6/15/2024

On being ... your recovery time

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’m currently taking an exercise program for folks who’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA). The idea behind the program is that exercise is one of the best ways to improve the quality of life and reduce pain associated with OA. We’re learning exercises aimed at strengthening our legs and hips to improve our joint mobility and stability. We share feedback about which activities we find challenging and which don’t really bother our particular joints. In response, the physiotherapist suggests ways of making a given exercise a wee bit easier or a bit more challenging. The exercises are meant to be fatiguing enough that we feel our muscles working. Discomfort during the exercises is ok – but actual pain is not what we want. The rule of thumb we are to gauge things by is whether, 24 hours after the exercise, our muscles and joints have recovered. 

Even before the course I started paying attention to how much I can push my walking and still be able to get up out of a chair later (my personal recovery litmus test). So, for example, I’ve been testing to see if the distance has much of an impact on my leg pain and stiffness or whether the terrain makes a difference. Another alternative I’ve tried is a long walk every other day instead of daily. I keep hoping I’ll come up with a magic formula – the optimal length of walk or type of workout – that provides the fastest recovery. While I may never zero in on an optimal formula, I’ve come to realize that focusing on recovery time is as useful, preventing me from dwelling on current aches and pains. 

Since starting the course, the idea of focusing on recovery has captured my imagination. So much so, in fact, that it occurred to me the idea might be a useful way of thinking about things besides just physical recovery. So, for example, the other day I was going to some event and – as is often the case when I’m driving – someone did something that really irritated me (they were looking at their phone instead of turning when there was a break in the traffic, or they were tailgating, or something). Alone in the car, I gripped the steering wheel and swore at the driver under my breath. 

A few minutes after the incident, I realized my irritation at that driver’s behaviour had morphed into aggravation with traffic and I soon found myself in a bad mood about even going out. Despite the temptation, I didn’t turn around and head home. Instead, I decided to focus on using the rest of the drive to recover (i.e., calm down) in hopes that I could enjoy myself when I reached my destination. I was doubtful about whether I’d be able to recover in time, but I gave it a try. (Turns out the drive was long so I had enough recovery time and I ended up enjoying the evening. Whew!) 

Another opportunity to focus on my emotional recovery came after an argument with a friend last week. After we parted company, I couldn’t seem to get the fight out of my mind. The next day I continued replaying the quarrel and I still thought I was in the right, but I knew that the disagreement wasn’t worth breaking up the friendship over. That fact alone, however, wasn’t enough to get me out of the mood I was in. 

I call such moods sour because they’re like a sour taste – they can linger and they can distort the way you perceive other things. I find it useful to distinguish sour moods from other kinds of moods because I’ve figured out things that can help speed my recovery from such moods. For example, when I’m in a sour mood, I don’t really want to be around people. So, I burrow a bit – avoiding calls and emails for a few days. I also find it helps to do something with my hands, like bake, or do a craft, or even clean. The final part of recovering from a sour mood is always the conscious decision to get over it. I know… why not just decide that on day one? I’ve tried that, but it doesn’t seem to work. Why not? Well, maybe because – like recovering from physical stresses and strains – it’s a process that takes time… 

What do you think? Have you noticed whether you’re quicker to recover from things physical or emotional? Have you got ways of speeding your recovery time? Or are you more inclined to just let things run their course? 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona 

5/30/2024

On being ... maladjusted

By Ingrid Sapona 

I write this with some hesitation because I appreciate that I’m in a comfortable financial position as compared to many. I also don’t want this to sound like the comments that one might hear from an old uncle recalling the price of things in his youth (no “back in my day admission to the talking pictures cost a nickel!”). So, with those disclaimers out of the way, today’s column is – in part – about the cost of things. But really, it’s more about my trying to learn to accept prices as they are, rather than getting stuck on what I think they should be. 

I’ve never been a big shopper so it doesn’t take much to surprise me price-wise. I couldn’t tell you the going price of a suitcase, cappuccino maker, throw pillow, or (fill in the blank). And of course, there are lots of services I’ve never needed so I’m constantly amazed at what people pay for specialized work. Just the other day I was shocked when a friend said it’s going to cost $5000 to have an old tree removed. Yikes! 

Because big ticket items – say a car or a sofa – are never impulse buys for me, I don’t get that hung up on their cost. One reason for this is that with such items there’s usually quite a price range and usually there are options/choices that impact the price. And, as I decide which options and features are worthwhile to me, the price usually narrows. In the end the decision comes down to a calculation of whether I want/need/can afford the purchase. The deliberativeness of the purchase process acts like a shock absorber so that the final price seems magically right (or at least justifiable). 

I’m not particularly bothered by many items that have gone up a lot over the past few years – like groceries or gas. I think I’ve managed to become a bit desensitized to the increased grocery prices because of the way I shop. I’m in the habit of checking the store weekly fliers on the Flipp app to see what’s on sale. As I swipe through the fliers, I do shake my head at the price of things (for example, seeing butter on “sale” for $4.99 was a shock initially, as that’s what the regular price used to be). But after seeing the prices in fliers, by the time I head into the grocery store, I have unconsciously adjusted to the higher prices of many items.

 

The two types of expenditures I really have a hard time adjusting to are the cost of going out to eat and in-person entertainment. No, I’m not talking about the price of Michelin-starred restaurants or tickets to see Taylor Swift. I’m talking ending up with a $50 bill (plus tax and tip) for lunch with a friend where one of us has a burger and fries and the other a sandwich with a side salad and no alcohol. Or two cappuccinos, one almond croissant, and an apple tart costing $32 at a gallery café where you have to carry the coffee and pastries to your table and bus the dishes afterward. Really? (Or should that be: Really!) I wonder whether my late father who owned a small breakfast/lunch place would have called that highway robbery or just obscene. To manage my shock at that café’s prices, I try to comfort myself with the notion that it was a rare indulgence (and remind myself that I’m lucky to be able to afford that) – but that only goes so far for me. After that, I’m more likely to think to myself, “Well, I’ll just never go back to that place again…” And that – in a nutshell – is the attitude I feel I need to overcome because it prevents me from enjoying going out. 

The same happens with the price of going to the theatre. I used to love going to plays but I have a hard time accepting ticket prices starting at $60 for local productions (not Broadway touring shows) – plus a ticket processing fee and tax. And, when you factor in the hassle and aggravation of trying to get to the theatre, it can be hard for me to justify the expense. That said, a girlfriend and I recently saw a play ($150 for the two tickets, including taxes and service charges) at a theatre company that is known for premiering plays by new playwrights. The theatre itself is small and my recollection of it (last time I was there was probably 10 years ago) was that the building was pretty basic and rather run-down. For this production all seats were the same price and it definitely seemed expensive to me, but the play sounded interesting so we decided to go. 

We got there a bit early and while waiting to get into the theatre, I was struck by how much nicer the lobby was than I remembered. Yes, it then occurred to me that the higher ticket prices impact the overall quality of the theatre experience, not just the performance. Well, I’m happy to report the play was excellent. It was interesting and thought provoking and on the drive home we couldn’t stop talking about the subject matter and how we might behave in that circumstance. All-in-all, it was certainly well worth the cost of admission AND the hassle of getting there, which truly is saying something in my books. Indeed, the evening got me thinking a lot about my need to get over the shock of the cost of tickets and instead think about how exhilarating a live performance can be. 

So, the bottom line is I’m working on being better at adjusting to prices of things that I can afford, but that I sometimes begrudge paying. I now realize that what I’m maladjusted to isn’t just the price – it’s the enjoyment I miss out when I forgo things I can otherwise afford. It’ll take some time to change, but I daresay it’ll be “worth” it. 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona 

5/15/2024

On being … bucket list-less

By Ingrid Sapona 

I imagine you’re familiar with the concept of a bucket list. For those who aren’t, it refers to things a person would like to do before they kick the proverbial bucket – in other words, before they die. Wikipedia says it was coined in 1999 by Justin Zackham, a screenwriter. Apparently, the first item on Zackham’s list was to write a film that gets produced by a major motion picture studio. He soon realized the idea of checking things off one’s bucket list was a good premise for a movie and so he wrote a screenplay about it. It became The Bucket List, the 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. 

I honestly don’t remember if I saw the movie, but I doubt I did because the notion of having a bucket list doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve thought about why it is that the idea never captured my imagination. I do wonder if my reaction has anything to do with not wanting to think about my own death. Indeed, I find typing “my own death” even a bit disconcerting – I am definitely not yet one with the idea of my life being over, however inevitable a fact that is. 

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t reject the idea of a such a list because I can’t think of things I’d like to see or do. For example, seeing the fjords of Norway appeals to me, as does going to Antarctica. I would also love to master working with chocolate. For that matter, I’d like to become adept at making pasta from scratch and I’d like to write a play that gets produced. But would I feel unfulfilled if I die without doing these things? I don’t think so. 

So why write a column about a concept that I don’t much like? Well, it’s because it seems to come up a fair bit lately in my social circle. If the phrase “bucket list” doesn’t actually come up, a variation along the lines of: “better do X while you still can” does. Sound familiar? I realize such things are on my friends’ minds because many are in the process of transitioning from working full-time to semi-retirement or full retirement. 

I think what bugs me the most about the concept of a bucket list is the social pressure to articulate such a list for one’s self. It almost seems like having a bucket list has become a substitute for having career goals. I guess if you were diligent about establishing and checking off career milestones then shifting focus to a bucket list makes perfect sense. Come to think of it, maybe the fact that my approach to my career was more organic than planned explains my discomfort at the idea of having a bucket list. 

Looking back at the non-work things I’ve done that I’ve enjoyed most, the one thing they have in common is that they came about by happenstance, not by planning. For example, when I volunteered to be on the publications committee of a newly formed international law association, I never dreamed it would be my gateway to spectacular travel. Through that association I ended up at black tie galas in Buenos Aires, Madrid, Mexico City, Berlin, Santiago, and Monaco, where the guest of honour was Prince Albert. When I signed on to edit the journal, I certainly didn’t expect I’d meet royalty! 

Another source of unexpected delight came as a result of my responding to an ad by a travel app company looking for writers. It was 2011 and I didn’t really know what a mobile app was (I didn’t even have a cell phone at that point) but I thought it would be a great way to learn about apps. So, I pitched them the idea of an app about Ontario Wineries. It took some time to convince the company, but they finally agreed. In the process of creating the app I met interesting people in the wine business, I learned a lot about wine, and I discovered parts of the province that I might never have seen. 

These kinds of experiences enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have dreamt of and even if I had thought of them, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a plan to make them happen. They happened organically and simply because I was open. To me that seems the key – being willing to try something without knowing what direction it might take you. So, as I head toward retirement – no bucket list for me. My plan is to do more of what I’ve always done: keep my eyes and ears open and take the plunge when things come up. 

©2024 Ingrid Sapona

4/30/2024

On being ... your fussiness threshold

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’d never thought about the idea of a fussiness threshold until this past week. It came up in the April 17th NY Times cooking newsletter, where Melissa Clark said:

“I confess: I refuse to blanch, peel and seed a tomato, even if the recipe says to. Every cook has a fussiness threshold, and that exceeds mine. 

So when the whole blanch-peel-seed thing comes up in dishes … I simply cheat and throw unblanched, unpeeled, unseeded chopped tomatoes into the pan, where they release their sweet juices and coat the leeks just as richly. The skin and seeds may add a bit more texture, but certainly not enough to distract … and I’ve saved 10 precious minutes.” 

Given that Clark ends with a comment about saving 10 minutes, one might assume she’s talking about time saving hacks. But, I don’t think that’s really what she’s getting at. She’s talking about steps she’s taken the time to do before, but that she found don’t make an appreciable enough difference to continue taking the time for. 

Clark’s example reminded me of a friend who’s well known for one particular cake. Her fussiness threshold involves forgoing the eggs, flour, sugar, etc., required for making a cake from scratch. Instead, she relies on Betty Crocker and then embellishes the cake mix with all sorts of extras, including Baileys. She swears no one can tell the cake isn’t totally from scratch.  

I’ve been thinking about how my fussiness threshold manifests itself. Unlike Clark, I can’t think of particular cooking steps I routinely don’t bother with. Instead, if I’m reading a recipe with steps that seem overly fussy, I’m more likely to just veto the recipe. I also summarily veto recipes that call for hard to find ingredients, like particular (in vogue) chili peppers that are impossible to come by or are so unusual that no one can even suggest a reasonable substitute.  

My fussiness threshold for baking is pretty high. I love making fancy desserts and it’s rare that I find steps that are too fussy. I did hit my fussiness threshold last Christmas, however, when a recipe called for using a piping bag to form delicate seahorse-shaped cookies. I tried piping the dough but it was so stiff I ended up bursting two piping bags! So, I ended up shaping the dough into a log and slicing it into rounds. The cookies were delicious and no one (but me) knew of my little cheat.  

I’ve also realized that my fussiness threshold isn’t set in stone. I recently returned to a much fussier method than one I had been using for decades for cheese shortbread-like cookies. The recipe was from a family friend (I’ll call her Mrs. Munich). Mrs. Munich was known for her buttery cheese sticks. When I first tried the recipe (over 25 years ago) I painstaking piped the dough through a cookie press, just as she did. I quickly concluded that making them that way was time consuming and hard. So, I switched to the log and slice method, making cheese cookies instead of cheese sticks. Everyone I’ve ever served them to has loved them. Well, Mrs. Munnich passed away last fall and to honour her memory, I decided to try her cookie press method again. The result was AMAZING. Piping them increases the surface area that crisps up when baked, raising the taste from delicious to scrumptious. So, with Mrs. Munich smiling down on me, my fussiness threshold was nudged back up and from here on I’ll be taking the time to make proper cheese sticks.  

Beyond cooking, I’ve been thinking of other fussiness thresholds I’ve adopted over the years. Turns out I have a few around laundry. One is that I don’t bother sorting the wash into light and dark loads. I’ve never noticed the whites being whiter if I wash them separately. The one thing I do pay attention to is the fuzz factor of different items. If I’m washing something that’s more likely to give off fuzz – like a fluffy new(ish) bath towel – I try not to wash it with synthetics, like yoga pants, because the towel lint is bound to end up on the pants.  

Hand washing also exceeds my fussiness threshold. The only special treatment I give items marked Hand Wash is that I put them in a mesh laundry bag before they go into the machine. I don’t even worry about using a delicate setting because my washer doesn’t have an agitator. I’m a bit less dogmatic about items marked Dry Clean Only, but that’s because I rarely buy anything so labelled. But, when I do end up with something that’s Dry Clean Only, unless there’s sequins or some special applique or fancy lace, into the mesh bag it goes and into the machine.  

Hand waxing the car is another activity that’s beyond my fussiness threshold. I’ve never been totally clear about whether hand waxing is more about making the car look super shiny or whether it’s about helping preserve the finish. Regardless of the benefits of hand waxing, I’m perfectly content relying on the liquid wax that’s applied at the car wash.  

Focusing on my fussiness threshold has helped me see the different ways I give myself permission to not worry about always following directions. It’s kind of a freeing thought and it’s made me want to think about other tasks I might reassess my process on. What about you? When do skip a step or creatively interpret directions? When does your fussiness threshold kick in?  

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona

4/15/2024

On being ... a digital hoarder

By Ingrid Sapona 

The never-ending rain this past week was the perfect opportunity for indoor activities so I turned my attention to tidying my office. My tech guru (Dee) recently made some changes to my computer system to free up space on the hard drive and to ensure all my files are routinely backed up. Before the changes, my backing up was a bit of a patchwork affair. 

The changes Dee made involved uploading and downloading files to the cloud. (Because my computer is central to my livelihood, for years I’ve paid for cloud storage.) The syncing process took nearly a week! Dee had shown me how to monitor the progress and how to pause the syncing if I needed to, as it really slowed the computer down. In my periodic check of the syncing progress, two things jumped out at me: 1) there were way more photos and videos than I realized, and 2) videos take a LONG time to sync. 

With the syncing finished, I decided to have a look at the photos and videos to get a handle on them. I knew I was never that diligent about organizing them or naming them in a specific way. One reason has to do with the sheer number of them. Back when you bought rolls of film – and you paid to have pictures developed – you were way more careful about taking just one photo of something. With digital photos, it’s not unusual to snap three, four, or more of the same thing. So, on a week-long trip you come back with hundreds of photos, rather than a couple rolls of 36. (And on trips with friends or family, I’ve ended up with two or three-times as many because they’ve emailed me all their photos.) 

I knew that virtually all the videos are related to my winery blog and website. But, I really didn’t realize how many winery-related images and videos I’ve made over the past dozen years. For reasons I’ll never fully understand, depending on what I was using the photo or video for, sometimes I needed to convert them into different digital formats. (For example, videos can be formatted in: “.MP4”, “.mov”, “.wlmp”; photos can be in “.JPG” or “.GIF”.) As a result, I have copies of some photos and almost all the videos in more than one format. 

Adding to the confusion is the fact that when I move photos from my camera to the computer, the computer saves them where it thinks appropriate. So, for example, the computer might automatically assign them to a file called Photos, or Pictures, or Video. Makes sense, you say. Well, maybe, but when I upload them, I create a file and name it based on the subject matter, so that I can find them later. The end result of the process seems to be that I ended up with photos and videos of the same thing in two different places on my computer. And, as it happens, at some point the photo app that I used (Picassa) stopped being supported, so I had some photos in the “Picassa photos” file, some in a file called Pictures, and some in a file called Google Photos. Can you say nightmare? 

Then, remember I mentioned my backing up was a patchwork affair before? What that meant was that periodically (at least once a year) I copied all the contents of the hard drive onto an external drive, just in case something happened to my hard drive. This system was fine for work-related stuff because I’ve always organized work files by year. But the photo/video files were labelled (loosely) by subject matter, so there was no easy way of figuring which photos/videos on the computer were added since the last backup. 

If all this sounds confusing it’s because it is. Indeed, I arrived at this attempt of a description of what happened in part to understand how I made such a mess of things. I needed to try to understand how I ended up with four different “Google Photo” files with some of the same photos in each of those files, but also had a number of photos unique to each Google Photo file. I spent hours comparing photos, deleting doubles (triples, and more) and doing my best to reorganize them. 

What I realized as I worked through this is that I had become a digital hoarder. I’d never pay to have a storage unit for my physical stuff but thanks to relatively inexpensive cloud backing up services, I’m not as virtuous in my digital life. I’m not proud of it, but I’m determined to change my ways and my recent clean up was the first step. Next up I plan on reviewing all the photos with a view toward deleting the multiple successive shots of the same thing. Wish me luck… 

And on that score, if you have a good way of organizing your digital photos, do tell – I’m open to suggestions! 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona

3/30/2024

On being … just as likely

By Ingrid Sapona  

I’m not the most tech savvy person, nor am I the least tech savvy. That said, any tech skills I have I owe to my friend – I’ll call her Dee – an engineer and an absolute tech wiz. For as long as I can remember, I’ve relied on her for advice and hands-on help with all things tech-related. She’s that rare combination of knowledgeable AND able to explain things in a way that’s understandable. 

Unlike some tech folks who would just as soon take over and “fix” things, Dee explains what she’s doing as she works. She knows me well enough to know that I’m interested in trying to understand so that I can be – or at least feel – a bit self-sufficient. She gets that if I have at least a sense of what might cause some application to crash or misbehave, I’m less likely to worry that I’ve done something that’s caused irreparable damage.  

Our mentor/mentee relationship has advanced to the point that if I email her about a problem, she usually lets 24-36 hours go before she responds. It took me awhile to realize that her delay isn’t just about her being busy. I’m pretty sure she holds off because she knows I’m going to keep trying different things in the meanwhile. And – sure enough – sometimes that pays off and I manage to solve the problem on my own.  

I’ve come to realize there are a few things that are almost always worth trying before panicking. For example, if an app or program starts acting wonky, uninstalling and reinstalling the software is worth a try. I think the rationale for this is that perhaps the software version I’m running isn’t up-to-date. Another good trick is to simply reboot the computer or device. I’m always surprised when that fixes things. I guess it’s the computer equivalent to taking a deep breath. And if, after four or so attempts, it’s clear that rebooting isn’t doing a darned thing, it’s time for what always seems silly, but is surprisingly curative: unplugging the device and counting to 30. I once asked a tech person who had suggested doing this why this might work. This person (not Dee) said he thought that unplugging electronics and waiting 30 seconds or so gives the electrons (or whatever) a chance to return to a more neutral state, ready to start anew. Though that might be a bunch of hooey, it sounds reasonable to me and it works more often than you’d think.  

Not too long ago I had a problem with my phone. I was listening to an audio book through a pair of headphones (the original kind – ones attached by cord) when all of a sudden, the audio just stopped. The audio book was playing fine when I took out the headphones. I then tried playing some music. Again, without the headphones I could hear it just fine – but I got absolutely no sound through the headphones. So, the question was: is the problem the headphones or the phone’s audio jack? I did the few things Apple suggests to diagnose and/or fix the problem, but nothing worked. If none of the suggestions work, Apple says to bring the phone in so they can look at it. Ugh… knowing Apple, I suspect the fix – however simple – would not be inexpensive. (I didn’t bother Dee about the phone because fixing hardware isn’t her specialty.)  

Frustrated that I couldn’t listen to anything at the gym or on walks, I went in search of an old phone to see if I could listen to audiobooks on it. I downloaded a book and plugged in my headphones. I could hear the book just fine, so clearly the problem isn’t the headphones. Using the old phone (which doesn’t have a sim card so I can’t make calls on it) to play audiobooks seemed a reasonable solution – at least while I debated about whether to bite the bullet and have Apple fix the phone.  

By week three, the inconvenience of carrying around two devices had me re-thinking about just getting the phone fixed. When I made up my mind to make an appointment to do that, I thought I better try one more time because I’d sure feel stupid if I went to the Apple store and they found it worked fine. So, I plugged the headphones into the phone, tapped on an audio book, and sure enough, I could hear the book through the headphones. The same with the music app – I could hear songs through the headphones perfectly.  

Though I’m tickled that the headphones are again working with the phone, the whole thing puzzles me. I desperately want to understand why the sound suddenly stopped – and why the mere passage of time seemed to fix the problem. After much consideration, I have come up with a rationale: it’s the work of gremlins.  

I know what you’re thinking: my explanation seems to lack a certain scientific basis. Ok – so maybe it was a solar flair. Sounds better (or more plausible) to you? Maybe. But if you ask me, phones that mysteriously fix themselves seem just as likely the work of mischievous gremlins or maybe the Easter Bunny. Who can really say…  

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona

 

 

3/15/2024

On being ... back in high school

  By Ingrid Sapona 

I don’t think about high school too often, but working on my taxes this week took me right back to Advanced Placement physics. Well, it reminded me of one particular “skill” I honed in AP physics. I’ll explain in a minute. First a bit of background: my taxes are not as straightforward as some peoples’. There are two reasons for this: I’m self employed and I have to file in both the U.S. and Canada. Because of these complications, for the past 35 years I’ve had my returns professionally prepared. 

This year, however, I decided to do my Canadian returns myself. (The U.S. returns seem exponentially more complicated so my CPA friend is still doing them.) I’m using a well-known tax prep software and answering the questions and inputting the information is straightforward. To ensure that I provide information in the exact same way as I have in the past – and to ensure no details are missing – I’ve been using my CPA-prepared returns from last year as my guide. 

All was well until I got to the part about the sales tax (GST we call it) on my business services. I know my accountant always filed my GST return based on something called “the simplified method”. I’ve never really understood the calculation. My accountant simply did the math and told me whether I owed or whether I was getting a refund because I had over-remitted the sales tax. But, since I’m doing my returns myself, I knew this would be something I would have to finally understand. I read – and re-read – all the Canada Revenue guidance on the simplified method and past explanations my accountant had sent me over the years. 

I spent hours multiplying different numbers together, hoping to figure out how my accountant arrived at the amounts reported on last year’s return. It was this that brought me right back to AP Physics. To be more precise, it reminded me of cheating on physics test questions that required application of a calculation to derive a numeric answer. You see, we were allowed to use slide rules (yes, I went to high school last century!) or a pocket calculator, if we had one. My classmate Pete (who I believe went on to become an actuary) was a whiz at physics and he had a calculator. So, he would work through the calculation and then he’d send the calculator down the row of desks, “lending” his calculator to those of us who didn’t have our own. Of course, what we were really “borrowing” was the answer that Pete conveniently left showing on the screen of his calculator. 

Though I’m not proud that I borrowed Pete’s calculator, er, answers, I didn’t feel that bad because we only got partial credit for having the right numerical answer. For full credit you had to show how you arrived at the number. So, with Pete’s help, many of us learned the useful skill of how to back into a calculation. Indeed, that was what I was trying to do to figure out how my CPA applied the simplified method in years past. After an entire afternoon on a roller coaster ride that lurched between thinking I’m too stupid to figure out the method and wondering if, perhaps, my accountant had miscalculated last year – I was overcome with another sensation from AP physics: near defeat. 

It's funny the things we learn in school – and how it is they show up for us later in life. I’m sure my AP physics teacher thought he was teaching us about gravitational forces and energy and such. I only remember a wee bit of that, but I sure remember the determination needed to figure out how you get to a particular answer.   

After sleeping on it and realizing that even the most determined forensic accountant might need help sometimes, the next day I emailed an accountant friend for help. Though he said he didn’t deal much with the simplified method, he managed to re-phrase the wording on the form in a way that helped me understand what figure plugs in where. After that I was able to come up with the numbers from last year and then I simply had to plug in the respective numbers are for this year’s return. Whew. 

Though I spent a heck of a lot of time on my returns this year, it’s been kind of empowering. You see, I was audited once. An IRS agent came up from the U.S. and I spent an entire day sitting with him at my dining room table as he went through my receipts and invoices, asking me questions. The result of the audit was that he found a transposition error in one figure and I ended up owing a whopping $20. Though the audit was financially inconsequential, it left me with unnatural dread about having to justify each and every item on my returns. 

I’m happy to report that now, having taken over the task of preparing my own returns, I feel more confident. I sure hope I’m never audited again, but at least now I know I can recreate the calculations behind all the figures – even the simplified method. Thanks Pete, wherever you are… 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona

2/28/2024

On being ... not a bonus for all

  By Ingrid Sapona 

I publish On being… on the 15th and 30th of the month. (In February I publish on the 15th and 28th.) Given this schedule, I have an affinity for months with 31 days because I have an extra day to come up with a topic for the following 15th. By this logic, you’d think I’d hate February because from the 15th to the28th is only 13 days. All I can say is that February’s my birth month so I love it regardless of its brevity. 

Actually, the fact that every four years we get a Leap Day is perhaps another reason I love February. As for Leap Day itself, the whole Sadie Hawkins Day stuff has always charmed me. (If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, check out one of the sweetest movies of all time: Leap Year, starring a very young Amy Adams and Matthew Goode.) But even without that blarney, I’ve always thought of the extra day as a quirky celestial bonus. 

So, when I realized this is a Leap Year, the idea of writing about the delights of this bonus day was obvious. But this past week – in part because it marked the start of the third year of war in Ukraine – I began to think about what an extra day in the year might mean to others. On reflection, I realize that the extra day for so many is far from a bonus. Instead, it’s likely an extra day of suffering. 

For the millions of people who live in refugee camps it’s another day of queueing for food, water, and even to use the toilet. For the millions in the world starving, it means another day of empty bellies. For people living in war zones, it means another day of living in fear for their lives and homes. For children in war-torn countries, it means another day without school or trying to have a normal life in a bomb shelter or bunker. For the family members of those fighting on the front line, it means another day of worry and loneliness. For all the war-wounded, it means another day of pain and suffering. For political prisoners it means another day of unjust confinement. For women living under the thumb of theocratic regimes, it means another day of repression. 

These harsh realities gave me great pause about whether to write about Leap Day being a bonus. Trite doesn’t begin to describe my concern… But then I thought about the fact that if these columns are to have any relevance, reference to reflections about what’s going on in the real world is important, even if the thoughts arise in a roundabout way. 

Though the springboard for On being… is my experiences, thoughts, and emotions, I always hope that it will be a catalyst for readers to reflect on how they feel about the particular topic. In this case, regardless of what Leap Day means to you, I hope it provides you with time to reflect on the suffering of others and on what we can do to bring change and help to those suffering. 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona