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


On being … cautiously optimistic

By Ingrid Sapona 

Last Friday Ontario went into Phase 1 of its three-phase plan for lifting Covid-19 restrictions. The phases are tied to health system indicators that include the number of new Covid cases, hospitalization rates, and vaccination rates. The relatively modest easing of restrictions that came with Phase 1 may not seem newsworthy to people in countries where things have been open for awhile. But, it’s big news here because Toronto had the longest lockdown in North America.  

People often ask me what’s going on with the pandemic in Ontario. I’m sure they thought it must be totally out of control, given the restrictions and border closure. We’ve had just under 9,000 deaths here in Ontario, a province of 14 million. (By way of comparison, Illinois has a population of just under 13 million and there have been over 25,000 deaths there.) Many people blame the Province for lifting restrictions too quickly in March, when case numbers were increasing and vaccine shipments to Canada were delayed. But, another reason our lockdown lasted as long as it did is because Ontarians are generally more willing to sacrifice personal freedoms for the collective good. To put it another way, we’re not as accepting of high death rates as people in some jurisdictions are.  

Anyway, Phase 1 means the return of patio dining, with up to four people per table, and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people. In-store shopping is now available in “non-essential retail”, but with a 15% capacity limit. During the most recent lockdown, in-store shopping was only allowed for grocery stores and pharmacies; all other retail was curbside pickup only. Retailers like Walmart, Costco, and dollar stores had to block off all sections except for the grocery and pharmacy aisles. Now we can shop in all the aisles – though there are still capacity limits. Unfortunately, hair dressers aren’t going to re-open till Phase 3, which won’t happen till 80% of Ontarians have one dose and 25% have had both doses.  

On my Friday morning walk there was definitely a different vibe on the street. All the little shops on my usual route had jazzed up their window displays. Signs about curbside pickup had given way to notices about facemasks and capacity limits. Big stacks of chairs and tables suddenly appeared near restaurants, no doubt ready to be set out on the sidewalk by lunchtime.  

The weather on Friday was lovely, so a friend and I decided to meet on a patio for a late lunch. On my way to our rendezvous, I stopped to drop off some clothing and housewares at a Goodwill-type shop that accepts donations. Such shops were completely closed during lock down. I had to laugh when I pulled up and found a lineup of cars, all waiting to donate. Can you say pent up demand? Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who decided to declutter during the lockdown!  

After donating, I noticed a line of people waiting to go into the nearby Winners store (a discount store that’s part of the TJ Maxx chain). Because we’ve had capacity limits on grocery shopping throughout the pandemic, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing lineups. But I was shocked when I realized the line at Winners snaked around the corner. There had to be 50 people waiting! One newspaper commentator assumed the folks lined up at stores were people who chose not to do on-line shopping during the pandemic. I suppose that could have been part of it, but I think many of the folks happily waiting in lines at stores are just eager to be able to browse through items in person.  

Given our northern climate, dining alfresco always feels special. But, after months of eating at home, being served a meal by someone feels absolutely decadent. It also feels mildly virtuous to patronize restaurants again, as they’ve had an especially hard time during the pandemic. At lunch on Friday, I honestly don’t know who had bigger smiles: the restaurant staff or the patrons!  

The past few days there’ve been lots of newspaper stories about how people are feeling as things start to open up. While there’s definite excitement around re-opening, there’s also a palpable sense of trepidation. Many commented that though they’re trying to enjoy the re-opening, they’re wary of what might happen if case counts begin to rise again. Lots of people mentioned that they don’t think they’d be able to cope – emotionally or economically – if we go into another hard lockdown.  

So, as things being re-opening here, I’d characterize the mood as one of cautious optimism. People are hopeful that we’re on the road back to a full reopening, but everyone’s paying close attention to case counts and vaccination rates and hoping they both go in the right direction.  

What about you? As restrictions are eased and things reopen where you are, are you feeling a sense of elation and unbridled optimism? Or are you – like many of us – holding your breath a bit as you begin to reconnect with your old life?  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona