Baby Boomer's reflections on the journey from living life in THE sixties to living life in OUR sixties.

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Boomers will relate to The Intern

intern4If you’re a fan of movies with multiple earth-shattering explosions, alien attackers, juicy sex scenes or heart-stopping car chases, then The Intern is not your kind of movie. The fact that it was relatable by our demographic was just one reason to go see The Intern starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway. The other is obviously the popcorn and Diet Coke which is at least half the reason for going to the movies. When a seventy-year-old widower played by DeNiro becomes bored doing all the usual activities associated with retirement, he decides a return to the working world might energize him. He lands a job as personal assistant to the young, female C.E.O. of an upstart and rapidly growing e-com fashion business.

The plotline of The Intern is fairly predictable. Wise retired old guy embedded into crazy off-the-wall dot-com world of young millennials. Both sides learn valuable lessons from the other while experiencing ups and downs of life. Throw in some good visual gags, a bit of thoughtful dialogue and a pinch of humour and you have a worthwhile movie. The writing could have been better and I think they missed some opportunities for more humorous insights into the realities and challenges of being both retired and being young and upcoming. Producer Nancy Myers accomplished this in her earlier movie, It’s Complicated with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Hathaway and DeNiro were excellent in fairly undemanding roles. He’s believable in an understated sexy retired guy kind of way and she’s mighty fine to look at whether you’re a man or a woman. While I doubt it’ll win any Oscars, it’s worth the trip to your local theatre if you like uncomplicated entertainment.



Am I the only dirty old lady left?

The other day I was walking through Square One Shopping Mall in Mississauga admiring the cute denim-clad backsides of three young construction workers in hard hats walking ahead of me. I’ve always had a weakness for construction workers and there’s something particularly sweet about nice tight male bums framed in leather tool belts. Then, with the precision and synchronization of a military marching band, all three heads instantly snapped to the right when a twenty-something girl wearing very snug white shorts and a sparkly tight pink tank top went strutting by on firm, tanned legs. Their reaction made my day; put a huge smile on my face. Political correctness aside, their spontaneous reaction was a joy to witness.

Nice tool belt, mister!

Nice tools!

Once upon a time, I too could possibly generate a similar reaction from construction workers. While many feminists (myself included) have derided young men for making kissy sounds or whistling as you walked by a construction site, on some level it felt flattering to be appreciated, albeit superficially. I miss those days. I clearly remember that hot July lunch hour in 1968 getting my ass grabbed in my mini-dress at the corner of Bay Street and Temperance (ironic, eh!) in Toronto. My reaction at the time was shock and indignation and I don’t condone such behaviour, but truth be told, I now regularly carry out an old lady visual reenactment of the same thing almost every day in my own version of reverse sexism.

My sixty-eight-year-old brain hasn’t quite computed that I’m no longer in the game—except in Florida where I’m still considered jail-bait. It’s like appreciating a beautiful sunset or a yummy pair of python stilettos (that I can no longer wear) on display in a store window. The appetite for beautiful things never diminishes. So, all those cute young guys in snug jeans or the junior stock traders in perfectly tailored business suits walking Bay Street at lunch time, watch out for this little old lady from Miss-iss-auga. There’s an entire generation of admirers who like what we see and we’re definitely thinking politically incorrect thoughts. You’re on our radar so walk proud. Some day you’ll be wearing mom or dad jeans just like us, so enjoy it while you can.




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The dichotomy of whether to veil or not to veil

Does this look say "I'm modest" or "I'm alluring"?

Does this look say “I’m modest”, or “I’m alluring”?

The current kerfuffle about Zunera Ishaq’s quest to take her oath of citizenship while wearing a niqab has me totally confused. On one hand, as a liberal-thinking Canadian, I’m trying to be inclusive and say what harm can it do? On the other hand, I’m questioning the deeper motives and merits of her position. We’ve all read copious newspaper articles and columns both pro and con and it’s difficult to judge what is truly right or wrong. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the best solution is to let Ishaq identify herself privately without the veil before taking her oath and let’s get on with the business of being Canadian.

My bigger concern here is the validity of the motive for wearing the niqab. Islam does not require it of all women. It’s a cultural choice on the spectrum of Muslim interpretations of modesty. Not all Muslim women choose to wear the niqab. Mennonites have a similar approach to lifestyle issues such as whether to drive a motor vehicle or merely be a passenger; to wear traditional prairie dresses or more contemporary clothing.  Hasidic Jewish women cover their heads with a wig while less orthodox women do not. We have no right to dictate the dress code one way or another.

Zunera Ishaq insists on her right to modesty despite wearing sparkly clothing and vibrant prints.

Zunera Ishaq insists on her right to modesty despite wearing sparkly clothing and vibrant prints.

Ishaq has chosen to push the point for wearing the niqab during her citizenship swearing-in but I question her true position on modesty. She displays an obvious preference for presenting herself attractively, perhaps even provocatively for her culture. Rather than wearing a boring, understated black niqab, Ishaq has consistently appeared in brightly-coloured outfits with coordinating niqab. In the first press photos, she was attired in a bubblegum pink jilbab with complimentary niqab in pink and purple plaid. Her eyes are artfully outlined in kohl, with skillful use of smokey eye shadow and brows perfectly groomed. In another picture in Maclean’s magazine she wore a purple jilbab with rhinestone starbursts up both sleeves. Her niqab was printed with a cascade of brushstrokes resembling peacock feathers. Her choices of attire do not strike me as discreet or modest. It says, “Look at me. I’m bright, colourful and alluring”. This message appears to me in direct conflict with her claims of modesty.

If new Canadians insist on wearing variations of head and face coverings for their swearing-in ceremony, we have no right to legislate otherwise. Canada is an accepting and tolerant society. If they want to wear a ball gown or only a loincloth for the ceremony, that too is their right. It harms no one. However, would a typically Canadian ski mask be tolerated at a swearing-in? Not likely. I do think respect for Canadian cultural norms should be considered. When Canadians travel abroad we try to respect the cultural standards of the countries we visit and do not demand alcoholic beverages in restaurants in strictly Muslim countries. There are times in life when we have to adjust our personal choices out of respect for our host country.

Being a citizen of Canada is a privilege.

Being a citizen of Canada is a special privilege.

Publicity surrounding the issue has put me in the uncomfortable position of feeling like I should make a moral judgement about something that should be a non-issue. Let’s focus on more important concerns like election and senate reform, accountability and honesty in government, the environment, poverty, prevention of violence, and other issues of far greater importance within our wonderful country. Zunera Ishaq’s situation is much adieu about nothing.

Subsequent generations of new Canadians gradually assimilate into Canadian society, frequently under protest by their old-country traditional parents. I’d be curious to check in with Zunera Ishaq in a few years when her own daughters are young Canadian women acting and dressing like their contemporaries, sans niqab. Immigrants have contributed enormously to the amazing lifestyle we enjoy in Canada and we’re still a work in progress. Zunera Ishaq is a young woman pushing the limits of our tolerance and with time, perhaps she too will come to appreciate the full meaning of being Canadian, of being free and feeling safe, respected and honest, and perhaps even comfortable enough as a Muslim woman to bare her face in public. Then, she will be a true citizen of Canada.

Here’s another point of view:

Cara Lee Leclerc's photo.

What do you think?


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The Evening Chorus sings

chorusHelen Humphreys knows how to tell a good story. Her latest book, The Evening Chorus is about a marriage, a love affair and the effects of war on both. James and Rose marry in England during World War Two amidst uncertainty and turmoil. When James is taken prisoner by the Germans, he fills his days behind barbed wire studying birds while his young wife tries to fill her days back in England by growing a Victory garden, tending to her parents and falling in love with another man.

When James’s sister Enid asks to move in with Rose following the bombing of her London flat, Rose is hesitant. The two women get off to a bad start but eventually come to an understanding that allows them to coexist under difficult conditions. Humphreys has a lyrical writing style that is easy to read. The plot and characters are not complicated but the story is engaging and worth reading.

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Heather O’Neill takes us down the rabbit hole

angelsWhen I began reading Montreal author Heather O’Neill’s latest book, Daydreams of Angels, I had no idea I would be diving into a genre I thought I’d left behind about sixty years ago—fairy tales. Her two earlier books, Lullabies For Little Criminals and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night were both gritty, eloquent accounts of young adults growing up in the unsavory neighbourhoods of downtown Montreal occupied by drug addicts and prostitutes. Although I knew her newest book was a collection of short stories, I was unprepared for fairy tales, despite attending a reading and book-signing by Ms. O’Neill at the Toronto Reference Library the week before.

I’m a huge fan of Heather O’Neill’s writing. She’s a master of the metaphor and I find myself constantly rereading certain phrases to further appreciate her skill. She has an exceptional imagination and it amazes me how she ever comes up with her strange ideas. While the stories are crafted for an adult reader, the messages could easily be interpreted by younger readers with a bit of editing.

I particularly loved “Where Babies Come From”. O’Neill’s narrative describes a grandmother telling her grandchildren how young women who want babies take a train to the seashore. New babies wash up on the beach when the tide goes out, with their bums poking up in daylight, ready to be picked up by young women wanting babies. She goes on to explain how most young mothers had a responsible husband at home who would be a good father, but many foolish ones picked a father simply because he was cute or funny. Some chose fathers who were out of work or had criminal records and those mothers often didn’t even bother to get married first and arrived at the beach totally unprepared. The analogies continue and I am fascinated by O’Neill’s ability to tell a fairy tale that is completely relatable and enjoyable for adult readers.

Another story, The Gospel According to Mary M. is about school children, one of whom is named Jesus who always searches out the good in people. One day in the school cafeteria, Jesus opens his juice box and notices that the contents taste like wine. That immediately elevates him to cool kid status and he soon has his own gang following him around. Judas is the trouble-maker in the group and Jesus is always trying to sort things out. The contemporary settings for these lessons in morality make them a wonderful read and I absolutely loved this book. If you’re up for peek into something very different that will make you smile, I recommend you pick up Daydreams of Angels.  It was a fast read and an absolute delight. Can’t wait for more from Heather O’Neill.




Does your chicken cluck?


Yummm! Can’t wait for dinner.

Chicken is one of the world’s most popular sources of animal protein. With its versatility for being served hot or cold and adapted to thousands of different recipes, chicken is a diet staple around the world. In my world however, it’s shrinking fast. Last night we barbecued some boneless, skinless chicken breasts from a premium brand of so-called organic chicken and after I had two or three bites, I couldn’t eat any more. It’s now common practice for poultry producers to enhance their products with saline injections to plump up and moisten their products. The result is a mushy white substance that is easily separated with a fork, looks like a bread roll and leaks more liquid than the gash in the Titanic. Not appetizing.

I realize that as we Boomers age, our taste buds aren’t as sensitive as when we were young. Perhaps that’s why everything from fresh carrots to watermelon doesn’t seem to have the same intensity of taste we remember as kids. Our farming methods, genetically altered foods, chemical fertilizers and depleted soil conditions contribute to this but overall the makeup of our food chain is vastly different from what we grew up with. Combine this with the increased consumption of fats, sugars and salt in the food we buy, our pallets are challenged every day to appreciate the taste of natural foods.

A nice juicy steak no longer appeals to me. Chicken is becoming a less frequent menu choice. Fish is a tricky item to buy because we need to carefully research whether it is wild or farmed, local or from Asia, real or fake. Even traditional seafood supposedly caught and processed in the Maritimes is often farmed in Asia and processed in Canada which makes it a scary choice. Product labeling about the sources of our food can be misleading which often makes our food choices a crap shoot.

There's nothing better than locally grown organic veggies in season.

There’s nothing better than locally grown organic fruit and veggies in season.

Canadians love their local farmers’ markets. We pig-out (sorry for that analogy) on corn on the cob every summer when it’s in season (despite the fact corn is the most genetically altered food we consume); eat strawberries until we get hives and asparagus until no one will follow us into the bathroom. Tomatoes are now in season, soon to be followed by squash and all the lovely autumn root vegetables. There’s nothing better than combining a pot of fresh ingredients into a wonderful soup. But we’re still at the mercy of the farmers to use ethical methods and the retailers to offer quality local produce in season. I don’t object to genetically combining a plum and a peach to create a nectarine; what concerns me is the genetic tampering with our agricultural products to enable them to withstand high levels of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Is it coincidental that cancer now strikes one in five people at a time when our food chain is so manipulated by the big agribusinesses? The answer is beyond my simple brain, but I do know that I’m becoming increasingly more disillusioned with the meat and chicken that lands on my plate. I did splurge once for a grass-fed certified organic steak at Whole Foods but at $39.95 a pound I can’t make that part of my regular diet. I must say, though, the taste was amazing and far superior to our regular corn-fed supermarket variety.

Once upon a time, chicken actually tasted like chicken.

Once upon a time, chicken actually tasted like chicken.

Where’s the stringy, dry, overcooked, lean turkey and chicken I grew up with? It tasted like chicken; it looked like chicken and before my mother put it in the oven, it even clucked like a real chicken. Salt, sugar and other additives have hooked consumers on certain food choices but I’m becoming increasingly put off. There’s a lot of pressure on food producers to get back to the basics but I’m not optimistic I’ll see certified organic natural chicken, pork, fish or steak offered in my local supermarket at a reasonable price any time soon. In the meantime, while I still can, I’ll load up on the beans, beets and potatoes my Dad grew in his back yard, fertilized with his home-made compost. After that, who knows what we’re eating? But I do know that it sure doesn’t taste like it should. Buyer beware.


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Is Timmies still a Canadian cultural icon?

For better or worse?

For better or worse?

Boomers remember the real Tim Horton—the handsome young hockey player who helped the Toronto Maple Leafs win four Stanley Cups back in the sixties. Tim Horton was killed in a tragic car crash in 1974 shortly after one of his entrepreneurial endeavours had just started up. Tim Hortons  originally as a system of franchised donut/coffee shops in Ontario and grew to become a national icon, representing everything Canadian. In fact, I think they should change their corporate colours to red and white.

Is there a Canadian alive who hasn’t at least once walked down the street with the iconic brown cup in hand? Over the years, customers have supplied the material for Timmie’s feel-good commercials showing young kids and Dads getting into the car on freezing winter mornings to drive to the hockey rink; our soldiers enjoying Tim’s in faraway desert postings, and seniors meeting over a newspaper for an early morning assessment of the world situation at their local Tim Hortons.

The upside. Mmmmm.

The upside. Mmmmm!

When American-owned Burger King purchased Tim Hortons, Canadians were collectively horrified, nervous and skeptical that our national identity would continue being treated with the respect it had earned over several decades. I think enough time has elapsed now that we can make a fair evaluation. I haven’t really seen any major change in the quality or choice of food and beverages being offered. They offer menu items that are fast and affordable, with seasonal promotional treats. I am concerned, however, that they might diversify too much into fast food menu choices which are bound to affect the culture.

What I have noticed, however, is that the always-slow lineups are growing longer and slower. Where there would generally be eight or ten people ahead of me, there are now eighteen or twenty. I recently waited so long in a line at Tim Hortons on Mavis Road in Mississauga that my roots need retouching. If there’s a lineup of cars extending down the street waiting for the drive-thru, I often opt to park the car and line up inside only to find that the drive-thru is still moving faster. I do miss those feel-good Canucky commercials though. Please tell me they’re not using an American ad agency now too. Where are the scenes of mittens hugging a hot chocolate, the maple donuts, all the pedestrians cradling a cup of Tim Hortons as they make their way through daily life?

The downside of Tim Hortons - the #@$%^&$ lineups.

The downside of Tim Hortons – the #@$%^&$ lineups.

While I am politely (like any good, true Canadian) waiting in the Timmies lineup for the seasons to change or my Canada Savings Bonds to mature, it gives me time to look around and appreciate the common denominator that brings every ethnicity together under that ubiquitous brown and cream-coloured logo every day. It’s a reminder to be thankful I’m living in the best country in the world where we don’t have to clutch our precious children and flee down railroad tracks, over mountains or cross seas in leaky boats to simply be safe while drinking our morning coffee or steeped tea. We are fortunate that we’re not living in refugee camps because our lives were at risk in the place we once called home.

Every single one of us now living in Canada is the product of an immigrant. The next time I’m tempted to become impatient with the lineups at Tim Hortons, I’ll stop and think about those millions of people lining up to flee terrorism in their own homelands who would give anything to be in my place. The fact that many Tim Hortons are owned, staffed and frequented by immigrants is a testament to our tradition of welcoming newcomers to our country. We can only hope that the world leaders will soon get their act together and come up with a solution that will allow these families to rebuild their lives in safe, new countries such as Canada, or better still, to live safely in their home country.

peace1Maybe we should export Tim Hortons to the Middle East, invite opposing sides to sit down and talk over a steeped tea or dark roast with some Timbits, and perhaps they would see that we’re not so different after all. We can all get along. Under that iconic logo we’re polite to each other; no one’s packing a gun; we’re not ducking mortar shells, and we’re sharing warmth and friendliness in a place we all love. You can’t get more Canadian than that—unless we bring the Stanley cup back to Toronto. We can only hope.

Wishing everyone peaceful thoughts, especially today—September 11, 2015.



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