Social commentary on life from a Boomer Broad's Perspective (aka Lynda's soapbox)

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Trip to Italy Tripped

italyThe critics and I don’t agree on this one. Steve Coogan’s new movie entitled The Trip to Italy costarring Rob Brydon has been hailed as excellent but I found it a bit of a disappointment. For the $9.50 admission fee (I’m a senior) I was expecting a culinary and visual feast of amazing food and stunning scenery of the wonderful sights including the Amalfi coast. What I saw was protracted intellectual conversation drawn out in various restaurants while the pair enjoyed assorted courses of Italian food. Beginning in the north with meals of wild game and finishing up near Naples we did indeed see genuine chefs preparing the food for which Italy is famous but we had to endure rather long verbal sparring sessions trying to follow the complicated assortment of British accents as the duo did brilliant imitations of such famous actors as Michael Caine, Hugh Grant and Sean Connery.

The movie dragged in the beginning over a particularly long lunch while we acquainted ourselves with the characters and the vistas photographed while they were driving their Mini convertible down narrow roads and streets. Many of the early scenes were filmed on an overcast day so the beauty of the mountains and countryside was not truly represented. I particularly loved the scenes in Pompeii as that was one of my favourite spots when I visited Italy.

I suggest you wait ’til it comes on television. If you have a large screen in high-def, you’ll save yourself a chunk of change for admission and overpriced popcorn. But that’s just one Boomer’s opinion.


Tea baggers have now gone too far!



Everywhere we look on our pantry shelves these days our food items are shrinking—literally. Manufacturers obviously think we’re all idiots and won’t notice if they reduce a box of cereal from 250 grams to 200 grams then to 185 grams without changing the price. It’s their sneaky way of upping the unit cost to us without upping the price and frankly I’m getting really fed up. The issue has been covered on the consumer reports portion of the news on TV and we’re all aware of the trend. My morning box of Kashi is now so skinny it doesn’t get me through the week. A loaf of bread doesn’t even make half a dozen sandwiches anymore. Boxes of tissue and rolls of toilet paper are getting thinner and smaller but at least we have the option of buying jumbo size for those of us who want some heft.

Now they’ve gone and messed with something very dear to my heart. Tea bags. As a consumer of several mugs of nature’s wonder fuel every day, I’ve noticed that lately I’m deliberately adding less and less milk in an attempt to get that wonderful tea hit. I love a good strong cuppa and what’s coming out of my tea-pot spout these days resembles fairy piss. Then, my friend Gail made a comment when we were having an afternoon cup of tea at a friend’s home. “Does tea seem weaker to you these days?” she asked.  “Do you think they’re putting fewer tea leaves in the bag?” Bang! The light bulb went on.

I sense a rebellion is in the works.

I sense a rebellion is in the works.

Now that we’ve identified the problem, I hope adding an extra bag to my big red pot will take care of things. I don’t actually have any old bags (no personal jokes here please) to measure the weight for a consumer report-style comparison but I’m inclined to think my friend Gail is right. Listen. Boomers Broads have enough to worry about already. Our hair’s falling out, our knees are sagging and our flapping upper arms are threatening to give us lift-off. Don’t mess with our tea bags. We’re not up for the stress and we can get ugly if we don’t get our fix. Keep an eye on your wine, ladies.



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It Wasn’t Pretty was pretty good

Celebrities and movie stars are not my thing. I do not watch ET or read People Magazine (except the free copy while I’m getting a mani-pedi), and I get impatient with the disproportionate amount of media coverage they get for their contribution to life in general. While I enjoy going to the movies and have a passing interest in the industry behind it, I’m not generally a fan. Except when it comes to a few women and one of those women is Diane Keaton. I fell in love with her style in Annie Hall and I have serious respect for her life choices including the big one, which is very unusual in Hollywood—choosing not to have plastic/cosmetic surgery. If you’ve seen any of her movies in the last few years, she’s still quite lovely and despite now being 68 years old, she does not look like she’s trying to look 38. She adopted two children when she was in her fifties and is joyfully raising them as a single mother.

Keaton1Keaton’s latest book, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty is a philosophical look life as a new senior citizen and her own life in particular. As evidenced in her movies, on one hand she’s full of insecurities but on the other hand she’s confident and secure enough to wear whatever strange and inappropriate clothes she wishes without embarrassment, much to the chagrin of her 12-year-old son Duke.

The book is a fast read with only 164 pages. Keaton addresses her personal issues with respect to her looks and I found it most reassuring to know that we share something in common. We’re both going bald. She also describes early attempts as a teenager to correct the slight bulb in her nose by trying to sleep with a bobby pin on the end of her nose to flatten it out. I also remember trying to sleep with rubber bands on my teeth to try and straighten them and being jolted when they snapped off. No matter how beautiful or otherwise we are as women, we’re always trying to fight mother nature in our own way.

She admires women for their imperfections and their courage to challenge the popular definition of beauty, citing Lady Gaga, Katherine Hepburn, Diane Vreeland and others. “I’m talking about Phyllis Diller . . . or Joan Rivers getting in the first laugh about herself. . . I’m talking about the flaws that eventually take on a life of their own. The ineptness that makes you who you are. I’m talking about women who make us see beauty where we never saw it; women who turn wrong into right” she writes.

Another experience we both share is being prejudged as a senior citizen when we weren’t expecting it. One time I was waiting in line for a theatre ticket and I was having an internal debate with myself about whether to declare myself a senior citizen and claim the discounted price. I was only 64 at the time which depending on where you are may or may not qualify you as a senior. I decided to take the high road and not go for the seniors’ discount only to find, to my horror when I got inside the theatre that the child who sold me a ticket had indeed pegged me as an old hag and automatically sold me a senior-priced ticket. When it first happened to Keaton, it happened twice in one week. “I suppose it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it sure did feel like it” she said.

keaton2For more and better insights into her life as an actress, Keaton’s previous book, Then Again offers more information. But if you would enjoy getting a bit deeper into her brain, then Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty is a worthwhile read. And those ubiquitous turtlenecks she favours? She sews shirt collar stays in the seams to keep them standing up.



Grocery shopping can be treacherous territory

In an earlier post I quoted a piece from a book by David Sedaris called Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. He wrote the following paragraphs in response to seeing a young boy outside a store defacing a federal mail box with marker pens. A bystander held the boy until the parents came out of the store and instead of disciplining the child for his bad behaviour, the parents verbally attacked the bystander for touching their child.  Sedaris was understandably appalled and described his own experience growing up in a family of six kids:

“I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books about misguided kittens or seals who wear uniforms, then rereading them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.” That was always the last thing we heard before our lights were turned off. Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was: crap. They did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.

Neither were we allowed to choose what we ate. I have a friend whose seven-year-old will only consider something if it’s white. Had I tried that, my parents would have said, “You’re on,” and served me a bowl of paste, followed by joint compound. They weren’t considered strict by any means. They weren’t abusive. The rules were just different back then, especially in regard to corporal punishment. Not only could you hit your own children, but you could also hit other people’s.”

Did I commit a public faux pas?

Did I commit a public faux pas?

While hitting children is obviously wrong, I find myself wondering, are our expectations of kids today wrong? The other day when I was in the grocery store, I passed a woman shopping with three children. Her young daughter who appeared to be about eight years old accidentally knocked something off a shelf, left it on the floor in the aisle and walked away. As I passed the little girl (who was wearing a private school uniform), I quietly said to her, “Put it back.”, then rounded the corner and headed off to the frozen food section at the other end of the store.

A few seconds later her mother came screaming after me that I had no right to discipline her child; who did I think I was and accused me repeatedly of being self-righteous. “My child is a good child and she knows what to do” she screamed, waving her arms at me. “Obviously she doesn’t” I replied. Then the rant started all over, who was I to be so self-righteous, and I was actually afraid she was going to strike me so I calmly walked away from her as she continued yelling at me.

The mother was wearing a hijab so I presume she was Muslim. Did I cross a cultural line or is it a generational thing? I honestly do not think I did anything wrong. But the scene hurt and embarrassed me. I generally avoid confrontational situations and when faced with the fury hurled at me yesterday I was paralyzed and couldn’t even come up with an appropriate response. I think any Boomer would have responded as I did when the child left the item on the floor in the aisle. But parenting today is more defensive. Perhaps the mother’s cultural standards are different. Was I wrong?

P.S. Returning to the same store a few days later, I found myself nervously looking over my shoulder looking to protect myself from another attack by the same woman. She certainly left her mark.


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Boomer beauty 101, circa 1965

Sixties makeup styles highlighted eyes with pale lips.

Sixties makeup styles highlighted eyes with pale lips. When it came to hair, bigger was better.

The other day as I was sorting and cleaning out my copious supplies of pricey cosmetics and toiletries it occurred to me I could open my own Shoppers Drug Mart, and I’m not proud of it. That caused me to reflect on how this insidious habit began in 1965. I was living in Willard Hall, a girls’ residence at 20 Gerrard Street East in downtown Toronto. My move into Willard Hall at the age of seventeen marked the beginning of new adulthood, when I left home and began working for the telephone company. It was a jumping-off point for small-town virgins coming to seek their fortunes in the big city. I was now exposed to sophisticated city girls who knew things—things I’d never even heard about before. This included insights into fashion and beauty that were considered frivolous and vain where I came from. Allow me a trip down memory lane with some of my Boomer friends as we remember the way it was.

All of a sudden I was living with girls who wore makeup, knew how to create amazing hairdo’s, spent their wages on the latest British street fashions and even purchased fashion magazines. My girlfriend Linda who worked with me at Ma Bell was taking modelling classes at The Walter Thornton Agency so she was particularly au courant. Linda introduced me to my first compact of Max Factor blusher with the little brush. At $3.99 it was an atrocious price when my weekly salary before taxes was only $55.00. But the effect it had on Linda’s cheekbones when she expertly brushed it across her cheeks was dramatic so I had to get one.

The influence of all the girls living at Willard Hall was inspiring. Diane, who roomed across the hall first made me aware of the importance of lingerie. After the release of Georgie Girl, Lynn Redgrave’s iconic 1966 debut movie, Nancy went on the hunt at the Evangeline store at Yonge and Carlton Streets looking for a mini-length demi-slip (bra and slip combo) worn by Charlotte Rampling in the movie. In fact, Charlotte Rampling’s character was a totem for those of us from small towns with straw still stuck to our new platforms. Was it possible that someone outside our residence was actually seeing their lingerie? Ah! The sexual revolution was happening.

We all wanted Twiggy's androgynous look.

We all wanted Twiggy’s androgynous look.

By watching the other girls in our common washroom, I quickly absorbed more secrets and tricks to putting your best face forward. Beauty products were less abundant then and we were very careful about how we spent our pennies so improvisation was essential.

Jean Shrimpton was my idea of perfection. She modelled for only a few years and retired to obscurity in the early 70's.

Jean Shrimpton was my idea of perfection. She modelled for only a few years and retired to obscurity in the early 70’s.

A few of the girls living in our residence were attending hairdressing school and came into the diningroom sporting the most incredible haircuts and trendy do’s. One particularly exotic creature, Nina was tall, lean and beautiful. Nina’s hair was coloured the richest shade of chestnut I’d ever seen and she’d bravely had her straight, shiny hair cut into an asymmetrical version of the Sassoon five-point cut that was all the rage at that time. My room-mate Liz and I had been successfully and economically cutting each other’s hair into neat blunt cuts but decided we should now throw a bit of colour into the mix. Off we went to Kresgie’s on Yonge Street where we each purchased a box of Clairol’s Nice ‘N Easy in Strawberry Blonde for $1.99. Thus began a life-time of root touch-ups every six weeks. I never did roll my hair in orange juice cans or rinse it in a mixture of sugar and water for extra holding power, but I certainly knew girls who did both.

Before long I was applying Cover Girl liquid makeup and Mabelline Great Lash mascara with the best of them. The white lipstick we used as a base for other colours of lipstick to prevent them from turning red doubled as under-eye concealer. In fact, lipstick was also used as blusher and at a much more agreeable price than Max Factor’s blusher—a 2-for. In the sixties we used Mabelline’s stubby red eyebrow pencils for shaping our brows and it wasn’t until the seventies that we plucked our eyebrows into extinction.  Eye-liner came in the form of a little dry cake of Revlon eyeliner that we applied with a wet brush. Nail polish was a single bottle of Revlon’s Café au Lait with no top coat, no base coat and definitely no regular trips to the mani-pedi salon—it was strictly do-it-yourself.

The girls who were being subsidized by their parents (I was definitely not one of them and neither were my girlfriends) would wear expensive L’Air du Temps or White Shoulders fragrance. Since I could never afford such an extravagance, at lunchtime I’d zip off to the little drugstore in the office building on Edward Street behind mine where I’d generously spritz myself with pricier scents from the counter-top testers. I practically asphyxiated my co-workers when I returned from lunch in a haze of lily-of-the-valley or Persian lilac. But I did manage to scrape together the funds for the smallest-size bottle of Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew which seemed very classy and exotic.

We were slaves to our portable hairdryers.

We were tied by plastic umbilical hoses to our portable hairdryers.

One day I noticed the girl at the next sink in the washroom scouring her face with a sandpaper-like compound called Snap which, when mixed with water was originally designed to remove axle grease from mechanics’ hands. She said her doctor had recommended it for her acne. Naturally I got on that bandwagon too and followed it up with Bonne Belle’s Ten-O-Six Lotion, an astringent in the days before it was called toner. Moisturizer hadn’t yet entered our beauty regime. It’s amazing I have any epidermis left.

Boomer girls in the sixties washed our hair twice a week and when our bangs got oily we hit them with the giant fuzzy puff of bath powder that always sat on our dresser. As a bonus, it added volume too. We also kept a little plastic container of Nuvola dry shampoo to shake into our roots in emergencies. Nuvola was like a mixture of talcum powder and cornstarch but it achieved the desired effect. It cost $1.29 which was a bit pricey but the little plastic lavender-capped container lasted forever.

Unfortunately we didn't know the downside of the joy of tannning.

Unfortunately we didn’t know the downside of the joy of tanning.

suntanning was de rigeur and we faithfully slathered our bodies in Johnson’s baby oil with a few drops of iodine mixed in to enhance the frying properties. The resulting blistering sunburns were diligently treated with Noxzema until our skin fell off in sheets. The resulting blotchy tan was not attractive but more importantly, we’re now paying for our sins by seeking out expensive laser and lightning procedures to restore our damaged skin.

Imagine sleeping in these every night. The foam ones just didn't do the job so we had no choice.

Imagine sleeping in these every night. The foam ones just didn’t do the job so we had no choice.

Every night we slept with a partial or entire head of hair encased in brush rollers to beef-up the bouffant. Bangs were scotch-taped to our foreheads to keep them straight and in place. Blow dryers had not yet been invented so twice a week we sat for an hour or so under an inflatable plastic hood that blew hot air through a plastic hose into our rolled-up “do”. Long, luscious locks like Jean Shrimpton’s were the goal.

Back to the future—2014. How could some simple makeup essentials and a teasing comb turn into the horror of consumerism that has become my bathroom cupboard today? Looking back, I should have stuck with my original formula: wash my face and body with a single bar of Dial soap; baby shampoo for my hair; Tame Crème Rinse; set, dry hair; spritz on a bit of French Formula hair spray; touch of Cover Girl face powder to hide the sun damage; a single eyebrow pencil to fix my earlier plucking disaster; a couple of swipes of cheap mascara and we’re good to go. If I could follow that regime I’d be able to live in a smaller house and would save thousands of dollars on false promises. But what would I do with the bags and bags of products collecting dust in my cupboards. Too bad consignment stores don’t take slightly used bottles of hair products, face and body moisturizers, makeup, nail polish, cleansers, serums and toiletries.

Being a single girl back in the olden days, the swingin’ sixties was an incredible pleasure and a unique experience I love sharing with my Boomer girlfriends. Come to think of it, upon reflection, I’m pretty sure some of those Willard Hall girls weren’t even virgins.


Retirement definitely has its benefits

lady1Mornings for most of the population are a stressful time. Getting yourself up, showered, dressed, fed and out the door on time is a challenge, more so if you throw school-age children into the mix. Then, you’re faced with sitting in your car for an hour seething about the construction delays in rush-hour traffic or jamming your tender body onto the train, bus or streetcar with hundreds of other sweating, backpack-briefcase-tote-bag-toting bodies vying for your inch of standing room. I’m not without sympathy or empathy; I did it for over forty years but now that I’m retired things are different and mornings are a joy.

One of my daily pleasures is reading The Globe and Mail each morning over multiple cups of tea. I rarely get through it without finding an inspirational thought for my blog and today was one of those days. Therein lies the challenge. This morning as I read Margaret Wente’s column, Suddenly, I’m the oldest person in the room – and I love it, my heart started to beat faster and I’m saying to myself, “yes, yes, yes”.

blogger1I can so relate to her description of at one time being the only woman in the room at a business meeting and often the youngest. That was me when I was in the corporate world of construction, dressed in a power suit I spent way too much money on and feeling very energized and involved in whatever was going on. Today’s first big decision, however, was whether to finish reading the paper, which I love doing, or sprint to my computer to write, which I also love doing. The latter won out.

Delilah Stagg (Joanna Lumley) is definitely the boss of herself on Britcom, Jam and Jerusalem

Delilah Stagg (Joanna Lumley) is definitely the boss of herself on Britcom, Jam and Jerusalem

I too find myself looking at younger people without envy. As a retired Boomer I’ve paid my dues, multiple times over. My five-year-plan no longer involves promotions, paying off my VISA or my mortgage, should I change jobs or not, or is this the right time to have kids? My options are almost unlimited and do not involve the whims of bosses, banks or benchmarks.  Margaret, you’re so right. Nobody is the boss of me any more and retirement is wonderful. I couldn’t have said it better myself.


McJobs – I’ve had a few

We now have a professional corn popper in the family.

We now have a professional corn popper in the family.

When I heard that my husband’s fourteen-year-old grandson had landed a part-time job working at Kernels I was suddenly filled with so much pride in him. Apart from being a good student and an active participant in Marc and Craig Kielburger’s Me to We children’s charity program, he’s now a working man. I’m of the opinion that early work for young people is a good thing. It not only builds character but it helps them understand the value of earned money versus hand-outs. These are valuable life skills that ultimately contribute to young people becoming better citizens, better partners and better people. Canada is blessed with a large immigrant population and they seem more inclined to put their kids to work in the family business or elsewhere at an earlier age than most Canadians. These students frequently become high achievers in school and high achievers as adults.

My own life as a working girl began when I was eight years old. From 1955 to 1960 my parents owned one of two local taxis in our small Ontario town.

Working from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in a hot, dirty old woolen mill made waitressing seem like leisure.

Working from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in a hot, dirty old woolen mill when I was fourteen made waitressing seem like leisure.

It was my job to be home to answer the telephone when I wasn’t in school, and take and dispatch calls to my mother or father on the two-way radio. They sold the business when I entered high school at the age of thirteen so by then I already had a resume with five years experience. I also had a steady supply of baby sitting jobs charging the astronomical sum of twenty-five cents an hour, fifty cents after midnight. The summer I was thirteen and again when I was fourteen, I worked for a short time reeling yarn from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon in the woolen mill where my Dad managed the carpet department. That experience was certainly incentive to stay in school and get an education.

Waitressing as a high school student probably provided me with the best all-round experience

Three years of waitressing as a high school student probably provided me with the best all-round experience

When I was fourteen I got a job as a carhop/waitress/short-order cook/dishwasher at the local drive-in burger joint where I continued to work part-time for the next three years until I left home. This was supplemented by my regular baby-sitting jobs and I taught Sunday school for several years. And these extra curricular activities didn’t absolve me from doing chores at home such as grass-cutting, shoveling snow and helping in the kitchen. At the age of sixteen I worked as a waitress at a summer resort off Manitoulin Island. When I finished high school there were no significant permanent jobs in our town so leaving home at seventeen to work full-time in Toronto was a given. In fact it even seemed a bit easier because there was no more homework and no working weekends, at least in the beginning.

Over the years I’ve been a clerk-typist and cable assignor for Bell Canada, a sales representative for a cosmetics company in the lovely old Eaton’s College Street store in Toronto, a secretary, receptionist, civil servant under contract to the Federal government, communications rep for a software company, deliverer of diapers and adult incontinence products for a market research company, order-taker for a courier company, self-employed marketing consultant and Corporate Marketing Manager for a multi-billion dollar company.

Whatever we're asked to do is all valuable experience.

Whatever we’re asked to do is a valuable learning experience, including respect for others who do it.

Nothing has ever been handed to me without my working for it. It has not always been easy but having a job from a young age made me fiscally responsible, independent and strong enough to be able to withstand all the challenges life throws in front of us. I’m always so delighted when I see young people with the initiative to go out and get themselves a job to help earn their keep. I know from experience that they’re going to do OK in life. No matter how menial, difficult or unpleasant the work may be, they’ll be acquiring valuable skills and resources to draw upon as they go through life.

My brother, who is a retired high school teacher had his share of student jobs including soda jerk and grocery boy during his high school and university days. These jobs and student loans allowed him to finance his own education and he feels that “education isn’t limited to the classroom“.

The various McJobs I’ve had over the years have left me with lifelong empathy and respect for the people who do those jobs. Fifty years after waitressing in high school I am and forever will be a generous tipper. When I’m tempted to become impatient with a retail sales associate, I remember what it’s like to be on your feet on hard floors with a smile on your face for eight hours a day serving recalcitrant customers, making minimum wage surrounded by millions of dollars worth of merchandise I couldn’t afford to buy—even with my employee discount. I have infinite respect for those blue-collar workers in factories or doing manual labour in uncomfortable conditions, again for low wages. I think of the farm workers who pick the apples I eat, clean up after the pigs that become the pork tenderloin I enjoy and the millions of service workers who work nights and weekends so that I have the privilege to shop or eat in a restaurant at night or on weekends.

It’s always fun to reminisce with other Boomers about the jobs we’ve had over the years and we’re all in agreement that we’re richer for those experiences. We compare war stories about working conditions and challenges that would be unacceptable and perhaps even illegal by today’s standards. But these experiences are what fortified us. We learned about resilience, resourcefulness, perseverance, diplomacy, money management, responsibility and accountability. And it has provided us with an endless supply of stories to share over cold glasses of wine in the evening.

Our grandchildren are now working part-time at various McJobs to build up their own set of life skills and we’re so proud of them. A friend’s grandson works in the bakery of a supermarket. We have a golf-course groundskeeper, a construction worker, a restaurant hostess and now a professional corn popper. Whatever they learn through their experiences, however insignificant it may seem now, it will enrich their lives in so many ways they’ll come to appreciate as they get older. Then, they too can share stories with their Gen X, Y and Z friends when they enjoy their well-earned retirement glasses of wine.





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