The voice of Baby Boomers from a woman's perspective


P.O.’d about HOV?

Dear Kathleen Wynne:

There is a better way.

There is a better way.

Wipe that smile off your face and don’t you even think about turning the current HOV lanes into toll lanes! Sure, the HOV lanes appeared to have worked reasonably well during the PanAm Games. That’s because:

  1. Half the population is on vacation in July.
  2. The rest of us boiled in our cars sitting in stop-and-go traffic in the remaining lanes.
  3. Seventy percent of the users of the HOV lanes had only one occupant in the car and got away with it.
  4. Law breakers are rewarded for using the HOV lanes by arriving at their destinations ahead of the law-abiding citizens who sweated it out in the other lanes.
Why reward guys like this?

Why reward guys like this?

Let me make it clear up front that I am a huge fan of toll roads. When Highway 407 was conceived and built we all knew and understood the rules. It was user pay and we accepted that. The fact that the toll fees are usurious is another issue. Extracting tolls for highways and lanes already built and paid for by earlier taxpayers is just wrong and shameful. I realize you need revenue to improve transportation in the GTA but if you spent more tax money helping Toronto build a larger subway system we wouldn’t have to rely on our air-polluting, road-hogging cars so much.

My biggest source of irritation concerning the use of HOV lanes during the PanAm and ParaPan Games was the fact that most of the users of the designated lanes were illegal sole-occupant vehicles who blew by me in guileful abandon while I obeyed the law and sat in the slow lanes.

Get outa' the HOV lane, jerkface.

Hey  jerkface! Get outa’ the HOV lane.

Here’s an idea. Why not set up cameras along the HOV lanes, similar to the ones used at intersections to catch red-light runners, and fine drivers who ignore the occupancy rules and have only one person in the vehicle. The computer technology currently used to capture license plate numbers for non-transponder-using 407 drivers could be used. It’s not hard to spot the number of drivers through the front windshield. You’d probably raise more revenue doing that, than by punishing average taxpayers who cannot afford a premium for the privilege of using lanes they’ve already paid for in their taxes. Then, use that revenue to build more subways. Reward those who obey the law; penalize those who do not. When will our elected officials start using their brains and tax dollars for the betterment of all taxpayers not just for the elite and not for lawbreakers.


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The best investment I never made

It all started with The Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, sixty years ago.

It all started sixty years ago with The Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. I’ve been hooked ever since.

If you’re a voracious reader like I am, the cost of books can quickly land you in the poorhouse. At a cost of around twenty-five dollars for a hard-cover edition and slightly less for a trade paperback, it adds up. Combine that with the challenge of storing that vast inventory of hard-copy books in your already-jam-packed home and you have a dual dilemma. The solution is as simple as something called a library card—and it’s free. Library cards have been part of my life since I was very young but in the years when I was working there was little time to read for fun, much less actually get to the library.

After giving away several Rubbermaid bins of books (some of which I’d never read or only half-read) I decided to take advantage of technology and join the twenty-first century. When I retired, circumstances and technology combined to provide me with the means to read as much as I liked, which is considerable. At first I purchased books on-line or at the store, or borrowed from friends. Then, public libraries figured out how to offer books and magazines on-line and that’s when I hit the jackpot. If I don’t have at least one book on the go, I’m like a junkie in need of a fix. Having gone through various types of digital reading devices ( see To “e” or not to “e” . . . that is the question) I currently rely on three—my old basic Kindle, my inexpensive little Kobo and my iPad.

Book publishing is a complex and evolving business. I still have a problem paying $14.99 to purchase a digital copy of a book but at the same time I want the authors to be appropriately compensated for their work. Public libraries are struggling with their own issues around publishing rights. Until recently I didn’t realize they pay upwards of one hundred and fifty dollars for just one digital copy of a book. At several times the cost of a hard copy, this is a financial hardship for the publicly funded libraries and is a point of contention between publishers and public libraries. While on-line book sales offer greater opportunities for exposure of books, authors are making less than ever and very few can actually make a living writing books. But that’s an issue the publishers, authors and vendors will have to sort out.

Borrowing e-books works just like the regular kind. You can search on-line by title, author, genre or topic, and if it’s available then download it or read it through your browser. If it’s out on loan already, you can add your name to the waiting list and when it becomes available you receive an e-mail advising it’s ready to download, then, bingo, five seconds later it’s on your reading device. And I don’t even have to leave the comfort of my LaZGirl. What could be better!

I'm pretty sure this is what heaven looks like.

I’m pretty sure this is what heaven looks like.

Whatever medium I have in my hand, whether digital or hard-copy, I’m never happier than when I’m engrossed in a good book, traveling in my mind to different countries, different centuries and experiencing a variety of adventures through the eyes of fascinating characters. And, I suspect the chief book-picker at the library reads the weekly Globe and Mail book reviews because whenever I see something reviewed that I want to read, within days it’s available on-line through my local library. If you’re not already a member of your local library and you love to read, get your fanny moving and sign up for a library card. It’s free and will be the best investment you’ll never make.

book coverFor further insights into the Boomer perspective on business, fashion, mind and body, book and movie reviews, order my book, BOOMERBROADcast. It makes a great hostess or birthday gift as well as just a fun read.

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BOOMERBROADcast reader goes postal

Today I’m turning over my platform for a guest rant from Keith, a regular follower of BOOMERBROADcast. Here’s what he had to say:

postal2Canada Post is fading away. Not because people don’t want them or because the price of stamps is too high. No! It’s because Canada Post employees don’t give a damn! To get a letter from Burlington to Guelph, a forty-five minute drive, takes ten days.

Christmas cards arrive years late and packages disappear. Never mind the wrong mail in our boxes daily because nobody bothers to read the address. And who do you talk to? Nobody who cares that’s for sure. I think we should tie their salaries and pensions to performance. If they cared about what they do people would care as well and support them more. The more they go on strike the worse the service gets. For snowbirds to get mail forwarded from seasonal homes in the United States to Canada is FREE. To get mail re-directed the other way costs a bomb. And even when it’s set up and paid for Canada Post cannot seem to get the dates correct.

Is there a better way?

Is there a better way?

Unions were originally created to bring fairness to the workers in return for a superior quality product.  Today,  the more they demand the lower the quality and productivity in return.  Union leadership needs to partner with management to improve the quality of their workers and the service to their customers or they will disappear like the Dodo.

Is Keith on to something or is he being unfair to postal workers and Canada Post? Feedback and comments are welcome. We’d love to know what you think about this issue. Click on Comments below the heading at the top of this posting. Looking forward to your feedback.


Trainwreck is LOL

trainwreckAmy Schumer is right on track with her new movie Trainwreck. Unfortunately I missed the first fifteen minutes of the movie because I walked into Theatre 3 which started earlier than Theatre 6, where I should have been. Old ladies are prone to these bouts of confusion. I’ve been watching her Tuesday night show on the Comedy Channel and love her humour.

Trainwreck is a semi-autobiographical satire of Schumer’s own dating experiences. She’s not shy about broadcasting her shortcomings and flaws and I love her for that. She has a gorgeous, natural figure that would be unfairly characterized as fat in certain fashion circles. Her boobs are her own; her teeth are her own; she carries herself with wonderful confidence; the humour is particularly caustic when delivered by a woman with the face of an eight-year-old.

As a writer for a superficial men’s mag, she’s sent out to interview a sports doctor played by Bill Hader who’s famous for treating professional athletes. One of his high-profile patients, played brilliantly by NBA star Lebron James steals the show in many of the scenes. In a brilliant riff on role reversal, James queries the doc about his feelings and intentions concerning his relationship with Schumer. And when the doc actually calls her the day after their first intimate encounter, saying he enjoyed their evening and suggests getting together again, Schumer and her girlfriend are shocked and confused by this out-of-character male behaviour.

Much of Schumer’s humour (sorry about the alliteration) is so subtle and discreet you have to keep your ears peeled or you’ll miss it. She nails social behaviours and the angst of relationships brilliantly. I was a bit disconcerted towards the end when the plot got all predictable and dreamy but was rewarded with a great finale. Go see it. And make sure you catch the whole thing.

P.S. For an even more insightful take on Trainwreck as a postfeminist piece, be sure to read Margaret Wente’s review in The Globe and Mail. She says it far better than I ever could. That’s why she has a regular award-winning column in the newspaper and I don’t.


The day the knowledge died

When I dropped Latin to take typing in high school, we were trained to type with both feet flat on the floor. To this day, if I cross my legs at the ankles when I'm "keyboarding", it scrambles my brain.

When I dropped Latin to take typing in high school, we were trained to type with both feet flat on the floor. To this day, if I cross my legs at the ankles when I’m “keyboarding”, it scrambles my brain.

When Baby Boomers pass from this world, a large chunk of knowledge unique to our generation will die with us. We represent the last generation who still knows what carbon paper was for, what it felt like and how to make it last longer. We are the last generation who learned to type on a manual typewriter—we still bang away on our feather touch computer keyboards with the strength and force of Serena Williams. And what about Pitman shorthand for taking dictation from the boss at work? Or its more technologically advanced replacement, dictaphones?

Today we can’t imagine life without smart phones, Skype, the internet, high-tech washers/dryers and other marvels of recent years. But some of the things Boomers grew up with are now ancient history. I was reminded of the inevitable obsolescence of many things when my Dad told me the other day about trying to pay for a pair of shoes in a store with a cheque and had asked the clerk to fill in the correct amount, including tax. To his shock (and mine as well), the twenty-something clerk had never written a cheque and didn’t know how to complete it.

Here are a few more things Boomers grew up with that subsequent generations will never experience:

  • What modern woman wouldn't be thrilled to have one of these babies. It sure beat hand washing with a scrub board.

    What modern woman wouldn’t be thrilled to have one of these babies. It sure beat hand washing with a washboard.

    Wringer washers. The water from the first load of whites is the same water used for work shirts, towels, underwear and finally, darks. Because many of us grew up before the advent of clothes dryers, everything was hung on the line, either outside or inside. Remember “dampening” everything with a Pepsi bottle filled with water and a sprinkler corked in the top? Then, all the dampened clothes were wrapped in towels and kept until they were ready to iron. And everything required ironing when there were no dryers—towels, underwear, socks, pyjamas, or they’d be hopelessly wrinkled and stiff.

  • Nylons. Before pantyhose we all wore garter belts over our underwear. In elementary school, we wore dirt-brown, navy or gray long stockings in winter, graduating to nylons in high school. Skirts and dresses were mandatory for school attendance which meant stockings and garter belts were a daily necessity for years. By the time we started work we were all wearing panty-girdles to attach our nylons.
  • Sanitary belts. Who doesn’t remember the thrill of receiving her first sanitary belt and box of Kotex? Before adhesive panty-liners, we wore slabs of cotton attached front and back by a tab of fabric to a thin elastic belt around our waists.
  • This is why we all had wood piles and coal bins.

    This is why we all had wood piles and coal bins. Dads were the only ones qualified to operate them.

    Coal/wood furnaces. I always get a kick out of the scene from A Christmas Story where Ralphie’s father (played by Darren McGavin) struggles with the chain-operated drafts for the furnace to avoid a house full of smoke. Those furnaces were like a giant octopus taking up half the cellar. Every October we’d carry cords of hardwood down a few stairs in a trap door at the side of the house leading to the cellar. When coal was delivered it was dropped from the truck down a chute through the single cellar window to the coal bin. One time the driver forgot to water down the coal before he dumped it and everything in our entire house was filled with a thin layer of black coal dust and my mother had to clean every inch of the house and its contents. Dad would feed the furnace every night and that kept us warm most of the night. Fortunately, he was the first one up in the freezing morning to light a new fire and start the whole cycle again. We were thrilled when we got an oil furnace in the late fifties. No more wood to haul.

  • Diapers. I wrote about this in an earlier blog (Diapers – there is a better way). They were large square panels of cotton or flannel folded to fit baby bottoms and required endless washing and folding. Families were also larger when Boomers were growing up so diapers were a constant sight on clothes lines in every neighbourhood.
  • I combined two patterns to get the chic custom design I wanted to make my wedding dress - the first one.

    Remember these? I combined two patterns to get the chic custom design I wanted to make my wedding dress – for my first wedding, that is.

    Darning, mending, sewing. No one darns socks these days. We’re a society of disposable clothing; when one sock gets a hole, the pair gets tossed. In the sixties when Boomer gals were leaving home and starting work, many of us made our own clothes. Simplicity or McCall’s patterns were the inspiration for our latest fashions, made with the sewing skills we learned in all those hated Home Economics classes in high school. The A-line mini dresses of the sixties were easy to run up on our Singer machines and cost a fraction of store-bought dresses. Skirts took only one yard of material, a button and a zipper which was a deal.

  • Handwritten letters, love letters. These were good mail. Many of our parents had bundles of love letters written from overseas when Dads were gone, often for four years without a visit home. Hand-written letters took time and were cherished, often kept in decorative boxes or tied together with ribbons. Grandmothers, aunts, friends and acquaintances regularly wrote letters bringing us up to date on the goings-on in their daily lives.
  • Paper drinking straws. They usually managed to disintegrate before we finished our Cherry Coke but you could tear an inch off the top or turn it upside down and get a fresh start.
  • milkmanDaily milk delivery. The number of bottles left on our side porch usually indicated how many bottles of milk we needed that day, unless a hand-written note advised otherwise. Money was dropped into the empty bottle and any change would be left on top of the cardboard cap of the new bottle. Before homogenized milk became common, the cream would rise to the top and in the winter the milk would freeze and expand, pushing the cap off. Wandering neighbourhood cats loved it when this happened and they could lick rich cream to their hearts’ content. Interestingly, the money was never stolen from our milk bottles and we lived across from a high school.
  • If only the results had been this good.

    If only the results had been this good.

    Home perms. Who doesn’t remember sitting at the kitchen table while her mother or a neighbour wound tight little curlers into our hair before soaking it in burning chemicals that often left scabs on our scalps. The result was a beautiful head of frizzy, untameable curls. And it was recommended we not wash our hair for a week after getting a new perm to help it “take”. Richard Hudnut and Tip-Toni are two names that still cause my nostrils to burn and contract just thinking about them.

  • One-hundred percent white cotton bras. Imagine encasing your girls today in scratchy, unforgiving (no elastic) stitched cotton cones that required ironing. Thank goodness we’ve come a long way in that department baby, but bras still haven’t been perfected, i.e. one-hundred percent comfort.

Most of this lost knowledge is best forgotten having been replaced by far better technologies. But not entirely. I still love hanging clothes outside on a line to dry or receiving a hand-written note in the mail from someone. While life is now simpler and easier in so many ways, progress has also come at a price. Work is no longer a nine-to-five endeavour. With e-mail, texting and other media, we’re now on call 24/7/365. There are people who still maintain that the sound from vinyl records is superior to digital—providing they can find a baby boomer who still owns and knows how to operate a turntable.  As everyone knows, the music of the fifties and sixties was the best ever—The Beatles, Buddy Holly, The Stones, Peter and Gordon, Marvin Gaye, Dusty Springfield, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan—and the beat goes on  . . .



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Understanding Stalin’s Daughter

stalin3Wow! What a book. Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan combines three things I love to read about—women’s lives, history and Russia. The book was heavy in detail as it follows the life of Svetlana Stalin over eighty-five years. True to the prediction of a palm-reader, her life was divided into three parts: her early years under her Father’s rule; her years as a young woman and mother, and her final years as a nomad following her defection to the United States in 1967.

Svetlana had some idea of her father’s power while she was growing up but it wasn’t until she got older that she realized the true degree of the horrors he had inflicted on his fellow Russians. Millions were executed or disappeared into gulags in Siberia on his orders, including members of his own and his wife’s family. Like many dictators, he was obsessively distrustful of everyone around him, assuming they were plotting his downfall or threatening the pursuit of communism. Born to an unaffectionate mother and a brute of a father, Sveltlana grew up in an atmosphere devoid of warmth and affection from anyone other than her nanny who shared her life for thirty years. Her mother committed suicide when Svetlana was only six years old and the truth was withheld from her until she was nineteen. Her aunts, her mother’s sisters, cousins and other family members were eventually all arrested and imprisoned under Stalin’s orders, often spending years in solitary confinement.

While she seemingly lived the life of a princess in the Kremlin, it was not easy. Her father was a mean, insulting bully who would drag his sleeping young daughter from her bed in her pyjamas at night and force her to dance on the table for the entertainment of his drunken, smoking cronies. As she became a teenager and young woman, he grew increasingly impatient and angry with her during their rare meetings. As an intelligent and challenging individual, Svetlana defied her father and married twice at a young age, producing a son Joseph from her first short-lived marriage and a daughter Katya from her second.

Svetlana's defection to the United States in 1967 was a major international incident.

Svetlana’s defection to the United States in 1967 attracted international attention with both the U.S. and Russia trying to put their own political spin on the event.

On an officially approved and chaperoned trip to India in 1967 to deliver the ashes of her dead common-law Indian husband, Svetlana made what seems to be an impulsive decision to defect. Her original hope to stay in India was politically impossible, so she gathered her little suitcase and walked into the American Embassy after hours, showed her passport indicating who she was and set in motion a series of keystone cops-style events that resulted in her being transported to the United States via Italy, accompanied by an American diplomat. She hoped to find a publisher for a book she had written and use the proceeds to support herself.

By this time, she had reverted to her mother’s maiden name, Alliluyev, in an unsuccessful attempt to distance herself from the sins of her father. She had numerous affairs before and after leaving Russia and not long after arriving in the United States, she fell prey to the avaricious schemes of Olgivanna Wright, widow of the late Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright operated a commune-like complex called Teliesin in Arizona and another in Wisconsin where students and followers of Wright’s strange personal doctrine lived and studied. By romantically matching the vulnerable Svetlana with her principal disciple, Wesley Peters, Wright and Peters were successful in relieving Svetlana of her entire fortune earned from her book deals.

As Lana Peters, she gave birth to her younger daughter, Olga at the age of forty-five.

As Lana Peters, she gave birth to her second daughter, Olga at the age of forty-five. Two grown children from earlier marriages remained in Russia.

A psychiatrist would have a field day analysing the actions and reactions of Svetlana Alliluyev over the course of her lifetime. She was incredibly needy and always in search of the love of a man to “complete her”. Realizing this fatal flaw in her character, she admitted, “All my life I was used to idealize and romanticize a man I loved, and it always took me a long and painful time to be able to see a man as he really is.” Sadly, while her marriage to Peters was brief, the union gave the forty-five-year old Svetlana, who now went by the name Lana Peters, a daughter Olga who eventually became her entire raison-d’être.

Life for Lana Peters was a series of extreme highs and lows. She was a gypsy who, with her young daughter in tow constantly moved homes, states and even countries in search of happiness and fulfillment. As an intelligent and educated woman (she earned her Masters’ Degree and had taught at the University of Moscow), she was constantly sabotaged by her own mercurial personality and the interference of those surrounding her. The author accurately characterizes her as having two modes: abject submission and total rebellion. Having never learned basic interpersonal skills as a child, she was always vulnerable to questionable influences. Unable to ever really understand the concept of or the ability to manage money, Svetlana spent the last half of her life in near-poverty, ultimately living in charity or government-provided accommodations in England and the United States.

The material for Stalin’s Daughter was painstakingly researched and documented in this book. Some readers may find it too detailed but I loved every page. Combined with the limited amount of reading I’ve done on Russian history and its people, it left me wanting more. As a woman, Svetlana was intelligent, educated, complex and totally unprepared for life outside what she had known in Russia. Her inside take on the various Russian leaders up to and including Putin was enlightening and provides a rare perspective on their individual characters. The author took pains to remain objective in her descriptions of the various layers that made up Svetlana Stalin. It was a fascinating read.

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How many is too many?

Deconstructing "the look". French women make it look so easy. If I piled on all these items I look like the Michelin woman.

Deconstructing “the look” which comes so easily for French women.  If I piled on all these items I’d look like the Michelin man in drag.

It’s those sly French women who are responsible for my latest wardrobe folly. Watching them dash about the streets of Paris wearing simple basics with a gorgeous scarf lufting in the breeze, classic, art-inspired jewelry and an expensive leather cross-body bag, I imagined I could also achieve that air of je ne sais quois. All I had to do was buy good pants, tops and jackets in neutral black, white or gray, throw on a marvelous scarf and I too would be elevated to their level of chic sang-froid.

So I got to work. While my intentions were good, I’ve gone a bit overboard in stocking my wardrobe with basic black and white. Any modern woman will totally understand that we need more than one pair of black pants but how many is too many? The same issue applies to white tops—and black tops too for that matter. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many I have but Boomer Broads will understand how we need long-sleeved blouses, short-sleeved, three-quarters sleeves and sleeveless because our needs vary depending on the occasion and the weather. And this includes tee-shirts as well.

That's what I need - a separate room just for scarves.

That’s what I need – a separate room just for scarves.

What about those colourful scarves guaranteed to ensure my passage into French chic-dom? I now have too many and have not yet found a suitable filing system for them. I’ve tried draping them over hangers, clipping them on laundry rings, stuffing them through special from-the-organizer-store looped hangers and rolling them in drawers. The result is a big fat jumble of anxiety-inducing fabric lumps jammed into my front hall closet. They’re neither inspiring nor anywhere close to delivering the flair and joie de vivre I was hoping to project when I wore them with my exploding inventory of “basics”.

A typically Canadian take on scarf chic.

A typically Canadian take on scarf chic.

My pathological lack of je ne sais quois means I’ll never achieve that French level of chic. I’m a small-town Canuck of a certain age who keeps deferring to my favourite pair of NYD jeans, my comfy FitFlops™ and whatever tee-shirt or blouse happens to be at the front of the line in my closet. In Canada, scarfs are for keeping us warm. Pants are for keeping us warm. Blouses and tee-shirts are for keeping us warm—or cool if we’re menopausal. If the moon and stars are properly aligned and the wardrobe pieces all click, it’s a bonus.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. Somewhere out there is that perfect top and scarf that will deliver me into the realm of Frenchness I desire. It’s as simple as black and white. But first, I have to start smoking, lose thirty pounds, grow my hair long and wear five-inch stiletto’s every day. And we all know what the chances of that are. C’est la vie, ma cherie.

In my dreams . . .

In my dreams . . .





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