BOOMERBROADcast

Baby Boomer's social commentary on life in OUR sixties for those who experienced life in THE sixties.


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Canadian author investigates the dark side

feathersSupporting Canadian authors is easy when given books such as Black Feathers to read. I first heard about this book by Robert J. Weirsema when he was interviewed by Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio. The central character is a sixteen-year-old runaway named Cassandra Weathers who turns up in downtown Victoria on Vancouver Island and is quickly absorbed into the street scene. She is befriended by Skylark who helps Cassie learn where to panhandle most effectively, where to sleep, where to get a shower and where to find a community of friends.

Throughout the book we are offered glimpses of Cassie’s earlier life but the truth is withheld in the interests of suspense. There are many memories of a happy family life along with unspoken trauma which resulted in mental health issues and treatment.  When a serial killer threatens their community of damaged street people, a police officer called Harrison, who has a daughter of his own, recognizes her vulnerability and takes a particular interest in Cassie.

lullabiesThe author paints a vivid picture of street life during a Canadian winter (albeit Victoria) and his characters are so well drawn we are able to get inside the mind of a killer. Black Feathers is not an uplifting book but it is satisfying in the end. As I was reading it I was reminded of another excellent book with a similar theme, Lullabies For Little Criminals written by the very talented Canadian Heather O’Neill. Well-written and a page-turner, Black Feathers uncovers a side of life most of us will never see or experience. It’s a mystery, an observation of the complexities of mental illness and a story of justice. For anyone who has been to Victoria, you’ll recognize the landmarks and street names which helps your mind’s eye wander around the downtown area. All in all, an interesting read. And, it will make you want to be more sympathetic to street people and toss some Toonies into their hat.

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Big Magic encourages our passions in a beautiful way

magic1Anyone in need of some morale boosting or an injection of self-confidence and motivation should immediately pick up and read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. The fact I enjoyed this book so much is made more significant by the fact I hated her earlier Eat, Pray, Love which I found to be elitist and rather boring. I never even finished it. She really struck a chord in this book, however, with her words of encouragement, relevant anecdotes and sound advice. My own personal passion is blogging, despite the fact I get little to no feedback from my readers and at times I’m tempted to pack it in. But as Gilbert reminded me, it’s what I like to do whether anyone else likes my blog or not and that’s what keeps me going.

Gilbert shares the wisdom she picked up through working at various odd jobs to support her writing and her final success as a writer. While the message is aimed at creative types, the philosophy is easily transferable. Reading through Big Magic I came away with some solid advice worth sharing:

Do not be discouraged or give up if no one else appreciates your work as long as you enjoy producing it.

Don’t allow a lack of recognition or external support to discourage you from creating what you love.

  1. Do not expect to make a living at doing something you love. If it happens, you’re one of the lucky ones. Most of us have to maintain “day jobs” to support our passion.
  2. Rejection of your creation (writing, art, music, crafts, whatever) by others does not mean your work is not valid and meaningful. The fact that you loved doing it is what is important.
  3. Perseverance is not just a cliché. Remember all the rejection letters famous writers like J.K.Rowling got before being recognized. No one will advocate for your work better than you. And persevere in practising your craft. That’s how we get better.
  4. While we all need some idle time to clear our minds and recharge our batteries, prolonged idleness is a recipe for negative behaviours.

blogger5There’s so much more great advice in this book with many personal anecdotes to explain how Gilbert acquired this wisdom. She acknowledges that it’s a myth to believe, “All you need to do is to follow your passion, and everything will be fine.” That’s naive and misleading. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy following your passion. Just don’t bet the farm on making a living at it. Enjoy it for what it fulfills in you and appreciate that. The book was a bit slow at the beginning but it soon gained traction and my multiple book marks attest to its merit. I highly recommend “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. You’ll feel uplifted and encouraged and that’s enough to make any book worthwhile reading.

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“New research” proves what women always knew about hot flashes

flash6Just like the Bristol Stool Chart which has seven categories to describe bowel movements, science has now miraculously come up with a similar grading system for the levels of hot flashes experienced by women in mid-life. It’s called the SWAN (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation) study. This revelation is hardly genius or new as most women have known for centuries that there are different levels of suffering from whew to hose-me-down-immediately-before-I-ignite. For the record, here’s what the experts came up with to describe the varying degrees of hot flashes:

  1. Early onset hot flashers who start before menopause and finish around menopause.
  2. Late onset women start after menopause.
  3. Lucky few who never suffer a single hot flash.
  4. Super flashers which is self-explanatory.

flash1Sadly, I fall into the fourth category, along with most of my friends. I’ve been having hot flashes for more than twenty years now and don’t see an end in sight. At their worst in my late forties, I experienced them several times each hour, 24/7. Combined with lack of sleep and gaining twenty pounds, I was a wreck until hormone therapy miraculously and immediately allowed me to function like a normal human being again. But the memories remain. I clearly recall sitting in my office at work with rivers of sweat running down my spine, my neck, my chest, my scalp, even the fronts of my legs in pantyhose. I was a walking, talking nuclear meltdown.

There are relatively few natural remedies that work.

There are relatively few natural remedies that work.

I personally know of only one person who did not get hot flashes and believe me, she’s an anomaly. The rest of us are veterans. Years ago we tossed blankets and duvets, started dressing in easily removable layers, installed ceiling fans in every room of our homes, and permanently turned down the thermostat. What no one tells young women is that hot flashes are not necessarily a temporary inconvenience lasting a few months or maybe a year. More than twenty years later, I still get them although they’ve been reduced to three or four a day. I remember chatting with a woman in her eighties at my mother-in-law’s funeral who said she still gets them. Not encouraging.

The experts have further categorized the degree of severity according to race, weight and cholesterol levels. But as any Boomer woman knows, we don’t need SWAN or genealogical charts to track our discomfort. We need fans, ice packs, breathable light clothing and occasionally a fire hose. If the energy we emit during a hot flash could be corralled into reusable power, there would be no more nuclear plants, inefficient windmills in farmers’ fields or insane hydro bills. It totally would solve our energy crisis but until men start having hot flashes, we’ll just have to power through and keep running the air conditioning in winter. There’s no measure of comfort but relief.

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The bad guys are everywhere. Be very, very careful.

fraud1It’s not enough that we’re constantly plagued by duct cleaning telemarketers, phone scams and fraud artists presenting themselves as agents of Canada Revenue Agency or our bank, we also have to endure the endless number of criminals trying to steal our on-line personal information. It’s a virtual shark tank.

In the past week alone I’ve received two potential threats to my on-line personal security (not including the theft of my wallet). The first email was someone claiming to be from Apple wanting to verify that I’d ordered from iTunes and asking for further information by clicking on their linked website. Upon checking independently with Apple it was confirmed that the email was fraudulent and I forwarded the offending information on to their phishing people. Today I received another one. This time from Amazon with whom I do a fair bit of business. I’d recently updated my information with the real Amazon and somehow the bad guys detected that and asked me to again provide them with my credit card information. I became suspicious and contacted Amazon who confirmed it was fraudulent and I forwarded them the site information.

It' not only innocent old ladies who are victimized by fraud. Be very, very careful.

It’s not only vulnerable old ladies who are victimized by fraud. Be very, very careful.

We all know people who’ve been tricked, including many of our friends who are experienced in the business world. There are so many people out there who lack the knowledge to recognize these scams and it’s scary to think of the level of success these people are achieving. Every piece of communication we receive must now be carefully scrutinized and it’s worth taking the time to contact the institutions you do business with whenever you are contacted. It’s hard to keep up but always be suspicious and vigilant.

P.S. No sooner had I finished writing this when I read an essay in this morning’s Globe & Mail about a woman who succumbed to ordering a scam face cream on-line (click here to read it) after her partner of twenty-three years dumped her. She’ll likely be billed ’til the end of time. The injustices never end.

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The Paris Librarian meets his Waterloo in mysterious circumstances

librarian1Any book with the word Paris in the title automatically goes on my “To Read” list. This has resulted in my venturing into murder mysteries which is not my normal choice for reading material and The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor was a nice little break. American Embassy security agent Hugo Marston enlists the help of his librarian friend Paul Rogers at the American Library in Paris, to source rare and affordable books for his collection. When he learns Rogers is curating the papers of Isabelle Severin, a famous ex-pat actress who has lived in Paris since the days of Josephine Baker, he is caught up in a swirl of intrigue about her alleged spying activities during the Second World War. Did she really murder a senior Gestapo officer with a dagger? Where is the dagger now? Will her secrets be revealed in her papers after she dies?

Paul Rogers is then found dead of questionable causes in his basement library writing room. Soon the murders are piling up and we’re wondering how all these people died, who killed them, why and what does this have to do with the mysterious Isabelle Severin who is suffering dementia in a French retirement home.

I didn’t realize this is part of a series of Hugo Marston mystery books and perhaps it would have been more enjoyable if I’d known the main character a little better. The plot was a bit slow and I was disappointed that it didn’t focus more on the nefarious actions of Isabelle Severin during the war instead of on other characters with their own secrets. Nevertheless, as noted above, anything about Paris always has something worthwhile reading about. I enjoyed the characters’ activities centred mainly in the sixth and seventh arondissement near the Eiffel Tower. Having stayed in that area once on a trip, I was able to mentally picture the streets and local landmarks described in The Paris Librarian. It was a fast and easy read. The fact I think it could have been better is more a result of my greater interest in historical fiction than contemporary murder mystery.

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I never thought it could happen to me . . . but it did . . . and it could be you.

Never ever leave your purse unattended.

Never leave your purse unattended.

Just the other day I listened sympathetically to the story of how my ninety-one-year-old aunt had her purse stolen as she was loading her groceries into the back of her car last week at the supermarket (hopefully I have those genes that will allow me to still shop on my own and drive at ninety-one). It’s a horrible experience for anyone much less someone in their nineties. Sympathetic as I was, I also felt a bit smug because I’m overly cautious about my own purse in public. I use a metal purse hook that hangs on the side of a table which is handy in food courts and restaurants so my purse is always practically sitting in my lap and safe. (Yes, honey, unlike men who own only one wallet, women need more than one purse.) When we travel, I wear a money pouch under my clothes and carry a small change purse with a few foreign currency bills zipped in an inside pocket of a multi-compartment cross-body bag, which I always wear across my stomach. Thieves would need a couple of hours to mine through all the zipped compartments to find my meagre stash. I also leave all my credit cards at home except one.

Food courts and restaurants are ripe targets for purse thieves.

Food courts and restaurants are ripe targets for purse thieves.

Unfortunately, I let my guard down last week. Just before leaving to meet a girlfriend for lunch at Panera Bread across from Sherway Gardens Mall in Toronto, I switched purses, from a compact efficient one, to a large sack-like bag that turns digging for my wallet into a spelunking adventure. (If you’ve seen the Subway commercials where the girl disappears head-first into her bag, you’ll know what I mean.) After placing my order, I paid the cashier with cash from my wallet, took the little electronic thingie the waiter uses to find me with my food and walked to a table. I put the electronic device down on the table to stake my territory, picked up the paper cup and my purse and headed for the drink dispenser. When I came back, instead of securing my purse safely on its hook in front of me, I casually dropped it on the floor beside my feet.

Toward the end of the lunch, a young couple arrived at the table next to ours. She was wearing a very bad wig, large black sunglasses and a very short black dress. When she sat down, she specifically moved her chair until its back was practically touching the table between me and my friend. At the time, I shrugged and thought nothing more of it. Until I arrived at my next stop, the grocery store, and tried to find my wallet in my purse. Gone. Disappeared. Nowhere to be seen, no matter how much I ripped through the contents of my purse.

thief5The reality of what had happened hit me when I got home and dumped my bag to confirm I’d been robbed. Anyone who has experienced a wallet being stolen knows how devastating and terrifying it can be, not to mention inconvenient. Losing cash is painful but minor compared to losing the security of credit cards, identification, drivers’ license, OHIP card and other valuable items. Fortunately, about a year ago, I removed all the important cards and ID from my wallet and put them in one of those ubiquitous, accordion-fold metal containers designed to thwart electronic data skimmers. That saved my fat old fanny, somewhat. Apart from some cash, my wallet only contained my Scene movie card, some seniors’ tickets for Toronto Transit, my blogging and home business cards, and two or three blank cheques for emergencies. That meant going to the bank to cancel all my chequing accounts, flagging them for fraud and being reissued new accounts. I’m still waiting for all the fallout from preauthorized payments for utilities and other expenses when they start bouncing.

I called Panera Bread twice afterward to see if anyone had turned in a wallet, to no avail. I also went back and asked the manager if they had a security camera that could throw some light on what happened. She was sympathetic but said they can only access security videos under orders from the police department.  Hard lesson learned.

Here’s what you can do to help prevent theft:

It only takes a second.

It only takes a second.

I never thought this would happen to me but it did because I let my guard down just once. Please take this as a lesson and protect yourself. Here are a few things you can do:

  1. If you don’t already have purse hooks (see below for how to purchase), get several and put one in each purse. Be sure to use them whenever you’re in public. Yorkdale Shopping Centre in north Toronto has ingenious little double hooks on the underside of the tables in their new upper level food court especially for hanging purses and bags. USE THEM. I have no doubt a woman instituted that little design accoutrement. I wish all restaurants and food courts had them.
  2. Never put your purse on the floor where it can be surreptitiously accessed or taken altogether. We all know someone who has had this happen.
  3. There is no such thing as being too careful.

    There is no such thing as being too careful.

    Separate your cash from credit cards and I.D. Keep cash in a wallet or change purse and secure your cards and valuables in a separate secure metal holder. This is moot if your entire purse is stolen, but it partially saved my bacon this time.

  4. Make it hard for thieves to find your wallet(s) by zipping them into inner pockets of your purse or handbag.
  5. Backpacks are easy targets for thieves.
  6. Never let your purse off your shoulder or arm when shopping. Ensure it’s buckled, locked, zipped, clasped or whatever keeps it securely closed at all times.

These suggestions might help you avoid what I experienced and I’m sure there are more ideas for staying safe and secure. I’d welcome your feedback in the Comment section of this posting so I can share your advice with my readers. Be careful and be safe fellow Boomers.

 

 

There are many places to get purse hooks. I ordered a whole box of them a few years ago from a company called Chatt.com but here’s a link to one from Amazon: Click here or here for another one. At less than $4.00 each, they’re a good investment. I keep one in every purse I own.

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Michael Moore brings home the bacon – but not Canadian-style

moore1Why did it take me so long to finally get around to watching Michael Moore’s documentary film titled “Where To Invade Next”? I’ve long been a fan of his insightful and hard-hitting films exposing what many Americans fail or more likely just refuse to see as truths. His tenacity and honesty challenges the myth that the United States is the greatest country in the world (when, in fact, statistics say it’s Denmark). Moore’s latest mission takes him to various countries around the globe to source and bring home practices not yet recognized in the United States as being “a better way”.

Moore begins his hypothetical invasion by visiting Finland where the quality of education was once tied with the United States at an abysmal twenty-ninth place in the world. By making education enjoyable and encompassing concepts beyond readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic, the Finns have elevated their outcomes to highest in the world. High school students interviewed by Moore were fluent in several languages and spoke English easily and articulately. Two of the cornerstones in the turnaround involved NO homework and more play time from the early years in school. Children are encouraged to be creative with their free time and enjoy their childhood. Holy shit. What a concept. And it’s definitely working for the Finns.

Perhaps that's why French children are so well-behaved in restaurants. Learning proper manners in the home is reinforced by being served healthy meals with .... in school cafeterias.

School cafeterias in France include not only healthy meals but lessons on manners, sharing and nutrition. Perhaps that’s why French children are so mannerly in restaurants.

Socialist France regularly provides four-course student lunches that would compete with any four-star restaurant. These lunches are not the fries and Mac n’Cheese fare washed down with a Coke offered at most North American school cafeterias. The French have chefs at each school and the menus are submitted to and approved ahead of time by local authorities to ensure they are healthy and prepared with fresh produce daily. Several varieties of cheese are offered as well as lamb, pork, beef and poultry with sides of fresh vegetables, fruit and a dessert. And the beverage? Plain, old, not-loaded-with-sugar-and-preservatives water, served in glasses, not plastic cups. The food is also served on real dishes and cutlery (not disposable plastic) using the opportunity to teach students other skills like table manners, sharing and the art of conversation.

Norway's correctional system is designed to instill a value system of cooperation, respect for others, fair treatment and dignity.

Norway’s correctional system is designed to develop and instill a positive value system of mutual cooperation, respect for others, fair treatment and dignity for inmates during their incarceration.

Norway’s maximum security prison has private rooms for inmates who possess their own door keys providing a level of personal dignity that is often missing in the “outside world”. The emphasis is on supporting and teaching inmates a value system based on respect, consideration and decency, concepts far removed from North American institutions. Prison guards are not armed and none of the inmates interviewed had suffered brutality, rape or other abuses rampant in North American prisons.

Obviously, these countries are not utopia. They have their share of problems and are not perfect. Moore admits this in his documentary but the point he’s making is that there is so much wrong with America’s approach to education, crime, drugs, welfare and social issues that they should take off the blinders and look beyond their own borders to see how the rest of the world functions and perhaps learn. If you’ve ever traveled to the United States you know that television news there is focused totally within their borders, as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Most Americans have no idea what is going on in Germany, Muslim Tunisia, Iceland or Asia. In fact, they could learn from Iceland where male corporate bankers who bankrupted the country were put in jail in a remote area isolated from family and society. The country was then turned over to women who got the economy back on track. Compare that to the United States who indicted only one banker after the 2008 fiasco.

When is Michael Moore going to invade Canada?

Strangely, though, there was nothing in this documentary from Canada worth hijacking. We know Americans love our bacon but we have much more than that to offer. Let’s assume he’s planning an all-out attack on Canada—a full-on invasion worthy of a documentary all its own. Now that would be something fascinating to see. Imagine Michael Moore looking into our universal health care system, minority rights, our prisons, the ethics of our government, our educational institutions, or even the relative health and social merits of Tim Horton’s. Would our immigration policies pass muster? What about the treatment of our indigenous people trying to survive on isolated, poorly-serviced reserves, our propensity for politeness (hockey games excluded)? We’re not all igloos and cold fronts and Michael Moore’s perspective could provide some interesting perspective.

There’s plenty more to appreciate in Where To Invade Next. Pour yourself a glass of wine or make a BLT, sit back in your LaZ-Girl chair and watch it on Netflix or pay-per-view. You’ll be educated, informed, entertained and rewarded. Once again, Moore brings home his message masterfully.

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