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


Sometimes . . . you just gotta have a hot dog

McKeith's bullying was scary but effective.

McKeith’s extreme bullying was scary but effective.

Deny. Deny. Deny. Not only was it Bill Clinton’s favourite mantra, but too often our daily food choices are based on the dictates of healthy eating which are more about denying ourselves the pleasures of eating rather than indulging. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live like Sumo wrestlers who equate big and fat with powerful and strong? Sadly, the dogma of healthy living is so ingrained in Boomers’ brains that every time we enjoy a wonderful, heaven-sent slice of German chocolate cake, crispy bacon or a deliciously overflowing and dripping butter pecan ice-cream cone, we are so consumed with guilt that it almost negates any sensory pleasure we might experience.

A few years ago I watched a TV program called You Are What You Eat featuring British health guru Gillian McKeith. Her commitment to educating common folk on the error of their eating habits was both inspiring and off-putting. She once produced a galvanized bucket of salvaged pig parts including snouts, teeth, eyeballs, tails, anuses and other lovely bits and informed us that this amalgam represented the contents of a wiener. That visual was enough to put me off eating hot dogs for years. We are constantly warned not to eat deli meats, to eschew sugar and bad carbs, and avoid anything processed or packaged lest we burn in hell while downing a Big Mac. What’s the fun in going to the movies if you can’t enjoy the chemical-laden popcorn and a gallon of ice-cold Diet Coke?

I'll have what she's having.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Generally, I’m very conscientious about what I eat. I do all the right things, most of the time, but let’s face it, what’s life if you can’t treat yourself to half a dozen Timbits once in a while. So after years of abstention, I recently descended into the depths of hell and bought myself a Costco hot dog . . . and giant Diet Coke. They were soooo wooooonderful. Sure, they made me feel bloated, burpy and uncomfortable afterward, but, damn they were good. And at less than two dollars for the combo I should get a Canada Council Grant for my economic virtue. The wiener was long, fat, hot and juicy and the steamed bun was warm and soft thanks to the (in some countries banned) azodicarbonamide (rubber used in yoga mats and sneaker soles) content. I piled on the fake, chemical and sugar-laden condiments and enjoyed a feast of culinary and nutritional depravity. To misquote Marie Antoinette, “Let us eat cake”, before we lose our heads. What harm can it do at our age.

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What’s the ultimate price for Loving Frank Lloyd Wright

frankDon’t you just love it when you get into a book you can’t put down, but at the same time hate to finish because you’ve become so invested in the characters’ lives? Loving Frank by Nancy Horan is such a book.  Historical fiction based on the real-life love affair between renowned prairie architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mameh Borthwick Cheney, Horan provides a sensitive and gripping description of their relationship beginning when Wright was commissioned to design and build a house for Edwin and Mameh Cheney in Oak Park, Illinois. Wright’s reputation as a modernist architect was matched equally by the events in his personal life and Horan provides context to the early years.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mameh Cheney began their affair early in Wright’s career when Cheney and her husband were clients of Wright. Both were intellectuals and shared an esthetic value system. Borthwick-Cheney possessed a Master’s Degree and was fluent in several languages. She was an early feminist who felt stifled and unfilled in her personal life as wife of Edwin Cheney and mother to two young children, John and Martha. Her love for Wright was overriding and resulted in her abandoning her husband and children while visiting a friend in Colorado. She accompanied Wright on a year-long trip to Europe where he was working with a German publisher on a print compilation of his drawings and designs.

During a stopover in France, Mameh read a book by well-known Swedish feminist Ellen Key which addressed her on-going guilt about abandoning her children and helped reconcile her decision to choose Frank Lloyd Wright over her family. After meeting Key at a lecture, they developed a personal and professional relationship that resulted in Mameh acting as American translator for Key’s writing. Following an idyllic stay in Tuscany, Wright and Borthwick-Cheney returned to the United States to a storm of hateful press and rejection by society. He had left his wife Catherine, who refused to give him a divorce, and six children and she left her husband and two children which was an unforgiveable sin in the early twentieth century.

How different would be the reaction if their affair had happened in 2014 instead of 1914?

How different would the reaction be to their love affair if it had happened today instead of 1914?

They retreated to an isolated life in rural Wisconsin in a house Wright designed and was building for Mameh. He commuted to Chicago for business and hired local trades people to work on the construction of their private compound named Taliesin. But life together was challenging. Not only were they reviled for their love affair, but Frank was a terrible business person and his financial affairs were in constant turmoil. His excessive ego and casual attitude toward paying his bills were the source of ongoing disputes and conflict. He owed money to workers and suppliers on his new home and he wasn’t getting new commissions because his personal life with Mameh was deemed to be sinful.

Anyone who has any knowledge of Frank Lloyd Wright and the history of his personal life will be gripped by the little-known story of his relationship with Mameh, who many consider to be his one true love. For those readers who are not familiar with their story, I won’t spoil it by giving you the ending. Nancy Horan wrote a beautiful book about two tragic characters by inserting herself into the mind of Mameh Borthwick Cheney. I couldn’t and didn’t put it down until, sadly, I finished. I give Loving Frank ten out of ten.

To order a copy of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, click here.

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Megyn Kelly trumps it in career, life and love

megynI love reading about strong, successful women. Broadcast journalist Megyn Kelly of FOX TV’s The Kelly Report and author of a new autobiography Settle For More is such woman. Kelly gained a great deal of attention during the 2016 Presidential debates in the United States for nailing Donald Trump with some tough questions. As everyone knows, Trump does not like being put on the spot or having his “truthiness” questioned. He responded by insulting Kelly, demeaning her professionalism, calling her a bimbo and suggesting she was disagreeable because she had her period or some such female affliction. Well, then the shit hit the fan.

Megyn Kelly is probably better qualified than Donald Trump for the job he will soon take over. Just reading her story is almost exhausting in itself. An über achiever in a middle-class family from upper New York State, she built successful careers for herself first in law and then broadcast journalism. While we mouse-burgers (remember Helen Gurley Brown?) can identify with not having the advantages of a great body and beautiful face, Kelly describes how those gifts can be equally perilous. Her childhood was normal and happy until seventh grade when for an entire year, she was the victim of bullying and ostracization by her group of friends at school. Then, magically, after a year of being treated like a leper the bullying stopped. But the experience had a life-long impact.

During her year of being bullied, Megyn Kelly’s defence strategy was proving herself smarter, better and all-round stronger than her adversaries. She grew a thick skin, worked harder at school and generally faked not being affected by the bullying. She was determined to never again allow others to make her feel less than whole, accomplished and valued. After college she attended law school and in a male-dominated field proved herself to be smarter and tougher than her classmates and ultimately her co-workers. Like all young lawyers starting out, she worked killer hours for nearly ten years to build and reinforce her professional reputation. As anyone in business knows, this dedication comes at a price. With no personal life, hobbies or friends, life soon became unbearable. After marrying a promising doctor and moving cities to accommodate his career (where have we heard that before?) she realized she hated her job and was unhappy in her marriage.

True to character, Megyn Kelly did not give in to Donald Trump's bullying and threats.

True to character, Megyn Kelly did not give in to Donald Trump’s bullying and threats.

Kelly always had an interest in journalism and had in fact been turned down for journalism school before going into law. Starting again at the bottom of the career ladder in a new field, Kelly worked her way through news-on-the-spot field reports, 5:00 a.m. studio reporting slots, researching issues and once again building her credentials as a broadcast journalist. By the time she had her own 9:00 p.m. prime time show on FOX network, Kelly was a recognized name and a player in the reporting of the 2016 Presidential campaign. While all this was happening, she remarried, had three children and unwittingly became the media victim of Donald Trump. Kelly goes into great detail about the chronology and details of the events surrounding her conflict with Trump. She also supported female coworkers in the sexual discrimination charges against FOX News Chairman and C.E.O. Roger Ailes. Megyn Kelly is fair and balanced in her descriptions of both the Trump and Ailes controversies, a skill gained from her years practising law.

Reading about Megyn Kelly’s drive and determination can at times feel overwhelming but she’s also candid about her weaknesses and failures. One of the best lessons she learned from Roger Ailes was to reveal her vulnerable side from time to time; it was humanizing in someone so focused on being tough and successful. The title Settle For More refers to her mantra, her motivation and there are few people in this world with that kind of stamina. Women in particular, however, often need to be reminded of our value, our accomplishments and our potential. For inspiration about aspiration, read Megyn Kelly’s Settle For More.

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Funny girl Amy Schumer serves up more than humour

amy1Amy Schumer’s autobiography The Girl With The Lower Back Tatoo” is her personal vagina monologue. Anyone who has watched her television specials or her movie Trainwreck” understands that Schumer’s humour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. She’s smart, talented and totally unfiltered which not everyone appreciates. As a Boomer reading her account of growing up in a blended family where both parents had multiple marriages, we see her living and enjoying a moral freedom we did not experience growing up in the fifties and sixties. Our generation laid the groundwork.

Schumer’s descriptions of the progression of her thirty-something life cover the spectrum from innocence to humour to lessons learned and as with anyone’s life story, some pain. While her humour is obvious, her smarts and work ethic rise above. Top comediennes make it look easy but years of being on the road, living in uncomfortable conditions, working for little or no pay and enduring more than their share of insults and rejection go into developing a career in comedy. The title of her book refers to her regrettable decision while still a teenager to get a massive tribal tattoo on her lower back which ultimately became infected, left keloid scars and is lopsided. We all make mistakes. I once had kakki green hair but that was fixable.

One surprising piece of Amy Schumer’s life that she shares is her experience as a victim of domestic abuse. She warns that despite being a strong, smart woman, she was not immune to believing “It’s not abusive if they feel really bad afterward and promise to love you the rest of your life, right? Right? Wrong.”  Sharing her story and the conflicted feelings surrounding the experience will hopefully make other women aware of the insidious and dangerous path to abuse. This chapter was particularly enlightening and provides valuable insight into the issue.

Another topic worth reading about in this book is Schumer’s position on body image.  She condemns body shaming that drives innocent little eight-year-old girls to go on diets or should-know-better big girls to aspire to heavily Photo-shopped images of unrealistic, unnatural models in magazines and social media. I share her beefs in this regard and hope someday we will see a return to more realistic role models. She also had her only one-night stand with a guy who sounded a lot like Prince Harry (but he wasn’t).

And for anyone doubting the effectiveness of on-line dating, she has some good news. Her boyfriend of several years is a guy called Ben whom she met on a dating site. She and a girlfriend signed up on a lark, were members for forty minutes, got four matches and Ben was one of them. Don’t expect a joke book; it’s a memoir. Overall, I really enjoyed The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo. It’s a fast, easy, informative read written by a savvy, entertaining and hard-working woman. I had to wait a long time for my name to come up on the waiting list from the library, but it was worth the wait. If you don’t want to wait, click here and order it from Amazon or download it.

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Remembering Christmas past and present


A recent media piece asked people to recall their most memorable Christmas gift ever. Was it an XBox? A new bike? Perhaps a trip to Disney World? I canchristmas2 honestly say that not one gift stands out as being particularly memorable for me growing up in the 50s and 60s. Christmas past for me was

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Who doesn’t like Christmas fruitcake?

cake4Nothing’s more satisfying than a thick slice of home-made dark Christmas cake with a cup of tea—except perhaps maybe a butter tart with a cup of tea, or a dark chocolate nut brownie or a . . . well, you get my drift. I think fruitcake gets a bad rap and I don’t understand why people compare it to unsavory items like a brick or wallpaper. Properly made with fresh ingredients, a nice dose of rum or brandy and left to ripen for at least six weeks before devouring it at Christmas, it’s one of life’s treasures.

My mother used to make her annual cakes during the first week of November each year while Dad was away deer-hunting. The recipe came from the aunt of her childhood friend Phyllis whose aunt and uncle owned Anderson’s Dairy in the small Ontario town where I grew up. Mom remembered stopping at the dairy on their way home from school in the 1930’s and reaching into the vat of fresh, warm cheese curds for a late afternoon snack. Health regulations would prohibit that kind of special treat today. But Mrs. Anderson’s Christmas cake recipe survived and is now part of my annual tradition.

When my mother reached the age when she could no longer make her own Christmas cakes, I took over. I went to stay with her, taking bags of ingredients I’d purchased ahead of time. It was a major production and I don’t know what my mother used to mix the ingredients in but I couldn’t find a bowl big enough so the first year I washed out a cooler and used it as a mixing bowl, getting in with both hands to blend and mash the candied cherries, currants, raisins, nuts, dates and other ingredients. Typical of decades-old recipes, it was rather vague on some of the portions, such as “one jar of red cherries, one jar of green cherries” so I had to guess at the quantities.

cake2Christmas happens this weekend but I couldn’t wait and last night I carefully peeled back the cheese cloth, inhaled the rich, sugary sweetness of the blend with a hint of rum, poured myself a lovely cup of tea and for the first time in almost a year, once again bit into Mrs. Anderson’s old-fashioned Christmas cake. It’s not just the immediate gratification of tasting the cake that I enjoy, it’s also the memories it evokes—thinking of my mother, her friend and their stops at the dairy, the sharing of a generations-old recipe. I share the bounty with a few fruitcake aficionado’s but mostly I reserve it for myself and my honey. It’s too wonderful and precious to share with anyone but true appreciators. However, if you drop in and you’ve been nice instead of naughty, I’ll put the kettle on and welcome you to my world. Do you have special recipes or things you make at Christmas that warm your heart?

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Better understand the challenges of Native Canadians on reserves

shimo1Sometimes we need to read a book that makes us feel uncomfortable and think about issues we don’t ordinarily confront. Such is the case with Invisible North, The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo. I first saw her interviewed on The Social on CTV and found her story fascinating. The Toronto journalist temporarily relocated to Kashechewan, a reserve in northern Ontario that was in the news in 2005 when it was revealed their eighteen hundred residents were facing a crisis with drinking water contaminated with e-coli. The drinking water problem was just the tip of the iceberg, as is the case with so many challenges facing Native Canadians living on remote reserves. Shimo’s research took her into areas darker and deeper than just tainted drinking water.

It’s common knowledge that life on many native reserves is difficult and troubled. This is manifested in social problems including drug and alcohol abuse, violence, unemployment rates running at eighty-five percent and extreme poverty. Non-natives and urbanites are tempted to naively speculate on the causes and solutions but we really have no first-hand experience with their living conditions and the regulations governing their existence. Shimo confronts these issues and in her well-researched and detailed account she explains the how’s, why’s, when’s and where’s that resulted in the current miasma. And the federal government has a lot to answer for.

An inept government agent decreed that Kashechewan be relocated to a flood plain west of James Bay. Consequently, residents' homes are flooded every spring.

An inept government agent decreed that Kashechewan be relocated to a flood plain just thirty-five feet above sea level, west of James Bay. Consequently, residents’ homes are flooded every spring.

Shimo describes the chronic shortage of nutritious, affordable food and understands first-hand why so many residents live on boxed mac and cheese and canned meat like Klik. When a small frozen pizza costs $30.00, a single head of cabbage is $12.89 or a dozen eggs are priced at $15.00, it’s no wonder people living on welfare of less than four hundred dollars a month cannot get enough to eat. Combine this with chronic overcrowding in dilapidated, poorly built homes, no job opportunities, lack of medical care, and the annual threat of their homes being flooded because that’s where the government planted the community, it’s understandable why there are high rates of abuse and suicide. While living on the reserve the author developed the same health and psychological problems as its residents but as a non-native she had the option of flying “home” for recovery.

As a result of reading this book I learned about how little control Native Canadians have over their own lives.. Even though reserve land is supposedly owned and managed by Indians, in fact it’s not. Reservations are considered crown land and subject to the whims and dictates of various government agents. Hence, the tragic and ill-conceived relocation of many communities such as Davis Inlet and Kashechewan. Hundreds of studies, reports and proposals over the years have resulted in great promises that never deliver.

Lacking the expertise to carry out repairs and maintenance necessary as well as no fire department to service homes in the community, fires are common and brutal.

Lacking the local expertise to carry out electrical and other repairs to homes, fires are frequent and brutal. And the community has no active fire department.

To her credit, Shimo doesn’t just present and sensationalize the problems. She details the myriad of ill-conceived government interventions and legislation that have undermined life for Native Canadians. We’re given a better understanding of how the situation developed and in her final chapter offers several suggestions on how each of us can help alleviate it. If no one has already sent this book to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and every cabinet minister then they should. It’s a sober and objective look at a situation that should not exist in a country as bountiful as Canada. At around two hundred pages (depending on the font size of your e-reader) it’s a fast read and more enlightening than you would imagine. Please read Invisible North. You’ll be glad you did.

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