On being … a celebration of home

By Ingrid Sapona

I was visiting some friends who live in the wine region along the north shore of Lake Erie, south of the Windsor/Detroit area. It’s the kind of place where people often give the name of the county, rather than the town where they live, because they figure more people have at least heard of the county. It’s primarily an agricultural area, but it’s got more of a small town feel than a rural feel, if you know what I mean.

One of the highlights of the weekend was a special dinner at Oxley Estate Winery. The formal title was: Oxley Celebrates Home. If you guessed they were doing the locavore thing, you’d be right – but with a few added twists.  It so happens their young chef (Aaron Lynn) is a local kid who went away for culinary training and, after honing his craft working in some fancy restos, he returned to the area last year. Lucky for Oxley Estate and for those who have a chance to eat at the winery.

Not only did each of the five courses feature local ingredients, the chef named the dishes after the local purveyors – a nice touch, I thought. So, for example, we dined on Todd’s Perch (named after Todd, the local commercial fisherman the restaurant buys from), Rick’s Lamb, and Farmer Doug’s apples. But that wasn’t all. Before the meal, the chef introduced all of the local suppliers and asked them to stand so we could honour and recognize them as the people responsible for all the good things we were about to enjoy.

And, the celebration of things local didn’t end with the food. Ann, one of the owners of the winery, introduced the musicians who would be entertaining us. Turns out they too were from the area and when they’re not in town, they’re in Nashville working as backup musicians to some well-known country music stars.

During the dinner I was chatting with a woman sitting next to me. She was a local and so I was asking her a bit about the area. We talked about one of the bigger towns in the county and about how much it’s growing. The town’s population is up to about 21,000, which is pretty big, as towns go. And, like many Ontario towns, there’s a definite centre with some small shops, a few restaurants, a couple banks, and a library. But, the pickings were pretty limited in town. I wondered aloud where people go if they have any kind of serious shopping to do. She laughed and said that these days, she can get pretty much anything on-line. But, if there’s something she can’t order, it’s probably available in Windsor, which is “only about 25 miles away”.

Then I asked about grocery shopping. I had noticed that there are two well-known supermarkets, but I’m used to checking the weekly fliers of at least four major chains before I go grocery shopping. She said she didn’t care that other major grocers weren’t around. “I love shopping at those supermarkets. The people that work there are my neighbors and friends – why would I go anywhere else?” I was really struck by her response.

Later in the conversation, the topic of the refugee crisis came up. She mentioned she’s catholic and she said that in the next few weeks her church would be deciding on whether they will take in a refugee family, as the Pope has suggested. She said she’s going to push hard for them to do so.

I hadn’t heard about the Pope’s suggestion that every parish should sponsor one family, but it struck me as being in line with something else I read the Pope said about the current wave of refugees. He urged people to not see the crisis as involving hundreds of thousands because it’s just too overwhelming. Instead, we should respond to them as individual people – just one at a time. Though it’s such a simple idea, it’s about the most concrete, constructive idea I’ve heard from any leader about how to deal with the situation. I smiled at the idea of some refugee family settling down there and eventually calling themselves locals.

After dinner, I was thinking about how the theme of the evening could just as easily have been “the joy of human interaction”. Living in the city has its conveniences, opportunities, and even independence. But, if you’re not careful, city life can also bring with it a loss of connectedness. Fortunately, the condition isn’t irreversible. My weekend in the country reminded me that the best way to feel connected again is to celebrate what each individual brings to your life. If you do that, I think you’ll feel at home wherever you are.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … truly majestic

By Ingrid Sapona

Every now and then, this column is about a milestone of some sort. Usually the milestone involves me or someone in my immediate family. Today, however, I’m writing about one that has nothing to do with me or my family – and yet it has captured my attention to a degree that, frankly, I can’t help but write about it. The milestone I’m talking about is the fact that Queen Elizabeth is now Britain’s oldest serving monarch. This past week she surpassed Queen Victoria who reigned for 63 years and 216 days.

I’m not what you’d call a monarchist. (I realize that’s not a term that comes up much in the States. Trust me, here in Canada it does.) I don’t really care one way or the other whether the queen is officially Canada’s head of state or not. To me it’s just a fact – much like the fact that Toronto is on the shore of Lake Ontario. Indeed, most of what has me so in awe doesn’t really have much to do with her as queen – it’s more about the qualities of her as an individual.

First of all, I can’t imagine doing any job for 63 years, much less one you didn’t choose. Of course, I understand she’s got the ultimate job security – but it’s not about her ability to hold on to a job. It’s about her being willing to do it for so long. I suppose, like any job, some aspects of it have evolved a bit over time, but probably not as much as most jobs. And, there’s absolutely no room for her to reinvent herself, as so many of us want to do – if not at mid-life, then in retirement.

It seems that whenever people talk about the fact that she’s been on the throne so long they simply chalk it up to her sense of duty. But where does that sense of duty come from? And, how remarkable that she would put duty above all else – from a very young age and for so very long. Her uncle Edward, after all, wasn’t willing to put duty first. I’m not sure many of us would. In a world where we’re taught we can have it all, to the extent we have a sense of duty, it usually is just one among many factors influencing our actions.

The other thing that I find particularly remarkable is how she keeps her thoughts, opinions, and moods to herself. Despite her title, she is human and so she must have opinions about people and events. She also must have days when she’s irritated or grumpy about something. You’d think that in more than 60 years of being in the public eye, someone would have reported seeing her in a bad mood or heard her say something disparaging about someone or something. Hell, in the digital era, it’s even more surprising that there’s no photo or tape of her saying or doing anything that might raise an eyebrow. (The same cannot be said of her children and grandchildren, that’s for sure!)

Mind you, not everyone finds it admirable that the queen keeps her opinions to herself. One commentator I heard this week criticised the queen as being a bad role model for girls because the behaviour she models is simply to show up and keep your mouth shut. Hmmm… I don’t really see it that way. I see her as behaving with dignity and aplomb in whatever situation she’s in. Those are qualities I think are worth emulating, regardless of gender.

It’s so easy to see the queen as being some figure from a fairy tale, rather than as a real person. And, though as a little girl I may have fantasized about being a princess – and maybe even a queen – somewhere along the way I got over that. Now I see her title, and even her wealth and status, more as a burden than benefit and I wouldn’t change places with her for anything.

Just think about how much the world has changed in the 63 years she’s been on the throne. She has had to strike a balance between the need to uphold traditions of the monarchy with the need to ensure it evolves to fit the times. If you think you have a hard time coping with the pace of change in today’s world, imagine how much harder it would be if you bore the weight of hundreds of years of history on your shoulder. 

Though I have nothing in common with the queen in terms of her lifestyle or stature, I admire her immensely. To me she exemplifies equanimity, graciousness, and steadfastness – qualities that I think we could all use more of.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona