw on the top of the cleat while I worked the nut in a tight space below. Then, the true test came a few days later when it rained. I’m happy to report there were no leaks around the cleats. Pleased with the result and with myself, I realized part of what keeps the chateau owners going is the sense of accomplishment. 

Buoyed by my success with the cleats, I’ve decided to try to fix the toilet on the boat (the “head”, in sailor speak). I recently discovered the manual pump on it isn’t working. Though new toilets aren’t that expensive, they attach differently, which means I’d have to move the existing fittings. I called the toilet manufacturer to find out if they still make replacement pumps for my old unit and they do. So, undaunted – and channeling EtC DIY – today I ordered the part. And, when it comes, I’ll do as the chateau owners do: I’ll give it a go.   

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

5/30/2022

On being ... an opportunity to think twice

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’ve never considered myself a glass half full type. But, having found a way to put a positive spin on the current bout of inflation, maybe I am an optimist. (In case you missed it, that last sentence was an example of my new outlook: I’m trying to feel confident these high prices won’t last – in other words, that it’s just a bout of inflation.) 

Friends’ reactions to price increases over the past three or four months have been interesting. At first, other than the price at the pump, it seemed my friends didn’t really even notice the price of things going up. Part of the reason may have been that in January and February, what was of more concern was that some things were hard to get. The grocery stores around here seemed unable to get certain items. For example, for awhile it was hard to find cereal. So, when the shelves were finally refilled, paying $5.29 for a box I could have sworn I paid $3.98 for last time I bought it was surprising, but not jarring. Naturally I bought it – I was happy they had it! 

The first time I really took note of the price of groceries going up was when I wanted some mushrooms. I buy them quite regularly and $2.99/lb has been the going price for a long time. Suddenly I couldn’t find whole mushrooms – cremini or white – for under $3.99/lb! Pork tenderloin is another near-staple for me. Around here it goes on sale often – on a rotating basis from store-to-store – so I never used to pay more than $3.49/lb for it. In March or so I noticed the sale flier price was now $4.99/lb. 

When I realized the prices for mushrooms and pork tenderloin were not returning to “normal”, I began paying attention to other items I typically just tossed into my cart. Hmmm… a bag of Smart Food (cheddar-flavoured popcorn, for those not familiar with the brand) … last summer it was $2.79 but now it’s $3.89. Do I really want it? Well, yes, it is our favourite snack on an afternoon sail. What about that can of hard cider that used to cost $2.95. Now it’s $4.10. Do I really want it? Is it that special? And those cookies that used to cost $1.99 a box that are now $2.79. It was always debatable about whether they’re worth the calories, but at this price, it’s much easier to take a pass on them. And what about that spicy edamame and kale dip I had at a friend’s house. Delish! But $4.99 for 8 oz.! Really? Well, maybe as a special treat, I rationalized to myself as I put it in my cart. 

I know, considering each item sounds a bit over the top, not to mention time consuming. But so what if it takes a bit longer to shop? Paying more attention to what I buy – and what I’m willing to pay for something – is a good thing, I think. No, it doesn’t necessarily translate into healthier food choices – or even noticeable savings. But for sure there’s nothing wrong with being more mindful about what I buy. So now, though I shake my head every time I look at my grocery bill, rather than get mad, I acknowledge how tremendously lucky I am that food is readily available to me and that I have the means to pay for it. I realize that’s not the reality for untold millions throughout the world. 

As I mentioned, the one cost increase many friends have noticed – and are feeling – is the price at the pump. Regular gas in the Toronto area is about CDN $1.98/litre, which translates to about US $5.85/gallon. So, it’s no wonder that a friend, who I’ve never known to so much as comment on the price of things, complained this week after it cost him $120 to fill up his Audi. It was only in January that a fill up cost him a mere $85. I think I’d complain too... That said, any time a friend who doesn’t have to make a daily commute complains to me about the cost of a fill up, I remind them that they can save money – and the planet – by simply driving less. I’m not sure they appreciate my encouraging them to see the price as reason to assess how badly they want to drive someplace, but that’s a calculation I go through when I’m thinking about heading out somewhere in the car. 

What about you? How are you coping with prices going up and up and up? Have you changed what you buy? Have you switched to cheaper alternatives? Are you trying to get buy with less? Or maybe you’re like me and continually reassessing what constitutes a splurge? 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

5/15/2022

On being ... Wordle wise?

By Ingrid Sapona

I play Wordle pretty much every day. I do the one in the New York Times. To be honest, I’m glad they limit you to one game per day (unlike some on-line versions), otherwise I might be confessing to an addiction instead of mere infatuation. 

Wordle hasn’t been around for too long. I remember reading about it when the Times bought it this past January. It was created by Josh Wardle, a Welsh software engineer. (Clearly, the game’s name is a play on his name. But, if he’d have asked me, I’d have suggested the name be only five letters: Wordl. Anyway, who am I to argue with a guy who made millions on something he started for fun!) 

When I first heard about it, I assumed it was basically a digital version of Jotto – a game I used to enjoy as a kid. Jotto is played with two people and the object of it is to figure out the secret five letter word your opponent wrote down. 

In Jotto, each player takes a turn guessing their opponent’s word. If the word you guess is your opponent’s secret word, you win. But, if the word you guess isn’t the secret word, your opponent tells you how many letters in your guess is are in their secret word. Your opponent doesn’t specify which letter(s) from your guess are in their secret word, however. So, Jotto is as much about narrowing down the letters in your opponent’s word as it is about figuring out what the secret word is once you have honed in on the letters. 

So, calling on my Jotto expertise, I started playing Wordle. Using the Jotto strategy of first eliminating letters, opening guesses might look something like this:


 









Pretty clever, huh? Well, that works ok in Jotto because a Jotto game could go as many as 35 guesses. If you use this technique in Wordle, however, you soon realize the genius/cruelty of only getting six tries. 

When I discovered my sister did the Times Wordle too, we compared strategies. She’s convinced the key is to nailing down the vowels early on. To do this, she uses a modified Jotto strategy, starting with two words that are vowel rich. For example, she likes starting with audio – and why not – I has four vowels. I liked that method too, though I tended to start with aerie. (Only three vowels, but, arguably the most common ones.) She was delighted when I mentioned aerie, as she realized that between aerie and audio, she’d hit all the vowels. 

After a few weeks I found starting with the same words too uncreative. So, I started beginning with totally random words. I chose a word I saw in that morning’s NY Times newsletter. To me it was more fun than trying to strategize about what vowels might be in the word. When I tried to convince my sister to try starting with different words every day, she wouldn’t hear of it. Oh well… to each her own, I thought. 

About a month ago I was talking to a friend about Wordle and the different strategies I’d tried. Before telling me his method, he asked how successful I’ve been at solving the game. He was unimpressed when I told him I usually get it in four or five. He said he usually gets it in three – or sometimes four. Naturally, I asked how. 

He starts with a random word. If that guess yields any letters in that day’s Wordle, he makes sure his next guess includes those letters. And, if a letter is correct but in the wrong place, he won’t use it in that place again. I asked him to show me and we started a new game as follows: 




 



So, after GAMED we kept the A but moved the E in our second guess. Ok, then what? I asked. He said he sits there and looks at it and just thinks about it. And thinks about it… It soon became clear I’m not as patient as he is. Antsy, I suggested canoe. Then, continuing with his method, we quickly finished as follows:


 

 






I was pleased with the win but he was frustrated it took us five tries! Jeesh... 

He succeeded in making me a convert to his method though. And, even if my results aren’t always a brag-worthy three or four, his method has focused me more on words, which I love. Now I pay more attention to letter combinations and to how words are constructed. Here’s a good example:



 





Obviously, my first guess was lucky, yielding three letters. But after that, I figured it’s likely the S and H were together. From there, it was just a question of whether they were at the start or end of the word… 

What about you? Are you a Wordle enthusiast? Have you tried a variety of strategies? If so, do you have a particular approach you like best? Do you brag to friends and family about your results? 

If you’re one of the few who haven’t played it, perhaps now you’ll give it a try.  I’ll bet that before you know it, you’ll be doing it daily just to get that little buzz from solving it – regardless of whether your efforts yield a Magnificent, Impressive, Splendid, or even just a reassuring Whew. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona





4/30/2022

On being … seen through a new lens

By Ingrid Sapona 

According to my ophthalmologist, I’m lucky because I have one eye that sees distance and one that sees up close. For much of my adult life I needed glasses to drive and watch tv (before everyone had stadium-size tv screens). My prescription was pretty mild and, as apparently often happens, my distance vision has improved to the point that now I don’t even need glasses to drive. 

Sadly, my reading vision deteriorated to the point that a couple years ago I started needing “readers”. Because one eye needs way more magnification than the other, I can’t use over-the-counter readers. I recently got new readers and I couldn’t believe what a difference the stronger prescription makes. The resolution on my iPad screen is something I never experienced before. At the risk of a very bad pun, it’s been truly eye opening. 

The idea of seeing things through a particular lens has been on my mind the past couple weeks – but not just in terms of one’s eye sight. I’ve also been thinking about it in terms of ways a person’s work so often focuses their attention and viewpoint.

The other day I attended a continuing legal education seminar featuring a panel discussion of corporate disclosure related to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. ESG relates to things like sustainability, net zero emissions goals, reporting on whether one’s suppliers adhere to conventions against child and slave labour, and so on. Institutional investors and regulators are increasingly interested in whether publicly traded companies have policies regarding various ESG factors and, if so, how they apply their policies in practice. 

From her bio, I knew the panel moderator sits on the board of a few large companies. A number of times during the session she talked about how costly it is to provide such disclosure. Though I don’t think she’d ever admit she’s against such disclosure, her disdain for reporting on environmental factors was especially strong because, as she noted, there’s a lack of consensus regarding exactly what – and how – to measure. She railed against the cottage industry of consultants that work with companies to produce such disclosure. She just kept asking, “In the end, who pays for all this reporting?” It was clear she sees disclosure mainly through the narrow lens of a corporate director who has had to sign off on disclosure reports that are time consuming and costly to prepare. 

Finally, one panelist (the Chief Sustainability Officer at a Fortune 500 company) reminded everyone that the point of ESG disclosure is to demonstrate where the company stands on certain things. For example, if a consumer or investor is concerned about whether a clothing company ensures its suppliers don’t use child or slave labour, one way to find out might be through their human rights disclosures. I was so glad he spoke up! All the other panelists seemed to forget that disclosure is basically a mechanism for getting companies to re-focus from the bottom line to other things that matter – like climate change and fair labour practices. 

A headline on an opinion piece in the Toronto Star also caught my eye this week. It read: “The Great Canadian Snow Job – Is Canada selling immigrants on a story that no longer exists?” I thought it might be about promises made to translators who helped Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and how we’ve been slow helping get their families here. Or maybe about difficult living conditions faced by migrant farm workers. Or maybe some other story of unforeseen hardship due to red tape or bureaucracy that so many immigrants face. 

I guess, given what I was expecting to read about, it’s fair to say I was surprised by the first paragraph of the article. It focused on how the price of real estate is out of control here. It noted that the average price of a house in Orillia, Ontario – a town of 33,000 about 100 miles north of Toronto – is on par with the price of a house in Los Angeles. That doesn’t really surprise me. But then the author went on about the fact that Orillia doesn’t have the sandy beaches and perfect weather that LA has. That’s all true enough, but I’m sure most people who immigrate to Canada don’t come here for the weather or because they hope to live cheaply.

More than half the article focused on the price of shelter, with little discussion of any of other social, familial, or other reasons people might try to immigrate to Canada. I found that odd until I read the brief author’s bio at the end. It turns out he’s a data analyst and co-founder of a housing news site. No wonder the focus on the cost of housing. The essay seemed another example of someone seeing – and assessing – issues through a very particular the lens. 

In some ways, what I’m getting at here isn’t that different from the psych concept known as the “law of the instrument”. You’re probably familiar with it through Abraham Maslow’s quote that when someone’s only tool is a hammer, they treat everything as a nail. Similar, right? 

While there’s comfort in continuing to see things through lenses you’re used to, you may not realize how they’re limiting what you see and perceive. If you take them off – or better yet, try seeing things through a whole different set of lenses – you might be surprised by new things that come into focus. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona 

4/15/2022

On being ... by chance

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’ve never liked appointments for social visits. Making a “coffee date” changes something casual – the idea of a chat over coffee – into something formal (pretentious even). Sure, I know that people are busy. And for some, if they don’t put a meeting on their calendar – even a social one – their day gets away from them. Looking at it from that perspective, I suppose I should feel honoured when a friend schedules a get-together. But honestly, I don’t feel honoured… I feel fitted in. 

I don’t even like making dinner reservations. Unless the meal’s a prelude to another activity – like a theatre performance or concert – I hate the idea of promising we’ll be someplace at a particular time. More times than not, when I have a reservation, I end up rushing or having to kill time because I’ve overestimated the travel time. Who needs the pressure? 

While Covid restrictions on restaurants were in place, however, I did my best to accept the need to book a table. Staffing shortages and being required to have fewer tables made it hard on restaurants and many began requiring reservations. Indeed, I decided I’d use the pandemic as an opportunity to become one with the need to make dinner reservations. But, once Covid restrictions were lifted, my reservation-averse self reared its head. 

Returning to my disdain for social appointments, I think it also has something to do with a desire to return to the freedom of youth. I’m not of the play date generation so, as a kid, if I wanted to see someone, I hopped on my bike and pedaled to their house. (Phoning friends was out of the question – the family phone was for important things, not to see if friends were free.) If a friend was home, great. If they weren’t – or were busy – that was ok … at least I got a bike ride out of it. The other thing I loved about unplanned visits to a friend’s was that there was no way of knowing what you might get up to. The possibility for serendipity was so much more likely with such visits. 

I realize that as we get older, our days fill with obligations of work and family, which means there’s simply less time for unannounced visits. Indeed, sometimes simple logistic gets in the way: friends moving to different towns and even people moving into condos with security guards and concierges puts a definite crimp on impromptu drop-ins. But I still enjoy them and I continue making such visit, to the extent possible.

I have, however, come to realize that some people don’t like surprise visits. I used to take it personally. I kind of felt that if they couldn’t make time for a quick hello, they didn’t really value my friendship. (Someone once suggested perhaps people were embarrassed by how messy their house is. I suppose that could be, but if that’s the case, they must worry that I’ll judge them on such things, which is crazy.) Anyway, I now realize that what folks might not appreciate is the disruption of their day. That was a HARD thing for me to “get”. So now I carefully weigh whether it’s more likely the other person will see the visit as an unexpected delight or an inconvenient intrusion.  

Fortunately for me, there are still times when chance visits pay off. That happened to me recently when I decided to drop in on a few friends while I was in Buffalo. My trip was planned, but brief – just one night to visit with my 90-year-old godmother. When I told my sisters I was going to Buffalo, they asked if I’d see anyone besides my godmother. I told them the truth: I wasn’t sure. 

Before I headed back to Toronto, however, I decided to take my chances and see if some family friends were home. I saw their car, so I pulled in and parked. I rang their doorbell and the husband answered. He was surprised to see me and welcomed me in. Soon his wife came to the door. She too was pleased to see me, but she was just leaving for an appointment. I had parked behind her, so we left together. It had truly been nothing but a quick hello, but I think we were all glad to have seen each other, even briefly. 

That visit gave me confidence to make another stop. This one was to a 100-year-old family friend (AMR). She’s pretty much confined to home, and I know some days are better than others for her. But that’s the thing: if we’d have formally arranged a visit, I know she’d feel pressured to keep it, since I was coming from far away. I didn’t want to stress her out that way. 

Believing that AMR would be happy to see me, but honest about whether she was up for a visit that day, I took a chance. I pulled into her driveway and phoned. She recognized my voice and after asking her how she’s doing, she said, “Well, I’m fine. Why? Do you want to come for a visit?” I laughed and said yes and that, actually, I was in the driveway. She was delighted, though she needed 10 minutes to finish getting dressed. I gladly waited in the car until her caregiver waved for me to come in. We ended up visiting for nearly 90 minutes. AMR relished sharing news and photos of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and I just loved the chance to spend time with her. 

Impromptu visits to friends are not without risk. But I think if your intention is genuine and good natured and you assure the person that you want nothing more than to see them and say hello – the risks are worth it. 

What about you? Do you take social chances, or do you require a plan?

 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

3/30/2022

On being … time to come out of hibernation?

By Ingrid Sapona

 For me, the title of each column is crucial. Sometimes the title comes quickly and feels inevitable. I love when that happens. Coming up with the title at the outset doesn’t necessarily mean the column writes itself, but it certainly helps keep me focused. At least half the time I start with one title but as I write, a better one – more accurate, more nuanced, more honest, cleverer, or whatever – comes to mind. And then there are times when I realize the truth of the title hinges on a simple question mark.

 Last week a B.C. ski resort’s surveillance cameras caught on video a grizzly bear coming out of its den after winter hibernation. Apparently, this bear has been using the same den on the resort property for 20+ years. Snout first, the grizzly climbed out into the spring snow and sunshine. That same day I heard that the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. were near peak bloom already. And the very next day I saw a small boat under full sail here in Humber Bay – my backyard. I shivered thinking about the cold March wind pushing it along.

These signs of spring happen every year, of course, but this year they captured my attention in a way that doesn’t always happen. Maybe it was because they all happened within 48 hours. Maybe. But I think the real impact on me had to do with the fact they got me thinking about reawakening, renewal, and change – you know, those things the poets tell us spring is all about. And yes, those words immediately started tumbling through my mind for their On being… potential. 

The truth is, the past month or so I’ve felt on the verge of moving past a season in my life that started long before the winter that is just now giving way to spring. The season I’m talking about probably started with my mom’s death in January 2020. That was quickly followed by Covid lockdowns and social distancing. Then, in October 2020 a long-term contract I had with one company ended and in terms of work, I pretty much went into semi-retirement. And of course, 2021 was pretty much a reprise of 2020 in terms of Covid restrictions and limitations. All these things contributed to – and justified – a season of withdrawal for me.   

But don’t misunderstand. I truly enjoyed not having particular responsibilities or duties these past couple of years. I relished the simplicity of my life and delighted in the fact that most everything I need is within walking distance. I felt lucky that I have a sunny home and a new kitchen with a spacious pantry that allowed me to be creative, regardless of supply chain hiccups at local grocers. Nothing about the past few years was any kind of hardship for me. 

But lately, I’ve started to wonder what happened to the part of me that used to be creative, curious, and interested in doing things. It’s not that I’ve become lazy. I still rise at the crack of dawn and I have no trouble filling my days. I am definitely not bored. But, I feel boring – at least compared to how I used to be. For example, other than talking about world events, I seldom feel I have anything interesting to talk about. Mind you, I’m a good listener and I’ve often felt that some people turn to me to be – and feel – heard. So, I imagine that some friends haven’t even noticed a change in me. But I have. 

In trying to work through all this, I naturally turned to On being…. I figured all I needed to do was find the right word to describe what I’m feeling – the right title – and the spell would be broken and the old me would return. But none of the words that have come to mind – ennui, uninspired, inertia, or even unmotivated – truly describe what I’m struggling with right now. That was its own frustration… 

But, as it happens, writing this column has helped me realize something very useful: words alone won’t re-awaken my curiosity. Indeed, what I now understand is that I need to take my cue from that grizzly. I need to poke my nose out and crawl back into the world. Maybe if I start rooting around, something’ll catch my interest or spark my imagination. Here’s hoping… and here’s to spring! 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona

3/15/2022

On being … torn apart

By Ingrid Sapona 

On March 8th it was International Women’s Day. Until this year, I saw it as a day to celebrate the achievements women have had in law, politics, business, science, the arts, and so on. In the past, my friends and I marked the day by reflecting on – and being grateful for – the doors that have been open to us largely thanks to the hard work and tenacity of women who came before us. (Of course, it was also a day to reflect on the fact that women are still held back by many doors and ceilings.) 

But this year, I suspect I wasn’t the only person whose focus on March 8th was the plight of women of Ukraine. I try to imagine the stress of air raid sirens going off day and night, or of hiding in a bunker to avoid the bombs and shelling. I also try to imagine the desperation that leads to the decision it is time to flee. Well over 2.5 million at this point have made that decision. And, as we know, the vast majority of them are women and children, as men between the age of 18 and 60 may not leave. 

The bravery and stoicism of these women is remarkable and inspiring. Their whole life has been torn apart. Many of them are leaving their homes – and homeland – with little more than a suitcase or bag of possessions. And of course, they must say goodbye to their husband, brothers, sons, and other loved ones who may be too old to leave. Who knows whether they’ll ever see them again. 

And then there are the many logistical hurdles they have to deal with as they cross into foreign lands. Would you even think to take your passport or your children’s birth certificates? Hopefully they did, as they’ll probably need them if they have to make a refugee application to remain someplace for an extended period. 

On top of the fear and fatigue, they face near total uncertainty. Some of them may have an idea of where they’d like to go, but they don’t know if they’ll be able to get there, or how long they might be able to stay once there. Then there’s the uncertainty of where the basic necessities of daily life for them and their children will come from. Yes, countries, citizens, and aide organizations have rallied to help with much of that, but imagine having to rely on others for everything. 

And, though it’s 2022, the sad reality is that women are especially vulnerability to abuse. With millions of Ukrainian women having to rely others, it seems inevitable that some of them will end up victims of abuse by people who are purportedly helping them. 

Besides families being torn apart, their homes and cities are also being decimated. Seeing news photos of half-standing residential buildings and craters where hospitals once stood, you can’t help but think there won’t be much for them to go back to. It’s hard to imagine where or how they’ll ever be able to rebuild. Of course, those are issues for a much later time. 

Though the lives of Ukrainian women have been centre-most in my thoughts, today’s title isn’t just a reference to the lives being torn apart by the invasion. Russia’s disregard for the rules of war threaten to tear apart the international legal order put in place specifically to safeguard people in times of conflict. Whatever you think of the rules of war, they provide at least a minimal foundation of accountability human beings ought to have toward each other. But, if they are to have any meaning at all, things like rules prohibiting indiscriminate killing of civilians and allowing safe passage of humanitarian aide must be universally upheld. Violations of the rules of war are war crimes that should be of concern to us all. We owe it to the people of Ukraine to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia and its allies and to hold them to account for their crimes. 

What Ukrainians are going through is simply heartbreaking. I pray that long before we mark International Women’s Day 2023, the people of Ukraine will be living in peace once again. I also hope that they will soon be able to channel the strength they have shown in defending their country into rebuilding their lives and homeland instead. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona