On being … out of your comfort zone

By Ingrid Sapona

Earlier this month my sister Sonia marked a milestone birthday. As part of the celebrations, Sonia, Regina (my other sister), and I took a two day cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America (affectionately referred to as the CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.

Originally the plan was for the three of us to meet in Ottawa and for Sonia and me to take a one-day class at Le Cordon Bleu (Ottawa). Both Sonia and I love to cook. Regina does not. In fact, she often jokes that she was not born with the cooking gene.

When none of the classes at Le Cordon Bleu interested us, I looked into classes at the CIA. When I read about their two day basic skills boot camp, I thought it’d be fun if the three of us took it. Regina said she’d be happy to go to Hyde Park with us, but she didn’t want to take the class.

But, as is often the case with her, after I planted the seed of the idea, she did some research. She read about the CIA and about things to see and do in Hyde Park (FDR’s home and presidential library, for example), and she even found a lovely inn. Within a few days she had come around. Soon after that she booked the inn and, though I knew she had some reservations, she registered all three of us for the boot camp.

Before the trip there were hints that her anxiety level was ratcheting up. For example, when we received the schedule from the CIA, she pointed out that each day ends with a critique, which she was sure was going to involve Chef commenting on her cooking skills. I laughed and said I thought the critique would involve us talking about how we felt working through the different recipes. She didn’t find this idea comforting, however, because she didn’t think she’d have anything to contribute to such a discussion.

Also, she mentioned she told her boss (an avid cook) about the course and he suggested she focus on learning one thing she can teach him. I thought this was a brilliant idea – a great way to keep her mind off her self-described cooking disability. Unfortunately, the way she was taking notes during the initial lecture, it was clear his assignment only added to her stress.

On day one, the first order of business was changing into chef’s uniforms. We laughed in the ladies room as we took pictures of the sister chefs. Then we had a campus tour and a formal lunch. During lunch, Sonia’s and my excitement grew. Regina was markedly quieter. I took a picture of her and we joked that it was the last time for the next two days that she’d look relaxed. Little did I know how true that was.

After lunch Chef briefly lectured us on basic knife skills (for example, the difference between a fine chop, a mince, and a julienne) and terminology, like Mise en Place (basically setting out all the ingredients needed before you start cooking). He then divided us into teams – Regina and I were on Team Three – and assigned us our recipes for the day.

After a quick orientation to the kitchen’s layout, we went to our stations and basically began. We divided the recipes among the team members and each set to work. Next thing I know, Regina put down her knife and I notice a bit of blood on her finger. It wasn’t a particularly bad cut, but I insisted we get her a band aid. (We had been shown where the first aid kit was!) Though she joked about being the first casualty of the day, I could tell she was upset.

A little while later I went to see how she was doing and she was practically in tears. I asked her what was wrong and she just shook her head. When I pressed her further, she said she was so far out of her comfort zone that she hated it and she intimated that she didn’t think she’d return for day two. When she added that she wished Chef had explained things a bit more, I made it my mission to get him to help her and (I hope) reassure her.

I felt terrible that she was having such a horrible time, especially since the course was my idea in the first place. Though I couldn’t relate to why she felt stressed by this particular experience, I certainly know how it feels to be even a wee bit out of your comfort zone – let alone WAY out of it. So, if she had chosen not to go back for day two, I certainly would have understood. In the end, she decided to return the next day, and I think it went better for her. The fact she was all smiles when she received her Certificate of Completion from Chef was nice to see, but I suspect it was more a sign of relief than true happiness.

On our way home the three of us were talking about the experience. It was important to me that Regina know how impressed I was with her willingness to join us in the first place. I also admitted that, going into it, I hadn’t really realized how big a stretch it was for her. She sort of shrugged off the intended compliment and said, “Well, I just figured if there was something I really wanted to try you guys would do it for me, right?”

Well, it turns out Sonia and I aren’t quite as open to the possibilities as Regina! In unison we responded, “What, are you kidding? It totally depends on what it is!”

Hey – what can I say? There are comfort zones and there are comfort zones… Indeed, it seems the older I get, the less willing I am to venture beyond my comfort zone. That said, given what a terrific role model Regina’s been, I’d like to think that for her, I’d try…

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a problem?

By Ingrid Sapona

Recently I was leafing through a catalogue at a friend’s house. It was for an American company I had never heard of. From the cover photo, it looked like it was from a ladies’ clothing company, but the company’s name sounded more like it had to do with home furnishings.

Turns out the company sells women’s clothing, accessories, and home furnishings. Seems an odd combination to me, but apparently there’s a “common denominator” to their products. The underlying theme of the store is softness. Virtually all items in the catalogue had a softness rating of from one (“so soft”) to three (“ultimate softness”). The only items that weren’t rated were the shoes and cosmetics.

As I turned the pages, one heading really caught my eye: Good-bye vertical lip lines! My first thought was, “what the heck are vertical lip lines?” Lucky for me, toward the bottom of the description of the (miracle) product was a before and after close-up of lips.

Well, sure enough, I saw what vertical lip lines are. But wait, I thought… “Wouldn’t a little Botox take care of that?” Clearly I’m pulling your leg… I couldn’t help wonder who is concerned about vertical lip lines – and who is shelling out $49 for 0.5 fl. oz. of cream to combat them?

Then, a few weeks later came word of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a new drug called Kybella. You probably heard the news about this miracle (or maybe just the angels’ trumpets heralding the news) – it’s a non-surgical way of getting rid of double chins. I know what you’re thinking: FINALLY!

But before you get too excited about this “double chin melter”, as some have described it, the treatment is not (pardon the pun) a one-shot deal. It involves monthly injections over six months. Mind you, it’s not one injection a month for six months – it’s multiple injections each month. One physician on CBS News said it could be as many as 50 injections in a month. And of course, as we all know from having heard the innocuous voice overs on various commercials for different prescription medications, there could be side effects (like difficulty swallowing, but never mind).

Besides the fact that I never considered having a double chin a “condition”, as one physician described it in an article about the treatment, I couldn’t help wonder if the scientific brain power and research (not to mention money) that went into coming up with this drug couldn’t have been better employed. Aren’t there diseases or illnesses those scientists could have been working on curing?

I know, in years to come, researchers will probably apply something learned from how Kybella works to some other treatment that is, shall we say, more medically necessary. But still, at this point, the idea of medical research and dollars going to melting double chins seems unreal to me.

I got quite bothered by the idea of both these products. I find it truly ridiculous that vertical lip lines and double chins are even considered a problem than anyone cares about, much less thinks they need to correct. I just can’t imagine who would pay for a cream to cure or hide lip lines, much less go through an arduous medical procedure to get rid of a double chin.

The more I thought about these products, the angrier I felt because it really seems to come down to the idea of how we define beauty and the lengths people go to fit into that definition. But then I realized it’s not just a societal obsession with beauty – there’s a healthy dose of vanity involved if you’re worried about such things.

Maybe for some readers, vanity’s role in all this was the first thing to come to mind. Honestly, it wasn’t mine because, to me, vertical lip lines and double chins always just seemed a natural part of aging – rather like crow’s-feet and gray hair. Hmm… grey hair… You know, I don’t have any. It’s true… I wash mine away about every six weeks. In fact, I spent some time doing just that this morning before I sat down to work on this column.

Alright, alright… now that I’ve come down off my high horse and thought more about these products, I understand that problems (especially those that fall squarely within the definition of “first world problems”) are – like beauty – in the eye of the beholder.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona