On being … a little like sausage-making

By Ingrid Sapona        

I’ve always believed in life-long learning. But I must admit, I wasn’t prepared for all the things I’d learn about myself as a result of my kitchen reno. 

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is that I don’t have to have a ready answer to every question a worker asks. Having been a good student and well-paid professional, I take questions seriously and when I don’t have an answer, I feel put out. So, for example, when the contractor asked whether the dishwasher plugs in or if it needs to be roughed in – I had no idea and I felt quite stupid. Should I have asked that before buying? 

By about the third such question related to one detail or another regarding the appliances, I finally realized it’s perfectly fine to tell them if I don’t know the answer and to suggest they to consult the specs for themselves. While that kind of reply might sound like a no brainer, it doesn’t come natural to me, but I’m learning….

When a mini-geyser erupted as the countertop guys tried to put in the sink, I worried I chose one that wouldn’t work with my building’s plumbing configuration. And, given that the hole for the sink was already cut into the stone countertop, I was beside myself, thinking I had screwed up big time. The countertop guys explained the pipes would need to be cut, but that was a plumber’s work – not something they could do. Even then, as they explained the issue on the phone to my contractor, I couldn’t imagine the shutoffs could be moved and the pipes simply cut and re-fitted.

The next day, when the contractor finished, the new pipe configuration looked like a piece of modern art, with fancy, in-hose shut off valves that I’ve never seen. So, a few days later the countertop guys returned and with the magic of silicone glue (or whatever), the sink was in. No need to worry at all. Lesson learned: while this is my first rodeo, clearly (thankfully) it’s not the contractor’s! 

The fact that the condo’s small means I end up seeing things (like the geyser) and hearing the workers’ occasional murmurings of “whoa” and “whew”. I’m learning that such mutterings don’t necessarily mean something’s gone wrong, or that they translate to a finished product that’s somehow inferior. Indeed, I’ve been trying to figure out why I’d even think such a thing. I believe it comes from my having seen more than a few jury-rigged solutions on boats. 

Jury-rigging is about finding solutions when something breaks and you’re at sea and you’re forced to use whatever you have at hand. For example, if you discover a hole in the hull, you plug it with whatever you’ve got until you can find a proper, long-lasting solution. But often, when a make-shift solution works, it ends up becoming the permanent solution. So, whenever I hear an oops or some whispering, I wonder whether the fix they’ve come up with is the best they can do rather than the best solution. I don’t think it’s a trust issue on my part, but maybe it is…. In any event, I’m working to overcome those feelings. 

The bulk of the reno’s done and I’m very pleased with it. But there are a few add-ons I’ve asked for that will end up extending the process. These mini-projects have presented additional opportunities to hone another skill: the art of being specific “enough”. As the reno was just getting under way, I decided it was an opportune time to re-design all my closet shelving to better suit my needs. (I had to empty them all to have the new flooring put in, so why not try to reimagine them too.) 

From lengthy discussions with the contractor about the pantry cupboard, which was part of the original plan, it seemed clear we were both on the same page. And, when the pantry was installed, I realized he built exactly what I said. But, I also realized we hadn’t discussed the materials he’d use for the interior. I wish we had, as I’d have preferred something a bit different. My mistake. But, with shelving yet to be done in the remaining closets, I have another chance to practice articulating both the functionality and esthetic I’m after. 

As I mentioned, I’ve learned a lot about myself this past month. But I’ve also gained an appreciation for the fact that some things – like sausage – are best enjoyed when you don’t know exactly what goes into it and you don’t watch as it’s being made!

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … strange consolation

By Ingrid Sapona 

In the last column I wrote about the kitchen reno. It’s going well – pretty much on time and on budget. So, though I had paid nearly 50% up front (down payments to different suppliers), there have been a number of major outflows from my bank account this month. When I see my ever-declining balance, I remind myself that it’ll all be worth it. 

So, a couple weeks ago I noticed that my driver-side front tire looked a bit low. Over the years I’ve realized that I’m not a good judge of whether a tire is low, however, so I didn’t panic or anything. (It was most definitely not flat – it just looked a bit bulgy at the bottom.) I made a mental note to keep an eye on it, and I did. 

Over the weekend I mentioned it to some friends while we were sailing, and one of them offered to have a look at it. He was surprised to learn that I had a tire pressure gage in my glove compartment, but that I hadn’t used it. I explained I never feel I’m using it quite right. He was shocked when he discovered the pressure in the tire in question was – if my gage was to be believed – a measly 15 psi. (All the others where at about 32-35 psi.) 

He followed me to a nearby gas station and filled the tire for me, telling me to keep an eye on it. Within a week it was looking about the same as before he filled it, so I figured I have a leak. So, one morning I decided to have Gord, my mechanic, check the tire. My hope was that maybe I had picked up a nail somewhere and that all it needed was a patch. 

No such luck. Gord found the leak but was unable to patch it because it was along the edge. Knowing that they always say you should replace both front tires if one goes, I said, “OK, I guess you’ll have to find me two new tires.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t that “lucky” either. Gord said I really need four new tires. When I asked why, he claimed he told me last time I was there that my tires were on their last legs. (That is not a direct quote – his language was more colourful.) Uh, no, I’m sure I’d have remembered that, I told him. 

I waited while he searched on-line for what he thought would be suitable tires for me. The grand total, including installation, ended up being $700 plus tax. When I told him that $700+ for tires wasn’t in my budget for this fall, Gord said, “Awe, that’s nothing! I had a guy in here last week and each tire was $700!” I told him I realize that lots of people spend WAY more than me on their car and so they probably have much higher bills, but how does that help me? His response: “I’m just saying….”  

When I got home Brian, the contractor, was working away. When I told him that it had been an expensive morning, he asked why. I told him about the tires and he too started with the “Awe, that’s not bad for tires…” I just shook my head and said, “I know, could have been more expensive, but still – it’s an unexpected expense just when I’ve been paying out a lot this month for the kitchen. And besides, how is knowing it could have been MORE expensive helpful?” That came out a bit curter than I intended and Brian sheepishly said, “I’m sorry, I was just trying to make you feel better….”  

I ended up mentioning the new tires to a few other folks and it’s surprising the number of people who try to console you about an expense by telling a story of someone else’s bigger expense. I don’t find such comments in themselves comforting. Indeed, it seems odd to me when others try to console by offering comparators that just don’t necessarily seem comparable to the person they’re trying to console. Indeed, every time someone reassured me the tires could have cost more, I felt like yelling: “For heaven’s sake, I drive a Toyota Corolla because I don’t want to pay $700/tire!” 

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what people say to console others. It’s a bit of a tricky business, isn’t it? That said, I think the true comfort comes in counting yourself lucky enough to have folks around you who at least try to make you feel better.

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona



On being … expected, but surprised?

By Ingrid Sapona        

Monday was the first day of my long-awaited kitchen reno. Demo day, as those home renovation shows refer to it. I’m not really into those shows, but I’ve certainly watched a few. One of the things I’ve always found odd is how much the hosts seem to LOVE demolition day. The glee with which they swing a sledge hammer makes you wonder why they’ve got so much pent-up hostility. 

As you might expect, I spent the entire weekend boxing and bagging the contents of the kitchen and closets (new tiles throughout the entrance and hallway means the closets had to be emptied too). I piled the boxes and such into a mound in the living room. And, because everyone who has ever had any renovations done has warned about having dust everywhere, for good measure I draped a plastic drop cloth over the mound. I was ready… 

Monday morning Brian, the contractor, arrived on time – all by his lonesome. We briefly talked and I told him that when he starts, I’d go pick up the tiles. He was surprised I wasn’t having them delivered. I explained that the guy at the flooring store talked me into picking them up. Brian thought that was crazy. “Tiles are heavy,” he said. I assured him I’d be fine – I’d just make a few trips. He then went to his van and got his tools. He came back and went to work. He started by removing all the cupboard doors and piling them neatly on his dolly. 

I ended up needing only two tile runs and each time I returned, Brian helped me unload them. When he stopped to eat his lunch, we chatted. I told him I was expecting the kitchen to look like a disaster zone, given how “demo day” is depicted on the reno shows. He shook his head and explained that he doesn’t make a mess because then he just has to clean up more. Amen to that, I thought! 

Turns out his method was more deconstruction than demolition, which was a relief. He was so careful and patient, I didn’t even notice that he had already taken down the backsplash, which was a mirror. When I asked how that went and whether he wore gloves so as not to cut his hands on broken glass, he said he didn’t need to. He explained that he took his time and pulled slowly and so he got it down without breaking it. Pretty amazing, I think. 

He was quiet too. About the loudest it got was when he let screws fall to the floor. I tried to stay out of his way as much as possible, which is hard for someone like me who, for lack of a better way of saying it, likes to watch. But, I figured he’d be more productive without my inevitable question and comments. By the end of the day the room was a shell. Before he left, he tucked his tools into a corner, swept the floor and then vacuumed from my front door to the elevator in the hall. 

Taking up the ceramic tile was on tap for day 2. I knew he would cover various doorways with plastic to contain the dust before he started working. I figured it would be loud, as well as messy, so my plan was to leave for the better part of the day. He phoned me when he was ready to leave and so I came home. He made better progress than I imagined. Poor guy looked beat though. 

After he left, I must admit I was pretty surprised at how much dust there is, even though he had tarped off the other rooms. I was also surprised at how fine the dust is. Powdered sugar isn’t this fine. After he left, I wiped down the furniture and the table with a damp cloth, but when the surfaces dried, they still had a greyish hue. Oh well… 

On the up side, at least I felt a little less silly about having draped plastic drop cloths here and there, though I was kicking myself for not draping a few more things. I had moved my computer into the bedroom and just before I left, I pulled a bright magenta shower cap over the CPU. I felt stupid doing so, but when I saw a light coat of dust on the cap, I was glad I did! Can’t afford to ruin the computer. 

I suspect that everyone who has had any renovations is smiling (or perhaps laughing?) reading this, as it probably sounds pretty familiar. Heck, they may also be chuckling to themselves about other surprises they know I might be in for. I guess I’ll find out for myself in due time. Of course, not all surprises are bad. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is how conscientious and detail focused Brian is – two qualities I definitely appreciate. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a don’t quit your day job moment

By Ingrid Sapona 

I love baking. Love it. And I’m pretty good at it. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time someone said to: “You should open a bakery” … well … let’s just say I could afford more than one Starbucks latte. I’m always flattered by the compliment, but I’m quick to explain to folks that the reason I wouldn’t consider it is that then the hobby I love would start to feel like work! 

A couple weeks ago I made a peach clafoutis that was, well, to die for. When I bought the peaches, I wasn’t planning on baking with them. But, they ripened faster than I could eat them, so rather than have them go bad, I ended up making four individual-size clafoutis. 

A few days later, I picked up another basket of peaches. There’s nothing better than Ontario peaches and this year they’re especially sweet. So, since a friend was coming over for dinner later in the week, this time I planned on using some for another round of clafoutis.   

On the morning of the day my company was coming I proceeded to make the clafoutis. As I always do, I set the timer for half way through the bake time and popped them into the oven. When the timer went off, I went to check on them. When I opened the oven door, I found an unexpected mess. 

They had all spilled over their brims. Not only that – they were browning WAY too much, given that they had more baking to do. I covered them with foil to prevent them from overbrowning and I re-set the timer for the remaining bake time. I ended up taking them out a few minutes early because they were quite brown (thankfully not burned) and the centers looked set. I thought that with a dusting of powered sugar they’d look good enough to serve. Besides, I reconned they’d be delish, given how terrific the peaches were. 

I was getting peckish around lunch time and I decided to try one – just to make sure they were company-worthy. Well, all I can say is that I’m glad I did. The body – the structure – of a clafouti is basically an egg custard and if it’s not perfectly cooked through, it tastes kind of yucky. Though the clafoutis was dark and looked baked, as soon as I stuck my fork in, I realized the center it was soggy. It wasn’t something I felt I could serve. Worst of all, I wasted half dozen precious peaches. Ugh… 

I spent quite a few minutes trying to figure out what I did wrong – or different – this time. For one thing, I think these peaches were juicier than the previous batch. As for why they bubbled over, clearly, I had overfilled them. As I was pouring the batter into the dishes, I noticed I had enough to fill them higher, but I just thought that was a bonus. Clearly wrong there… I won’t bore you with further details about my clafoutis post mortem, but I think you get the sense of how disconcerted I was by my baking mishap. 

One of the things that draws me to baking is the precise nature of it. Sure, there’s room for creativity in the way you decorate or serve a dessert, but baking is a science. Recipes are followed and ingredients are weighed because it’s not just about making something that tastes great and looks appealing – consistency matters. Each cookie in a batch should look and taste the same and every batch of a particular recipe should turn out the same. 

So, when something goes wrong, as it did with the clafoutis, I feel defeated as a baker. It’s not just that I’ve wasted perfectly good ingredients, or that I don’t have a scrumptious dessert to serve my guests. What really hurts is the nagging doubt I’m left with: were my past baking successes just flukes? 

In the scheme of things, I know that baking mishaps are just that – mishaps. Frustrations for sure, but also instructive. In fact, for someone who may occasionally fantasize about having a bakery or coffee shop, they may be a blessing in disguise – they’re a good reminder that I shouldn’t quit my day job! 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... a tragedy in the works

By Ingrid Sapona 

For the past two weeks I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for this column. But, I’ve been unable to think about much of anything other than the plight of the women and girls in Afghanistan. I was reluctant to write about Afghanistan because I try to avoid writing about politics. I decided, however, that I have to write about it because I feel those of us who care have speak up for those who can’t. 

I have a very vivid recollection of getting many emails in the late 1990s written by groups like the Afghan Women’s Network. The emails that were circulating were trying to draw attention to the treatment of Afghan women and girls. At the time, I didn’t even know where Afghanistan was, much less that there had been a civil war that brought the Taliban to power. 

So, I found some of the things mentioned in the emails a bit hard to believe. How could Afghan women who were doctors and professionals suddenly be forced to stop working? Or how could it be that women could not leave the house unless they were accompanied by a male relative? Or how could a government simply say that girls were not allowed to go to school? I didn’t necessarily think it was all made up, but I imagined that if some of those things had happened to some women, they must be the exception, not the rule. To this day I feel ashamed about not even signing a petition to support Afghan women back then. Of course, in the late 1990s, like most people, I hadn’t heard of the Taliban. 

Then, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to remove the Taliban from power, videos that ranged from maltreatment to barbarity emerged. We saw ghostly apparitions that turned out to be women covered from head to toe in bourkas, barely able to see where they were going. And then there were videos of the stoning of women accused of adultery – never any men so treated, though clearly women can’t commit adultery on their own. 

Though going to war with Afghanistan was controversial, without a doubt, one positive result was that the lives of women and girls there improved. As New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out in a recent column, “In 1999, no Afghan girls attended secondary school. Within 4 years, 6 percent were enrolled, and as of 2018 the figure had climbed to nearly 40 percent.” That says a lot.  

The fact that for nearly 20 years Afghan women have enjoyed at least some basic human rights makes the west’s abandonment of them now even crueler. As Ruth Pollard eloquently said in an opinion piece in Bloomberg News this past week: “A generation of Afghan women who have taken their place in society are now watching that space shrink before their eyes. They entered public life as lawmakers, local governors, doctors, lawyer, teachers and public administrators, working for two decades to help create a civil society and generate opportunities for those who come after them. Now the Taliban are going door-to-door in some areas, compiling lists of women and girls aged between 12 and 45 years for their fighters to forcibly marry. Women are again being told they cannot leave the house without a male escort, they cannot work, study or dress as they please.” If I’m in shock at the fact that this is happening – imagine the shock and utter fear Afghan women must be feeling. 

There seems no end to the amount of suffering in the world these days. Currently over 206 million people have Covid and 4.3 million have died from it. Wildfires are burning out of control in Europe and North America, while other parts of the world have suffered devastating floods. Just this morning Haiti was hit with another 7.2 magnitude earthquake. All these phenomena have brought untold suffering. But, unlike all the natural disasters that are wreaking havoc in the world, the humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan is that much more tragic because it’s 100% caused by human behaviour: the cruelty of the Taliban and the willingness of the rest of the world to sit by at it happens. 

Afghan women may be forced into silence under bourkas, but we are not. Now, more than ever, we must speak up for the human rights of Afghan girls and women. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... attention focusing

By Ingrid Sapona

The story that surfaced in late May of the finding of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Indian Residential School in B.C. made news around the world. About a month later, the Cowessess First Nation announced the preliminary finding of 751 unmarked graves at the former site of a Saskatchewan Indian Residential School. The unmarked graves were found using ground-penetrating radar. Experts expect many more graves will be found on the grounds of other Indian Residential Schools across the country.

The first Indian Residential School opened in 1828 and the last one closed in 1996. Stories about children who went to Indian Residential Schools but never returned have been told for years. We’ve had some idea of the scope of the issue ever since the 2015 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada Report. One of the findings announced in the Report was that the TRC identified the names of, or information about, more than 4,100children who died of disease or accident while at Indian Residential Schools.

The leader of the Cowessess First Nation, Chief Cadmus Delorme, eloquently spoke about the significance of the finding of the unmarked graves and of this moment. He explained that the Cowessess community will now work to honour the buried by putting names to the people in the graves. He acknowledged that doing so will hurt, as it will trigger some of the pain that many Indigenous children endured at the school. He called on Canadians to stand beside Indigenous people as they heal and get stronger. He also asked Canadians to open their minds to the fact that the Country needs to have truth and reconciliation.

Somehow the finding of the unmarked graves has brought the issue of Indigenous relations to the fore in a way that release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report didn’t seem to. Maybe the idea of 4,100 dead children was just too big a number for folks to comprehend. Or maybe, because the Indian Residential School program ran for over 160 years, people somehow rationalize the figure (4,100) as translating to “only” about 25 children per year. But 215 is a number that people seem more able to comprehend – after all, that could be the number of kids in one grade at the local elementary school.

The immediate official reaction to the news was the lowering of flags to half staff. “Every Child Matters” became the catchphrase and orange quickly became the colour associated with the issue of the treatment of Indigenous children. (I must admit to ignorance here – perhaps orange has long been associated with Indigenous matters, as it’s the colour featured in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission logo and graphics.) Colour-coded ribbon campaigns have been around so long that I almost find them meaningless. But, I couldn’t help but stop when I saw this on a recent walk:

The photo shows a public elementary school in my neighborhood. The school’s on a fairly busy street and the playground is protected by both railings and a fence. The orange ribbons tied on the schoolyard fence and tree are a nice gesture, for sure. But, the fact they are tied on a sturdy fence that protects children at play at that school also drives home the difference in the level of care afforded kids there versus the care provided to Indigenous children at Residential Schools.

While symbols like ribbons and lowered flags are moving, they don’t necessarily stir emotions enough to prompt dialog, much less change. Perhaps as a result of this, others have taken to different ways of drawing attention to the issues. On another recent walk I came upon a series of spray-painted messages that provide a much more vivid sense of the stain the Indian Residential School system has left on Canadian society and our collective psyche. Here are a few pictures of the crude – but powerful – messages: 

I’ve always hated when people deface things with graffiti, but these scrawlings have moved me in ways I can barely express. The method of communication reflects the rawness of the feelings of so many. These messages are way more powerful than any anodyne sign proclaiming Every Child Matters.

We can’t erase past harms and injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples. But, we owe it to them to acknowledge how we have treated them and to do all we can to help them heal. Restorative justice is the purpose of reconciliation and we’ll never get there unless we stop denying the racism that underlies the notion of assimilation.

Indigenous leaders have used this moment to urge Canadians to read the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report and to take concrete action toward implementing the Commission’s 94 Calls to Actions. That certainly seems the least we can do…

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona




On being ... homeschooled?

 By Ingrid Sapona 

Last year I bought a set of DVDs of a stretch/exercise program that my local Public Broadcast Station (PBS) runs. I don’t have a DVD player for my television any more, but I figured I could play them on my computer. Unfortunately, when I tried to play one of the DVDs, I found out my computer was set up only to play CDs, not videos. 

After a bit of Googling, I found there are programs (dozens, actually) you can install to play a DVD. I downloaded one (probably one with a free trial) and managed to watch the first workout. Each DVD has six 30-minute workouts, but I couldn’t figure out how to view the second, third, fourth, etc. Ugh… 

My original plan was to convert the DVDs into a format (M4V) so I could play them on my iPad. If I couldn’t figure out how to play the original DVDs on my computer, there seemed little hope for the next step. Dejected, the DVDs ended up on a shelf. 

Recently, I Googled how to convert DVDs to M4V. There was no shortage of information about it, but the more I looked, the more daunting it seemed. Then, a couple weeks ago I came across a 9-minute video by “KaptainTech” – who sounds about 16-years-old. The 2012 video made the process seem straightforward, if you don’t mind downloading two pieces of software. The video included links to the software, but I figured it likely that the software was either discontinued or that it had changed so much the video instructions were probably no longer accurate. 

Nonetheless, this week I decided to give it a try. One of the software links wasn’t quite right, but I managed to find the program and download it. The other link worked perfectly. Then I played KaptainTech’s video, pausing it every time I needed to carry out a task. I must say, he did an outstanding job showing every step. The program interfaces looked a bit different but, rather than worry (or wonder) about it, I just clicked on exactly what KaptainTech said to. To my amazement – it worked! 

When I was done, I left a comment on the video to say thanks and to let others know the 2012 video is still useful in 2021. (I got the idea to mention that from others who noted that it worked for them as recently as 2020. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one concerned that the process might have changed since 2012.) A number of commentators also mentioned they watched a lot of other videos but found KaptainTech’s the best. Again, it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in having watched dozens of other videos about the process before taking the plunge. 

This was the third or fourth time I’ve found great videos on YouTube made by ordinary folks that show how to do something. Last year the door on my microwave wouldn’t stay closed. When I mentioned the problem to a friend, she said the same thing happened to theirs and they fixed it themselves after watching a few YouTube videos on how to fix it. She sent me a link to the one they found most useful and suggested I try it.  

Having nothing to lose, I did. The process involved taking apart the door. According to the video, if this one spring has fallen out of place, the door will not close. Unfortunately, in my case the spring wasn’t just out of place – it was broke. So, I couldn’t fix the door, but it was pretty empowering to try. (As an aside, you’d be surprised at how many things that seem sturdy are just snapped into place!) 

Similarly, a few years ago my computer was overheating because the fan stopped working. My friend suggested it might just need a new fan. To get at the fan, I’d have to open up the computer. I went searching on-line for an owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s specs that might show how to do that, but I couldn’t find anything. 

My friend suggested there might be a YouTube video showing how to disassemble it. Sure enough, some guy (with a heavy accent, a big gut, and – unfortunately – no shirt) did a video showing how to disassemble the exact HP model I had. I watched it a number of times, before giving it a try. Turns out the fan had kind of melted into place, so it was unfixable. But, it was an interesting exercise. 

It used to be that if you wanted to learn how to make something (or how to fix something) you’d take a course. For example, if you were contemplating trying to fix your microwave door, you might take a course on small appliance repair. You might learn some troubleshooting techniques, but you wouldn’t necessarily learn about your particular model. Now you can probably find a video showing how to fix your exact problem. 

Watching a video that walks you through the steps to accomplish a specific task is not the same experience as taking a course. Following KaptainTech’s instructions click-by-click was more like doing paint-by-number, than learning how to paint. But, given that I was just interested in successfully converting the video formats, it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t learn anything about the coding behind each step. 

There are a lot of folks out there with a lot of hands-on experience and, for whatever reason, many of them like making videos demonstrating how to do things. (I’ll bet that as kids they lived for show and tell!) And of course, not all such videos are created equal. But, I’ve come to see home-made how-to videos as a kind of homeschooling tool. They can give you courage to tackle a particular job or they can help you decide when it might be best to farm something out to an expert. 

What about you? Do you ever turned to YouTube videos for help? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … choosy?

A woman I used to work with had an unusual approach to ordering at a restaurant. When we’d be given the menu, I’d look down and begin to mull over the choices. When I’d look up, she was always ready and we’d resume the conversation until the server came to take our order. At that point, she’d quickly glance down at the menu and then tell the server what she wanted. I, on the other hand, tended to debate between a few of the items, never making the final decision till the server looked at me. 

Once, after ordering, I mentioned to her that I was impressed she always seemed to have something different and yet she never hesitated when it came time to order. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Oh, I just always order the first thing on the menu – it’s easier.” Well, I would never – could never – do that! To me, part of the pleasure of eating out is perusing the menu and thinking about the different items and then choosing.

In many respects, having choice is a luxury. We’ve come a long way from the Model T days when the only colour available was black. But honestly, sometimes I find that too much choice is… well… too much! This idea’s been on my mind lately as I plan a kitchen reno.

Going into this, I knew I’d have decisions to make. But I consoled myself figuring it would be fairly straightforward since, at the end of the day, it’ll still be a small galley kitchen. The threshold decisions revolved around the type and colour of cupboards, the countertop, and the backsplash. Early on I decided I’d go with the current trend of using the same material for the counter and backsplash. This appeals to me for two reasons. First, I like the idea of a solid piece f material for the backsplash because I think it’d be easier to clean – no grout lines. But equally important – to be honest – is it’s one less thing to choose! 

I’ve always loved marble and so my plan was for a marble countertop and backsplash with white cupboards on top and a contrasting colour on the bottom. Once I started looking, I learned that marble isn’t ideal in kitchens and so most folks use quartz that’s designed to resemble marble. That seemed ok, until I started looking at quartz. Up close I didn’t think it looked too real. So, it was back to the drawing board and I started looking at natural stone instead.

Olympia Tile+Stone is one of North America’s biggest tile and stone distributors. Their 3500 square foot showroom isn’t too far from me and I’ve always been curious about it. But, after combing through countless quartz patterns at three showrooms, the prospect of wandering through Olympia’s showroom was too daunting. 

Instead, I went to a stone place recommended by the countertop fabricator I planned on using. After a couple hours looking through aisles of magnificent stone slabs, I managed to narrow it down to about a half-dozen. A week later I returned with a friend to get her opinion. I ended up buying a piece of quartzite that – as one of my sisters would say – spoke to me. But, because what I chose has creamy undertones (not white/grey), I had to re-think the cupboard colours. 

Because I’m having coloured cupboards, the sky’s the limit in terms of choice. All the cabinetmaker needs is a swatch of paint and he’ll match it. I still figured I’d use some kind of white on top and a contrasting bottom. Fortunately, he gave me samples of the three most popular whites and one of them goes well with the countertop. But, I was torn between a few different colours for the bottom cupboards. So, I decided to paint some panels of my current cupboards to see how different shades look in the natural light. I tried four colours before I chose one.  

Choosing flooring was another matter. I wanted to replace the current tile, which is neutral but it has a bit of texture I find really traps dirt. Complicating the choice is the fact that the tile covers the front hall and a small bathroom off the hall, in addition to the kitchen. Again, taking a pass on Olympia’s huge warehouse, I decided I’d start at a few independent flooring stores friends recommended. One of them had a very limited selection and I didn’t find anything I liked. The other had a decent selection and they encouraged me to take a couple tiles home to compare them. That was a great idea, as I was able to see how they’d work in the hall and bathroom, as well as with the cupboard colours. The next day I made my choice and returned the samples.  

Having made the main choices, last week I went to sign off on the final cabinet colour and details. Or so I thought. Turns out I have to choose hardware for the drawers and doors. OMG. The cabinetmaker recommended a particular brand that he said is widely available. He even suggested I might find better prices at big box stores that get volume discounts he can’t get. I went home thinking it’d be straightforward. Well, on the manufacturer’s website I searched for “transitional style” pulls (as opposed to traditional style, for example) and there are over 700! Can you say overwhelming?   

While it’s nice to live in an era where there are choices for all sorts of things, I don’t mind admitting I sometimes find too much choice stifling. Of course, there are coping mechanisms. For me, purposely not going to places with too many choices usually works. For my former work colleague, simply choosing the first item on the menu worked. What about you? Are you the more choices, the better type – or do you have some default strategy you use when having to choose things? 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona